Best road-bike bang for buck?
November 28, 2005 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a road bike with a pathetically small budget, ~$700 USD or so. What I want to be able to do with it is go on weekly and/or daily rides with my (much) more experienced friends.

Questions are:
  • More bang for buck new or used?
  • Is an entry-level ride like this one even worth it?
  • Entry-level bikes you've liked?
Disclaimer: I am a long-time commute and mountain biker, I know the caveats re trying before buying etc.; this is just the homework phase. Thanks!
posted by everichon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total)
Response by poster: Also: Nice thread at Bike Forums.
posted by everichon at 12:22 PM on November 28, 2005

Bikes drop a ton price-wise once they're off the shelf. If you're looking for the best value, I'd go for a bike that's a year or three old - it won't be a lot different from the most shiny brand new bike out, and it'll save you cash. Ebay, craigslist, local bike shops are good places to look for this.

That said, the only bikes I've bought are my $35 salvation army Schwinn Sprint (which went around 2,000 miles before the back derailleur turned to cheese) and my soon-to-be-made custom.
posted by lorrer at 12:24 PM on November 28, 2005

I had pretty good luck with a $400 used Cannondale. I think that, if you're comfortable doing your own repair/upgrade work and don't mind not having the newest, flashiest ride, you can do pretty well with a used road bike. Of course, the downside is that it takes more work to find the used bike that's the right size for you
posted by COBRA! at 12:32 PM on November 28, 2005

I'd agree that a used bike will give you more bang for your buck. Even an older used bike. I'd check out the bulletin boards at bike shops frequented by serious cyclists. For $700, you may find something that originally cost 2x as much, from someone who is ready to trade up.

Also, you should do your most intensive looking in the weeks immediately following any large bike events or triathlons in your area: there's always a certain number of people who spend a lot of money getting ready for an event, only to decide afterwards that they'll never do that again. My wife got a ridiculous deal on a barely-used bike (<2 00 miles) this>
You might leave ~$100 in your budget for a new chain, casette, and tires if you buy used. You may also need to swap the pedals, so allow for that in your budget.

I don't think there'd be anything flat-out wrong with buying a new bike such as the one you linked to, and a low-end bike today is in most respects a much better bike than a low-end bike of 20 years ago. In short, I think it'd be hard to go wrong.
posted by adamrice at 12:38 PM on November 28, 2005

I got my first road bike, a Lemond Zurich, used on ebay for just about $700, about a third of what it'd have gone for new. Best deal ever. If you know what you want - including being certain about the size - you can get a dreamy bike in your price range by going used. If you insist on going new, in your price range you'll can get... something that's shiny.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:52 PM on November 28, 2005

I bought a used Cannondale on ebay for $600 and I know the original price was over twice that. I had to spend a little bit replacing the bottom bracket but apart from that it's been a great deal. I also much prefer the look of older Cannondales.
posted by forallmankind at 1:03 PM on November 28, 2005

The bike you linked to is solid enough depending on what you are after. It will certainly stand up to commuting use and will be a vast improvement over a traditional mountain bike. If you are more interested in touring you'll probably want to upgrade some of the components and "accessorize", but at that price you have some room in the budget for this.

Granted it was 12 years ago, but my mid-line Bridgestone touring bike priced ~$550 has well over 45K mixed-use miles on it and other than replacing the cassette this spring has been solid. OTOH, finding a middle-top tier, new-used road bike is certainly doable and would definitely pay dividends in the long run.
posted by Fezboy! at 1:13 PM on November 28, 2005

My barely-used Cannondale was only a couple of hundred bucks on Craigslist. People decide that biking isn't for them, or they're moving and don't want to haul the bike along, and we can all benefit from that.
posted by padraigin at 1:15 PM on November 28, 2005

Being a MTBiker and commuter, this may be nothing new to you, but I'll share my $0.02.

