We review four of the best road bikes under £650
What can you expect from four bikes with a top price of £650? Well, not only might you get a much more impressive bike than you bargained for, but you’ll get a better machine – for less money – than you would have done a decade ago. And while you’re not going to get an all-singing, all-dancing lightweight carbon superbike, to give it some perspective, you’ll be riding a bike lighter than the bike Miguel Indurain won the Tour de France on in 1993.
For those of us looking for our first triathlon bike, winter training bike or back-up racing machine, it suggests that we’re not going to be carrying around that much excess weight after all. These bikes also come with design features that were the preserve of much more expensive bikes not long ago – internally routed cables, carbon forks, and oversize or tapered steerer tubes.
Carbon forks and oversize head tubes improve handling, while triple butting would also only have been seen in high-end frames not long ago. On the downside, three of the four bikes have Shimano’s eight-speed 2300 groupset. It’s not bad kit, but the small thumbshifters on the inside of its hoods aren’t easily accessible when you’re riding on the drops. One of the four, though, impressively breaks the mould by speccing Shimano’s nine-speed Sora groupset and the ability to change gear from the tops or the drops is a real bonus.
Giant Defy 4
Built well, with a strong spec, and comfortable over long distances – is there anything this bike can’t do?
Read the full Giant Defy 4 review
+ Great for long-distance comfort and a highly versatile do-anything machine
+ Impeccable handling
– Taller head tube and longer chainstays reduce racing aspirations
– Brakes are OK but could be better
Merida Racelite 900
Just because this is the cheapest on test on paper, don’t assume it’s a more budget ride on the road.
Read the full Merida Racelite 900 review
+ Very sophisticated frame and fork combo for the price
+ Quick to respond to rider input
– Wheels and brakes don’t quite match the quality of the frameset
– Shame it’s not possible to change gear when in the drops
Felt may be smaller than the competition brands but their bikes are ridden by the pros and this version doesn’t disappoint.
Read the full Felt Z95 review
+ Great groupset for the price – Sora is a massive step-up from 2300
+ Good build quality, and excellent transmission range
– It’s the heaviest here, and its upright geometry won’t appeal to racers
– Dual-density saddle can be an acquired taste
Genesis Volant 00
This bike has striking looks and design with strong specification but is it as exciting as its looks suggest?
Read the full Genesis Volant 00 review
+ Unique looks, full 2300 groupset and understated, unfussy frame
+ Excellent road buzz insulation
– Firm ride but lacks the acceleration of some of its opponents
– Heavier and less lively than the others on test
We were impressed with just how good all of these four bikes were – none would let you down and performance differences between them are quite minimal.
The Genesis doesn’t do quite enough in terms of speed or comfort to overcome the extra weight, but is still a good value road bike. If racing is the priority, the Merida is worth a serious test ride. Its kit is similar to the Genesis and Giant, but it’s lighter than the Genesis and racier than the Giant.
Felt deserves praise for speccing Shimano’s Sora groupset – without any obvious compromises elsewhere. If comfort rather than all-out performance is your major concern, then its combination of a wide gear range and slightly more upright riding position is a winning one.
But the overall honours go to Giant with its excellent Defy. Primarily an endurance bike, if you can live with a slightly more relaxed ride, its low weight, long-distance comfort and all-round versatility make this the best on test.