The 7 Best Road Bikes for Beginners in 2021 + Pro Tips for Beginners

The Best Road Bikes for Beginners

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This is a selection of the best road bikes for beginners. It includes road bikes from around $700 to $1500. I selected them based on user reviews, riders’ experiences, and availability.

The overall winner is the Trek Domane AL 2. It is a road bike ideal for beginners because of its affordability, relaxed & comfortable geometry and quality components. Learn more.

Below, you also learn a few tips that I gained from riding with pro road cyclists, how much you should spend on a beginner road bike, what to be aware of when choosing it, and much more.

Road bikes are my passion for more than 5 years now, so I can’t wait to share all this information with you.

Let’s get started!


What Are the Best Road Bikes for Beginners?

The following part includes road bikes from various brands that are suitable for beginners. To learn more about choosing the right beginner road bike, read the How to Choose a Road Bike section first.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the shortage of bike components and high demand for bikes, many bikes are out of stock online. Unfortunately, it is necessary to wait even several months for some bikes.

Trek Domane AL 2

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Trek Domane AL 2 | Source: Trekbikes.com

Main Features

  • Available in 2 colors
  • Carbon fork
  • DuoTrap S sensor compatible
  • Rear rack & fender compatible

Technical Specifications

Domane AL 2 is based on the Trek Domane family – a series of endurance road bikes. These bikes are ideal for beginners because their geometry is focused on comfort that allows a more relaxed upright position.

Its carbon fork is nice to have because it absorbs some vibrations that are not transferred to your hands, wrists, and shoulders. This means that the ride is more comfortable.

With the Domane AL 2, you will be able to take trips, train, or even race. Of course, the bike has its limits, but its owners appreciate this versatility. Thanks to 28mm puncture-resistant tires, it can also manage light gravel sections that can surprise you during a trip.

The components on this bike are made primarily by Shimano and Bontrager, so the price-value ratio is excellent. Unfortunately, the gear selection is limited to 2x8spd, which can be limiting for some riders.

On the other hand, Domane AL 2 is compatible with DuoTrap S speed sensor (not included) that can transmit your speed, cadence, average speed, distance traveled, and other useful data to your smartphone or head unit.

If you decide to do some backpacking, you can because the frame is compatible with a rear rack and fenders that are very useful for bikepacking and bike touring.

By the way, Trek Domane AL 2 is also available with mechanical disc brakes. The Trek Domane AL 2 Disc offers a similar specification, but it is slightly heavier (23.68 lb / 10.74 kg).


Are you interested in gravel bikes? Check the selections of the best gravel bikes from various price ranges.


Giant Contend 3

MY21Contend3 ColorABlack
Giant Contend 3 | Source: giant-bicycles.com

Main Features

  • Available in 2 colors
  • Tire clearance for up to 32 mm tires
  • Partial internal cable routing

Technical Specifications

The Giant is known for its affordable but high-quality bikes. Contend 3 is the ideal road bike for beginners. It is comfortable thanks to more upright geometry and versatile at the same time.

You can use it for indoor training, bike trips, or maintaining your fitness level outside. The tire clearance allows you to equip it with up to 32 mm wide tires, good for rough tarmac or roads with potholes.

Based on the reviews, the bike rides smooth and relatively stiff. So every time you push into pedals, you will feel a good acceleration. This makes it perfect for more performance-oriented riders that are just starting with road cycling.

The main downside of this bike is the 2x8spd gearing that is limiting, and if you decide to visit steep mountains, you may have trouble finding the right gear for your preferred cadence.

What I like about Contend 3 though, is its clean design thanks to partial internal cable routing. You will be able to choose from red or black color.

And I also have good news for fans of disc brakes. Giant Contend 3 is available with disc brakes and a slightly different configuration (Giant Contend 3 AR). Just remember, it is more expensive than Contend 3.


