“Above everything else is the bike fit,” says Prant, especially since these bikes are an investment, and you want to feel good riding them for long periods of time. Thankfully, she notes that even if a bike isn’t the exact perfect fit, there are simple tweaks you can make to adjust the size if it’s a little off, such as adjusting the height and angle of the saddle or handlebars. “With a bike, centimeters or millimeters can make a huge difference in your comfort level.”
If you’re looking for advice on where to start, we’ve got you covered. We talked to several different bike experts and avid cyclists on their recommendations across different categories, and for various budgets, all vetted by long-time cyclists. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 complications, many bike supply chains are struggling to keep up with demand, so ship times and availability might vary. Due to overwhelming demand, some options recommended by experts were sold out, so we made suggestions here and there for similar bikes based on the experts’ guidelines for how to shop for these (though we haven’t had a chance to personally vet them).
And knowing that right now many bike shops may not be open for testing out bikes beforehand, we’ve also included details on returns for the bikes below in case you buy something that’s not quite the right fit (and may need more than just a simple tweak).
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Road bikes are traditional bicycles with a frame built for speed and longevity on roads, but also include more specialized road bikes like touring and racing bikes. Road bikes can come with different features, but the standard one will have drop handlebars, narrow tires, and a lightweight frame. With these bikes, speed is the name of the game. For a budget-friendly entry-level road bike, Walde says an average weight range to look out for is between 19 and 24 pounds.
As you get up in price, this weight will generally go down, but Walde says, “A bike that weighs a bit more can be an advantage for a new rider, as it helps to inspire confidence by adding stability, durability, and a smoother ride.”
“I also personally always recommend women-specific bikes since there’s variation in the geometry,” Kelly Becker, a former bike shop sales associate, says. “Men’s bikes can totally work for some women, though.”
Entry-Level Road Bikes
Writer, trainer, and cyclist Jessica McWhirt started out road cycling on a bike from Giant, a globally respected brand that provides really solid bikes, from intro- to pro-level racing bikes. She finds that her Giant Avail ($700) is a nice, lightweight, easygoing starter ride. “The grippy drop handlebar is easy to hold and puts you in an ideal position for maximum speed and efficiency. The smooth, narrow wheels reduce friction against the road to give you an effortless, gliding feeling.”
While the Avail isn’t currently available online, the Salsa Journeyman Claris 700, below, is a solid backup for many of the same reasons. It has drop handlebars, 16 gears, and narrow 35mm wheels, and it clocks in at around 25 pounds, which is just slightly above average for a road bike.
Editor’s note: REI accepts returns up to one year after purchase.
If you can find one in a local store, Becker recommends two models from Specialized, a California-based brand that she says has “made a name for itself selling great-quality bikes.” It offers a range of high-quality options from e-bikes to triathlon bikes.