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, 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 our top picks below, then scroll deeper for buying advice and reviews of these bikes.
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.
You can find everything you need to know about disc brakes here.
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.
Want to learn how to best use your brakes? Check out our expert guide.
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.
But are wide tires slower? Read about it here!
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 2×10, and with lower priced road bikes you will see 2×9, then 2×8. 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?
In 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 20 lbs, 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.
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.
State 4130 Road
A great looking road bike for less than $700? State Cycles is making it happen. Sure, the 4130 Road issues many modern components and features, but it looks great. Plus, the steel frame and fork actually have a very nice ride quality, especially when compared to aluminum bikes in the same price range.
Diamondback Haanjo 2
For riders that are unsure of exactly the kind of road riding they want to do, the Haanjo 2 is a great bike that comes in at under $1000. It uses an alloy frame with generous tire clearance, a dependable Shimano Claris drivetrain, and tubeless compatible wheels. It’s a bike that is easily customizable to suit riders that want to dabble in both road and gravel riding.
Specialized Diverge E5
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. We loved the entry level Diverge E5 for how versatile and fun to ride it was. You can read our in depth review of it here, but this bike performed much better then it’s modest price point might suggest.
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 just a hair over $1,000 will love the CAAD Optimo 4.
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.
Rondo 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.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2
If you’re after a lightweight, reactive, high-end race bike but don’t have upwards of $5,000 to spend, the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 will be right up your alley. There’s just one catch, it’s rim brake. The good news is that rim brakes, while considered old-school by some, stop a bike just fine. They also result in a bike that’s typically at least a pound or two lighter than a comparable disc brake model. A win for riders not looking to upgrade to disc brakes.
Triban is the more endurance-focused brand of Decathalon (which also makes the Van Rysel EDR AF 105 that we loved). It features a 2×11 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 Space Horse
The Space Horse is a bike that can take on many adventures. From road riding to commuting to weekend touring or bikepacking. It features a classically styled steel frame with roomy tire clearance and an abundance of mounting points for things like fenders, lights, and racks. The frame also features modern standards such as 12mm thru axles and flat mount disc brakes to make future upgrades or customization easy.
The Trek 520 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 Alivio drivetrain, with a triple crankset that features a 26×36 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 1 Alloy
The Topstone is a great pick for an all-road bike that can handle trail and dirt road adventurers and pull double duty as a commuter. With 38mm tires and a partial Shimano GRX 2×10-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.
Fezzari Veyo Elite 105 Di2
Fezzari is a Utah based direct to consumer brand that has consistently delivered great riding bikes at prices that are typically far lower than its competitors. The Veyo is the brand’s latest lightweight aero road bike. With a claimed frame weight of 860 grams, easy to work on cable integration, and aerodynamic shaping, there is a lot to like here for riders looking for a race oriented bike.
Specialized Tarmac SL6
The Specialized Tarmac is a very popular bike, and for good reason, it’s absolutely brilliant. The problem is it’s also pricey. For riders looking for a world beating modern disc brake road bike on a budget, the Tarmac SL6 offers a lot of value. It’s basically the top of the line Tarmac from a few years ago, paired with wheels from DT-Swiss and a Shimano 105 disc brake groupset. Making it perfect for riders looking for a thoroughly modern carbon disc brake road bike.
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, then 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.
Giant TCR Advanced 1
The Giant TCR is a no-nonsense race bike. The refined TCR carbon frame has been honed to help riders fight for race wins or personal records. The TCR is ready for racing right out of the box, with a wireless groupset from SRAM and tubeless compatible carbon wheels. You can read our in-depth review of the TCR here.
Cannondale SuperSix Evo CX
The SuperSix Evo CX is a versatile, go-anywhere bike for riders who want to explore trails, fire roads, and pavement. With clearance for 700×45 tires and a dependable Sram Force 1x 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 Vittoria Terreno Mix tires at suitably low pressures. You can read our in-depth review of the SuperSix Evo CX here.
Cervelo Aspero Apex 1
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. But, 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.
Specialized Aethos Comp
The Aethos Comp Rival eTap AXS. It’s about 62 percent cheaper than the top-of-the-line Aethos, rides and handles just as well, and is even superior in some ways. Cheap? No—not even a little bit. But it’s far from top-of-the-line money, and it’s a lot of bike for the cash.
True, this Comp-level frame uses some different grades of carbon and isn’t as light as the S-Works frame. So instead of a 585-gram frame, it has a 699-gram frame. Yes, that’s heavier, but still far from heavy. In fact, 699 grams is one of the lightest production disc-brake frames in the world. And it still has 32mm tire clearance, common standards, and comes built with the same carbon seatpost and flyweight thru axles. Plus, the Comp frame has one feature the S-Works frame does not: compatibility with mechanical-shifting drivetrains.
You can read more about why we named the Aethos Comp our 2021 Bike of the Year here.
Cervelo R5 Force Ultegra Di2
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. Read our full review of the R5 here.