Your first road bike: What should you choose?

Planet X road bike

There’s a great range bikes at Argos or indeed any other major retailer or small bike shop. How do you know where to shop from and indeed which bike to choose?

It’s a little different when you shop for a kids bike. You are just looking for something that will be adequate for your child, until they grow out of it. The requirements change for adults. You are now looking for something to stand the test of time, that will provide value for money and be a pleasure to ride in to work every day.

This was also the question I received from a reader recently:

I’m wondering if you or your readers could offer some advice ahead of buying my first road bike. I’ve read your post on the best value road bikes but I’m guessing things will have moved on since it was produced.

My budget is £600-700 and it would be for a 5 mile each-way daily commute plus longer rides at weekends.

I’m a bit dubious about buying 2nd hand as I don’t feel I’ve the experience to know if I’m being sold a damaged or stolen bike. I could be convinced though if people can recommend a reputable and friendly local bike shop.

I’d love it if people could chime in with their recommendations in the comments, but in the mean time I’d like to delve further in to what Robert hinted on in his comment.

That is buying second hand.

I’d thoroughly recommend most people looking to buy a bike investigate this option. The truth is the value of new bikes drops dramatically the day you wheel it out of the bike shop. Instead, of buying new, I’d therefore often recommend shopping around and then taking the bike in for a full service at a local bike shop. The full service will probably cost around £100 but you’ll still be saving major amounts versus a new bike.

To find yourself a good second hand bike checkout our guide to second hand bikes.

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36 Responses to Your first road bike: What should you choose?

  1. Andreas Andreadis 01/02/2013 at 6:31 pm #

    Although I ride a road bike since I was eleven (that is 43 years now) I never bothered learning much about bicycles. Last year though I started feeling that my 1971 Peugeot J8 was about to collapse and that it was time to buy a new one for my daily trips. Soon I got really confused. I realized that I didn’t know enough to choose the correct bike, so I did this: I bought an abused bicycle, abandoned at a well known bike shop (a 1989 Carrera Alpina II) and spent a month trying to fix it myself. I finally made it at a total cost of 100 euros (80 pounds) so now I am a proud rider on a bike that I love although it is far from perfect and, most importantly I know what to look for next time.

  2. roger 01/02/2013 at 6:59 pm #

    I bought a Focus ergoride. Nice bike, no problems, gears are like clockwork

    I would advise to buy from a shop, not online, as you can be sure of a good fit. The extra cost will be covered by the first free service

  3. Jack 01/02/2013 at 7:21 pm #

    I (through a friend) can vouch for Recycle in Elephant and castle, which sells second hand bikes and all of them are police-approved, i.e. not stolen, and have had a full service by their team.
    That said, for your budget Robert you could buy a really quite good bike, but make sure you are sure you’ll male most of it! And don’t rush into it, do plenty of shopping around and reading up. If it’s mostly for commuting, you might want to consider a touring bike as they will work better with panniers if you choose to use them.
    Whatever you decide, enjoy it! I’ve just taken the plunge and bought an old frame which I will gradually build into a bike. Reckon it will be the best way to learn about bike mechanics and boy will I love it when its finished…if it doesn’t fall apart!

  4. Cameron 01/02/2013 at 8:01 pm #

    I would recommend a test ride of a few at Evans Cycles. The one in the west end near Mortimer Street is a good one as you can do a lap around Regents Park.

    I did that to get a feel for mine. Got a Trek Alpha 2.1 on sale.

    • Big Softy 02/02/2013 at 2:26 am #

      Go t Evans for the test rides, then visit your friendly LBS to buy the same bike but for 20% cheaper.
      And Tom brings up a great point to buy last year’s model at a discount.

  5. Chris 01/02/2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Got myself a basic specalized allez on the bike to work scheme.

    Great work horse and as the frame is so good it makes a great upgrade platform,it’s now shod with full105 and fulcrum wheelset and does everything…commute,Sunday club rides and sportives.

    • Matt Leng 08/02/2013 at 11:47 am #

      Awesome bike ain’t it – I can vouch for this, rides like a dream, nippy and with the right upgrades – steaming up hills is a joy…

  6. Barton 01/02/2013 at 8:22 pm #

    I am looking for a 2nd hand road bike right now as well. I figure that I can get a year old (or just a bit more) bike with all the components I want for 1/2 or less than the new bike of equivalent components would cost. (also, I don’t want carbon fiber, and that seems to be all that is available in the stores these days with the gearing I want).