First, I'd like to say that bikes aren't as important as their riders. Take my friend's father-in-law Ted. He has a has a mid range bike with Shimano Tiagra compnents. Nothing fancy at all. This, however, hasn't stopped him from doing some amazing things. Retired and with free time, he has toured over 40,000 miles since 1998 on this bike. Guess what he has replaced? Tires (and even adjusted his odometer to compensate for the millimeters of tire ware - wow!) and a shifter. That's it. He's using the original bar tape!

That being said, I like to buy things right, and buy them once. Overall this prevents breakdown headaches, and money wasted on replacing components. I couldn't do this for my first roadie, so I spent most of the money I had on a frame I liked. I didn't care much about or for the components on the bike. In time, I then proceeded to replace parts I couldn't stand with nice used parts from friends, or components I bought. I ended up with a bike I like very much, with some spare 'just in case' parts. And saving up for a while to buy a nice individual part is easier than trying to save $3000, right? There's a real advantage to doing something like this: you can base your next choice off a component you've been using. This way you can tell if you'd like a stem that's a bit longer/shorter/higher, etc...

There aren't many low end (nice) steel road bikes out there, but I'd encourage you to seek one out. They don't weigh that much more than aluminum, and are so much more comfortable. But you probably know this being a commuter.

One more thing. If you think you're going to get into riding on the road, have a backup plan for this first bike you buy. If you end up riding with your friends a ton and outgrowing it, what else will you be able to do with it? Turn it into a nicer commuter? Singlespeed/fixed it?

Have fun!
posted by ArcAm at 1:54 PM on November 28, 2005

Response by poster: Singlespeed/fixed it?

That is on my in-my-lifetime list to do. :o)
posted by everichon at 2:11 PM on November 28, 2005

Craigslist. I've seen some great deals there I'd jump on myself but my apartment is already too small for the bikes I do have.
posted by cmfletcher at 2:13 PM on November 28, 2005

What everybody said -- my daily rider is a bike I paid $20 for at Salvation Army* -- road bikes especially seem to be underpriced at thrift shops. Be prepared to do work on it and replace the tires/tubes/chain/brake pads etc. if you go that route. Also most of the good road bikes I see there are 15 years or older.

As for new bikes: components on even entry-level (non-Big-Box) bikes today are pretty good and upgrading the odd component that bugs you could still be cheaper than getting the more-expensive next-step-up bike. So when going for factory-fresh, I would, as you've already suggested, focus on fit and ride vs. money.

Also, if the saddle on a new bike sucks (they often do) you can use the saddle from one of your other bikes until you save up for a better one (you can't ride more than one bike at a time, anyway.)

Another thing to consider, if you're the clipless type: will you need new shoes to match the new bike's pedals? I avoid this problem by having the same kind of pedal on all my bikes (and using the same pair of incredibly fredly commuting shoes for everything) but in any case be prepared to spend some money to deal with this issue.

BTW, the bike you're looking at kicks my 10-year-old entry-level bike (a Bianchi) around the room, weight-wise, speed-wise, brifter-wise, pedal-wise and fork-wise, at a price similar to what I paid in 1995 -- i.e., on a constant-dollar basis it's probably 30 to 50% cheaper. The frame is probably fine ('net research should help you out there) but of course the final question -- that of fit -- is going to be tough unless you can try one out.

*True, I ended up putting another $200 into it but the bulk of that was for a new wheel for conversion to a fixie so I don't know if that really counts. :?
posted by Opposite George at 2:25 PM on November 28, 2005

My two cents: as previous commenters have said, go used (eBay or Craigslist). You're probably best off with a chromoly steel frame, as it tends to be more durable than aluminum, which is your other option in the pricerange you specified. I'm personally fond of lugged steel frames from the 1980s or early 1990s such as those made by Schwinn or Bianchi.

