7 Best Road Bikes Under $500 in 2021 (Review)
The $500 price point is a hotly contested area for bikes. A lot of bike companies will be vying for your cash, and many will be spending a lot on marketing. Our guide bypasses the marketing and brings you the 7 best road bikes under $500 in 2021.
We’ll tell you how to find the perfect saddle to go with a new road bike. We’ll break down the pros and cons of buying a cheap road bike vs. a more expensive bike. On top of this, we’ll answer the important question of how much a road bike should weigh. By the end of our guide, we want you to feel comfortable buying your new bike knowing that you’ve made an informed decision.
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The Best Road Bikes Under $500
1. Vilano City 7 Speed Hybrid Retro Urban Commuter
The Vilano City 7 Speed is a fixed gear bike, you can call it a fixie if you want, but proper cyclists would prefer you called it a fixed gear. A fixed gear means you can’t coast. If you stop pedaling, you’ll be looking at hitting the ground.
That is why the Original comes with a flip-flop rear hub. One side contains a fixed gear cog, and the other side contains a freewheel. Take the wheel out, flip it over, and flop it back in and you’ll be able to coast again with a freewheel.
Fixed gear riding is fun. If you want to go slower, pedal slower. If you want to go faster, pedal faster, to help get you going. Pure Fix has fitted deep section aero wheels to the bike.
They have fitted Thickslick tires for the wheels. If you feel brave, run fixed and remover your back brake. You can then use the pedals to skid to a stop. That is where the Thickslicks come in. They break traction nicely to help you smoothly skid to a halt.
2. Schwinn Phocus 1400 and 1600 Drop Bar Road Bikes
The Schwinn Phocus 1400 and the Schwinn Phocus 1600 are very similar in that they both have aluminum frames and carbon fiber front forks. One of their differences is their size; the 1400 is only available with a 16” option in white, and the 1600 comes in light blue and black + 16” and 22”. Both of these models are great for fitness and style.
The Schwinn Phocus 1400 has a low, convenient drop bar for heavy workouts or trail riding. It features a Shimano 14-speed drivetrain and 700c wheels. Keep in mind that the 1400 is only available in a small, while the 1600 is available in two sizes.
The 1600 has a slight difference in its drivetrain. You still have Shimano, but with this one, you have 16 speeds available to you. This one is slightly better for longer workouts or larger hills, though both of them will do great. The 1600 just gives the rider the advantage of 2 extra speeds.
Both of these models have a quick-release front wheel, making them easy to lock up. Each saddle is created for easy height adjustments. Toe clips and straps are also present with these models, which will help with grip and performance. Lastly, the 1600 is equipped with a micro shift trigger shifter.
3. Schwinn Vantage FXE 650b Electric Sport Hybrid Road Bike
The Schwinn Vantage FXe 650b Electric Sport Hybrid Road Bike comes with a few more gears than a fixed gear bike does. It comes with a 16 speed Shimano Claris STI shifters. STI shifters are one of the best inventions that have ever hit bikes. STI shifters have your gears and brake levers combined.
The reason this is great is that you’ll spend most of your time riding with your hands on the hoods. That is the plastic bit that stands above your brake and gear levers. To change gears, you just have to flick your thumb or index finger and its done. Attached to the brake lever, you’ll find a non-branded set of alloy caliper brakes.
As Giordano is trying to bring you a great lightweight bike for your money, the frame of the bike is constructed from 6061 aluminum. To complement this lightweight frame, Giordano has outfitted the Libero with compact chainrings.
Compact means that your front rings are 50/34 rather than 53/39. The lowering of the gearing will allow you to easily climb hills and find a nice tempo to ride at on the flat. Many pro cyclists now ride a compact on mountainous and hilly races. There is then no need for you to try and ride a race chainset.
4. Schwinn Volare 1300 Road Bike
The Schwinn Volare 1300 is an aluminum-framed affordable road bike that is designed to help you dip your toes into road cycling. Unlike the Giordano above. this Schwinn men’s bike does not have Shimano STI shifters and instead comes with Shimano A050 shifters.
Using A050 shifters means that you’ll have to bring your hands in from the hoods to change gear. You’ll want to make sure that you’re comfortable moving your hands around when riding. The A050 gearing is also a little clunkier to change than Claris.
Schwinn has then concentrated on making the Volare as comfortable as possible for you. They have done this by fitting the bike with 28c wide tires. 28c wide will bring a little more cushion to your ride compared to a standard 23c tire.