Tommaso Imola

Imola White Resize 2
Tommaso Imola | Source: tommasocycling.com

Main Features

  • Available in 3 colors
  • Steel fork
  • Rear rack compatible
  • Easy to assembly thanks to the ready-to-ride option

Technical Specifications

Tommaso Imola is a great entry-level road bike equipped with good components. Based on the owner’s reviews, it is a responsive and smooth bike that climbs well.

It is equipped with 25mm tires that are comfortable (learn more). Its fork is made of steel, which means it is pretty durable, but it does not absorb vibration as well as carbon forks.

The geometry of Imola is perfect for beginners because it allows a more upright position. This comes in handy for long-distance rides. And this is a great bike for long distances.

It is compatible with a rear rack, so you can equip it with panniers to increase your storage capacity for long trips and bike touring.

The biggest downside of this bike is the 3x groupset. Yes, it offers a wider gear selection, but it takes some time to get used to it, and it needs some practice to avoid cross-chaining.

On the other hand, the Shimano groupset works smoothly, and it is precise. So make sure you take advantage of all gears.

Feel free to choose from 3 colors (black, white, orange) and order the ready-to-ride build that you can assemble in 10 minutes.


Cannondale CAAD Optimo 4

C21 C14401M CAAD Optimo 4 SLV PD
Cannondale CAAD Optimo 4 | Source: Cannondale.com

Main Features

  • Performance-oriented geometry
  • Carbon fork
  • Clean and modern design

Technical Specifications

If you look for an affordable road bike capable of winning races, CAAD Optimo 4 should grab your attention.

Its geometry is similar to the geometries of performance bikes. It is slightly more aggressive, so it pushes the rider into a more aerodynamic, faster position.

CAAD Optimo 4 offers an excellent price-value ratio – it features a carbon fork that absorbs vibrations and makes your ride more comfortable. And, the Shimano Claris groupset combined with FSA Tempo cranks will ensure fast and precise gear changes.

Yes, the gear range is limited to 2×8 speeds, but if you don’t need to climb gradients steeper than 10%, you should be ok.

Thanks to the descreen logo color that almost matches the frame color, the bike looks very clean and minimalistic. How do you like it?


You may also be interested in clipless pedals. Check this selection of the best road bike pedals for your new road bike.


Felt VR | 60

BBJAA11 VR60 PR
Felt VR | 60 | Source: feltbicycles.com

Main Features

  • Carbon fork
  • Clean and modern design
  • Partially integrated cable routing
  • Wide tire clearance (up to 34 mm tires)

Technical Specifications

Felt VR | 60 is a modern-looking well-equipped bike that provides an excellent price-value ratio. It is perfect for solo trips and group rides to explore the countryside or maintain your fitness.

It features a carbon fork that absorbs vibrations and reduces the vibrations transferred to your hands. This makes the ride more comfortable.

VR | 60 offers a 2×8 Shimano Claris groupset that is precise, but its gear range may be limiting for some riders that live in a mountain area.

The bonus is that it is equipped with mechanical disc brakes with enough stopping power even for wet conditions.

Owners of this bike also praise its comfort thanks to relatively wide 30mm high-volume tires. These allow you to ride not only on paved surfaces but on light gravel as well.

I am a huge fan of its modern design. What about you?


Canyon Endurance AL Disc 6.0

full 2020 endurace al disc 6 0 2393 bu bk P5
Canyon Endurance AL Disc 6.0 | Source: Canyon.com

Main Features

  • Excellent price-value ratio
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Partially integrated cable routing

Technical Specifications

Canyon Endurance line belongs to the best road bikes in terms of price-value ratio. I own a Canyon AL 6.0 from 2016, and it is a perfect bike for good money.

This is mainly thanks to the direct sales business model so that Canyon can produce great bikes for an affordable price.

The AL 6.0 is the lightest bike in this selection. When you realize it is equipped with hydraulic disc brakes, its weight under 20 lb (9.04 kg) is truly remarkable.

AL 6.0 is stiff, responsive, equipped with high-quality components, and 28 mm tires that are comfortable even on rough tarmac.

