Best Road Bike Under $300 (Year 2018)
Road bikes are designed with speed in mind: lightweight, aerodynamic, and sleek. Riders bend forward over their handlebars, which are level with the seat, to achieve the most momentum and the least wind resistance. However, many road bikes are also optimized for endurance—so you can ride fast and comfortably, for long stretches.
Of course, finding a road bike for a comfortable price is not exactly easy. Never fear: our buyer’s guide will address common questions about road bikes on a budget. We’ll also feature a few of our favorite options, all of which come in at under $300.
What is a road bike? How is it different from mountain bikes, cruisers, etc.?
A road bike is, technically, any bike meant for paved roads—but it usually refers to a specific kind with a distinct look: narrow tires, derailleur gears, and dropped handlebars. Though the category can include touring/racing bikes, hybrid road-mountain bikes, etc., the most dedicated enthusiasts will always make the distinction.
Mountain bikes, on the other hand, are heavier, have raised handlebars, and thick tires, because this design is best for off-road, rugged terrain.
Cruisers are technically road bikes since they’re meant for paved/smooth surfaces, but are distinct enough to deserve their own category (and won’t be included in this buyer’s guide). They’re also called beach cruisers, due to their popularity in the vacation rental industry.
For our purposes, “road bike” will refer to the true road bike style with thin tires and dropped handles, meant for speed and endurance. Some of them are suitable for racing, while some are better for training and general fitness.
I like sitting upright while I bike. Should I get a road bike?
Riders who prefer sitting upright and would rather have comfort over speed should not purchase a road bike. Because of the dropped handlebar style, road bikes require the user to lean forward while riding. This reduces wind resistance, and redistributes your bodyweight for the greatest speed possible.
Recumbent bicycles, which are road bikes in a technical sense—but won’t be included in this guide—are a good option for riders who want speed, but find leaning forward on a traditional seat uncomfortable.
These bikes tend to be low to the ground and feature a full seat and backrest, with pedals directly in front. This checks the box for aerodynamic design like true road bikes, and makes them suitable for both leisurely riding and racing.
My budget’s pretty small. Can I still get a quality road bike?
Yes, if you look for the same marks of quality you’d look for in any product: good construction, materials suited to your needs, and positive customer reviews. Inexpensive doesn’t mean bad, just as pricy doesn’t automatically mean better.
When searching for a quality road bike, you should also consider the following:
- Frame material. Aluminum is the most common material for road bikes, since it’s durable but lightweight. Steel was once the norm, but is harder to find today; it tends to be heavier and more prone to rust, as well. Titanium is a very popular option that offers the durability of steel, but the lightweight nature of aluminum—but it’s also very expensive, so it’s not likely you’ll find a titanium bike in this price range. The same goes for carbon fiber frames (although you can find cheap carbon fiber bikes, we don’t recommend them; if they’re priced too low, that can indicate a poor-quality fiber content).
- Size. No matter how great a deal you’ve found, it won’t matter if the bike isn’t sized properly for you. Measure your height and inseam to determine the frame and tire height best suited to your body type. If needed, visit a local bike shop and sit on a few to get a feel for what’s comfortable.
- Chainring. The chainset of a bike is where the pedals attach; the chainring is the bike chain that moves around the gear teeth. Most beginners or those on very tight budgets will need a compact double chainset, which makes pedaling up hills less strenuous. There are also standard double chainsets, mid-compact, semi-compact, and triple chainset. While each is better suited to some needs (hills, racing, etc.) than the rest, all provide the same basic function: letting the rider switch gears to optimize speed and make pedaling easier.
I just need a bike to run errands or use on leisurely weekend rides. Is a road bike the way to go?
Overall, no—road bikes are designed for speed and endurance, and are best for riders whose primary goal is racing (or training for a race/other endurance sport).
If you need a bike for errands or casual use, consider a commuter bike or cruiser style, which put the rider in an upright sitting position and are meant for comfort, not speed.
