I’m sure you’d agree with me on this:
Finding the right beginner road bike can be a pain in the neck.
Too many options to choose from. Beginner road bikes, unlike high-end race machines, are a little tricky to pick. This is because the beginner road bike category is defined by price and not by the bike’s intended purpose. The result is, many bike stores throw almost any bike under $1000 in the beginner road bike basket together with commuters and recreational bikes. Quite a mixed bag.
In this post, you’ll learn how to narrow down your search for your perfect beginner road bike.
Also included is a list of 5 beginner road bikes I found on the Internet that fit the criteria I lay in the post.
A Common Mistake Made Choosing a Beginner Road Bike
As a beginner cyclist, the most common mistake you can make is base your buying decision on price alone and go for a cheap road bike. Some of the reasons you might come up with to justify your thinking could be something like:
- I’m not sure if I’ll like cycling or not, so I’ll spend the least possible amount of money before I make up my mind.
- I’ll upgrade later if I like cycling.
- I’ll only ride a couple of hours a week, any road bike will do.
- I need something simple and cheap.
- Good road bikes are designed for racing and since I’m not going to race, I don’t need a decent road bike.
Sounds pragmatic and thoughtful, except not every pragmatic and thoughtful approach works with road bikes.
You get what you pay for
Part of the joy of riding a road bike is having a well-functioning machine under you. Cheap road bikes begin to misfire soon after you purchase them. Before you get into the groove of things, you’re off to your local bike shop to fix a broken spoke, true the wheel, tune your gear shifting because it’s out of sync with the indexing mechanism, do something about a squeak that drives you crazy on your rides, or look at the brakes that don’t return or rub on your wheels.
Not only the amount of money you saved on a cheap road bike is now gone to the bike shop, the ongoing problems will drive you away from the sport.
Do the math
The “spend little now and upgrade later if I like cycling” thinking may sound reasonable at first but is more expensive than it should be if you do the math: you spend $400-$600 on a cheap bike and then another $1,000-$1,300 on a good one later, making the total outlay close to $2,000 (or more with all the repairs).
Why would you do that? What are you going to do with the cheap bike after you upgrade? Sell it? Good luck with that.
With the good bike though, you should be able to sell it second-hand for at least half the retail price you paid if you decide to get rid of it.
Sooner or later, a dodgy bike will catch up with you
If you plan to ride only a couple of hours a week, the consequences of riding an unreliable road bike will be delayed, but they’ll come sooner or later. You’ll face either unnecessary expenses or will have to buy a better bike anyway.
Simple and cheap they’re not
If you want something simple and cheap, a cheap road bike is cheap alright, but not simple. Just like any modern road bike, it’s made with index shifting, free-wheel cassette, integrated headset and bottom bracket. Unless these components are well made, properly installed and tuned, they’ll spoil your riding once they start to misbehave. If you want something simple, you’ll have to look for a single-speed bike.
Quality is important in road bikes, entry-level or not
Good road bikes are not designed for racing alone. You can race them if you want but they’re designed to be ridden on all kinds of roads and conditions for long periods of time with minimum maintenance. Which is what you want should you fall in love with road cycling. And you will if you get yourself a decent road bike.
What Is a Beginner Road Bike?
With these thoughts in mind, what is a good entry-level road bike for beginners?
I believe the 3 most important requirements a road bike must meet to be a good beginner bike are:
- Components: Shimano 105 or a similar level components group (e.g. SRAM Rival or Campagnolo Veloce). Watch out for models sold with 105 label (referring to Shimano 105) with only the shifters or one or two derailleurs from the Shimano 105 components group.
- Robust wheels.
- Frame built by an established, respected manufacturer.
To help you decide what beginner road bike to buy, I have researched what’s available from online retailers and made a list of 5 bikes for you to consider.
Contrary to what some people believe about buying a bike online, it’s not necessary to test-ride an entry-level road bike to make an informed buying decision as long as you get the frame size right when you buy online (more on this later).
Let’s start with the Vitus Zenium VR Disc.
Vitus Zenium VR Disc 2018: $1199
Sean Kelly made Vitus bikes famous by winning almost every major pro race in the 1980s and 1990s. The brand went through a quiet period after those glory days and is back on the road today with a range of products built for all types of road cycling.
At the heart of this bike is a good quality, light alloy frameset with a carbon fork. The frame features a pair of hidden mounts for a rear mudguard to keep your bum dry on a rainy day if you decide to ride in the wet. For a commuter bike, this is an essential feature if that’s how you plan to use your Zenium.
