What are the most affordable carbon road bikes worth riding?

Carbon fibre entered the cycling scene with a bang. It’s a material that has been heralded as being incredibly strong yet phenomenally light. For cyclists, that’s pretty much the holy grail.

In fact, true carbon fibre is at least 10 times stronger than steel. Hard to believe, yet true!

Trek Domane 4
Orbea Avant
Ridley Helium X
Our Rating
9.6
9.3
8.9
Frame & Fork
OCLV Carbon
Avant Carbon OMP
C5 high modulus carbon
Drivetrain
2x10 Shimano Tiagra
Shimano Tiagra 4700 34x50t
Shimano Ultegra shifters and derailleurs, Oval forged crankset with 50/34T
Components
Tektro dual pivots, 700c Oval alloy clinchers
Shimano Tiagra 4770 Hydraulic Disc
Shimano 105 brake set, Oval 327 alloy paired up to Vittoria Zaffiro slicks
Weight
21.75 pounds
19 pounds
18.5 pounds
Trek Domane 4
Our Rating
9.6
Frame & Fork
OCLV Carbon
Drivetrain
2x10 Shimano Tiagra
Components
Tektro dual pivots, 700c Oval alloy clinchers
Weight
21.75 pounds
More Information
Orbea Avant
Our Rating
9.3
Frame & Fork
Avant Carbon OMP
Drivetrain
Shimano Tiagra 4700 34x50t
Components
Shimano Tiagra 4770 Hydraulic Disc
Weight
19 pounds
More Information
Ridley Helium X
Our Rating
8.9
Frame & Fork
C5 high modulus carbon
Drivetrain
Shimano Ultegra shifters and derailleurs, Oval forged crankset with 50/34T
Components
Shimano 105 brake set, Oval 327 alloy paired up to Vittoria Zaffiro slicks
Weight
18.5 pounds
More Information

The downside to this amazing material is the expense. Since the product is far more labour intensive to produce, it pushes up the price of finished bikes.

Here’s the good news: now the technology is more mainstream, and cheap carbon fibre road bikes have finally arrived. But are they worth the risk?

You can find some amazing, feather-light rides at unbelievable prices nowadays. I wouldn’t recommend everything out there (not all carbon is created equal), but there are a few diamonds worth seeking out.

This piece is written to help any road cyclist or triathlete who wants to upgrade their ride without seriously damaging their bank account.

We’ll be reviewing a handful of light, responsive and fast carbon road bikes, all available at discount prices. Specifically, we’ll attempt to keep the budget below $2000.

Curious to see what’s out there? Read on.


Carbon: strength and differences from steel and aluminum

Photo Credit: John Rees

Photo Credit: John Rees

There’s absolutely no denying that carbon fibre is a lighter material than steel. I’ve checked out bikes that you can lift with a finger, no joke.

With a bicycle that light, you will have a lot more energy when tackling a climb or passing during a race. It honestly feels like flying.

However, this is a big departure from metallic frames. Carbon is different in a few key ways:

  • Vibration: I’ve heard people claim that carbon generates frame vibration. In fact, it’s known to do the opposite. It will soften your ride considerably, especially when compared to a super rigid material like, say, aluminum.
  • Impact Durability: Unlike a steel framed bike, an accidental impact, crash or other trauma to the frame is often catastrophic. A bad crash usually means the end of the bike. Carbon has a tendency to splinter, and you can’t really repair it like steel (which can be welded and hammered back into shape.)
  • Does Not Oxidize: A major advantage in a carbon frame is the lack of oxidization (rust.) Both steel and alloy will oxidize to some extent, typically the parts not covered by paint and exposed to the elements. From a maintenance perspective having a rust-free ride is a huge boon.
  • Frame Fatigue: All bicycles are susceptible to frame fatigue. Basically, over time the impacts and wear of riding will slowly degrade a frame’s integrity. However, carbon fibre frames typically experience very little frame fatigue, and most manufacturers offer long or lifetime warranties on them.

1) Salsa Warroad Carbon Apex 1 Bike

If you want to be able to take your carbon bike for long bike rides and off the beaten path whenever you get a chance, you’ll love this Salsa Warroad Carbon Apex 1 bike.

