Michael Yozell, former gear editor of Bicycling Magazine. He is a professional bike mechanic based in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, with more than 30 years of experience and a bike consultant to consumers and the industry.
It’s easy to get sticker shock in a bike shop—some stellar bicycles cost $3,000 to $10,000. But excellent bikes for casual cyclists, with lightweight aluminum or alloy frames rather than featherweight carbon-fiber frames, can be had for $500 to $1,000. And late summer through autumn is a great time to find bargains, although pandemic-related supply interruptions and increased demand make that more difficult this year.
Here are some of the best reasonably priced bikes for assorted types of road surfaces, all of which have aluminum or alloy frames and weigh 28 pounds or less—except the last one…
Best for comfortable rides around town: Linus Rover 9 is ideal for easy trips on paved paths and neighborhood roads. Its upright riding position and comfortable seat let riders take in the scenery, while its 1.75-inch-wide tires provide a soft, stable ride—the wider the tire, the larger the cushion of air under the bike and the greater traction. Many bikes in this “beach cruiser” class have just one to five gears, but the 28-pound Rover 9 features a nine-speed gear system, which helps riders handle hills. $729.
Best for travel on unpaved and paved surfaces: Co-op Cycles CTY 1.1, sold by REI, is a “gravel” or “hybrid” bike—a middle ground between a road bike and a mountain bike. With 24 speeds and large wheels, it’s fairly fast on pavement…but its relatively wide 1.57-inch tires and durable construction mean that it’s very capable on gravel and dirt paths, too. The 28-pound CTY 1.1 has straight handlebars that create a fairly upright riding position. $549.
Best for biking adventures: Salsa Journeyman Claris 700 is capable on paved and unpaved surfaces and has a comfortable, relatively upright riding position like the gravel bike mentioned previously. But the durable 16-gear, 26-pound Journeyman also has abundant mounts for bags, luggage racks and water bottles, making it appropriate for camping trips. And this versatile bike’s standard 700c wheels can be swapped out for 2.2-inch-wide 650b wheels with mountain bike tires to convert the Claris 700 into an even more capable off-roader. $949.
Best road bike: Giant Contend 3 provides everything you need in a road bike for hundreds of dollars less than comparable offerings. Giant is the biggest bike manufacturer in the world, and its economies of scale let it undersell its competition. The Contend 3 is smooth, fast, comfortable and durable. At 23 pounds, the 16-speed bike is impressively light and agile compared with other bikes in its price range. $680.
Best carbon-frame road bike bargain: Cervélo R2 costs considerably more than other bikes on this list…but considerably less than other carbon-fiber-frame bikes in its class. Carbon-fiber frames are extremely lightweight yet still strong. This stylish, nimble and very fast bike will fit right in with $3,000 to $10,000 bikes in competitive races…or lined up in front of the snootiest coffee shop in town. It weighs 17 or 18 pounds—and the R2 features highly regarded Shimano 105 components. $2,400.