We've ridden and evaluated more than 100 of the top road bikes in the past year—everything from budget picks to fully customized carbon superbikes. We found inspiring road bikes for less than $1,000 and excellent disc brake-equipped bikes for about $1,500; something which was unheard of just a few years ago.
Chances are since you're reading this online, you're likely looking to shop online as well. We've prioritized brands and retailers that will allow you to do that. If you have the budget and are set on an in person shopping experience, start your search with the Specialized Aethos – our 2021 Bike of the Year. If you’re looking for tested options you can buy online or at a local bike shop, these 8 models, each a Bicycling Bike Award winner, are the ones our expert testers most often recommend.
Check out five of our top picks below, then scroll deeper for buying advice and reviews of these bikes, and more high-ranking options.
How Our Test Team Selected These Bikes?
Our Test Team carefully chose these bikes based on their value, quality of parts (most of which have been tested separately), user reviews, our experience with the brand, and similar models. We try to update this piece frequently because we know that stock shortages are real and unpredictable. So if a model you like is out of stock, hang tight and we'll do our best to replace it with something similar that is available.
What Do We Mean by "Road Bike?"
Any bike that's intended to spend all (or most) of its time on the road can be considered a road bike, so here you will find a wide variety of bikes; all generally meant for "road" riding. Some will be light and fast bikes intended for racing or fast group riding, others veer into all-road adventure and mixed terrain exploring. We even threw in a few flat-bar options for riders seeking a bit more of an upright riding position.
Disc Brakes on Road Bikes Are Now the Norm
Many high-end bikes now launch as disc brake-only platforms. Both Specialized and Trek no longer even offer their range-topping models with rim brakes, and component manufacturers Shimano and SRAM have essentially stopped making new rim brake options. Cycling is now far enough along in disc brake technology that many of the woes of first-generation disc-brake road bikes—additional weight, poor brake feel, aerodynamic penalties, noise—are a thing of the past.
That means, for the most part, you get the benefits of disc brakes–better control, more consistent performance, better performance in adverse conditions, fewer brake-heat-induced rim, tube, and tire problems–without drawbacks.
Rim brake fans can still find some options. Brands such as Canyon and Colnago still offer limited rim brake models, and Campagnolo has shown little interest in abandoning their rim brake groupsets. But the writing is on the wall, and it will likely only get harder to find a new bike with rim brakes for purchase going forward, especially at premium price points.
Tire Clearance on Road Bikes Is Wider Than Ever
Until recently, rim brakes limited many road bikes tires to a maximum of 28mm width. That's because most modern road bikes did not use medium or long-reach brakes, but rather a lighter and stiffer short-reach brake. By using disc brakes, that pinch point is removed, and we're seeing tire clearance of more than 32mm on even the most race-oriented road bikes, such as the Cervelo R5, with many disc brake road bikes able to fit tires of more than 34mm.
Wide tires offer benefits such as increased comfort, better traction, and often improve rolling efficiency. In some cases, they're safer, allowing you to roll through potholes and over gravel patches rather than dart around them. That's what big tires can do.
The most common materials used to make modern road bikes are carbon fiber composite and aluminum alloy (sometimes just called "alloy," which can be confusing because the titaniums and steels used for bike frames are also alloys). If you prefer something less common, you can also find bikes made of steel, titanium, hardwood, bamboo, and magnesium. While all the materials have their own intrinsic qualities, any material can ride very well or very poorly, be very strong or very fragile, depending on how it is used by the manufacturer. Don't buy into myths like "all carbon frames are weak" or "all aluminum frames ride harshly."
You will find that almost all bikes over $2,000 will be made of carbon fiber. This material is exceptionally strong, stiff, light, and tunable. More than any other material, carbon allows frame engineers to micro-tune areas of a frame with specific attributes. Carbon is also more shapeable–with fewer drawbacks when dramatically shaped–than any other material.