Featured specs

  • Warroad carbon frame and fork
  • Mechanical disc brakes
  • SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain

Benefits

  • The bike’s got TRP Spyre-C flat-mount disc brakes that provide stopping prowess no matter where you’re riding or what conditions you’re riding in, so you don’t have to be put off from going for a ride because of bad weather.
  • The bike’s carbon frame can accommodate 650b and 700cc wheels.

Drawbacks

  • People have said that although this Salsa bike enables them to cover distances quickly and effectively, it is a bit more expensive than other bikes in the same category.

Extra Features

  • The bike also has an integrated top tube bag mount. This is meant for your Salsa bag that requires a separate purchase but it definitely makes your ride more convenient.

Frame & Fork:

When you’re riding on rough ground, you want stability as that translates into control and comfort.

This is easily achieved by the bike, thanks to its slack head tube angle and long-offset fork.

To help you have a responsive ride, this Salsa bike has a rear thru axle.

Drivetrain:

The bike is fitted with an SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain. This makes your shifting feel much more precise.

Components:

There are tons of ways in which you can add accessories to the bike, which makes it very versatile and practical. Examples of accessories include Three-Pack mounts, fender mounts, and more. There are also two to three mounts for your water bottle on the main frame triangle.

Weight:

The Talon comes in at 19.2 pounds in total, sans pedals.

It’s a triathlon bike, but I find them very versatile. Change out the bars to whatever suits your fancy and you truly have an all-around bicycle, perfect for casual riding, racing, commuting or triathlons.

Verdict:

This Salsa carbon bike comes in a variety of sizes and it costs around $2000. While that might seem like a lot, it has all the important features to power up your riding experience no matter where you decide to take it. You’ll love getting its tires dirty, and it will too!.


2) Cannondale Topstone Carbon 105 Bike – 2020

Okay, so at first glance the Cannondale Topstone Carbon bike looks pretty much like the Salsa bike we’ve just featured, but it does have some important differences. What makes it one of the best carbon bikes? Here’s what you need to know.

Featured specs

  • KingPin suspension
  • Excellent for gravel
  • Balanced riding position

Benefits

  • You know that your riding position can make a huge difference in how you feel on the road and this bike’s all about balance. You’ll be a bit upright so that you can feel comfortable during long rides but you’ll also be forward and low enough so that you can be more agile. 
  • Although the bike has 700C x 37mm tires that enable excellent grip, you can fit tires that are up to 40mm in size.
  • People have said that this bike is phenomenal to use on gravel, while giving you a more comfortable ride, thanks to its suspension.

Drawbacks

  • Although you might like not feeling every vibration on the road, some users have stated that they feel that the bike makes them miss out on feeling the terrain a bit more naturally.
  • Some people who purchased this bike reported that the gear ranges and ratios were fantastic when used off road but didn’t perform as well on the road.

Extra Features

  • You can store water bottles and your gear on this bike without a hassle, thanks to the mounts that are available on the top tube, seat tube, under the down tube, and on the downtube. You also have mounts on the fork to customize how you want to carry your items.
  • The bike’s design creates an attractive appearance.

Frame & Fork:

The fork is made out of a BallisTec Carbon,BB30-83 Ai with a 42×12 Speed Release meaning you get all the stability at zero weight, the OutFront steering geometry means you can make quick terms while it doesn’t sacrifice any stability and enables you to ride on some of the rougher terrains.

Drivetrain:

The bike is fitted with an SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain. This makes your shifting feel much more precise.

Components:

One of the best features about this bike is that it’s got a KingPin suspension that’s light but enables you to tackle tough terrain without missing a beat. You’ll feel more in control during those hard rides, but comfortable on hard and even surfaces, too.

Use the Cannondale app to make use of the integrated wheel sensor. This will provide you with tons of valuable info about your ride, such as distance covered and speed.

Weight:

The Topstone Carbone comes in at 20 pounds in total.

Verdict:

If you love riding on gravel and hitting off-road adventures on the weekend, this bike is a must for you. In addition, you can happily extend your ride while having all your gear with you without taking strain by having to store it in your backpack. There’s no doubt that this Cannondale model won’t disappoint you, but there’s another one to consider before you make your purchase…


3) Cannondale 2020 Synapse Alloy 105 BBQ

This Cannondale model is focused on offering you greater comfort, and it’s renowned for being one of the best bikes you can get for its price. Let’s check out its features.

