三九电影网If your budget for a bike is a grand or less, now is a good time to shop. Many new (or newly updated) models now come with disc brakes, carbon forks, 9- and 10-speed drivetrains, and other features typically found on more expensive bikes. Plus, manufacturers are producing sub-$1k bikes that are focused on one of cycling’s hottest trends—gravel and adventure riding.
Below, check out quick info on five of the top performers, then scroll deeper for more in-depth reviews of these bikes and other great options, as well as helpful buying tips and advice.
Simpler Drivetrains (If You Want Them)
Recent advances in shifting are also making their way to less-expensive bikes. While many gravel bikes now have 1x drivetrains (one front chainring) that simplify shifting and require less maintenance, 2x drivetrains (two front chainrings) are still the most common on the road. Also, bikes are getting fewer gears in the back, with 8- and 9-speed drivetrains becoming commonplace. However, some—like the Motobecane Immortal Spirit and the Triban RC 520—come equipped with 11-speed drivetrains. The additional cogs allow smaller jumps between gears for faster shifting and a wider overall range that allows you to pedal more easily without sacrificing too much top-end speed.
Brakes and Tires
Recently, affordable bikes have started to come with the same wider, more-versatile tires found on expensive road bikes. Models with tires 28mm or wider are now common. The extra width softens the road because you can run lower tire pressure with less fear of flatting. And they grip better on dirt and gravel, opening new routes to explore. Wider tires can be heavier though, so if you’re strictly looking to do faster rides on smoother roads, tires in the 25mm range might work better.
You’re also more likely to find hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes on less expensive bikes these days. Compared to rim brakes, discs offer better stopping power, especially in the rain and on dirt and gravel roads. You have more control and less hand fatigue, and they require less maintenance than older rim brakes. This alone is a great reason to upgrade to a new bike.
Get the Right Position
Few bikes in this category are designed for racing三九电影网, the most notable exception being the Cannondale CAAD Optimo Sora. Instead, most are created to meet the needs of riders who are commuting long distances, riding for fun or fitness, or who like exploring new places they can reach only by bike.
Comfort is just as important as speed. You want as light a bike as you can afford (because it makes pedaling easier), but you also want to look for one with frame angles and components that will keep you happy over many miles.
Consider a bike with a slightly taller head tube and a shorter top tube, which puts you in a more upright position三九电影网 than a pure race bike and takes strain off your back and neck. A longer wheel base also adds some stability as speed increases. The best bikes in this category do that, but without sacrificing fun or performance.
How We Tested
三九电影网Every bike here has been carefully selected and ridden hard by our team of test editors to tease out the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between them. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience riding these bikes to determine the best options. As we’re testing, we consider their value, quality of parts, and how the overall package meets the needs of the intended rider.
―BEST CHEAP CARBON BIKE―
Motobecane Immortal Spirit
Motobecane is a direct-to-consumer brand known for bikes that score high in the value department, and the Immortal Spirit is no exception. Not only is it the sole carbon bike here, it’s one of just two with an 11-speed drivetrain (the other being the Triban RC 520, below). The carbon frame and fork keep weight low—our size 47cm test bike weighed in at a scant 20.8 pounds, and the vibration-damping qualities of carbon make it comfortable for long rides as well as stiff and responsive to input from the pedals. Factor in the price, and this bike is great for active riders and beginner racers alike. Some may be put off by the rim brakes, but that’s a trade-off for the sake of the carbon frame and 11-speed cassette. Saddles are often overlooked, but our tester was impressed with the Velo on the Immortal Spirit. She remarked that it was comfortable not only while wearing padded cycling shorts but also when riding without.
―BEST ENTRY-LEVEL RACER―
Trek Domane Al 2
The good looks of the Domane AL 2 is the first indication that Trek didn’t mess around with this $860 bike. Start digging deeper and you’ll find even more to like. The shaped aluminum frame is nicely made and has a vibration-damping carbon fork. The rims are tubeless-ready so you can upgrade to smoother-rolling tires filled with puncture sealant, and they’re machined for smoother braking. Speaking of the brakes, they have a light pull and a firm bite on the rim—no vague mushiness here—and provide the best slowing and stopping performance I’ve ever sampled on a sub-$1,000 bike. The shifters snick-snick the drivetrain through the gears lightly and crisply. There are other little surprising nuggets like the pocket in the frame for a speed sensor, and the included light and computer mount that cleanly integrates into the stem. Best of all, the bike is a joy to ride. Handling is stable, precise, and attentive to pedal strokes so you feel like you’re flying over the road, not pushing through it.
―BEST WOMEN’S BIKE―
Liv Avail 1
三九电影网The Avail 1 is an accessible entry-level, aluminum-frame endurance bike ideal for women looking to get into road riding. The geometry puts the rider in a relaxed, upright position, which is comfortable and makes taking in the scenery a bit easier on the neck and shoulders. The 9-speed, 11-34 Shimano Sora shifting system is sturdy, reliable, and ideal for long endurance rides. And the oversize headset bearings and tapered steerer tube create a stiffer front end for more responsive maneuvering. The Avail 1 is an excellent option to get you out on the road, whether it’s your first bike, an upgrade from your old hybrid, or something to keep your mountain bike company in the garage.
