Recommend a $500-ish road bike
September 12, 2016 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Looking for road bike recommendations for a teen boy who is new to road biking. Budget is $500-ish.

My wife and I started doing some road rides with our 15 year old son over the summer. It's been a lot of fun and has proven to be a very nice family activity, so we're thinking about getting him a proper road bike this fall/winter so we can do some more extensive riding. We might take advantage of some model year end clearance sales or similar, and may even buy something now and save it for the holidays.

Would like to get the most bang-for-the-buck within a budget of $500 or so, and could use some suggestions. About the only firm requirements are a classic, drop bar-style handlebar and integrated STI brakes/shifters. Don't mind buying used from CL, but as CL can be hit or miss (and this will also be a gift to our kid) I'd mostly appreciate some suggestions for new bikes in this price range. has some interesting offerings, as does Amazon, but I'm open to seeing some more choices. And yes, I already plan on going to our various LBSes to see what they have on sale or clearance.

Another option would be to give him my current road bike (a ~20 year old CF frame/aluminum lugged Trek 2300 with upgraded wheels and other components) and look for something better for myself...but if I do that I'm going to end up wanting a much more expensive bike for myself, and frankly I'd rather not spend that much $$$ on myself at this time.

More backstory: our son is 15 and he runs cross country, so he could probably ride a 36lb Huffy and still crush us, lol. He hasn't had any trouble keeping up with us on hilly, 30-40 mile road rides despite using a bike with a heavy AL frame and 26" tires (albeit with upgraded wheels, a rigid fork, and 1.1" Continental GatorSkin tires). Nonetheless, we'll all have a better time and will be able to cover more ground road riding if he's on a real road bike.

I've worked on my own bikes for years and am very comfortable buying a bike online and fitting it to him, both through adjustments and through parts substitutions, as necessary, but I've never bought this particular sort of bike and don't know what's good or bad in this price range.

Thanks in advance!
posted by mosk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Fuji has some offerings.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:52 PM on September 12, 2016

^^^ That Fuji looks great, ALoD. Unfortunately, on closer look it has 24" tires, not 700c, which is a deal breaker for us. I'd also have to add STI shifters, but I don't mind doing that if everything else was in line with our needs. Thanks.
posted by mosk at 3:02 PM on September 12, 2016

In light of the above, let me clarify my short list of requirements:

700c wheels/tires
A classic, drop bar-style handlebar
Integrated STI brakes/shifters

For further clarity, our son is 5' 11" and 160 lbs of lean muscle. He's teenager in a fit, adult body.

Sorry for any confusion, backing out of thread now. Will try not to threadsit.
posted by mosk at 3:07 PM on September 12, 2016

You might need to work out the shifters, but here's another Fuji with 700c wheels and a drop bar. Their web interface isn't too great but it might be worth looking around the other road bikes on the site, maybe. They seem within your budget.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:12 PM on September 12, 2016

^^^ OK, so much for not threadsitting. Thanks for the second link, that's a good looking bike and more in line with what we're searching for. Looks like the next model up (the Finest 2.3) comes with STI shifters for an add'l $150 or so. The Finest 2.3 also comes with a cartridge BB and probably some other improved components, too. Whoa, and it's ~3 lbs lighter, too! Still reading...

>> Their web interface isn't too great...

Yeah - I looked through their site after checking out your previous link and didn't see it, so I guess I need to go through their site more carefully. Thanks again for your help!
posted by mosk at 3:29 PM on September 12, 2016

I've had good luck with the Specialized Allez. I bought my first one new for a little over $700, and my second lightly used off eBay for $600. That's a little over your budget, but I'd imagine that if you found a clearance sale or bought used you could find something in the $500 range. It has everything you're looking for - 700c tires, drop bars, and STI. I'm the same height as your son (a bit heavier, although I used to be in the 170s!), and it's extremely comfortable for me (56cm). Recommend highly.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:01 PM on September 12, 2016

Jamis has some good options in this price range, typically.

I've had good results in using these bikes as a starter bike for riders more used to hybrid/mountain bike geometry.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 4:32 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fujis are basically BikesDirect bikes with nicer paint jobs; they come out of the same frame factory, and might even have the same corporate parent although that's kind of obscure.