Featured specs

  • Shimano 105 disc brakes
  • Hidden fender mounts
  • Thin rear stays

Benefits

  • The bike is fitted with Shimano 105 disc brakes. These give you incredible power when you need it, such as if you have to stop suddenly.  
  • To create a more comfortable ride, the bike’s got thin rear stays that are built to flex a bit when you ride.
  • To create greater pedalling efficiency, this bike has a stiff rear triangle.
  • This bike offers excellent handling – people who have tried it out have said it’s very responsive and works well for sprints and endurance.

Drawbacks

  • Some people have reported that the bike’s long top tube made them feel that they had to stretch during rides, which isn’t very comfortable.
  • Others have stated that they didn’t feel like the handlebar is ergonomic.

Extra Features

  • This bike connects to the Cannondale app for free.
  • The internal cable routing enables you to upgrade to a Di2 electronic drivetrain, which is a nice touch.

Frame & Fork:

The bike has more material around its bottom bracket. The result? You get a stiffer bike frame that will absorb less input energy while transferring more of it. This means that when you add power to your pedalling, this will add more power to the wheel.

The company has packed lots of high-end features into this bike even though it’s not as expensive as some of its rivals. For example, you’ll love that this bike has hidden fender mounts and smart cable routing.

Drivetrain:

The Shimano 105 drive train makes this a robust and speedy choice while saving on weight. 

Components:

Use the Cannondale app to make use of the integrated wheel sensor. This will provide you with tons of valuable info about your ride, such as distance covered and speed.

Weight:

The Synapse Alloy 105 BBQ comes in at 22 pounds in total not the lightest bike on our list but considering the cost it’s a pretty good number.

Verdict:

This Cannondale carbon bike costs $1,800. It’s a bike that’s focused on greater comfort while giving you value for money because it’s one of the cheapest bikes on our list.


 

4) Felt FX Advanced GRX 600

This carbon frame bike is packed with high-end parts. Here’s what to know about it.

Featured specs

  • 2×11 drivetrain
  • Ergonomic top tube
  • Ideal for cyclocross

Benefits

  • The bike’s fitted with both Shimano GRX shifting and hydraulic disc brakes to enhance its performance.
  • Its Shimano crankset is both lightweight and durable, with 46/30t rings that enable you to deal with steep climbs.

Drawbacks

  • If this is the carbon bike you want, you might be disappointed to find out that if you want it for off-road adventures you’ll probably be wise to purchase a different bike. That’s because cyclocross bikes can handle gentle off-road rides, and they shine when it comes to gravel, but they aren’t the same as mountain bikes. It’s been said that cyclocross bikes are similar to road bikes, but they just have a few extra features.

Extra Features

  • For extra comfort, this bike has a top tube that’s been designed to be shoulder friendly.
  • You can get the bike in aquamarine or white.
  • The bike’s sporty design shows that it’s built for speed.

Frame & Fork:

This bike’s 2 x 11 drivetrain means that it can tackle up-hill rides much easier than rival bikes.

It’s got a very light carbon frame that makes handling it easier.

The added benefit of its frame is that it eliminates bumps and vibrations before they can affect you.

Drivetrain:

The Shimano 105 drive train makes this a robust and speedy choice while saving on weight. 

Components:

Its Schwalbe X-One Allround tires are safe for use with low pressures and are made for cyclocross. They also offer excellent grip. But they’re not designed for gravel or any kind of bumpy roads.

Weight:

At 20 lbs the Felt FX Advanced GRX 600 is a pretty light carbon bike with a full feature set.

Verdict:

It’s right up there with the best and you won’t regret this purchase if you’re looking for a cyclocross bike.


5) Felt Advanced GRX 800

This Felt carbon bike looks the same as the previous Felt bike we featured, even down to its aquamarine color. It also shares many of the same features. These include a style thru axle, flat mount disc brakes, and internal mechanical or electronic cable routing. However, it does have a few differences. For starters, it’s quite a bit more expensive.

Featured specs

  • 1×11 drivetrain
  • Shimano GRX180 brakes
  • Internal cable routing

Benefits

  • With its 1 x 11 drivetrain, the Felt Advanced GRX 800 will be easier to ride up steep hills.
  • This bike has Shimano GRX180 brakes that have more advanced materials in their construction than other types. They contribute to a lighter weight while also giving the bike a top-notch finish.

