OK where to start? Keep in mind that if you buy online you’re always chancing the fit. You need to know your measurements and be pretty confident you know what you’re getting. Women specific bikes tend to come with a female specific saddle and lower top tube for getting your leg over. Not sure why that’s still a thing as most women don’t ride road bikes in a skirt. (Ed – they also generally have narrower handlebars , a shorter top tube and a more relaxed riding position. They also often come in smaller sizes, and sometimes shorter crank lengths)
Anyway, the best deals are the ex demo / slightly damaged / last year’s models. If you look at Tredz/Wheelies/Wiggle** they will have loads of stuff there but at this time of year you’ll struggle to find anything in popular sizes for a good deal. The best time to get the bargains is October (when the next years ranges come out) and they then start to sell cheaper and cheaper until around Feb when all the best stuff has gone.
So I think they best way is to identify a few brands you like and a few bikes and try and shop around to get the best deals on those. My own point of view is that the big brands have to get it right whereas smaller brands can make a bad bike and get away with it. I’m a massive Giant fan but Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Canyon are also excellent bikes (Ed – Also consider Merida, Rose and Cube). If you’re riding a long way you want a relaxed geometry so something like a Trek Domane, Giant Defy, Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse will be the ones you’re looking for.
I wouldn’t compromise with any lower than Tiagra at your budget. Sora is decent but Tiagra and above are excellent. Triple butted 6061 aluminium frames with carbon forks and ideally seat post is the aim. (See below for the three main companies groupsets, and where they are in their range). If you can stretch a bit more, you’ll come away with a lot more. Most online shops do interest free if that helps so you can spend a bit more and still afford the other equipment.
Personally, I find my Giant Defy 1 incredible. An affordable relaxed sportive bike that is perfectly designed and so easy to ride that I can go down hills at 50 mph but light enough to climb, aero enough to get down hill KOMs but stiff enough to get sprint KOMs. And I can sit on it for 100 miles and get off fresh as a daisy. So my tip would be something like a Giant Defy 1 here for £899 but pay £500 deposit and pay £60 a month for 6 months or £30 a month for 12 months and you’ve got a fantastic bike.
Another option with good value for money is Rose Bikes. Their base model gets great reviews and has a good spec. It comes out as £700. Nothing really affordable Planet X at the moment. Taking my personal bias aside for a minute, I reckon all round this is probably your best bet: I can’t find anything that’s not good about it but you really would have to put some Schwalbe One or Continental GP4000sII tyres on instead of the stock ones. Oh and finally, please go clipless. It’s easy and so much better.
It’s good to go slightly smaller if you’re in between sizes as you get more exposed seat post which results in a comfier ride. If you go too small you will be a bit cramped when trying to get low but you can always get a longer stem. The main measurement is your inseam. Get that using the book method and base everything on that – it determines where the pedals will be in relation to your seat.
* Not an actual Doctor
** Other online bike stores are available
*** Also available in an Electronic version
This article is all personal opinions and it intended as a guide only