For £500, you can get a pretty decent commuting bike. Personally, I wouldn’t be keen to spend much more than £500 for a commuting bike. If you lock the bike up in town, there is an increased chance of theft, so with just a £500, you get more peace of mind than you would if you had spent over a £1,000.
I bought a very nice commuting bike in 1999 for about £550 (It was a Trek) but it got stolen from the back of my house. I bought a second hand bike (Trek 1000) from a neighbour for £200 as a temporary stop gap. 17 years later, I’m still riding this temporary stopgap. It is essentially an aluminium road bike, adapted for commuting. I often check out alternative commuting bikes and have test ridden a few, partly for this blog, partly for interest in ‘upgrading’ my commuting bike.
There is a great choice of commuting bikes for under £500. I would separate the choices into:
Classic / Retro Style Bikes – Look cool, great joy to have. Slower. heavier. A bit more expensive. Not great quality at less than £500.
Hybrid Bikes– best value. Most practical, most widely bought. Cheap prices due to economies of scale.
Mountain Bikes – Good for rough terrain like canal paths. Wider tyres are slower. FOr under £500, you won’t get a ‘real’ mountain bike, more like a hybrid geared towards the MTB range.
Road Bikes – Faster, narrower tyres, more aggressive riding position, but less stable than hybrid bikes. Useful for longer commutes and those wishing to combine commuting with training.
Single Speed Bikes – Easy to maintain. Look cool. More expensive (not many under £500). Not good if you have lots of hills!
Foldups – Useful for those commuting by train. Limited choice for under £500. Certainly, no Bromptons come under this price range.
The Pashley Sovereign is a classic style bicycle for the real bicycle lover. Based on traditional bike design it is lovingly put together; it will appeal to those wanting to ride a bike with a strong pedigree, but not looking for a super quick bike.
You might say the Pashley is the Rolls Royce of bicycles, but that wouldn’t be really correct because a Rolls is flash, ostentatious and expensive, the Pashley isn’t. The Pashley is more of a lovingly restored vintage car you’ve picked up for a few thousand. It’s not often you get the chance to get a really great vehicle and still have change from £700.
Pashley have refined the art of bicycles, one glance at a Pashley and you feel it is the image of what a bicycle should be. I’m not enamoured of the over-engineered Brooks saddle complete with multiple springs catches. (though I feel it slightly sacrilegious for offering any criticism to a wonderful British product)
If you are considering getting your first road bike, ideally you would be able to spend a minimum of £400 – £500. This would be enough to get you a decent entry level bike and give you a few options. Many companies, start their ‘entry level’ road bike around this price of £500. For example, for around £400-£500 – you could buy a Specialized Allez C2, GT GTS2 bike, Boardman Sport and quite a few others.
If you can spend £1,000 then you can get quite a significant improvement on these £500 entry level bikes. The range £500-£1,000 is very competitive these days, and you can start to get carbon frames and good groupsets.
Although, you can spend several thousands of pounds on a road bike, the difference between a £1,000 bike and £4,000 bike is not that significant for an amateur who is just doing some general riding / sportives. If you are a newcomer to the sport of cycle races, your results will not be significantly better for spending an extra £4,000 – at least in the beginning.
My new time trial bike (Trek Speed Concept 9) arrived at Beeline this week. Ironically, just as my time trial season is coming to an end. Anyway it looks nice. Which is the most important thing in a new bike.
Trek Speed Concept 9
600 Series OCLV Carbon,
KVF (Kammtail Virtual Foil) tube shape,
Weight: frameset, cockpit setup, headset, BB and small frame parts come out to 1,874g
Total bike weight (with Bontrager R5 training wheels and tyres) 8.1 kg
Bike with draft box
I bought the bike through Project One. You order the bike online (or through Trek dealer) and it gets delivered to bike shop. The great thing about Project One is that you can choose any combination of equipment. This enabled me to keep costs lower by choosing cheap training wheels. I also like to be able to choose the colour of the frame. You can spend quite a bit of time, switching equipment on the website
Another great thing about Project One is that it gets delivered to a good bike shop and experienced mechanics can put it together. The staff at Beeline bikes Oxford have been helpful in getting the bike on the road. Project One combines the best of the internet buying with also using a good bike shop. The best of both worlds really. Definitely adds to the experience to get a bike through a bike shop with enthusiastic workers to look after bike.
The main disadvantage of Project One is the time taken for bike to arrive. I ordered in May. It arrived end of July. I kept waiting to have enough money in the bank before ordering, but if I’d known how long it would take, I could have ordered earlier.