Zenium VR Disc is a solid bike equipped with reliable Shimano 105 components. Unlike a lot of other beginner road bikes, Zenium VR is sold with a pair of Shimano RS170-CL wheels and Shimano 105 hydraulic brakes..
Vitus Zenium VR Disc Highlights
- Lightweight alloy frameset
- Full Shimano 105 11-speed groupset
- Shimano wheels
- Shimano 105 hydraulic brakes
- Frame clearance for up to 28mm tire width
- Mudguard mounts
Eastway Emitter R3: $1,600
Stylish carbon frame with a full Shimano 105 groupset, Eastway Emitter R3 is a 7.8kg package that will please the most demanding road cyclist.
Rich saddle? Check (Fizik Antares). Replaceable rear derailleur hanger? Check. Ritchey handlebar and stem? Check. Will it cause a divorce? Over $1,660 for a bike that good? Well, you should know better.
Eastway Emitter R3 Highlights
- Good-looking, uni-directional carbon frameset
- Shimano 105 groupset
- Mavic Aksium Elite wheels
- Fizik Antares saddle
- Ritchey handlebar and stem
Kestrel Legend Shimano 105: $1,499
Next on the list is a carbon fiber frame manufacturing pioneer — Kestrel.
Back in 1986 when everybody was still welding steel frames, Kestrel was the first in the bike industry to start building bicycle frames using bladder-molded monocoque carbon structures. If anybody knows how to design and build a carbon fiber bike frame, these guys are it.
Kestrel Legend Shimano 105 is equipped with Shimano 105 and Oval Concepts components except for the brakes which are made by Tektro.
Kestrel Legend Shimano 105 Highlights
- High-modulus carbon fiber frameset
- Shimano 105 11-speed shifters
- Shimano 105 rear and front derailleurs
- Oval Concepts 327 wheels
GT Grade Carbon 105: $1,750
The Grade features a longer wheelbase coupled to a tall headtube with a slack angle — a hallmark of a bike designed to be stable and confident on the ground. GT had reinforced the frame with a glass matrix to damp some vibration and reduce rider’s fatigue on long rides.
Clearly, an attempt to create a solid all-day performer.
GT Grade Carbon 105 Highlights:
- Full Shimano 105 groupset
- Stan’s NoTubes Radler wheels
- Glass-reinforced carbon frame
- Fizik Monte saddle
Eddy Merckx Mourenx 69 105: $1,875
Mourenx 69 will not win any lightweight awards. This bike is on a heavier side of the spectrum, by design. Its aim in life is to give you ride quality and confident handling, the traits this brand, and the entire Belgian approach to frame building, is famous for.
Nice bonus: Shimano Ultegra shifters.
A thoughtful bike with matching components.
Merckx Mourenx 69 Highlights:
- Shimano 105
- Shimano Ultegra shifters
- Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels
Looking at the pictures, you probably noticed none of the bikes come with pedals. This is normal practice because there are different, incompatible pedal/cleats systems. If, for example, you already own shoes with cleats from one system and the bike is sold with a different system, there will be a problem. This is why pedals (which come with cleats) are sold separately.
In my opinion, the best pedals to go on a beginner’s bike are Shimano R550 SPD-SL.
They’re well-made, durable, inexpensive and will serve you for a long time.
Frame Size Guide
Getting your bike’s frame size wrong is as bad as getting wrong size shoes. Unlike choosing the right shoe size, you don’t have to nail your bike’s size 100%. As long as you get it close enough, you’ll be fine. If the size is slightly off, you can adjust your position on the bike by:
- changing the saddle height
- changing the saddle’s fore-aft position
- changing the stem height, or
- changing the stem length
Road frames used to be measured in centimeters by the length of the seat tube. With the advent of compact (sloping top tube) frame design in the 1990s, frames are now measured by the length of the top tube.
To keep with the cycling’s tradition of not having any standards, some manufacturers continue to use metric measurements while others adopted a naming convention of “small”, “medium”, “large” and so on.
Here is a guide to help you pick the right frame size:
|Your Height||Traditional Size||Compact Size|
|5’2” – 5’4” (157cm – 163cm)||48cm – 50cm||XS|
|5’4” – 5’7” (163cm – 170cm)||50cm – 54cm||S|
|5’7” – 5’10” (170cm – 178cm)||54cm – 56cm||M/L|
|5’10” – 6’0” (178cm – 183cm)||56cm -58cm||M|
|6’0” – 6’3” (183cm – 191cm)||58cm – 60cm||L|
|6’3” – 6’6” (191cm – 198cm)||60cm – 64cm||XL|
On that note, happy riding!