Top Five Entry-Level Road Bikes: Best Options for $500 and Under

Shared under Creative Commons licence.
Shared under Creative Commons licence. | Source

Riding a road bicycle is one of the best and most exhilarating exercises you can find. It's a wonderful combination of endurance, speed, and agility. If you're new to riding, or are hoping to get into it, finding a good entry-level road bike at an affordable price is really important. I know a lot of people who have invested a large sum in a bike only to find out they don't actually like riding all that much. A beginner road bicycle lets you get into the sport without investing a fortune.

There are a lot of bikes on the market and it can be confusing. A good entry-level road bike will have some specific features. They need to have efficient components that will ensure the ride is smooth and quick. They need to have a light frame and good geometry to let the rider pedal comfortably. Since the price tag is lower there will almost always be some compromise, but those components must still do a decent job.

This article will take a look at five of my favorite entry-level road bikes, giving a brief review of each one and offering my opinion on why you might consider it. We'll also talk briefly about some specific things you might want to avoid on an inexpensive road bicycle, to steer you away from a dud. Let's get started.

What to Avoid When Buying a Beginning Bike

• Unfamiliar Brands: There's a reason that big brands are successful. The best bikes for beginners are made by the big brands.
• Plastic Components: A good entry-level bike should have steel or aluminum-alloy brakes, shifters, and derailleurs.
• Poor Set-Up: You might have a great bike that's not adjusted for you. Use online guides for height, handlebar adjustment, and other settings.

Good Entry Level Bikes for $500 or Less

Obviously even the best entry-level road bike come with a lower price tag than a bike for experienced riders. With that comes lower value components, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing you should know what you're getting into. Here are a few tips to help you avoid riding around on a two-wheeled lemon.

  • Stick with well-known, proven brands.

A good rule of thumb is to stick with a brand you're familiar with. There's a reason that big brands are successful, and if nothing else you have a large company to turn to in case of a failed component. Some of the best bikes for beginners are available from bigger brands like Schwinn and Diamondback. They have the buying power to get discounts on decent components, which saves you money in the long run, so check them out.

  • Avoid plastic components.

I'm not a bike snob. I know that plastic has its place, but I still think it should be avoided on primary components. That means that a good entry-level road bicycle should avoid fully plastic brakes, shifters, and especially derailleurs. They just don't have the resilience that steel and aluminum alloy boast. They bend, snap, and wear out much more quickly. A good road bike doesn't have to skimp on component quality.

  • Set it up properly.

Sometimes a bike doesn't feel right, and it's not the bicycle's fault at all. Make sure that you set up your ride properly. There are some great online guides on standover height, handlebar position, and things like that. If you're not comfortable, look at those settings first before blaming your bicycle. Even cheaper bikes can benefit from adjustments like this.

Giordano Libero


The Giordano Libero is a great beginner-level road bike that gives the rider a taste of higher-end components, luxury, and construction.

Based around a lightweight 6061 aluminum frame, it's an entry-style road bicycle that will please even experienced, seasoned riders. The Vitesse alloy 700c wheelset is light and spins really well for the price, and the silver Shimano 2300 shifters and derailleurs are quite smooth to shift as well.

It's available in multiple frame sizes depending on your height, and all of them are light and agile platforms, quick to start, and fast on long straightaways. Personally, I think they are very attractive bicycles too, with a subtle, race-inspired look and oversized tubing. It's also a breeze to upgrade components if you find yourself outgrowing them. This is one of the better entry-level road bikes on the market. Available in black or white.

Tommaso Imola


Tommaso is not yet a very well-established or recognized brand, but it's one you should consider. The company consistently puts out an excellent product, including some awesome beginner-level road bikes like the Imola here.

The Tommaso Iola Lightweight Road Bike is a respectable platform and an excellent value, and it's definitely one of my picks for the best road bike for entry level riders. Like many of the competitors in this bracket, this bike uses a compact, lightweight, and strong 6061 aluminum frame, and many of the other components are from high-quality brands—stuff that you'd only expect on higher end models.

