Giant Defy 2
MSRP : $1075.00
Riding the Defy 2, our testers forgot they were straddling such an affordable bike. The aluminum frame was stiff and efficient, and not overly jarring on rough roads. The parts are well suited to any kind of road ride—the Shimano Tiagra 10-speed drivetrain is reliable and many of Giant’s own components and wheels help keep the price low without sacrificing quality. Fast and responsive, the Defy is ideal for riders with a tight budget but ambitious goals—like completing their first century or riding a fondo.
Specialized Allez Sport Compact
MSRP : $990.00
The family resemblance between Specialized's aluminum Allez line and its racy carbon Tarmac is evident, and it extends beyond tube shapes and graphics. The Allez's A1 frame, which costs a fraction of the high-end S-Works Tarmac SL4's price, offers a similar ride feel. Mark Cote, a road product manager at Specialized, notes that the frame has the same torsional stiffness as the company's top-end carbon models. This resistance to twisting forces bolsters the bike's pedaling efficiency and enables stable, predictable handling on descents and in turns.
Many entry-level bikes have straight-gauge tubing, but this frame has the triple-butted type, which makes it lighter without sacrificing stiffness. It's also strong and durable, built to last, thanks to double-pass welds. (And, the company points out, more likely to survive a crash.)Specialized's in-house testing suggests that an Allez frame will comfortably last for at least a million miles, Cote says.
Specialized complements the frame with a carbon-legged fork, creating a front end that feels solid and steady yet mutes buzz from rough roads. The rear triangle relies on thin, flattened seatstays and a 27.2mm seatpost that flexes more than wider posts over bumps. Contact points are Specialized's comfortable Tarmac Comp bar and the Body Geometry Riva saddle.
For its price, the Allez is light. Our 58cm test bike weighed 21 pounds, about two less than many comparable models. The costlier Comp and EVO Allez frames feature the company's proprietary E5 aluminum, which cuts about a quarter-pound from the bike's weight.
The made-for-Specialized DT Swiss Axis 1.0 wheelset is a highlight--pleasantly snappy and reliable through our testing period. Specialized's Espoir Sport tires are highly resistant to flats. The Tektro brake calipers provide adequate stopping power. The Shimano Sora shifters and derailleurs don't deliver the sharpest gear changes, but proved reliable over long rides and rolling terrain.
The Allez Sport frame is a worthy candidate for component upgrades, but new cyclists and budget-minded riders looking to enjoy the open road will find that it's built for action right out of the box.--Matt Allyn
Buy It: If you want a fast ride on a tight budget
MSRP : $1100.00
This year, in choosing our finalists in this category, we tried an experiment: We kept the drivetrain and parts spec similar (same model of derailleur on all bikes, for instance), but expanded the price range to see what a few more bucks would buy. We found that, in the case of Trek's 1.5, you get the most compliant ride of the group, with the kind of smoothness and ride tuning we'd expect from a bike that costs more than $1,100. Handling is novice-friendly yet not plodding. It delivers confidence from the start and yet, as your skills grow, the Trek 1.5 will feel more capable as well. The runners-up trailed close behind. The Cannondale CAAD 9 7's best attributes are its well-balanced handling and screaming value, while the Felt F95 sports a "let's go" attitude and race-bike fit that makes you want to head to the front of the pack. And they're both cheaper than the Trek. So why the 1.5? You pay only a little more, and that premium gives you a platform worth building on over the years.
Cannondale CAAD8 8
MSRP : $899.00
ALL NEW: The new CAAD8 platform opens up Cannondale's road portfolio. Compared with the manufacturer's 2009 offering at this price, the CAAD8 8 has a 15mm-taller head tube and 3mm-longer chainstays, for a more comfortable riding position and a touch more stability.
STEP BACK: The CAAD8 8 is Cannondale's least-expensive road bike, and $50 cheaper than the bike that bore that distinction last year. The drivetrain comes down a notch—from nine to eight speeds—though Cannondale still offers buyers the choice of a triple or compact-double drivetrain. We generally suggest the lighter, better-shifting double.