The biggest downside of Canyon bikes is the long delivery time. At the time of writing this article, this bike was available not sooner than 3 months.

It needs to be said that Canyon AL 6.0 is slightly more expensive than the other road bikes in this selection.


Don’t forget to wear a helmet on your bike. Feel free to check the selection of the best road bike helmets.


Specialized Allez

Specialized Allez
Specialized Allez | Source: Specialized.com

Main Features

  • Available in 2 colors
  • Carbon fork
  • Partially integrated cable routing
  • Compatible with rear rack and fenders

Technical Specifications

  • Frame material: Aluminum
  • Weight: 20.61 lb (9.35 kg)
  • Gearing: Shimano Claris 2x8spd (11-32 cassette)
  • Brakes: Rim brakes
  • Tires: Espoir Sport, 60 TPI, wire bead, double BlackBelt protection, 700x25mm

Specialized Allez is the most affordable road bike from Specialized. It is ideal for beginners or for people who want to commute to and from their work.

But, thanks to its compatibility with rear racks and fenders, you can use it for long-distance trips as well. You will be able to equip it with panniers to store all things you may need.

The geometry of Allez is ideal for beginner riders or for people who are not used to road bikes because it allows a more relaxed and comfortable position.

The carbon fork makes the ride smoother because it absorbs vibrations otherwise transferred to your hands and wrists.

The only main problem may be the limited gear choice (2x8spd), so Allez is unsuitable for too hilly areas or steep climbs.

Feel free to choose from one of the 2 colors (rocket red or satin black).


Did you not choose any bike from this selection? Check the Best Gravel Bikes Under $1500.


My Verdict

Trek Domane AL 2 is the best road bike for beginners. It is a bike that features quality Shimano components that are precise and quick compared to groupsets from other manufacturers.

Domane AL 2 is designed to be comfortable thanks to the more relaxed geometry that allows an upright position and carbon fork that absorbs vibrations. These features make it ideal even for long rides.

The comfort is also ensured by the 28mm puncture-resistant tires that are comfortable, and you can ride with them even on light gravel. This means you don’t have to limit yourself to paved roads only when planning your trip.

And, if you decide to go for an all-day-long adventure, feel free to attach a rack with panniers to the bike to store food, spare clothes, tools, and other things needed for your trip.

Is this going to be your first road bike?


How Much Should You Spend on a Beginner Road Bike?

The short answer is: Spend around $1000 on a new road bike.

Isn’t it too much? Well, let me explain it more in detail in the long answer:

When I was buying my first road bike, I started with market research. I found out that branded quality bikes start at around $800. It was a lot of money for me, so I needed more reasons to justify this price tag. I read a few bike forums and talked with people who sell bikes.

Cheap road bikes priced around $500 are fitted with cheap components that are heavy and wear out more quickly. And, to be honest, I would be afraid of riding on a very cheap bike in descents and races.

I didn’t want to buy a bike that would ruin my road cycling experience because of its poor quality.

In the end, I bought a Canyon Endurance AL 6.0 2016 for about $1300. I own it to this day, and I can say that I am delighted with it. It offered an excellent price-value ratio (thanks to Canyon’s direct sales business model).

Of course, you don’t have to buy a bike for the same price. It also depends on what riding style you prefer.

If you want a road bike for casual trips through the countryside, a bike for $500 may be good enough. Just remember it has its limits, and I don’t recommend pushing them too far. It may not end well.

Therefore, I recommend buying a beginner road bike for around $1000. A road bike for $500 will take you from point A to point B, but would you trust this bike in descents where you reach speeds above 40 mph (65 km/h)? I would not.

New or Used?

If you are sure that you will enjoy road cycling, I would recommend buying a brand new bike.

When you buy a second-hand bike, you never know how well the previous owner took care of it. If you decide to go for a second-hand bike, make sure to check it with a mechanic.