These tires are mounted on reliable double wall alloy rims. Double wall rims are an excellent choice for people who don’t want to be truing wheels all the time. They will withstand a bit of beating and will be a good choice if you’re going to use your road bike for commuting, and it’ll be more fun than many hybrid bikes.
5. 6KU Aluminum
The 6KU is the second fixed gear in our line-up. If you’re buying a budget road bike, starting with a fixed gear can be better than you think. You’ll get a better ride quality for your money, as the money has been spent on contact points rather than gears.
Many pro roadies, and some who race mountain bikes, will a ride fixed gear during winter as it allows them to develop a good pedaling action. Having a good pedal stroke will enable you to generate a lot of speed quickly. Developing a better technique then might be better than having a lot of gears.
One of the contact points on the Prime Line is its bullhorn bars instead of a drop bar. Bullhorn bars are really comfortable to ride. They offer a lot of hand positions. You can stretch out and make yourself aero on them, or you can sit back and give your back a rest.
Like the Pure Fix, the Prime Line comes with a flip-flop rear hub and a set of 43mm deep section wheels. Either would make a great bike for a beginner. Your only problem will be the lack of water bottle mounts, but that can be easily solved using inexpensive wrap on mounts. They are both nice cheap road bikes.
6. Raleigh Cadent 2
The Raleigh Cadent 2 is a reliable and safe fitness-centered bike. With Bigger Vie Tire Co. Silent 700x35mm tires, this bike is stable, strong, and fast.
It’ll be a great frame that is more than deserving of upgrades as you start to wear the parts out on it. To help further distinguish the bike from the others in our bike guide, Motobecane has fitted the Mirage S with a carbon fiber fork. It is not a full carbon fork as it has an alloy steerer, though.
This model has a heat-treated aluminum frame with and an alloy disk road fork. It’s extremely lightweight, so it’s a good bike for long workouts. Keep in mind that while this bike works wonderfully for hard surfaces such as bike paths and streets, its lack of adequate suspension makes it inappropriate for high-intensity sports such as mountain biking.
The riser bar on this bike is made from alloy and covered with Raleigh comfort grips. The grips are strong enough to withstand wind and rain, so exercising in imperfect weather doesn’t pose an issue. It is equipped with Shimano EF500 EZ Fire 8-speed shifters, and there are 24 versatile speeds to choose from. The brakes on the Raleigh Cadent 2 are Tetra M280 mechanical disc brakes – great for quick stops (if needed).
7. Hiland 700c Road Bike
The Hiland 700C Road Bike looks like a much more expensive bike than it is. From a distance, it looks like it may be a carbon bike due to its aero shaping. Its frame and fork, though, are both constructed from aluminum.
It might not be as light as a carbon aero bike, but the design of the XC700 should still bring you some speed gains. The rear seat stays are in a lower position than on the other bikes in this test. The lower position has been proven to help bike lower drag.
To help lower drag further, the XC700 also has deep section wheels and internal cable routing. Cables flapping in the wind can cost you a few watts in energy when out on a ride. There is a tradeoff, though: serving internal cables is not an easy job. It can be time-consuming and frustrating.
The aero aesthetics do add some extra weight to the bike. Aero shaping does this to all bikes, regardless of price point. For many, it is seen as a worthwhile trade-off. The other compromise is that aero features will make a bike a little less of a comfortable ride. You’ll have to decide whether you want speed or comfort.
5 Things to Look for When Buying a Road Bike
Does it fit?
Fitting is the most important part of getting an enjoyable cycling experience. A bike that doesn’t fit you correctly is going to bring you a lot more aches and pains. You could potentially give yourself physiological problems.
Single speed or gears
Do you really need gears? Buying a fixed gear or single speed might allow you to dip your toes into cycling and see if you enjoy it for a lower price point. You also won’t have to worry about extra maintenance costs and regular chain changes.
STI or thumb shifters
Thumb shifters can be a bit of pain and can get easily broken if you turn your bike upside down. STI shifters are harder to break when turning your bike upside down. STI will also allow you to change gear easily and not have to make a conscious decision to do so. It may be worth a few extra dollars in the long run for STI shifters.
Race or compact gearing
Most bikes under $500 should have compact gearing and not race gearing. That is because race gearing is hard and your knees might not like it. Pro cyclists don’t always use race gearing on their race bikes, so there is no need for you to try and tough it out.
Don’t buy into cool looks. The less your bike weighs, the easier it’ll be to actually ride. If you live somewhere particularly hilly, you’ll definitely not be wanting to pedal a heavy bike. Tires will really affect weight, so look for brand-named tires as they will generally be a little bit lighter.