Why are road bikes usually more expensive than other types?
The short answer: marketing. Manufacturers know that experienced cyclists and people very dedicated to the sport are willing to invest more in this style of bicycle, so companies know they can charge a certain amount and still sell bikes.
The long answer: manufacturing. Because road bikes don’t have shock absorbers, what their frames and tires are made out of is doubly important.
Price is usually (but not always) an indication of quality of materials. While it’s definitely possible to find a cheap but well-made road bike, there does seem to be a bit of a sweet spot between “cheap and poorly made” and “a really good deal”.
Best Road Bike Under $300 Reviews
1. Denali from GMC Review
With caliper brakes, handlebar shifting, and a lightweight aluminum frame, the Denali road bike from GMC presents a good beginner’s bike on a budget. It’s available in three colors, each with a differently slanted top bar—which makes this line suitable for men and women, as long as they’re fine only getting one color option per category.
The Denali is a good entry-level bike overall, suitable for anyone just getting into cycling—but old hats at the game will probably prefer something more suited for racing. As far as its price, it’s definitely doable, but falls near the top of this price range and might be out of reach for some folks.
2. Vilano Road and Commuter Bike Review
As a road/commuter combo, the Vilano Road Bike is a must for anyone who needs speed in and outside of the city: during the week, it can zip along the streets without issue, then easily transition to a weekend race for charity (or just for fun!).
For the price, Vilano offers a good bike with just enough features—although that bargain does come with some problems. This model will require more adjustments over time than pricier ones, and—in our opinion—is a better commuter/casual road bike. While beginners can easily train on this, riders eager to race should look elsewhere.
3. Kabuto Single Speed Road Bike from Takara Review
Because of its fixed-gear/single-speed design, the Kabuto from Takara is far better for commuters than racers. It’s still worth considering, however, if your training requires you to improve your leg strength and endurance: its fixed-gear option means you’ll have to pedal constantly to maintain speed (rather than coasting).
For commuters—people who need a road bike for getting around, rather than racing—the Kabuto is an excellent, affordable option. If, however, you need a bike for sport or traversing hilly areas, this isn’t the bike for you. We do like the fixed-gear capability in terms of training, since riders will have to pedal constantly and, therefore, can improve their leg strength and lung capacity. In short: for commuting and training, this is great. Racing? Not so much.
4. Men’s Volare 1300 from Schwinn Review
Schwinn is one of the frontrunner brands of the bike industry, and boasts a pretty consistently high customer satisfaction rating. While this model is at the higher end of the price range, customers can rest assured it has all the features a road bike requires, incorporated into a high-quality design from a reputable brand.
While you might be paying a little more for “brand recognition,” the price Schwinn is asking for its Men’s Volare 1300 isn’t steep or unfair by any means. With lightweight but durable alloy components, thoughtful design, and an easy-to-operate 14-speed setup, this model is a sound option for riders on any budget.
5. Finiss by Merax Review
This model certainly looks unique, with a slightly thicker frame and contoured paint job to match—the question is, can it perform as well as simpler, sleeker bikes in the price range?
Though we wouldn’t expect this bike to win any big tours, that’s not really what Merax seems to have designed it for: instead, the Finiss is a good option for beginners who are in training to race, or for those who want speed but don’t plan to compete any time soon. Common upgrades could include stronger chains and brake pads, which tend to be better on higher-end models.
Finding a good road bike when things are lean can be tough, but not if you know what to look for: inexpensive models (vs. cheaply made ones) will have sturdy but lightweight frames, thin and strong tires, and a host of features all designed to make your ride as smooth and as fast as possible.
For beginners, we recommend a cheaper bike that will familiarize you with cycling. Once you’ve moved to a different skill level, you can think about investing in a more expensive, better-outfitted model—but who knows? You might decide your reliable old cheapie is the only bike for you.