Know Your Fit
While a good fitter should be able to make almost any bike fit you properly, it can be helpful to get a professional fit before you invest in a new road bike. Knowing your fit details can help you narrow down the list of bikes to those that will fit you best. If you're lucky enough to be comfortable in a long and low position, race-oriented bikes will fit you well and are typically designed to steer properly with more weight on the front wheel. If your fit is more upright, an endurance-style bike, with a longer head tube, will allow the handlebar to be properly positioned without a skyscraper of spacers (which can be unsafe). Endurance bikes are usually designed to handle properly with less weight (compared to a race bike) on the front wheel.
Many road bikes we review have a crank with two chainrings (also called 2x), and 11 or 12 rear cogs (11 or 12 speeds). But there are other drivetrain configurations.
When the price of a road bike dips below $1,300, that's when the number of rear cogs begin to reduce. The first step would be 2x10, and with lower priced road bikes you will see 2x9, then 2x8. With fewer speeds, the ratio jump between each gear is larger, which makes shifting feel clunkier and creates more dramatic cadence changes.
On higher priced bikes, Campagnolo, SRAM, and Shimano all have 12 gears on their groupsets. Though, due to the limited availability of Shimano's new groupsets, most Shimano bikes you'll find right now will likely still have 11-speed drivetrains.
Another drivetrain you might find is called 1x (pronounced one-by). Popularized by SRAM, this drivetrain is more often found on gravel and cyclocross bikes, but there are a few road bikes that utilize a 1x drivetrain. This system does not use a front shifter or derailleur and can offer the same total range as a 2x system; but 1X systems do have larger jumps between gears. 1X's advantages are simplicity, chain security, and aerodynamics.
Want to learn how to better shift gears? Or more about electronic shifting? - Check out our guide on better shifting here and if you're considering switching to electronic shifting read everything you need to know here.
What You Get For Your Dollar?
At the sub $1000 dollar price range you should expect bikes with either rim or mechanical disc brakes. The number of gears will often be ten or fewer which will likely not be something you notice if much of your riding is on flat or rolling terrain. Riders looking to do lots of steep or long climbs will notice the limited gear range and increased weight of bikes at this price.
The closer you are to the $2,000 mark the more likely it is that you'll get a bike with a modern 11-speed drivetrain with either a single or double chainring. Frame material will most likely still be alloy but it will be higher quality and will likely be paired with a full-carbon fork bringing the overall weight of the bike down by a few pounds. You'll also see more hydraulic disc brakes at this price which is a big upgrade in stopping power and ease of use over mechanical disc brakes. Road racing bikes at this price range will typically drop below 20lbs while adventure or touring bikes will offer a wider gear range. Either way, climbing will be a bit easier with most bikes in this range over the sub $1000 bikes.
In the $3,000 to $5,000 range frames get upgraded to carbon fiber and weights will start to drop even further. Electronic shifting begins to show up along with upgraded wheelsets and lighter components such as bars, stems, and seatposts. Because the bikes are several pounds lighter they will feel snappier especially when going uphill.
Above $5,000 is when you'll typically start seeing carbon wheelsets as a stock option. Combined with top tier groupsets from Shimano or SRAM and bikes in this price range are going to be exceptionally good.
—BEST ROAD BIKES UNDER $1000—
Cannondale CAAD Optimo 4
Some of my favorite race bikes have carried the CAAD moniker over the years and the CAAD Optimo 4 gets much of its geometry, design, and feel from pricier models. Cannondale brings the price down by using Shimano Claris 8-speed parts. But riders looking for a bike to try racing or who simply want the sportiest ride for their money will love the CAAD Optimo 4.
The Imola is a great option for riders who want to get into fast road riding. The Imola is designed purely for road riding, featuring rim brakes, 25c tires, and a tight 11-28 tooth range 8-speed cassette. Riders in hilly areas will appreciate the easier gears offered by the Shimano triple crankset, but those looking to ride on dirt or gravel will be happier looking at other bikes.
It's hard to beat the value and versatility Triban packs into the RC120. With a carbon fork, 28c tires, plus a wide range 2x Microshift drivetrain, the RC120 has the versatility to be the ideal road bike for many riders. Its ability to fit fenders and a rear rack make it a great candidate for riders interested in commuting by bike, or trying some light touring, in addition to more traditional road riding.