    I have brought two people into the search with me. 1) my LBS mechanic, who knows not only what I am looking for but how I ride/what I need, and what is junk or not. 2) Good “bike buddy” who is actually on the look out for five road bikes for five different people and has the time to scour ads.

    More and more gently used/ year old bikes are starting to pop up for sale at great prices – with verifiable ownership – as the “Freds” (Bike Snob NYC term) sell previous years perfectly good bike and get the newest and greatest that’ll shave seconds off their personal best times.

    Sadly for me, my geometry is pretty wacked (short legs, long torso) for a woman, so the options out there (basically a men’s frame) are few and far between in the small size I need.

    Good luck! And as others have said, take your time and make the most of your money!

  7. Hugh 01/02/2013 at 8:24 pm #

    You should be able to get a really nice ally or steel framed bike in that budget. If you are not confident buying second hand, or can’t find a knowledgable friend to help you, then I would recommend buying from your local independent bike shop. They need your support, and you should get better service than from a chain store.

    Make sure you get out for a good test ride and ensure the bike is comfortable above everything else. If it is your first road bike you need to fall in love with it, and comfort will go a long way.

    My first road bike was an entry level Ribble with ally frame and Shimano groupset. I rode it for years and loved it so much that I gave it away for free to a freind’s dad rather than sell it to a complete stranger when I upgraded to my current bike. I still miss it….

  8. Sam 01/02/2013 at 8:43 pm #

    I have tried this and found it really fun and I do love that bike, but that bike had a frame a tad too old and when I tried to replace the brakes I found that they wouldn’t fit, New brake styles were bigger than most things made today and the forks were too narrow for most newer wheels and so I was really constricted to what I could update. It was possible but just harder. In the end I have had to buy a new bike, a mid priced road bike with a good frame which I plan to upgrade, but with the confidence that most modern replacements will still fit. I have begun to fall in love with this now.
    Unfortunately that means I will have to sell the old one which is a bit like selling my grandmother. I think I will regret selling it as much as I did her.

  9. Tom 01/02/2013 at 9:06 pm #

    Whatever you do, buy last year’s model at a discount, never pay full price for a new bike.

    • MrCommuter 03/02/2013 at 10:27 pm #

      @Tom. You are absolutely right. I bought last year’s Felt Z6 for £400 less than the 2013 model. I also got it under the cycle to work scheme wjich will ultimately cost me about £540… For a carbon road bike.

  10. John Somers 01/02/2013 at 11:12 pm #

    Mmmmm….now this is both an interesting and smart question ask!

    OK, just looking at the question doesn’t quite provide enough information for me to make a fully informed list of suggestions but here go’s….!

    Depending on the type of roads you intend to be cycling on (town or country / flat or hilly) I’d suggest looking at something relatively robust and simple – and that tends to point me to say, look at single speed bikes (though not a fixie) because you can get quite a lot of bike for well within your budget. Which leaves room for the essentials that you WILL need to buy – lights, hi-viz, lock and possibly even a lid (though I’m no enthusiast of them, I wear a lid 99% of the time on a bike nowadays)!

    As I live in the Chilterns this may sound a silly option but with the correct gear ratio 90% of the hills are doable – I should know, I normally cycle about 40 miles a day on a commute to and from Northolt on single speed and multi gear bikes…..the time difference tends to be about 90secs to 2mins faster on a single speed bike than a geared bike!

    Single speeders are really easy to maintain and are fun to ride, with a great side effect….they seriously improve your riding technique and your overall fitness.

    So look at the following site: http://www.fixedgearfrenzy.com/ for ideas and examples.

    Now if you are looking at longer distances or building up to longer distances then I would suggest looking at a good multi geared urban hybrid, as long as the frame is good you can always upgrade the components as they wear out….but is only cost effective if you either do it yourself or have a really good local bike shop (LBS) to help you out getting the right components and fitting them for you. This is one of the best ways of really getting the bike you want that fits your every need and fits like a glove, for example I purchased a Marin Muirwoods 29’er that I then spent several years and thousands of miles tweaking, adjusting and replacing the components (including building my own 36 spoke wheels, around my selected hubs and rims) etc until it was a real beast that pounded the tarmac….until it got nicked….still miss this beastie!! :-(

    If I can assist further then I really would need a bit more information but drop me a line if you want?!