Drawbacks

  • Despite the drivetrain improving the bike’s performance in some ways, as mentioned earlier, it won’t achieve the same level of speed as rival bikes when sprinting.
  • The bike’s been equipped with 140mm brake rotors, which is less than the 160mm that’s found in the GRX 600 model. Larger brake rotors can be better because they displace the heat that gets generated when you brake and can give you better control.

Extra Features

  • Just like with the previous Felt bike, this one comes in aquamarine or white.

Frame & Fork:

One of the features it shares with the GRX600 is worth mentioning as a benefit here: it’s got internal cable routing that protects the bike against the harsh elements.

Drivetrain:

The Shimano 105 drive train makes this a robust and speedy choice while saving on weight. 

Components:

Shimano GRX810 makes for an incredibly light and speedy drive train but it does come with a cost. If you want the cutting edge this is what you should be looking for. The breaks have also been upgraded from the GTX 600 meaning a more even and precise breaking speed giving you better control.

Weight:

At 19 lbs the Felt Advanced GRX 800 is a pretty light carbon bike with a full feature set.

Verdict:

The question is if you feel that spending quite a bit more for the bike is worth it since it does share many of the same features as what you can find in the Felt GRX 600.


Note: Due to COVID-19 some of the bikes below might not be in stock.

6) Kestrel Talon: Among the best and cheapest carbon road bikes around

Pros: Unbeatable price, Shimano 105 components

Cons: None, honestly

The Talon by Kestrel was somewhat unprecedented when it arrived a few years ago. It has gotten more outlandish.

This. Price. Is. Insane.

Not only is it a beautiful, sculpted, full carbon road bike frame with excellent components, it is substantially less expensive than most of the competition. It’s a full carbon fibre road bike for a little over $1,000, which I find hard to believe. What’s more, it comes equipped with some great components.

Frame & Fork:

Don’t let the affordable price tag fool you, this frame is impressive. It’s a full aero style, meaning it’s gorgeous. I particularly love the front and rear fork blades.

It’s a blend of 800k and 700k carbon fibre, resulting in a ride that’s stiff enough for tight control, yet flexible enough to be a comfortable daily cycle.

The frame geometry is such that it’s a great carbon fibre road bike for triathlons, yet also perfect for regular street use.

Drivetrain:

The Talon is fitted with excellent Shimano 105 shifters (integrated) and derailleurs, fitted to an Oval double crankset that has 50/34T, which uses Oval external bearings. I’m a big fan of this setup.

If you’re willing to jump up a few hundred dollars in price, Kestrel offers an Ultegra-equipped model. Outstanding value there.

Components:

The brakes are quite basic, standard Tektro dual pivots. Despite their humble design, they’re still effective and do the trick, but this might be an area to upgrade down the road.

The wheels are 700c Oval alloy clinchers with 20 spokes in front and 24 in the back (further weight savings). They spin nicely and arrive equipped with Equinox folding tires.

Weight:

The Talon comes in at 19.2 pounds in total, sans pedals.

It’s a triathlon bike, but I find them very versatile. Change out the bars to whatever suits your fancy and you truly have an all-around bicycle, perfect for casual riding, racing, commuting or triathlons.

Verdict:

You’ll love the responsive and snappy ride and explosiveness of the takeoff and acceleration. Quite impressive indeed, considering this is one of the cheapest carbon fibre road bikes you’ll come across. The Talon has great reviews from customers too. You’re not likely to be disappointed here.


7) Diamondback Century 4: A great, full carbon road bike under $2000

Diamondback is a well established brand, and lately they’ve launched into performance cycling. Carbon is a big focus. The gorgeous Diamondback Century 4 is an eminently affordable carbon road bicycle with a lot to recommend it.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s easy on the eyes either.

Frame & Fork:

The frame and fork are made from high-end carbon which yields a stiff and responsive yet supple ride. It’s a ‘specific modulus’ frame, meaning the carbon tubes are constructed in such a way as to reduce weight to the lower limit, with techniques such as removing excess material inside the tubes post construction.