The Sunrace R-80 integrated shifters are precise and a lot of fun to use. The shifters are Shimano 2300, front and rear, offering 24 speeds in total. The cranks are all alloy making them light and strong enough to last. The bike ranges in size from 47cm up to 61cm, and it comes with a standard adjustable seatpost, so there's definitely a frame to fit most people.

I should note that this one doesn't come with pedals, so that's the only additional thing you'll need to pick up. On the whole, this is a light, responsive, and gorgeous entry-level road bicycle that I'd strongly urge you to consider.

Vilano Shadow

Beginner Level Road Bicycle by Vilano
Beginner Level Road Bicycle by Vilano | Source

Vilano is not necessary a name you'll recognize (notice a theme here?), but they boast some of the best entry-level road bikes in the business right now. I particularly recommend them if you don't have a lot to spend. Their prices are very affordable despite offering a decent set of components. The Vilano Shadow Road Bike is aluminum-framed and a prime example of what Vilano has to offer.

Don't let the name confuse you, these bikes are not Italian, but they're solid with many brand name components and good construction. I always like to go by customer reviews, and this one has had a great response.

It's the kind of bike you'll want to see up close. The paint is excellent, and it has a low key appearance that's not too flashy. With integrated handlebar-mounted shifters and a 6061 aluminum frame, it's light and responsive. The Tourney rear shifters are basic, but if tuned properly they'll work great for you. The bike weighs in at around 24 pounds. Contrast that with more expensive models!

The calliper brakes actually stop better than many disc varieties out there. The double-walled alloy rims make the bike look great and keep the weight respectable. It's one of my favorite inexpensive entry-level road bicycles out there today. Definitely give this one a look.

Schwinn Men's Phocus


I've spent a lot of time building and repairing Schwinns and they consistently impress me as well-built and crafted. The Schwinn Men's Phocus is a great example of an entry-level road bicycle that will impress. It has a gorgeous, arched aluminum frame with oversized tubing for extra strength and rigidity. This is a snappy bike that you'll love zipping around town on.

It comes with basic but intuitive Shimano A050 shifters and derailleurs. You have 14 speeds, which is more than enough for most situations. The shifters are not integrated, which some people prefer and others don't.

The brakes are alloy calliper, which actually operate a lot better than the disc brakes that more expensive cycles come with. The frame is 18 inches, which is a medium frame, good for someone around 5'6 to 5'11, and the seatpost is adjustable. The wheels are quick-release, so be sure to pick up a cable lock to keep them safe too. It's a good road bicycle for beginners that's not a huge investment, but will probably last you for years to come.

Nashbar AL1 Road Bike


Nashbar is another brand that's less well-known, but it's gaining notoriety by producing an excellent quality bicycle with great components for a decent price. They're primarily makers of cyclocross, mountain, and road bikes. The Nashbar AL-1 Road Bike is one of the best entry-level road bikes, albeit a bit more expensive than the others listed here.

This bike has a full aluminum frame that's lightweight and extremely responsive. Shimano Sora derailleurs and shifters are a cut above what you'll usually find at this price point, and shifting is a breeze. It has dual pivot caliper brakes that stop you on a dime. It comes in silver or matte black/blue. I encourage you to research Nashbar a bit to get to know the brand. The AL-1 is among the best road bikes for entry-level riding on the market.

Quality Indicators for Beginner Bikes

How to Buy a Quality Entry-Level Bike

Look for:
• Where the bike was made. Bikes made in China are often not as good as those made elsewhere.
• The brand. If a bike is "brandies" it might be a rebadged version of a less popular brand.
• Components. Look for branded, not "no name", parts.
• Customer reviews.
• Frame material. Steel is cheapest, then aluminum.

If you're considering an entry-level road bicycle that's outside of these selections, I want to encourage you to use this check list to make sure the bike is a decent buy. This isn't a sure-fire way to determine quality, but it can definitely help.