On the other hand, I have friends who have managed to find top deals on bikes for a fraction of the retail price. But you have to be lucky.

So, as always, it depends. New bikes are more hassle-free, but second-hand bikes may provide a more interesting price-value ratio.

To find out more about the bike’s features and what to expect at this price range, read the following section.


How to Choose a Road Bike?

The following part explains what road bike features you should focus on as a beginner. You learn more about the types of road bikes, groupsets, frames, brakes, and more. It is a little simplified. Feel free to read the full how to choose a road bike guide.

Road Bike Type

Did you know that there are 8 basic road bike types?

types of road bikes
Basic types of road bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of canyon.com and trekbikes.com

I am going to explain the first 4 categories because they are the most relevant for beginners.

  1. Endurance road bikes are probably the best choice for beginners. Their geometry allows a more upright position compared to other types of road bikes. It is a very similar geometry that you can find on fitness hybrid bikes. It is more comfortable and suitable for less flexible riders or riders not used for the more aggressive riding position.

    When I got into road cycling, I started with an endurance road bike. The transition from my old mountain bike was much smoother, and it was easier to get used to the different riding position.

    The downside of an endurance road bike is that you are less aerodynamic due to a more upright position. This means that endurance road bikes tend to be a little bit slower than performance or aero road bikes.
  2. Performance road bikes are also sometimes called lightweight or race road bikes. They are very like endurance road bikes. The main difference is their geometry that is more aggressive. It pushes the rider into a more aerodynamic position that has a lower drag coefficient. They also tend to be very lightweight and stiff.

    This type of road bike is perfect for performance-oriented riders. Pro riders use performance road bikes for mountain stages with a large elevation.
  3. Aero road bikes are optimized to be as aerodynamic as possible. They allow riding in an aerodynamic position that is more aggressive compared to performance road bikes. Aero road bikes are popular among sprinters and racers, especially for the criterium, flats, eventually hilly races.

    Aero road bikes’ downsides are the least comfortable riding position, slightly higher weight than performance road bikes, and high price (aero road bikes start at around $2500).
  4. Touring road bikes form a very specific category of road bikes. They are designed for bike packing and touring. This means that a touring road bike has a geometry that allows a more relaxed riding position. Touring bikes are also compatible with various bike accessories like racks, fenders, etc., and have a longer wheelbase (source). An alternative to a touring bike may be a gravel bike.

Frame Material & Bike Weight

Entry-level road bikes in a price range from $300 to $1500 are mostly made of aluminum. But, you can find carbon or steel road bikes in this price range as well.

  1. Aluminum road bike frames are the most affordable, thanks to lower manufacturing costs. Aluminum frames are not as stiff as steel or carbon frames, but they are lighter than steel frames. The biggest downside of the aluminum frames is that they fatigue and corrode over time. Aluminum road bikes are the perfect entry-level point for beginners and advanced riders with a limited budget.
  2. Carbon road bike frames are very stiff and light (they offer the highest stiff-to-weight ratio). They are perfect for performance-oriented riders or for people that want the latest and greatest. The biggest downside of the carbon frames is their price and the fact that they need to be inspected for cracks after a heavy crash to prevent failure under stress (but you should do that for aluminum frames as well).
  3. Steel road bikes are not as widespread anymore. Yet, they are stiff and durable but relatively heavy compared to aluminum or carbon frames. They provide good power transfer, won’t crack after a first crash, and have a unique look thanks to thin tubes.

Sources: CyclingWeekly, SheldonBrown, ScienceDirect

TIP: Read my bike frame materials explained article to learn more about the pros & cons of materials used for bike frames.

Frame MaterialWeight of the Bike
Carbon6–8 kg
13–18 lb
Aluminum8–10 kg
18–22 lb
Steel9–11 kg
20–23 lb
The estimated weights of road bikes depending on the frame material are based on my market research and comparing weights of road bikes from various manufacturers.
It also depends on the components used on the bike. For example, disc brakes add around 0.5kg (1lb) to the bike's weight.
The more expensive road bikes usually have better and lighter components, so their overall weight is lower.