What Sort of Road Bike Can You Expect to Get for Less than $500?
You can get a bike that can be a functional and hardworking bike. Realistically you can’t expect a Tour De France style machine. You’d be looking at an extra zero on the price for that. You’ll find that as the price gets further from $500, and this is especially true for road bikes under $300, you’ll get a much heavier aluminum road bike.
At close to $500 you’ll get a road bike that you can easily go out and ride a century (100 miles) on and not feel that you needed more bike in order to do it. The bikes with Claris STI shifters will all have a nice crisp gear change.
The fixed gear bikes should all have sealed bearings and a nicely designed frame by the $500 mark. Sealed bearings will last a lot longer and not need as much servicing as loose ball bearings. These bikes will be great for tearing it up around your home town.
The simple way to characterize a $500 bike is that you’ll get a workhorse bike. It’ll not be fancy or flash, but you’ll certainly be able to get and ride on it. It won’t fall apart on the first sunny day, and with 14 or 16 gears it’ll be easier to set up and maintain than a more expensive bike.
Should I be Budgeting to Spend up to $1000 Instead?
Not if you can’t afford it. People will always tell you about this better bike at a slightly higher price point, but it’s always worth remembering that the best bike for you is the one that you can afford. If you can afford $1000, then go for it.
Two of the most competitive bike price points are $500 and $1000. Both of these points involve a big psychological barrier about spending more. Bike companies are aware of this, so they make the bikes at these points the best value in their ranges.
Most people will be able to notice the difference between a road bike under $500 and road bikes under $1000. You’ll have made a jump from steel and aluminum to carbon fiber for some brands and this brings a big weight reduction.
On the bikes that are still steel and aluminum, you’ll find a carbon fiber fork. A carbon fork is a good way to lose weight, and it also helps to absorb road chatter. The next climb up is that you’ll have gone up the groupset hierarchy by a long way by the time you get to $1000. You’ll also find that SRAM starts to appear on bikes. SRAM’s entry-level groupset is equivalent to Shimano’s mid-range. You should also begin to find branded side pull brakes.
How Much Does a Road Bike Usually Weigh?
Road bikes are almost synonymous with the idea of lightweight bikes. The less your road bike weighs, the less weight you have to carry up hills. One thing that many people don’t know about road bikes is there is a minimum weight for them.
The UCI set a minimum weight of 6.8 kg (15 lbs.). If you get a bike that weighs less than that, you won’t be allowed to race it. All of the high-end bikes are trying to just stay on the correct side of that rule.
At around the $500 you will be looking at around double that weight. The good $500 bikes will be around 30 lbs. As you get closer to the $1000 mark, you’ll find bikes start to weigh 20- 25 lbs., and after that, the weight starts to come down at a much slower rate.
How to Choose a Saddle
Getting the wrong bike saddle can be a huge pain, both literally and metaphorically. You might sit on your saddle and instantly think it is wrong for you, but that’s not always the case. Most saddles will take around 200 miles to break in. You might have an uncomfortable first few miles but it will get progressively less painful.
That is why you should never get a saddle right before you plan on doing some long rides. You’ll want to break a saddle in by going for a few small rides first. That will avoid any bruising to your sit bones.
You also don’t want a saddle that looks like a chair or a gel-padded saddle. The huge saddles won’t allow you to get a good position on the bike and will inevitably cause more discomfort. A gel saddle has a gel fluid inside it. The problem is the gel can move and settle in the wrong place. Both of these can hinder days with a lot of mileage.
Consider your cycling. If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking about road biking. It then makes sense to buy a road bike saddle. Don’t buy a mountain bike or hybrid saddle because they look more comfortable. They are designed for you to have a more upright riding position.
A road saddle allows your body to sit in the correct place on your bike. Due to this position, your saddle needs less padding than on a hybrid saddle. On a hybrid saddle you’ll have more of your weight on your sit bones.
Can you touch your toes? Can you almost touch your toes? If you can do both of these, you’re much less likely to move about when you ride your bike. If you’re not flexible, you’ll be wanting a rounded saddle shape. If you’re flexible, you’ll find a flat saddle more stability.
Saddles come in different widths. To know which width you need, you’ll need to get your sit bones measured. Most local bike shops should be able to do this for you, and it is nowhere near as invasive as your probably imagining it is just now.
The only final tip is to make sure you set your saddle at the correct height. It’s a common mistake amongst roadies to set their saddles high so they can try and get the pro look. You’ll find road cycling can be more comfortable on a thin saddle than you imagined it would be.