  • Check where the bike is made. If it's made in a factory in China, it probably isn't as high-quality as one made by hand somewhere else. That said, some Chinese factory bikes are really decent, especially if the manufacturer controls the quality.
  • Check the brand. Some bikes are "brandless," and that's a risky thing. Many, less popular, brands are just rebadged versions of more popular bikes. A big brand is an indicator of quality control, and something to look for.
  • Make a list of the components, and then research those brands. If most of the components are "no-name," the bike is probably not as good as one carrying lots of brand-name parts. If you're not sure of a component brand, post a comment below and I can let you know if it's any good.
  • Customer reviews are key. There are a lot of enthusiastic bicycle fans like myself that buy, ride, build, and review bicycles from all over. Read blog reviews and forum posts for a better understanding of the bike you're looking into. Also, if you're buying from a big online retailer, be sure to read the customer reviews and blurbs for a better understanding.
  • Check the frame material. Steel is generally the cheapest material, followed by aluminum and chromoly, and then carbon fiber and titanium. At this price point if you're able to find aluminum or chromoly it's probably a great deal.

If you're still stumped and looking for more indicators, please leave a comment and I'll try to help you out.

Brand Poll:

Buying a beginner's road bike, would you trust an unknown brand if it had good reviews?

  • Yes, reviews mean more than brand names
  • No, I only trust brands I know.
See results without voting

More by this Author

What do you think of these entry-level road bicycles? 64 comments

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 15 months ago from Vancouver Author

Hi MIchaelRiley, I'd opt for the Specialized, great brand. Take it in to a bike shop to replace the chain and do a tune-up. It'll set you back $50 or so, but it's worth it if you're buying a used bike. :)

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 15 months ago from Vancouver Author

I'd go for the Giordano or the Tommaso. Probably the Tommaso is better for you, though it's at the edge of your budget. Hope that helps!

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 15 months ago from Vancouver Author

Hi Erica, the Forza is a great but higher priced model, actually as good or better than those listed in this article!

MichaelRiley 15 months ago

New Question sir. I'd like to do something more, but at this time my budget, and more so my wife won't let me heh.

I imagine each of these could be talked down in price slightly. But for the money, which would be the best choice and why? Which would be your last choice?

I used to own a Raleigh 531 tubing. It was super comfy in short rides, but I'd tire out over 10 miles. Yes I'm out of shape! I want something I can increase my milage. Up to 40-50 Mile trips.

With time I'll upgrade what I can. I would like to buy one by the 08/07/2015

MichaelRiley 15 months ago

G'day sir. I had a 90's Raleigh steel frame 531 Tubing that I liked a lot, although just a little small. Mostly road it around town for transportation. 2-8 Miles at a time.

I had to sell it when we moved. I want to get another bike. 2-500 dollars be it new, or Craiglists. I now work about 18 miles from home, and would like a bike to ride to work 1, 2 times a week. In addition to in town use.

Which of these would be your top two selections, and if Craiglists, should I be looking for something like my Raleigh, or something different?

I was told at the bike shop I should be on a bike 54-56cm.

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 23 months ago from Vancouver Author

Hi Jon,

Bikesdirect is a good site to buy bikes from, and I've had good experiences with JensonUSA, Nashbar and Amazon as well. That said, I've worked at a bike shop before, and there's no comparing the service and build quality you get at a great shop.

Here's what I'd suggest. Buy that Dawes (components are much better), and take it to your LBS and pay them to put it together and tune it up for you, should cost a lot less than the $200 you've saved! Best of both worlds.

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 23 months ago from Vancouver Author

Hi bucklejo77,

I'm not familiar with the Dawes, but wow, great components! Tiagra is great. Alex rims, aluminum frame... on paper it looks great.

The Century 1 is a fantastic choice too, though I've never see it below $700. It'd probably be my top choice, a known quantity.

The Forza 4 is a step down from the Century and the Dawes, so it's hard to compare them. Basic shifters and components.

Hope that all helps!

Jon 2 years ago

Would you be able to offer suggestions regarding purchasing online vs. local bike shop. It seems like the bikes you reviews are online. I am considering the Trek 1.1 from the local bike shop vs. Dawes lightning 2300 from Bikesdirect for $200 less, but without the service and support of the local bike shop. The Dawes also has the Tiagra/105 components vs. the Claris of the Trek. Are Bikesdirect bikes legit? Thanks

football11 2 years ago

Great Good Article. quite helpful

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 2 years ago from Vancouver Author

Hi Joey777,

I find the road bike riding position to be pretty comfortable, it's just a matter of getting used to the style. If you don't like leaning forward so much, you can always swap in some riser handlebars.

