Cheap road bikes have become increasingly capable in recent years. As groupsets have become ever more affordable and more direct-sales brands have entered the market, the ride quality and value for money of entry-level road bikes has increased massively.
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And if you're looking for a road bike for serious riding, training or even just commuting, £600 is about the price point at which you will get you a solid ride that, given due care and attention, will serve you well for years to come.
However, cheaper bikes need not just be for beginners — they can also be the ideal platform to create the perfect all-weather training bike. Most bikes at this price point will use external cable routing, which although not as neat looking, is far easier to live with than potentially faff-ridden internal routing.
Nearly all bikes at this price point will also use a threaded bottom bracket. These will put up with the most egregious of abuses far better than the many varieties of press fit systems found on more expensive bikes could ever hope to.
Most bikes around the £600 mark will also be outfitted with an 8- or 9-speed groupset. As 11-speed groupsets have become the norm for more expensive bikes, 8- and 9-speed parts have come down in price and sourcing replacement parts shouldn't pose any problems for you or your wallet.
So without further a do, here's our pick of the best five road bikes under £600.
Updated 31 March 2017
Specialized Allez E5
- Retail price: £525
The Allez E5 is one of the best looking budget bikes we've ever tested. From the gently swept top tube to the neat welds and simple yet vibrant red paint job, which wouldn't be out of place on a more expensive bike, this bike is a real head turner.
But the Allez E5 isn't just a pretty face and it proved itself to be more than capable when out on the road. The steepish head and seat tube angles matched with the shortish wheelbase make for a quick yet confidence inspiring bike, which is truly great fun to ride.
The FSA Gossamer crankset is a really impressive addition for a bike coming in only a little over £500. With stiff, easy to service outboard bearings and a modular design making for easy gearing swaps, should you be heading to hillier terrain, the E5 scores especially well here.
The braking and wheels on the E5 are also excellent for a bike at this price bracket. The cartridge brake pads feel considerably sharper than their almost ubiquitous (at this price point) one-piece counterparts and the Axis Sport wheels are wide enough to plump the Specialized Espoir Sport tyres to a comfort-improving 26mm wide.
The bike's 8-speed Shimano Claris groupset doesn't shift quite as well as the more refined 9-speed Sora, but when paired with the aforementioned FSA crankset performs more than well enough, despite the slightly larger jumps between gears.
With no rack mounts the Allez E5 isn't quite as versatile as some other bikes out there, but if you prioritise ride quality overall, this may the bike for you.
Giant Contend 2
- Retail price: £575
For an alloy bike costing less than £600, the Giant Contend 2 weighs in at a competitively light 9.56kg — a full 900g lighter than the Merlin PR7. While this may not sound like a lot, it represents a 10 percent difference in weight which you can really feel on the bike.
Like most bikes in this price range, the Contend 2 is outfitted with a Shimano Claris groupset with a third party — FSA in this case — supplying the cranks. The bike's bottom end 34/32 gearing was more than welcome on our local gut-wrenching climbs and is particularly beginner friendly.
The so-so non-cartridge pads made for some slightly disappointing braking, but are a very cheap upgrade which will make a huge difference on the road.
With a full complement of mudguard and rack mounts, the Contend 2 is an ideal option for those looking for a true all-rounder that doesn't compromise on ride quality.
B'Twin Triban 520
- Retail price: £450
B'Twin is the house brand of French outdoors supermarket Decathlon and is well known for producing a range of incredibly competitively priced bikes.
The Triban 520 is no exception; unlike most options in this price bracket, the bike comes with a full 9-speed Sora groupset, including the cranks and brakes.
Somewhat unusually, B'Twin has chosen to spec the Triban 520 with a triple crankset, a relative rarity in these modern times. Though we'd normally pour scorn on such a spec choice on a more expensive road bike, we think it makes sense here, with beginner or less fit cyclists likely appreciating the easy bail out gear when things get steep.
For such a well specced bike there of course must be a compromise and we found the braking on the Triban to be a little underwhelming. The one-piece brake pads combined with the deep-drop Shimano calipers made for somewhat vague feeling braking that would be massively improved by an upgrade to cartridge brake pads.
Interestingly, the bike is also one of very few road bikes to include mounts for a front pannier rack, so with the aforementioned triple groupset making the bike particularly hill friendly, the Triban 520 could easily double up for light touring duties. We recommend you upgrade those brake pads first though!
The relaxed geometry of the Triban makes for a slightly less spritely bike than some of the other budget rides we've tested, but if you place value for money over all else, this is likely the bike for you.
- Retail price: £450
The Merlin PR7 has been refreshed for 2017, resulting in a more modern looking bike which holds its own against options from brands many times its size.
The 6061 frame isn't quite as nicely finished as other bikes we've tested in this price range — particularly around the slightly lumpen looking welds — but the PR7 includes a number of ride quality improving measures, including extensive shaping of the tubes, which results in a bike that is stiff where you want it to be without being an overly jarring and harsh ride.
If you really want to get the most from the PR7, we would highly recommend upgrading its wheelset at the soonest possible opportunity. While no wheelset on a sub-£600 bike will be astonishing, the PR7's wheels are particularly heavy and somewhat let down this otherwise great bike.
The Sora groupset warrants no complaints and the 34/30 low-end gear should get most up any hill. As with most bikes in this price bracket, the bike would benefit hugely from an upgrade to higher-end cartridge brake pads.
With the bike currently available direct from Merlin at a frankly ridiculous £349 (30/03/17), this is one of the best value for money bikes out there.
Reid Cycles Granite
- Retail price: £600
Adventure, gravel or all-road bikes are an increasingly popular option for those who prefer to ride off the beaten track.
Utilising fatter, often treaded tyres and a more confidence inspiring upright riding position than a regular road bike, adventure bikes are also a great option for those that spend lots of time riding on rough or otherwise poorly maintained roads.
The Reid Cycles Granite is one of the best value for money adventure bikes we've tested so far and think it's a great option for those that aren't afforded the luxury of glass-smooth asphalt.
For £600, you get a seriously classy looking hydroformed alloy frameset that — rather impressively given the pricepoint — is paired with a carbon fork.
Unlike the majority of budget road bikes, the Granite uses disc brakes which provide stronger and more consistent braking than rim brakes at the cost of a little extra weight. These TRP Spyre brakes in particular are among the best mechanical disc brake options out there and should provide years of hassle-free braking.
At 11.5kg, the Granite isn't the lightest bike out there and you'll feel that extra heft on the climbs with the bike's 1,028mm wheelbase contributing to this slightly sluggish ride.
Reid, an Australian direct sales brand, doesn't have a huge presence yet in the UK so you may need to shop around a little to find a store that can order one in for you.