Having looked myself (I'm in the market for a winter road bike), I can tell you that a complete bike of this variety, built with, say, a full Shimano 600 group, goes for around $350 on eBay. Not a bad deal at all.
posted by killdevil at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2005

The bike you linked to represents a lot of bang for the buck. In 1992 when I bought my first serious road bike (a Trek 1200) it cost more than that Tomasso. It had downtube shifters and an aluminum frame with a chro-mo fork. Fast forward to 2005, and you're getting a similar aluminum frame with a carbon fork and integrated brakes/shifters for less money.

I looked at your profile and I see that you are in Ashland which is really a cycling town (UBI is there, Third Hand/Loose Screws, etc). You might find a great bargain on a used bike.

The entry level bike I liked most was a Burley tandem ($1,500, a song by tandem standards) that we rode for seven years with absolutely no trouble at all. The parts were a mixed bag of Tektro, Sachs and Shimano, none even close to top-of-the line, and it held up just fine.
posted by fixedgear at 2:46 PM on November 28, 2005

Singlespeed/fixed it?

That is on my in-my-lifetime list to do. :o)

Oh boy, do it ASAP, you won't regret it. Riding fixed is the best thing that's happened to my geared cycling, whether it be on the road, or the trail. It improved my strength, wind, spin and handling. Also, it's so fun.
posted by ArcAm at 2:50 PM on November 28, 2005

I agree with ArcAm. Of course its become a very expensive hobby now that I'm building up a really nice one with a true track frame. *siiigh*

it sure is fun skidding past the spandex mafia that go by my house though.
posted by atom128 at 4:04 PM on November 28, 2005

Agree with most comments so far.

If you buy a used bike, here are some of the most common problems:

- wheels out of lateral / vertical true
- worn chain / cassette
- cracked handlebar
- play in the hubs
- rust on the inside of the tubes
- bent rent-derailleur hanger

If any of the above are spotted, bargain aggressively and be prepared to put some effort into fixing it. Don't worry about the tires, the brake cables, the saddle or the handlebar tape -- these will usually have to be replaced anyway.
posted by randomstriker at 4:46 PM on November 28, 2005

Being middle-aged, tall and large, and having found that most bikes (even when used as a primary form of transportation) have never really been comfortable, I fell in love with my short-wheelbase recumbent. Massively comfortable, I can ride much farther with less pain and fatigue.

The trouble with recumbents is that they tend towards the expensive.

One maker, though, sells them cheap: Actionbent. Manufactured in Taiwan, you can get them with great components for half the price of other recumbents.

I wouldn't have any other design than a SWB, underseat steering. If you don't mind putting it together yourself, you can get a great bike for $700. I was told that my $1000 bike from them would cost twice as much anywhere else- and the guy who told me sold recumbents.

Check out the actonbent website, and then note that you can get the same bikes cheaper on ebay from the same guy. Be sure to ask Randy (the proprietor) for add-ons/extras (seatbag, rack, etc) . Hit him up and he often adds them free.

One caveat: The factory tends to leave stuff out- at least it did a year ago.. Let Randy know if something's missing and he'll make good...

I like mine.
posted by INFOHAZARD at 5:18 PM on November 28, 2005

For an actual bike selection, I chose a Specialized Allez Sport when faced with similar parameters. I've really enjoyed it, and the only real drawback is the aluminum frame (which is fine, but I found out that I really like steel once I bought a Bianchi Pista). I went up to that model (next-to-last of the line, rather than last) because it had a carbon fork and seatpost, which are great on the aluminum frame, and I went with Specialized vs. the other companies because they usually upgrade the rear derailer relative to the rest of the component set (that is, I got a Shimano 105 rear derailer with otherwise-Tiagra components), which struck me as a good thing. The comparable bike (Allez Sport Triple) in their 2006 line is retailing for $910 I see, a lot more than I paid, but you can probably find one for less than retail, especially at the end of the model year. Their low-end model (Allez Triple) has Sora components + Tiagra rear derailer, but is $710 and includes a carbon fork and seatpost, so it's not really a bad deal, and I think you would be really happy with it for anything less than racing. Good luck making a choice!
posted by The Michael The at 5:27 PM on November 28, 2005

$700 is plenty. Beyond that, what you're paying for is shaving off grams at the wrong end of a diminishing-returns graph :-)

I'd say go for a second-hand bike so you have plenty of money left over for some accessories, as buying those new all at once, the cost racks up so quick - road bikes seem to come with nothing stock, stripped to as low weight as possible. This is another reason to buy used - the acessories have probably already been added to the bike (y'know, stuff like lights, lightweight/quick-release mudguards/fenders/whatever you call them, drink bottle, pump/repair kit/spare tire, blah blah).