Groupset

Entry-level road bikes use mostly 2X groupsets. But, there are also road bikes with 1X or even 3X groupsets. So, which one is the best and which one should you choose?

Go for a road bike with 2X or 1X groupset. 2X shifting (2 chainrings) offers a wider gear range compared to 1X.

1x chainring
1x chainring
2x chainring
2x chainring
3x chainring
3x chainring

2X groupset is the most widespread among road cyclists. If you look at the bikes used by professional riders or do your own research, you will find that most road bikes are fitted with 2X groupsets.

For example, in our 20 men cycling team, we all use a 2X groupset. I don’t see very often road cyclists with 1X groupsets.

But, 1X groupsets are much lighter and simpler. Unfortunately, also pretty expensive, so you won’t find them on beginner road bikes.

I would not recommend 3X groupset due to its weight, lack of aerodynamics, and complexity.

TIP: If you ride a bike with a 2X (eventually 3X) groupset, make sure you avoid cross-chaining. It is a situation when you ride with the chain on the small chainring and the smallest sprocket on the cassette (and vice versa).

There are 3 main manufacturers of groupsets – Shimano*, Campagnolo, and SRAM. You can see groupsets comparisons from these manufacturers in the following table.

*According to Credit Suisse, Shimano had about 80% of the global share in bike components in 2016.

 ShimanoSRAMType
Entry levelTourneyMechanical
Entry levelAltusMechanical
Entry levelAceraX5Mechanical
Mid rangeAlivioX7
X9
Mechanical
Mid rangeDeoreNX
GX
Mid rangeSLXGX EagleMechanical
ProXTX1Mechanical
ProXT Di2X01Electric
ProXTR XX1Mechanical
ProXTR Di2X01 Eagle
XX1 Eagle
Electric

Budget road bikes almost always come with cheaper mechanical groupsets like Shimano Claris, Shimano Sora, etc. Some road bikes feature components made in-house or from less-known brands.

These groupsets wear out more quickly and need to be maintained more often. They are also heavier, not as precise, and efficient as high-end groupsets.

If you want to find out more details about individual groupsets, I recommend the following article by BikeExchange.

Wheels & Tires

The standard wheel size of road bike tires is 700c (622 mm). You won’t have any other choice with a road bike. Anyway, what you can choose is the tire width. And here, things get interesting.

The general rule of thumb is the wider and higher volume the tire, the more comfort you get. According to road.cc, the common standard was 23mm tires, but it slowly changed to 25mm tires. Nowadays, road bikes are designed to fit 28mm and sometimes even wider tires.

I use 25mm tires, and most of my friends as well. I recommend you do a few experiments and test rides with various tire widths inflated to different pressures to find which one will best suit you.

Brakes

Road bikes come with rim or disc brakes.

  • Rim brakes exist in many variants, including ‘V brakes,’ ‘U brakes,’ etc. Their principle is simple – braking pads apply friction to the wheel’s rim and slow the bike.
    Rim brakes were pretty popular for decades, but they have a strong competitor in the last few years (read more about disc brakes below). The advantage of rim brakes is their lower weight, easier maintenance, and lower price than disc brakes, but they are not as effective in the rain and long descents.
  • Disc brakes
    • Mechanical disc brakes work similarly to rim brakes – a steel cable moves the pistons, creating friction that slows the bike. The advantage is that they are compatible with standard rim shifters and are easier to maintain at home. Their disadvantage is that the steel cable can wear out more quickly and break when you don’t expect it.
    • Hydraulic disc brakes use fluid filled in the system. As CyclingAbout explains, when you pull the brake lever, the fluid rushes down to the caliper, closing the brake pads. This type of disc brakes provides braking consistency in any riding conditions. On the other hand, they are more difficult to maintain at home due to their complexity.

The cheap road bikes (around $500) are usually equipped with rim brakes. Based on the info above, I believe rim brakes are better for beginners.