A road bike for less than $450? Chain Reaction Cycles is making it happen. The Brand X road bike will not ride like a high performance race bike, but the Shimano Tourney drivetrain will be more than enough to get riders started riding on the road.
Triban RC120 Flatbar Disc
This is essentially just the Triban RC120 disc bike, but built with a flat handlebar. Many might label this bike a hybrid, and honestly, you wouldn't be wrong. Although hybrids tend to be built cheaper and heavier, this bike uses the same build and parts as the drop bar RC120 model, making it just as capable on the road but with a more accommodating riding position. The flat handlebar, fender, and rack mounts make the RC120 perfectly capable of doing double-duty as a commuter.
—BEST ROAD BIKES UNDER $2500―
Ridley Fenix SLA 105
We are big fans of aluminum bikes. They're light, offer an engaging and efficient ride, and aluminum frames are often more durable than carbon. They aren't as light or smooth-looking as their fibrous counterparts, but the lower price can help make up for the performance differences. The Fenix SLA deserves serious consideration from anyone looking to spend less than $2,000 on a road bike they want to race.
State 4130 All-Road Sram Rival AXS
We've ridden many iterations of State's popular and affordable All-Road line. It's been a staff favorite because of its capability to tackle everything from single track to gravel and even bike packing or road riding. Combining it with SRAM’s Rival AXS groupset takes it to a new level. The new parts add wireless electronic shifting, a wide-range 12-speed drivetrain, and powerful and reliable hydraulic disc brakes. State has kept the price right at two thousand dollars making this the cheapest option for riders looking to try electronic shifting in this roundup. However, riders looking for a lightweight and sporty feeling ride should look elsewhere; the average All-Road bike weighs 26 lbs.
Ruut AL1 - 2x
The Ruut AL1 frame is as adventure-capable as it gets for drop-bar bikes. With a plethora of frame mounting points, plus a flip-chip in the fork that allows you to tune the handling depending on if you're spending more time on the road or dirt. Shimano's excellent GRX 2x drivetrain completes the package with powerful brakes and a wide range of gears to tackle any adventure.
Vaast A/1 GRX 2x
Vaast is a relatively new brand that has taken a unique approach to making frames. Instead of a more traditional 6061 alloy, Vaast has opted to use a magnesium alloy that they claim to be a smoother ride compared to traditional aluminum, and lighter as well. Paired with a Shimano GRX 2x drivetrain, the A/1 is a bike that can handle any road or gravel ride you'd want to throw at it. Dropper post compatibility opens the possibilities even further.
Triban is the more endurance-focused brand of Decathalon (which also makes the Van Rysel EDR AF 105 that we loved). It features a 2x11 Shimano 105 drivetrain with tubeless compatible wheels and clearance for 36mm tires, making it a great option for riders looking for the features of a modern disc brake equipped road bike on a budget.
All-City Super Professional Apex
Some flat bar bikes might look like hybrid bikes of old, but they are far from the budget options bike shops sell by the dozens. The All-City Super Professional is a perfect example of brands taking what would be a popular drop bar model and offering it up with a flat handlebar. The Super Professional is a super commuter, crossed with a cyclocross bike, mixed in with an all-terrain tourer. It's a perfect bike for riders who want to ride everything and aren't interested in, or don't want, a drop bar on their bike.
Co-op Cycles ADV 1.1
The ADV is a classic touring bike with ultra-low gearing to let riders tackle mountain passes while carrying a full load strapped to the front and rear racks. To do that, the bike is equipped with a Shimano Deore drivetrain, with a triple crankset that features a 26x34 tooth low gear as stock. It's a bike that's meant to go far and carry all the things you might need on your journey.
Cannondale Topstone 3
The Topstone is a great pick for an all-road bike that can handle off-road adventurers and pull double duty as a commuter. With 37mm tires and a Shimano Sora 2x9-speed drivetrain, it's perfectly suited to long rides over mixed terrain. The wide gear ratios are great for tackling all kinds of hills along the way. The rack and fender mounts add practicality for commuters or riders wanting to attempt multi-day trips.
