What’s a Good Price for a Budget Bike?

Steel from Pure Cycles vs. aluminum from Specialized vs. carbon fiber from Bianchi 

When it comes to cycling, we can all get overwhelmed with the number of brands, materials, styles and sheer options. For the person just embarking on their first road bike purchase, this is even more perplexing and can drive many away or into something they later regret. While many of our readers are experienced and well versed in all things skinny-tired, we thought we could look at three entry-level options that are vastly different but still find themselves in a similar category of entry-level pricing. 

THE FRAMES

Bianchi: When it comes to thinking about what an entry-level bike looks like, with its distinct Celeste paint covering a carbon frame and fork, the Intrepida doesn’t seem to fit the category. The geometry neither falls into the comfort or aggressive category, leaving the bike somewhere in the middle with a 99.9cm wheelbase on our 54cm test bike. The top tube is a virtual 55cm with a virtual 54cm seat tube mixed with a 17cm head tube. This all means that we were higher and more stretched out than expected but balanced over the wheelbase, something that many other bikes in the category miss.

The frame is sleek and stout, as Bianchi has done a great job of shaping the tubes to deliver the same aesthetic that their top-tier bikes have. The bottom bracket and chainstays are beefy and look almost overbuilt. All cables run internally, except the rear derailleur cable exits from the bottom bracket and runs externally along the chainstay.

Specialized: The Allez name has been tossed around for decades at Specialized and currently is offered in two different geometry options. We opted for the less racy version that is smooth-welded aluminum with a full carbon fork. Yes, all of the Allez models have a full carbon fork for added compliance, stiffness and weight savings.

Our size 54 has a 55.2cm top tube and 51cm seat tube that offered great stand over and a low bottom bracket at 26.4cm. The short 15.5cm head tube matched with the 73-degree angle and 47mm offset offered a responsive but confident front end. The compact rear triangle gave us a wheelbase of 98.8cm.

Pure Cycles: While Pure Cycles might be new to the geared road market, they nearly single-handedly created the fixie frenzy with their competitive pricing and spot-on marketing. Realizing that their customers were evolving into other categories of cycling, they introduced more options, including the steel-framed drop-bar road bike. It has a great blend of a traditional steel look with modern geometry. One thing Pure has always put as a top priority is price and bang for the buck, so the chromoly road frame is partnered with a chromoly fork too.

Our size-56 bike has a 56.5cm top tube and 56cm seat tube, combined with long 42.5cm chainstays for a wheelbase of 100.4cm. The head tube is short at 14.5cm with a 73.5-degree angle, and a 43mm fork offset was chosen.

THE PARTS

Bianchi: The Intrepida is spec’d with a Shimano 105 drivetrain that includes the compact crank (50/34) combined with an 11-speed 11-32 105 cassette for a wide and well-suited gear range. We liked that Bianchi spent the extra money to have the 105 levers control Shimano brake calipers versus some low-cost, no-name binders, which is a common cost saver. The Shimano RS010 wheelset looks good but is on the heavy side and ripe for a future upgrade. The Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Slick 25mm tires are a great all-around tire. The cockpit and seatpost are all house-brand aluminum parts with the nice addition of a Selle San Marco Era Start saddle. Overall, this bike has put money where it counts to save the user some cash while still getting into a carbon frame and fork.

Specialized: The Allez Elite also features a mostly Shimano 105 drivetrain. The mechanical 105 shifters control 105 front and rear derailleurs, as well as Tektro Axis calipers. The compact Praxis Alba 2D crankset is compact and also matched to a 105 eleven-speed 11-32 cassette. There’s a set of DT Swiss R460 wheels wrapped with 25mm Specialized Espoir Sport wire-bead tires. Specialized also relied on their house-brand parts for the aluminum cockpit, alloy seatpost and saddle. This is a great combination, but while the tires are great for protection, we would swap them out for something a bit more supple.