  11. sm 02/02/2013 at 9:19 am #

    ebay. Avoid gumtree (95% stolen). On eBay it’s relatively easy to spot stolen bikes if you know what you are looking for. Avoid bikes with thin descriptions, avoid sellers with multiple bike listings / previous bike sales in their history, avoid buyers with poor feedback, avoid anything that looks too good to be true. I’ve bought two expensive bikes on eBay (saving 30% plus).

    Bike size is important so make sure you get a frame suitable to your size. Bike fit is not as important as most people will tell you nowadays. It is very important if you are riding long distances (eg. 50+ miles) but not so if you are only cycling 5 miles each way. Get the frame size right and the rest is all easily adjustable to suit the majority of people’s requirements.

  12. Nathan 02/02/2013 at 3:52 pm #

    My two pennies worth…

    So i started cycling to work around three years ago and i have loved it, getting more and more serious and recently buying a £1000 bike. However, i would never have started at that level, you need to spend low to start off to see if you like it. Also if your budget to start is £700, you have to consider that when starting to commute you will need £2-300 worth of accessories, espeically for dark nights and wet journeys.

    So i reccomend that you go and find either a Specialised Sirrus or a Trek 7.1 / 7.2 hybrid bike with thin tyres. Brand new these are around £5-600. But what i did was two things. I bought the slightly out of date model (this was 2010 so i got a 2009 model) which took a couple of hundred off the price straight away. And then i bought it on the cycle to work scheme. Both of these combined bought the cost of my brand new Specialised Sirrus globe to around the £300 mark. I then bought mud guards, pannier, pannier bag, lights, helmet, cycle jacket, spare inners, gloves and a track pump. I got all this on cycle to work scheme too. In all I spent around £500, which i paid back over a year.

    I found i loved cycling, so last year upgraded the bike. But while i had it i loved my sirrus, and it was a great introduction to road cycling in London. Plus parts for it were cheap and easy to come by as its a fairly common bike.

  13. Chris Bolton 02/02/2013 at 4:58 pm #

    The Triban 3 sold by Decathalon would seem to be best value entry level road bike. For £299 you get a Italian built frame, carbon forks and Shimano 2300 STI gearing.

    It receives a very ggod review form Cycling Weekly http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/tech/bikes/129441/2/bike-test-do-you-get-what-you-pay-for.html

    Fellow blogger Will has just bought one: http://willcycle.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/new-bike.html

  14. Jonathan Hunsley 02/02/2013 at 7:27 pm #

    Agree with fellow riders, Chris Bolton and Will

    The Triban 3 from Decathlon is an excellent first road bike
    Mine is proving just the job on my regular 12 mile ride to work and weekend jaunts.

    My tip would be to upgrade the tyres,put on some crud catcher mudguards and change the brake pads and pedals …other wise its a good ride.

    Remember also that as you enjoy your riding more and more (and enjoy you will ) you will need to budget for some bike clothing , gloves, shoes, lights helmet etc

    happy trails

  15. Rob 03/02/2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Thanks everyone for the great advice.

    I’m currently waiting for secure bike storage to be installed in my building so I’ve a bit of time to make sure I find the right bike.

  16. Monty 03/02/2013 at 10:57 pm #

    Lot of good advice up there.

    I know it’s not the main topic of discussion but I don’t really agree with Andreas’s comment about a child’s bike only needing to be adequate and that you can go buy any old thing. If you want a kid to enjoy cycling in the same way we do, then you need to apply the same rules of looking for quality and value for money. A poorly-sized, too heavy bike can put back a child’s cycling quite a bit and, if it breaks due to poor quality components, then the cheapest option is not necessarily going to be the best value for money.

    We got our soon an islabike and have been pretty pleased with it:

    http://grimpeurheureux.com/?p=73

    Cheers
    Monty

  17. blowee 05/02/2013 at 2:16 am #

    Riding with our desired road bike can make us comfortable and the same time make us happy.There are lots of road bikes nowadays but the thing is we must choose the good quality bikes in our preference.If you need some road bike review then BikeRoar could help you with that.