Inches and cm are just different ways of measuring the frame size, usually done by measuring the height of the seat tube from the top down to the midway point on the bottom bracket. A 58cm or 22 inch frame should be about right for you... I'm 6'2 and that's around what I'd order.

erinshelby profile image

erinshelby 2 years ago from United States

Helpful for folks interested in going car-free or car-lite!

Joey777 2 years ago


This is a great resource! I am a total novice, looking to get a road bike for weekend riding and casual commuter trips. I'm leaning towards the Vilano Shadow based on the Amazon reviews.

Is that good choice for someone who isn't hardcore and is looking to be comfortable on a bike (vs. crouching and aerodynamic)? I understand the racing position gets pretty uncomfortable after a time.

I am also confused about sizing. I'm 6'1" and don't know if 58cm or 22-inch will work. What is the typical size for someone like me and what's the difference between cm vs. inches for sizing?

pradiiphira profile image

pradiiphira 2 years ago from Ahmedabad-India

i want to buy new one for me too but I will wait for more 2 months as here its monsoon time and at that time I will again refer your hub, as my budget is also around $400 - $500

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 2 years ago from Vancouver Author

I'd say a hybrid bike might be what you'd want, they have thinner tires so your pedalling will be more efficient, but they can still handle some trails. The Diamondback Edgewood might be a good choice, or the Schwinn Discover. You'll probably want a 16 - 17 inch frame.

Tina RP profile image

Tina RP 2 years ago from Papillion, Nebraska

This was a great article, thank you. Can you give me some suggestions for a women's starter road bike. I have a condition that riding really helps. Currently I am only able to ride about 30 miles per week but want to increase that greatly. I am riding a Schwinn mountain bike. My area is rather hilly, I am slowly getting stronger (very slowly) and have difficulty on some of those hills. We do have great bike trails though, mostly concrete. I will continue with my mountain bike for the limestone trail I love, unless I could do it with a road bike. On a tight budget! I am 5'8.5", I would also appreciate your help with sizing. Thank you!

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 2 years ago from Vancouver Author

Hi Alan, sorry for the late reply. Motobecane is generally awesome! They're a neat French brand with nice stuff, but they're a relative unknown around here. The Mirage SL has a nice set of components. I don't see Sora in the specs though, I'm seeing Claris and 2400, and that is a definite step down. The carbon fork is nice, though. I'd consider the SL to be roughly comparable to the Giordano or the Vilano reviewed here. If you're thinking about moving up to 105, I'd recommend it! It's a noticeable difference.

bikesbikesbikes profile image

bikesbikesbikes 2 years ago from Vancouver Author

Hi Jimmy, The Wellington 3.0 is a bike I've noticed, but I haven't had a chance to put it through its paces. Just based on specs it's fairly solid. I'm unsure about the Sora / 2200 mixture in the drivetrain, that could end up being finicky. But with a carbon fork and an alloy frame it could be a steal. If you give it a whirl, please come back and let me know what you think of it!

Pico Triano profile image

Pico Triano 2 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

Nice review article. I find the biggest failing right now for bargain basement bikes is the rear hub. I think they all come from the same factory. They're cast slightly out of alignment somewhere and as a result the cones keep losing up. For a clydesdale like me that is a disaster.

Jimmy 2 years ago

What do you think of the Windsor Wellington 3.0? How does its components compare with those on the rest of this list?

Alan 2 years ago

What are your thoughts on the Motobecane Mirage SL. Bikes direct has it listed for $399 with a sora Rd and shim fd. Shim cassette, sti brakes and shifters with weinman wheels.

I know this isn't a top if the line bike, but it seems trustworthy enough to last a few years and maybe some sprints in between.

Done a lot of research and for this price I haven't found anything comparable unless I jump into the $700+ range. Which that seems pointless since for a Lil more price you get into shim 105. I figure I skimp now and save for 6 months and get something in the $1500-2000 range.

ultimately I need a reliable commuter but still be able to be novice competitive and club rides.

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