I've done a lot of bike shopping and you're basically always going to get the best bang for your buck from BikesDirect... as long as you don't care too much what the bike looks like. I recognize that your son is 15 so a nice paint job might matter more to him than it does to me.

That said, if I only had $500 to spend I would get this: BikesDirect Gravity Liberty CXD

It is not the most exciting-looking bike, but it's insanely well-specced and versatile for the money. Disk brakes. Carbon fork. Rack mounts everywhere. The stock rims are sturdy (if a bit heavy, a given at this price point) and will take tires from 28mm road slicks up to some pretty fat knobbies for gravel if he wants. Claris is a good starter drivetrain. It doesn't need anything out of the box to make it serviceable, except perhaps a saddle and tires to taste, but there's lots of room for upgrades down the road if he wants to get into it, and that frame can become just about any kind of bike he wants it to be.

My first proper road bike was a similar (and similarly-priced) BikesDirect cyclocross/commuter that I upgraded piece by piece over time with ebay parts, learning about bike wrenching as I went. I've ridden thousands of miles on it. It is perfect, and uniquely mine.
posted by zjacreman at 5:29 PM on September 12, 2016

I'll take the counterposition that BikesDirect isn't a great idea at the macro level. If you're definitely constrained to $500, then CL and a knowledgable assistant is the better path.

BD is a volume dealer who will not be able to help you with fit, adjustments, etc. If you buy from a local shop, you'll get all that for free, plus informal instruction on how to deal with your bike going forward.

The suggestion here that's definitely on point is the Specialized Allez line, the entry level of which lists at $750. Lots of people start with a lower-end Allez, so they tend to be overrepresented in the used market, so getting closer to $500 shouldn't be a huge problem.

I'm less familiar with the Trek, Cannondale, Giant, and Jamis lines, but they tend to have models at the same price points as Specialized, so ...
posted by uberchet at 6:20 AM on September 13, 2016

Oh, I didn't notice that you linked to a specific BikesDirect bike in your original question. That Motobecane Turino is very similar to my first BD bike, so let me tell you what I didn't like about it out of the box.

First, the DP18 rims - they look cool, but they are ridiculously heavy. Like, pushing 10 lb for the wheelset. I couldn't wait to get those things off. I wish BD didn't use these stupid rims on all of their <>
Second, the 7-speed Tourney drive train. It's a very old part range. BD must have bought out the entire global supply for a song, because they use them on a lot of bikes. It's perfectly serviceable gear. But they have a paddle-one-direction, thumb-button-other-direction shift interface, vs. the now-common paddle-both-directions Shimano SLI interface that I find easier to use in the drops. Claris 8-speed is current gear and a better choice on a new bike.
posted by zjacreman at 7:14 AM on September 13, 2016

The Giant Contend 3 is listed at $600 on the Giant website. My LBS sells almost all their Giant's below list price.

I'm extremely happy with my slightly higher end Giant bike (TCR Advanced).

Giant's sizing is a bit odd. I'm the same size (5'11") and ride the M/L.
posted by steinwald at 8:37 AM on September 13, 2016

Popping back in to thank everyone who has contributed answers - thanks!

I am intrigued by the suggestions, and have also noted the warnings. I am going to take a harder look at two of their bikes, the Gravity Liberty CXD that zjacreman suggested, as well as the one I linked to in my OP. Either seems like it would be a good choice.

That said, kevinbelt's suggestion to look at the Specialized Allez is a very good one. The Specialized Allez seems to have the right mix of components and features at a great price. It's also a good looking bike that a 15 year old would be happy ride. Most importantly, though, our local CL appears to have multiple 2014 and 2015 Allez Sport models right around the $500 price point. Given all of those positives it probably sits at the top of the list at the moment.

I appreciate all the bikes you have suggested so far and will do some more in depth comparisons, then take the data back to committee (wife and son) and see what they think.

I'm not going to pick a best answer yet as I hope to get a few more suggestions, and also because we won't be making this decision right away. But I do appreciate your input and experiences. Thanks!
posted by mosk at 10:17 AM on September 13, 2016

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