    ROAD BIKE REVIEW

  18. Gizmo 05/02/2013 at 10:39 am #

    Whatever you do, DON’T BUY A BIKE FROM A SUPERMARKET OR ARGOS. Google “bike shaped object”.

    Now, having got that off my chest: Islabikes for kids (resale value on them is incredible, so you can ‘trade up’ when necessary), and go to a local bike shop to make sure you get a bike that fits you properly.

  19. Andrea 05/02/2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Buy a second hand steel framed bike that fits you.

    It will be beautiful (if you have style)
    It will be light (ally and carbon riders are usually fat)
    It will be easy to maintain (you will want to learn how)
    It will be comfortable (she will flex for you)
    It will be less wanted by thieves (they are thick)
    It will be cheap (new steel bikes are very expensive)
    It will be keeping its value (but you’ll probably keep her)
    It will be quiet (aluminium and carbon are noisy)
    It will last forever (steel is real)
    It will take a new paint job easily (from £60 frame and forks)
    It will be reliable (ally expires and carbon breaks)
    It will be fast (cos you’ll want to ride that bitch)
    It will be your teacher (she will open new worlds)
    It will probably have chrome parts(she’s bling)
    It will take modern components (she ain’t fussy)
    It will take old componentes (still ain’t fussy)
    It will make you proud (she’ll be admired)
    It will be unique (she was sexily made by hand)
    It will not be made by slaves (rather by an artisan)
    It will be a good motivator (you’ll want to take her out)
    It will be not fussed by the weather (she knows you’ll wipe her sexy curves)
    It will take a load (full panniers, a kid or your mate)

    BUT, it will not be as easy as getting your visa out and buying ‘off the peg’ (though you probably could in London, for a premium). You will have to do some research and learn all you can about bikes. If you do, you will have a very good idea of what to look for. If you don’t, you probably won’t be a cyclist for very long!
    A lot of people make the mistake of seeing it as buying a car. Think of it as buying a horse!

    Andrea

    • Andreas Andreadis 05/02/2013 at 5:59 pm #

      That was exactly my point! Perhaps my poor english didn’t help make mysels clear. Further more, if I was British I would buy a british steel framed bike!

  20. Matt Leng 08/02/2013 at 11:44 am #

    I bought a Specialized Allez as my first road bike, about three years ago. Utter dream, plenty of options to upgrade components (just adding Reynolds Shadow wheels) and is pretty damn quick and handles well.

    Looking to upgrade in the next year or so, but until then, this will serve me perfectly (10 mile commute each day, 50-70 miles per weekend).

  21. Bethan 08/02/2013 at 2:42 pm #

    When I dream about buying a new bike (not often, I’ve only owned 2 bikes in 17 years!) I get carried away with grand plans but then end up buying or choosing (in my head) another variation on a mountain bike (my latest is a full size folder with Hub gearing). Part of my criteria is that it needs to cope with London streets (ie potholes) and be able to take 2 panniers full of very heavy shopping. BUT I am now discovering cyclocross – road bikes with work horse properties by the sounds of it … very exciting. They seem to be capable of just about everything I will need from one bike – commuting, touring, going a bit quicker and somewhat lighter than my old bikes. Does anybody have any advice / recommendations?

  22. Chris Bolton 08/02/2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Hi Bethan, The Surly Cross Check Frame makes a great basis for type of bike you describe. I use one as my commuter/ workabout bike with straight bars and a 8 speed hub gear. There’s plenty of clearance for tyres up to 700cx45 with mudgaurds fitted and the steel frame is very strong but relatively light and even with overloaded panniers it’s very stable. I plan to do a blog feature on the just as soon as I can get round to giving it a good clean:)

    • Bethan 15/02/2013 at 1:48 pm #

      Thanks Chris – the reviews look really good. I especially like the fact that it is steel – and so versatile. It was described as ‘supremely comfortable and spry’ – I will be looking into this in a serious way now.

  23. VeNT 09/02/2013 at 8:11 pm #

    TBH if you’re looking sub £600 you’re gonna be hard pressed to beat something like a Triban from B’Twin.
    REAL bargin

  24. Bernie Heimann 13/02/2013 at 5:06 pm #

    I think one of the most under-rated bikes in the world is the Cluad Butler touring bike. I was scratching my head when I bought it wondering what had gotten into me as I had in fact entered the bike shop in order to buy a Specialised Sirrus – a hybrid bike and had walked out with a very different kind of bike.