The forks and frame are less ‘aero’ than some other options. I see this more as an everyday road bike and commuter than a racer. That’s reinforced by the geometry: you’ll sit a little bit more upright than many extreme carbon rides. That makes the Century 4 a strong choice for those with back issues, or for anyone who doesn’t need a hyper-aggressive stance.

Drivetrain:

There’s no fancy groupset here, and it’s a reason why it’s so inexpensive. Diamondback instead opted to go for a set consisting of a Shimano Tiagra front and rear derailleur, and a set of Tiagra 10 speed shifters. I can only assume this is a cost saving measure since these are pretty basic.

Even so, it shifts beautifully when tuned up properly, and you should have plenty of gearing options to play around with.

The crankset is a 50/34T Shimano RS400 set, a great all-around gearing for fast starts, hills and flats.

Components:

Brakes are once again simple and effective here, with Tektro Lyra flat mount mechanical disc brakes. Like many carbon frames, the brake cables run inside for a clean appearance.

The wheels are C2+ from HED Cycling, and they feature 20 spokes on the front and 24 on the rear. They’re alloys with machined sidewalls, and they spin really well.

It’s worth noting that several other components are alloy, including the seatpost and stem.

Weight:

I haven’t had a clear answer from Diamondback on this, but around 19 pounds.

Verdict:

The Century 4 is a good answer to anyone who wants a carbon frame with a more upright stance. It’s quick and strong, with a good drivetrain and fantastic wheels and tires. If you’re a commuter, a fitness cyclist, or interested in a well-balanced ride, it’s probably the perfect choice for you.

A budget carbon road bike with good looks, positive reviews and ride versatility? It’s a great pick.


8) Fuji Gran Fondo: Full carbon fibre road bike from good brand

Fuji is another big brand. The advantage of this is they’re able to leverage their size to procure deep discounts. That means an otherwise expensive frame is affordable due to economy of scale.

The Gran Fondo 2.3 C is another bike that’s built for a well-rounded riding style. Whether you like to push your times or simply get to and from the office, it’s a lightning quick friend in all situations.

Frame & Fork:

The frame is a full carbon construction, and it is smooth, aerodynamic and beautiful. Their C5 high modulus carbon is engineered to provide maximum rigidity and minimum weight.

The geometry is a bit more upright, with a longer head tube and longer wheelbase. This gives you a good combo of great control mixed with ride comfort. Forks are aero and gorgeous.

Drivetrain:

Unlike many in this price point, the Gran Fondo 2.3 C comes with a complete set of Shimano Ultegra shifters and derailleurs. Ultegra is better than the already excellent 105; I’m surprised to see it here.

It’s not quite a complete groupset, since the bike makes use of an Oval forged crankset with 50/34T.

Due to the premium drivetrain, this bike shifts like a dream. It is snappy, precise and a joy to run through the gears. Acceleration feels effortless.

Components:

Fuji sticks with Shimano for the brakes, going with a 105 brake set (dual pivot). They’re very effective and efficient. Through-frame cable housings ensure a clean aesthetic.

It comes with a set of Oval 327 alloy clinchers paired up to Vittoria Zaffiro slicks (you can read more about this excellent tire in our review here.) With 20 / 24 spokes, they’re strong enough, light in weight and spin for days.

The seatpost is carbon, but the stem is forged aluminum.

Weight:

It comes in at a spritely 18.5 pounds, depending on the frame size.

Verdict:

This bike is truly an impressive machine. The best words to describe it would be tight, precise and explosive. The best thing about it is the chameleon-like quality of the ride. It’s a sprinter, a commuter, a racer or a tourer. Ride how you want.

In any event the Gran Fondo easily makes this list as one of the best full carbon road bikes for around $2000.


9) Nashbar Carbon: An affordable carbon road bicycle occasionally under $1000

Nashbar 105 Carbon

Nashbar 105 Carbon – Price: $899.99

With Nashbar, no one could ever claim that their bikes are too flashy. Free from fancy paint jobs and gaudy stickers, their bikes tend to be as stealthy as you can get. That’s the brand in a nutshell.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re not capable machines. The bike is a monocoque framed carbon road bike with good reviews. For your dollar, it’s probably the best value in this list.

Frame & Fork:

I’m not sure how Nashbar managed to put together such a strong frame without adding weight. It’s almost beefy. The tubing is thick yet aero, utilitarian yet beautiful.