If you want to get a road bike with disc brakes, you will have to pay more, especially for hydraulic disc brakes that are more expensive than mechanical disc brakes.

Road Bike Size

The correct road bike size is very important. But how to choose it when you can’t try the bike in person?

There are bike sizing methods, or you can take advantage of bike size charts on the retailer’s website.

Road bike size is usually given in centimeters or descriptive sizes (S, M, L, etc.). To find out more about choosing the right bike size, read my article on How to Choose a Bike Size.

This tool by Bikeinsights will help you when comparing different road bike geometries.


Tips for Beginner Road Cyclists

You can avoid many mistakes and unpleasant situations that I experienced in my beginnings with road cycling. To name a few:

  • I was stuck 20 miles from home because I got a flat tire and had no tire replacement kit and neither a mini bike pump.
  • I didn’t know what chamois cream was and how it would make my rides more comfortable.
  • I remember countless rides when I almost didn’t get home due to absolute exhaustion.

You get the idea… So, here are a few tips you can take advantage of.

1. Get Cycling Clothing & Other Accessories

I know, getting a new bike and other accessories is not cheap. I struggled with buying cycling clothes and other accessories in the beginning because I had a very tight budget.

The good news is that you don’t have to buy all things at once; you can slowly build up your equipment. But some things like a cycling helmet are a must-have!

Here is a list of cycling clothing and other accessories to buy:

2. Download Useful Cycling Apps

Mobile apps will help you plan your trip, advise you on how to provide first aid or adjust your bike, forecast what the weather will be like, etc. My favorite apps include:

  • Windy for weather forecast
  • Red Cross for first aid
  • Strava for ride tracking

You don’t need to download all apps I recommend, but I believe some of them will improve your riding experience. Read my Best Apps for Cyclists to find out more.

3. Tweak Your Riding Position

Setting the correct bike fit is alchemy. If you succeed, you will increase your riding comfort, prevent injuries, and you will enjoy your rides much more.

One of the best road bike fitting series out there was made by Cam Nicholls and Neill Stanbury. Neill is a pro bike fitter that can explain bike fitting in an easy-to-understand way so you can set your bike fit at home.

4. Eat and Drink Properly During Your Ride

It can be difficult to estimate how much food and water you will need for your trip when you are a beginner.

The longer the ride, the more food, and water you will need. I always take more food with me than I need to prevent hunger-strike.

Trainright.com recommends eating at 100-150 calories of carbohydrates (25-37 g) per hour during rides longer than 90 minutes. But, it is more complicated than that.

The number of burned calories depends on your weight, ride intensity, and many other factors.

TIP: Take some cash with you so you can buy water or food during your ride.

Every person is different and has different needs, so it may take a while to figure out how much food you will need for your ride. I usually take a few bananas, bread with Nutella, rice cake, or oatmeal balls for rides longer than 2 hours.

What about the water? The British Cycling organization recommends taking 500-750 ml of fluids per hour. If you underestimate the fluids intake during longer rides, you may run into problems (cramps, dehydration, etc.).

If you don’t have a water bottle yet, make sure you get one. Check the selection of the best insulated and non-insulated cycling water bottles.

To find out more about fueling your body during a bike ride, check this article by Trainright.com.

5. Join a Club or Find Other Roadies in Your Area

The first season I rode the road bike alone. I enjoyed it less and less because it was too stereotypical. That’s why I found other cyclists in my area to do rides and training together.

I managed to find a local club. The beauty of road cycling is, among other things, that you can visit places you didn’t know about, push your limits, meet new people, compete, and have fun.

Often the others motivate you to ride regularly or help you to squeeze the most out of you. Believe me. You will be able to ride further and probably even faster in the group.

And if everything goes well and you build new friendships, you can go on holiday together to places where you would hardly get by yourself.


This post is regularly updated to provide you with the most up-to-date tips on products. If you find a product that is not up to date, please, contact me.

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