    As it happend the only Sirrus in stock was the wrong size and the bicycle shop owner seeing a potential customer slip through his fingers quickly suggested I take the bike out for a spin. He gave me a lot of sales talk prattle which just put me off the bike even more than I was already. But then the magic happened.

    As I got onto the seat I just fell in love. I liked the long wheel base, the solid feel of the thing and the surprising comfort. The gears were a nice surprise for me as they were the Shimano ones that are on the brake lever which I had never used before.

    It was at the time the best bike I had ever ridden, not as nimble as the Sirrus but more sturdy and confidence-inspiring over the long hal. Rather like the difference between a Mercedes car and a hot hatch.

    So I brought my Merc back to the shop and as soon as my credit card was approved walked out with it again the proud owner of a new bike. It’s two years later and I have never had any reason to regret my decision.

  25. Bernie Heimann 13/02/2013 at 5:08 pm #

    I think one of the most under-rated bikes in the world is the Cluad Butler touring bike. I was scratching my head when I bought it wondering what had gotten into me as I had in fact entered the bike shop in order to buy a Specialised Sirrus – a hybrid bike and had walked out with a very different kind of bike.

    As it happend the only Sirrus in stock was the wrong size and the bicycle shop owner seeing a potential customer slip through his fingers quickly suggested I take the bike out for a spin. He gave me a lot of sales talk prattle which just put me off the bike even more than I was already. But then the magic happened.

    As I got onto the seat I just fell in love. I liked the long wheel base, the solid feel of the thing and the surprising comfort. The gears were a nice surprise for me as they were the Shimano ones that are on the brake lever which I had never used before.

    It was at the time the best bike I had ever ridden, not as nimble as the Sirrus but more sturdy and confidence-inspiring over the long haul. Rather like the difference between a Mercedes car and a hot hatch.

    So I brought Merc back to the shop and as soon as my credit card was approved walked out with it again the proud owner of a new bike. It’s two years later and I have never had any reason to regret my decision.

  26. Tony 17/02/2013 at 4:49 pm #

    CYCLO-CROSS bike. It came with a set of Cx wheels and 35mm tyres and I ride it on the road for commuting. I also bought a spare pair of wheels with 23mm road tyres that I use for riding with my road cycling friends on a Sunday morning. Wheels change with no need to reset gears.

    So versatile.

  27. Pal 18/02/2013 at 12:29 am #

    I was in a similar position last spring and went for the Btwin Fitness 3 http://www.decathlon.co.uk/fitness-3-road-bike-white-id_8188895.html#anchor_ComponentProductAvis from Decathlon for £250. It’s slightly less well specced when compared to the Triban but has normal handlebars which could be a factor if it’s your first road bike. I’ve since done over 1,200km with no dramas and am very pleased with it.

    I’d go for this or the Triban and upgrade with:

    £50 Abus lock
    £30 decent lights
    £60 jacket and pullover waterproof pants
    £25 reflective backpack cover
    £15 gloves
    £45 Gatorskin tyres
    £30 Roadracer mudguards

    and you’ll be all set :-)

  28. Bike 2013 05/04/2013 at 7:37 am #

    I’ll go for a bike that is i am comfortable with and i can manage and have fix all by myself and i can have it run as far as i can :)

  29. Rob 19/04/2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Hi all,

    Thanks again for the advice, as an update my building now has secure bike storage so I’m hoping to get my bike through the cycle to work scheme next week.

    I’ve just taken the Specialized Allez Sport Compact 2013 and the BMC Streetracer SR01 Tiagra Compact 2012 for a test ride and have no idea which to go for.

    I preferred the gearing on the BMC and the ride position of the Specialized (though I am going to try the BMC with a slightly bigger frame). Any thoughts on which route I should go down much appreciated!

  30. Rob 29/04/2013 at 2:33 pm #

    Quick update to let you know I opted for the BMC Streetracer and pick it up today. Can’t wait to get out and ride it!

  31. Paulo 14/03/2014 at 1:57 am #

    Dear,
    if you are looking for a brand new bike, go to Decatlon and ask for a B’twin F5, will cost around £350, its a great deal. all alluminiun with forks on carbon.
    I just got mine a week ago, excelent cost/benefit.

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