It’s a stiff ride, but it is still forgiving on bumps due to the construction of the rear seat stays and front forks. That stiffness translates into unreal handling, so it’s a win-win.

Drivetrain:

Nashbar implements the excellent Shimano 105 set for its drivetrain, including front and rear derailleurs, shifters and levers. I always prefer when the set matches like this. You’ve got 2×11 speeds to play with.

The crankset is the ever-popular FSA Gossamer Compact with a 50/34T setup. It’s paired to an FSA MegaExo bottom bracket and the whole thing feels very dialed in.

In fact the shifting is basically flawless. Nashbar has done well here.

Components:

When you want to stop, standard Tektro 325 alloy dual pivots are more than up to the task, stopping you on a dime. They are basic, but who cares; use the money you’ve saved and upgrade to your heart’s content.

Wheels are basic Shimano RS010 clincher alloys with machined sidewalls. Certainly nothing fancy, but they do the trick with 20/24 spokes. It rolls on a pair of Vittoria Zaffiro tires.

As expected, the stem and seatpost are alloy. No surprises there.

Weight:

No official weight provided by Nashbar. Unofficially, it comes in at a little over 19 pounds, depending on frame size.

Verdict:

This is top-value carbon fibre road bike with good reviews and a great, budget-friendly price. You can’t lose.

It’s well below the $2000 price tag limit we set, and in fact it frequently dips below the $1,000 mark, which I can’t really comprehend. For that you get full 105 drivetrain and a ride that’s a ton of fun. Recommended.


10) Schwinn Fastback Carbon: A carbon frame road bike with ‘endurance geometry’

Schwinn doesn’t have many carbon bikes in their roster, but they know their stuff. With the stunning (and stunningly affordable) Fastback Carbon 105, they’ve created a gorgeous, accessibly priced road bike that’s suitable for many riding styles.

Frame & Fork:

Schwinn’s carbon frame is just gorgeous. An oversized aero downtube makes it look fast and aggressive. I also appreciate the taller headset (as a tall guy) and sturdy chainstays.

The stance is forgiving; it’s a tad more upright and controlled, easier on your back without taking away from its capability. The frame is stiff and you can compete and thrive on this platform.

Drivetrain:

Once again, we find the exceptional Shimano 105 groupset at work. And it is a true groupset, with shifters, derailleurs, levers, crankset and 11 – 32T cassette, all official 105. The set works brilliantly together, and shifting is a joy.

Components:

Brakes are Shimano dual pivot caliper brakes. They are excellent.

The frame rolls on a set of Shimano RS100 alloy clinchers with 24 spokes on each wheel. Tires are Kenda Kriterium 700 x 25c folders, an excellent choice to start out.

The bike makes use of Schwinn brands for the the seatpost, stem, handlebars and saddle. It’s excellent, race-worthy stuff.

Weight:

It comes in at 18.8 pounds for a medium frame.

Verdict:

A great looking bicycle from a prestigious brand. I like that they’ve invested their own house branded parts into this bike, and the full and complete 105 groupset sells it for me. In addition, the frame is comfortable enough for almost any riding style, yet rigid and agile enough to thrill you.

In short, it’s a fantastic and cheap carbon road bike at a discount price.



Want deeper discounts on carbon road bikes? Try time travel

Carbon isn’t cheap, and it likely never will be. It’s a premium material and it’s labour intensive to produce. However, you can still find steals.

My suggestion is to seek out older models. Bike shops carry old stock for years. High-priced bikes often take a while to sell. It’s not uncommon to see a model on the showroom floor from a few years back, brand new and never ridden.

Why? Because high-priced models don’t sell nearly as fast as $300 comfort bikes. They’re aimed at a niche clientele, and sometimes that person doesn’t materialize right away.

Honestly, there’s pretty much no difference between a new 2016 model and more recent stock. Don’t be afraid to haggle either.

Take advantage of the super inexpensive road bikes with carbon frames collecting dust at your local bike shop.

Alternatively, look at used bikes. An expensive carbon bike has probably been babied. You may just find an affordable, well-cared-for, second-hand bike in your area.

Overall, our #1 choice is the Kestrel Talona!

I hope this was helpful! Thanks for reading.