—BEST ROAD BIKES UNDER $5000―
Cannondale Topstone Neo 5
"E-bikes aren't for everyone" is something you might hear someone who's never tried an e-bike say. "They're awesome" is something you'll hear from most folks riding e-bikes. That's why we include the Topstone Neo 5 here. It's just plain awesome. Big tires and pedal assist up to 28 mph open a world of new ride possibilities for all kinds of riders.
Juliana Quincy Rival / Santa Cruz Stigmata
The Stigmata and Quincy bikes are identical frames, with the Quincy having parts specifically picked with women in mind. Both are ready to go fast on everything from pavement to rough singletrack. With a SRAM Rival 1x drivetrain and clearance for 650b x 2.1 tires, there's really no limit to what you can do with one of these.
The Caledonia is a true all-arounder. It's a fast road bike with an aero design that merges the S-Series and the Aspero gravel bike features, plus adds hidden fender mounts. It's a bike that can tackle your local crit and then hit a few dirt roads on the way home. Plus, it comes with SRAM's excellent Rival eTap AXS groupset, which offers hydraulic disc brakes and precise electronic wireless shifting.
Vitus Vitesse EVO CR eTap Rival AXS
The Vitesse is a no-nonsense race bike. With an all-new carbon layup, Vitus' latest frame is a claimed 10% lighter and 34% stiffer than its predecessor. The Vitesse is ready for racing right out of the box, combined with the latest wireless groupset from SRAM and tubeless compatible wheels and tires.
Ibis Hakka MX Rival
The Hakka is a versatile, go-anywhere bike for riders who want to explore trails, fire roads, and pavement. With clearance for 650b x 2.1 tires and a wide range Sram Rival drivetrain, it's kind of like the Swiss Army Knife of bikes. Tubeless compatible wheels and tires are an excellent value add for riders that want to run the stock 40mm Maxxis tires at suitably low pressures.
Cervelo Aspero GRX
Cervélo’s Áspero is the bike for riders who want a plain, fast gravel bike. This bike forgoes many of the features that make some gravel bikes so versatile—you’re not going to slap cargo cages on the fork or mount fenders to the Áspero. It does have good tire clearance (up to 700x42mm or 650x49mm) and a longer wheelbase, but overall, it’s a clean carbon frame with some aero shaping (it is a Cervélo, after all), a longer cockpit, and a quick-steering front end. It’s an efficient-feeling bike—it’s responsive and very stiff at the bottom bracket, and, though not abusive, it transmits more feedback than many gravel bikes. The Áspero feels like a fast and light road-racing bike, only with bigger tires.
Wilier GTR Team 105
The GTR is a carbon road bike for riders looking to rack up the miles on beautiful pavement roads or enjoy fast group rides and the occasional race. Its limited 28mm max tire clearance will not be ideal for dirt surfaces, but that doesn't mean it can't handle the occasional dirt road. Wilier outfits the GTR with Shimano's excellent 105 drivetrain, complete with hydraulic disc brakes and RS171 wheels. The Shimano wheelset is noteworthy for reliability and easily serviceable cup and cone hubs.
—BEST DREAM BIKES―
Cervelo R5 Force eTap AXS
Raced all summer by the stars of Cervélo sponsored Jumbo-Visma pro tour team, the long-awaited redesign to the R5 is finally ready for the world to ride. It was worth the wait. The R5 is not groundbreaking in its design, but it is a highly competent road racing and all-day ride machine. It won't make you into Wout, Marianne, or Sepp overnight, but you will sure have fun trying.
Pinarello Prince Ultegra Di2
Love the look of the multi Tour winning Pinarello F but can't stomach the price? The Prince features the same asymmetric frame shaping and aerodynamic design as the F at a fraction of the cost. Combined with Shimano's latest 12-speed Ultegra drivetrain, the Paris features nearly all the performance of its pricier sibling at about half the price.