―BEST ALL-AROUND BIKE―
This is a gateway bike and arguably the best cheap roadie money can buy. For $875, you get quality, versatility, and comfort, all wrapped around a sharp aluminum frame and full carbon fork. The Allez sports a crisp Shimano Claris drivetrain with an 8-speed, 11-32 Sunrace cassette and 50/34t chainring to get you over climbs and help you keep up with friends when the pace picks up. The bike’s relaxed, endurance-style geometry means it’s comfortable for a long day in the saddle as well as zipping down the block to the brewery. Tektro rim brakes perform well enough and keep the Allez light and cheap, giving riders the performance and weight savings they want while maintaining an affordable price.
Giant Contend 3
By combining an aluminum frame and fork with name- and house-brand components, Giant has built a dependable bike suitable for most types of road riding. An 8-speed cassette includes a 34t cog that’s smaller than what you’ll usually find on comparable bikes and is great for new or seasoned riders who like an extra gear when climbing. The 28mm tires help make the bike feel more stable and the ride smooth. Shimano Claris dual-action brake levers double as gear shifters, and the same design can be found on more expensive groupsets. They shift smoothly, and the shape of the hoods provide a comfortable position on the handlebar.
―BEST FOR ADVENTURE―
Salsa Journeyman Claris 650
Naming this bike the Journeyman was appropriate on Salsa’s part; this isn’t an outstanding gravel grinder that wows with every turn of the cranks, more a reliable steed to serve you well on a range of surfaces and steadily get you from point A to B and back. That steadiness, courtesy of the middle-of-the-road 650b wheels and wide 2.1-inch tires, is what we most appreciated about the Journeyman. As we rode it along a canal trail in our home of eastern Pennsylvania, it did its job of absorbing the bumps of the gravel and ripples in the dirt. And the Journeyman didn’t skid or slip, even though that trail was frequently slick with and muddy from melting snow or late winter rain. Shifting from the 8-speed Shimano Claris system was crisp and offered enough range for both flat and hilly terrain. At 28 pounds, our 57cm test bike was on the heavy side, and—given the ample attachment points for bags, fenders, racks, and bottle cages—meant to be laden down on long rides when you don’t want to leave much behind.
Triban RC 520
The Triban RC 520 is an excellent entry-level road bike. The aluminum frame, carbon fork, and cushy 28mmm tires take the edge off bumps and road vibrations, alleviating some of the upper body fatigue that comes from buzzing down rough roads. And if you want more cushion for the pedaling, you can fit up t0 36mm-wide tires before running out of room. An 11-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain, with 50/34 chainrings and an 11-32 cassette, offers a good range of gears for cruising along in a fast pace line as well as spinning up steep climbs. Stopping power comes courtesy of TRP HY/RD cable-actuated hydraulic disc brakes, which fall somewhere between the sharpness of traditional hydraulic disc brakes and mechanical ones. (They’re also easier to service than hydraulic disc brakes.) Proprietary aluminum wheels and anti-puncture tires can be set up tubeless if you choose, and mounts for a rack and fenders make the Triban RC 520 a viable commuter.
―BEST ENDURANCE BIKE―
KHS Flite 150
This bike leans toward the endurance category, but it also fares well as a commuter bike thanks to front and rear rack mounts. Long-reach rim-brake calipers result in healthy tire clearance—the 28mm Kenda K-176 tires have more room than many 25mm tires on standard rim brakes. Given the weight, you likely won’t use this bike for racing, but it’s ideal for hitting the road and enjoying some good miles. And with all that tire clearance, it’s also good for putting on wider rubber and riding some light gravel.
Diamondback Arden 2
The Arden 2 smoothly welcomes you into the world of endurance riding at a very reasonable price—typically, competitors’ bikes with similar components are in the $1,150 range. The aluminum frame is a dazzling shade of rainforest green with a rad geometric design on the top tube. To accommodate female riders, Diamondback offers the bike in a smaller range of sizes, from XXS to L (designed to fit people from 5 feet to 5-foot-11), and gives it a women-specific handlebar and saddle, which really starts to count in the comfort department when you’re on mile 60 with still a long way to go.
―BEST MEN’S BIKE―
Cannondale CAAD Optimo Sora
Cannondale’s CAAD Optimo Sora is proof that trickle-down technology can result in high-quality bikes for less—in this case, a fantastic beginner race bike for a grand. The frame features the same race-oriented design as all of Cannondale’s aluminum race bikes三九电影网, and the full carbon fork better dampens road vibrations and trims some weight compared to an aluminum fork. Shimano’s Sora 9-speed drivetrain is an uncommon bonus on a bike at this price and offers a good range of gears for both casual riding and racing alike. But don’t think you have to be interested in competition to enjoy some miles on the CAAD Optimo Sora—it’s a great option for anyone looking for a sporty road bike.