Also, it has proved bad timing on my part. My time trial season is effectively over (I might do one 25 mile TT just to use bike). I should have waited for new model to come out in Autumn and got bike for start of 2015. When buying a bike, it’s always worth planning the best time of the year to buy it.
Clean lines on Trek Speed Concept
This is what you pay your money for. Nice neat lines, everything hidden away. Super aero.
Neat front section. Really clean. Though annoyingly the plastic cover doesn’t fit 100% flush with the fork.
Smooth rear view (the black plastic bit for draft box can be removed) The lines of the frame are immaculate.
What’s it like to ride?
First impressions are good. Pretty stable at high speed. Seems to cut through the wind pretty well. Though disappointingly if you want to go fast, you still have to pedal very hard. It is difficult to make quantitative judgements about how much time it saves from last bike (Trek Equinox SSL) Even when I race it will be difficult. I was more impressed by the electronic gears than new frame. Electronic gears are pretty cool and easy to see the difference. Marginal aero gains, hard to judge. But, it definitely looks Aero!
Firstly, some general principles about buying a road bike for under £1,000.
It is a very competitive market segment with numerous bike companies offering several models. It is impossible to review anything like close to all the models available.
To some extent, many of the bikes in this price bracket will be quite similar. It is hard to find huge variances in quality and spec.
A more important question is to ask – where is best place to get a bike? What features do I want from a road bike? Have I left enough money for important extras.
Which is best material? Steel, Aluminium, Carbon fibre or even titanium? There are not many full carbon fibre bikes for under £1,000, but there are an increasing number of companies who can squeeze a carbon fibre bike under £1,000. I wouldn’t see it as essential. Also, it is not just the material, but how it is put together. You can get cheap carbon fibre frames and more expensive carbon fibre frames. To get a carbon fibre frame under £1,000 may lead to lower quality. Aluminium is very popular in this price bracket because it is cheap, strong and easy to mass produce. The disadvantage of aluminium is that it tends to give a bit of a ‘harsher’ ride – you notice more potholes. Aluminium is also harder to mould into attractive smooth lines (though new technology has led to improved Aluminium frames in recent years, and we are starting to see more Aluminium in top end road bikes)
Sportive vs Road bike. A sportive bike is a racing road bike, with slightly different geometry. They tend to have a taller headset to give a more upright and comfortable position. Racing bike geometry tends to make you lower – more aerodynamic and tends to be less comfortable. There is not a huge difference, but you can choose between comfort / speed. Sportive bikes also tend to be less stiff – absorbing more vibrations more comfortable ride. Finally sportives tend to have compact chainsets 50/34 – rather than bigger gears, such as 53/39.
Many £1,000 bikes have some cheap components, such as wheels and tyres to allow them to stay under £1,000. It means if you get into the road bike, you can consider later buying some better race wheels, which often provide a big upgrade on the cheaper wheels which come with the bike.
Cycle to work scheme
Bikes under £1,000 also fall under the UK governments cycle to work schemes. If your employer has signed up, you could save a significant amount (25%). If your employer hasn’t signed up, try and encourage them to!
Groupsets for bikes under £1.000
For bikes under £1,000 – the most common groupsets are Shimano Tiagra or Shimano 105. 105 is a very good groupset and comes fairly close to the performance standard of Ultegra and Dura Ace. It benefits from many ‘hand-me-down’ technology. 105 is probably as good as Dura Ace was many years ago. A very rough order of groupsets.
Shimano Claris (tends to be fitted to cheaper Hybrid bikes)
Shimano Sora (9 speed road bike groupset (£429)
Shimano Tiagra (now 10 speed) RRP £449
Shimano 105 (10 speed, now 11 speed) RRP £559
You can buy these groupsets cheaper than the list price, but it does shows that if you built up a bike from different parts, it would be more expensive than buying the full bike altogether.
Firstly my bikes which I bought under £1,000
Ribble Aluminium Frame-
I bought this over 10 years ago. It is is Aluminium frame, carbon fibre fork and Shimano 105 groupset. It came in at around £900 and I bought from Ribble Bike builder. I got a custom paint job. I raced on it for a few seasons, but has now become my winter training bike. All of the groupset has worn away several times, but I am still on the existing frame and fork. It has held up very well, despite taking a real battering. The paint on the carbon fork has started to peel away, but carbon fibre is inert and will not rust. The good thing about aluminium is that the odd dent, doesn’t impact on the frame too much (Unlike carbon fibre, where it can write-off the frame).