Actually, just ensure someone else in the group is carrying a pump and just carry a spare tire and cheap plastic tools, you don't need help there :-)

Since you're a mountain bike commuter, something you might not have needed until now, but I find very important is a presta-to-car-style valve adaptor, so you can use gas station air. They're $2. Bike pumps suck :)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:23 PM on November 28, 2005

In a prior lifetime, I spent a year burning holes in CrMo and Ti tubing for a boutique framebuilder in northern CA. I've slung a leg over some very high-end stuff; past a certain point, you are spending money on a decal. (I used to say it was a decal and a paint job, but environmental costs have pushed everyone to powder coat)

When the time came to buy another road bike (as a civilian) I chose a Raleigh over something 'cool'. The bike is every bit as good (build, geometry, comfort, gruppo) as the doctor-bike sticker-stud stuff, and was half the price. I love it to pieces. I suspect it would sell used today in your price range or below, and it's a fantastic bike.

Within your price range - buy used, buy something that was high end a few years back, but don't overlook the plain brand (oem buying power = better parts spec) and find something that feels right to YOU. The wrong size frame with the right decal on the downtube is a ticket to misery. And it's ok to trust your snap judgement - Of all the bikes I've ridden, the ones I liked best I knew it within 3 blocks of climbing aboard. Don't talk yourself into a bike that doesn't speak to you. The good ones whisper "faster... longer... harder..." directly to your soul.
posted by Triode at 8:55 PM on November 28, 2005

Like everyone else, secondhand is great. I got my Canondale for $AU700 and it would cost ~3 times as much new here. The thing I'd add is to be patient. I watched eBay for 3 months before the bike I bought popped up. With the amount you save you can upgrade or fix anything that needs to be fixed.

Still, a guy I ride with sometimes bought his bike, a medium range Avanti, for $100 and a new one would cost about 10-15 times as much. He got really lucky and found a friend of a friend who was selling a bike his size and just getting rid of it.
posted by sien at 9:00 PM on November 28, 2005

i like my jamis satellite, its my first 'real' bike. i use it for some cross training and getting around a little, and im really happy with it.
posted by at 9:21 PM on November 28, 2005

When I was 15, I saved my cash from my after-school job to get a road bike. I paid $400 then (1990) for a Specialized Sirrus with full Shimano 105 components on a steel frame. The Sirrus at the time leaned toward racing more than the sport image that model has now. It was white (not my first choice) but the price was really decent. I got it home, rode it a few times, then put it up for the winter. I couldn't wait for the snow to melt.

Fast forward 15 years... I've ridden that bike thousands of miles all over upstate New York, raced it, and done all of the repairs and upgrades myself. It's been a great hobby that allows me to geek out with math and tools and maps, but also supports a healthy lifestyle, a deep respect for gravity & wind, and personal achievement.

Anyway, I made sure to buy at the end of the season, and I made sure to ask if they had bikes in my size they were trying to close out. Ebay wasn't around then, but I could be persuaded to buy a bike if the price was right. I probably wouldn't build a bike piecemeal. Lots of people inflate their shipping charges on ebay, which eats into the savings very quickly.

Oh, I just remembered: If you have a local cycling club, *join it*. Members in my bike club get a CD with great local ride maps, schedules of group rides, other people to ride with, but most relevantly significant discounts on bikes and accessories from a couple of local shops.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:55 PM on November 28, 2005

eBay is your friend here.
posted by caddis at 6:26 AM on November 29, 2005

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