Pure Cycles: The Pure brand uses a bit of a different naming system, where each model and color has its own unique name. Our Bonette uses the Shimano Claris eight-speed mechanical shifters that control the Claris front and rear derailleurs. They also control the Promax RC-469 brake calipers. The square-tapered BB and crank are a three-piece design and have compact (50/34) chainrings. They are matched to a SunRace CSM-55 eight-speed 11-32 cassette. A set of their own 17mm-deep alloy wheels are wrapped with Hutchinson Nitro II 28mm tires. They also use their house brand for the alloy cockpit, alloy seatpost and saddle. Overall, it’s not as high end as the other two and has fewer total gears, but offers the same range.

THE RIDE

Bianchi: This is Bianchi’s entry-level carbon bike, and the allure of being the oldest bicycle company in the world only goes so far. The ride was missing the planted and responsive feeling that upgrading to carbon usually offers. It rides great and has good handling, but we were positioned more aggressive than we expected for a bike in the entry-level category. The bottom bracket is stiff, but so is everything else. It reminds us of many of the first carbon bikes that hit the road market that had too many layers of carbon, offering a dull feeling. The Shimano drivetrain was spot-on, and thanks to the solid build quality of the frame, we had no issues keeping it running top-notch. This feels like a carbon bike that will withstand years of abuse.

The oversized chainstays offered a stiff rear end but also took away from ride compliance.

Specialized: Specialized might be the leader in having a bike for every category and style, but what sets them apart is the fact that they listen to the customer’s needs. The Allez Elite is a stunning example of an inexpensive bike with the 105 groupset matched to their alloy frame and carbon fork. The bike delivers impressive weight savings and performance without cleaning out your bank account. The frame is stiff, but the use of a round seatpost and carbon fork offer plenty of ride comfort. Their saddle is well padded but firm enough for long rides. Handling is good and responded well when we pushed it on technical descents.

This just in—Specialized has recalled the Allez due to fork failure.

Pure Cycles: This chromoly steel road bike surprised us with its performance. At only $500, we were expecting to walk home after only a few miles on the rough local roads. The steel frame did an amazing job of absorbing the road while delivering a smooth and enjoyable ride. It’s not nearly as stiff and responsive as the other two bikes, but makes up for it in ride compliance. There are only eight gears in the rear, so some of the jumps on the cassette are big, and we found ourselves flipping back and forth between gears as we searched for the perfect combination.

The Pure Cycles sported Shimano Claris for the more price-point-oriented buyer.

THE VERDICT

At the end of the day, these three bikes are vastly different. And while all are in the entry-level category, they each deliver the goods for different needs. For the person looking for the best bang for the buck and is not sure of their commitment, Pure Cycles is a great pick. Its comfort was unbeaten, but at the cost of some performance and lower-end components. The upside is, it’s a quarter of the price of one of its competitors.

For the person who is all about the look and branding, the Bianchi is an obvious choice. It offers a great platform for upgrades and is built to last. Bianchi’s use of their cherished Celeste paint is a symbol of prestige that will get endless compliments and nods of approval from other cyclists “in the know.”

But, for the person who’s looking for the best package of performance and price point, the Specialized is our pick. It offers a great build and solid material for pushing the limits of your riding.

All three bikes in our opinion would be much improved with a higher-end wheelset installed. When we ditched the stock hoops for some hand-built Rolf wheels, the ride of all three bikes was transformed. This is no surprise, as many of the industry’s stock wheelsets are chosen to hit a price point. This would be the first place to invest after you choose the bike that fits your needs the best.

BIANCHI INTREPIDA 105 PUNCH LINES

  • Stiff and responsive
  • The name and color can sell it alone
  • Overbuilt carbon frame

STATS

Price: $2000

Weight: 20.43 pounds

Sizes: 48, 51, 54 (tested), 57, 60cm

www.bianchiusa.com

SPECIALIZED ALLEZ 105 PUNCH LINES

  • Perfectly spec’d for the price point
  • Aluminum and carbon that deliver comfort with performance
  • New wheels take it to the next level

STATS

Price: $1200

Weight: 19.43 pounds

Sizes: 49, 52, 54 (tested), 56, 58, 61cm

www.specialized.com

PURE CYCLES BONETTE PUNCH LINES

  • Comfort and confidence
  • Value at less than half the price
  • Heavy and not on the same component level

STATS

Price: $499

Weight: 26.75 pounds

Sizes: 49, 51, 53, 56 (tested), 58, 60cm

www.purecycles.com

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