Ammaco Dresden. A hybrid bike for under £170. It looks good and seems to offer tremendous value. But, as soon as you start riding it you know why it is so cheap. Yet, these cheap hybrid bikes do sell tremendously well. Many buyers just want a bike under £200, no matter what the components are like. Bicycle lovers will instinctively turn their nose up at any bike under £200. So what is it really like?
People think that a big fat saddle is going to be more comfortable to sit on. I guess the size of this saddle spreads the weight. But, it isn’t really any more comfortable to ride.
The thing with this bike is I really didn’t feel comfortable to ride more than 15mph. In fact as I was cycling along, I spent a considerable time waiting for gears to index. The back wheel was also buckled, not overly reassuring since I was testing a brand new from shop. I assume this was just very bad luck to pick the bike with a buckle in back wheel.
The brakes are fine at stopping, though you do have to squeeze pretty confidently. I guess you won’t be tearing around corners on this. However, they do look fairly flimsy and will need careful maintenance over time.
I have to say, I really quite like how it looks, at least from a distance. When you get closer, it starts to look a little cheaper, like the plastic mudguards are not going to win any prizes for style.
Extensive Chain guard protection
Handlebars are adjustable in height, quite a nice touch, though I doubt the actualy buyers would be too fussy about finding optimal handlebar height. It’s the kind of bike you buy and hope to ride it straight from shop. Tyres are cheap and will offer no extra puncture protection, so be prepared for quite a few irritating punctures.
For the price, it’s very good to see it come equipped with mudguards and panniers.
Pretty good mudguards.
Shimano Turney gears – I found pretty rattly. Takes time for indexing to work. May not have been set up to optimal indexing, but the front changer was pretty slow and hard work to move. Rear mech was better.
Looks nice. A good simple paint job
To be honest some of the extras on this bike would get pretty close to £165 alone.
If I was a Car?
If the Ammaco Dresden was a car, I’d be tempted to say a Lada with a really nice paint job and roof rack attached at no extra cost.
Who would it Suit?
It would suit a student on a tight budget, absolutely unable to pay more than £200 for a bike. It might also suit someone who wanted to buy a bike for a few months when visiting a new city.
Is it Good Value?
I know this level of bike components will need more maintenance. There will be more punctures, the brakes will need careful attention and it is more likely to rust. It’s good value if you are a student buying a bike for a year or so. If you’re looking for a bike to last a decade, don’t bother.
Would I buy the Bike?
Would Ian Paisley buy a Celtic flag? I’m too much of a bike snob to buy something so cheap. Also the experience of cheap MTB has put me off spending a £150 hoping to get a good deal. What made me want to test this bike is my lodger wants a bike, but has no money. I see 100s of these Ammaco’s around Oxford and to be fair they seem to last pretty well. I guess if I was an impoverished student only wanting to cycle 2 miles a day, I might be happy to ride this. But, then I might be happy to to get a free can of Tesco Value Baked Beans.
Go on get out that student loan and blow it on a nice Pashley! – who needs beer and curry? spend all your grant on a bicycle. “You’ll never regret buying a bicycle”
Only established in 2006, Charge Bikes have carved a niche in the growing market of ‘cool’ single speed. With sleek minimalistic designs, they have proved quite popular, especially in London. They offer a range of three single speed bikes, with another three models of geared Charge Plug
All come with Cro-mo steel frame and fork
Charge 0 – £329 (bullhorn bars)
Charge 1 – £399 (bullhorn bars
Charge 2 – £499 (drop track handle bars)
Geared Charge Plug
Charge 3 – (disc brakes, Shimano Sora Gears)
Charge 4 – Shimano 105 gears (£1,099)
Charge 5 – SRAM Rival 22 gearing and hydraulic discs
Charge Plug 0
This is the entry level Charge Plug bike, newly released
At £329, it is quite a cheap introduction to single speed bikes. For simplicity and value, the Charge 0 is a reasonable start.
The Charge Plug – comes with bullhorn bars, these are a little more aerodynamic and help enable a stronger push when pedalling the single speed off from a standing start. They also help the bike stand out from the pack. However, many novices to cycling will find it easier to use horizontal bars.
Note: Updated review: originally posted on old blog.
Trek 7.1 FX is one of Trek’s best selling models. For £350- £375, you get a lot of features for your money which will appeal to a broad spectrum of commuting cyclists.
It’s not surprising why it is so popular. For most commuters and newbie cyclists sticking to roads, this bike does pretty much everything you need. It is reliable, solid and gives a good riding experience without any expensive extravagances.
It comes with 21 gears, and a very low ratio for getting up steep hills. Some may find the top gear of 48*14 a little on the slow side. You have to maintain a pretty high cadence to get over 25mph.
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