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Buyer's guide: best budget carbon road bikes

Marc Abbott
10 Oct 2018

When your new bike has to be carbon but you can’t break the bank…

This feature originally appeared in issue 44 of Cyclist magazine

One of the defining features of road bike ownership is dealing with the barrage of questions: someone will lift your bike up, nod sagely, flick the frame… ‘Yep, it’s carbon…’

Extolling the virtues of a range of frame materials aside, for some of us, there is no substitute for a carbon bike.

To which end, we’ve collected four of the most affordable examples of the breed for your delectation.

Although not made from the same high grade of carbon-fibre as big money racing bikes, all four of the machines fulfil two vital criteria: 1. They’re carbon, and 2. They cost broadly in the region of £1,000.

And yes, you can get a good carbon bike for this kind of money. This is achieved by mixing different grades of carbon, fitting lower-spec groupsets, or using direct-sales business models to cut overheads.

But which offers the best value for money in this hotly contested price range? We head out on the roads to bring you the answer…

The bikes

Ribble Sportive Racing

We tested Ribble’s Sportive Racing in Di2 guise last year (see page 2), and were blown away by the way it provided a stiff, responsive ride combined with a fair amount of long-distance ability.

It was more ‘Racing’ than ‘Sportive’ in our book, which added to the excitement of the ride immensely.

Here, for less than £1,000, Ribble has concocted a mechanical 105-equipped version that seems perfectly equipped for anything the road throws at you.

Click here to read the full Ribble Sportive Racing review

Dolan L'Etape 

Dolan’s aim is to build a bike that costs south of a grand, and which is lightweight, responsive and comfortable.

They say the L’Etape is ‘the ideal weapon of choice in a variety of disciplines, from general riding to road racing.’

This is the cheapest build available from the direct sales company, but if you’ve more money to spend you can spec up the wheels and other components to match your budget.

Click here to read the full Dolan L'Etape review

 Price: around £999.99 | Buy from Dolan Bikes here

Boardman Road Team Carbon

Boardman says its Road Team Carbon offers ‘a comfortable riding experience, along with the performance to keep up with your ambition.’

With a C7 carbon frame based on the brand’s SLR Endurance model costing twice as much as this entry-level road bike, on the face of it, it seems to offer the best of both worlds: performance on a budget. 

Click here to read the full Boardman Road Team Carbon review

Tifosi Scalare

Tifosi says its most affordable carbon build offers ‘unique geometry that makes it the ultimate road bike, whether you are looking for all-day riding comfort or a high-performance racer.’

It has also updated it over the previous incarnation, to provide better power transfer and a smoother ride.

Click here to read the full Tifosi Scalare review

Price: around £1,299.99 | Buy from Tifosi here

The winner: Ribble Sportive Racing

What we hope we’ve proven with this test is that, these days, £1,000 goes a long way when it comes to carbon road bikes.

But in this test the bike which stands out for us, as it did when we rode it in much higher spec, is Ribble’s Sportive Racing. 

Its frameset is a real star, but the package it’s specced in here, wearing full Shimano 105, is blessed with handling ability, climbing prowess and all-out speed. We reckon you’d struggle to top it for the money.

At face value, you might think the most expensive bike would fare best, but price is not always a true guide. Believe us, we’ve ridden some particularly average bikes that cost more than two months’ wages.

That said, the Tifosi Scalare stands out as a bike that proves Tiagra can be the new 105, with the frame that complements it being a cracking piece of work.

Boardman’s Road Team Carbon would have ranked higher were it not for its braking performance.

The rest of the build is superb, and would keep you engaged and entertained for many years of riding to come.

Upgrade the callipers for brakes that bite when and as hard as you expect them to, and you’d really be on to something.

That the Dolan didn’t finish higher is perhaps not an entirely fair representation of its ability. For the sub-£1,000 price tag, its spec is exceptional, those budget RS010 wheels notwithstanding.

If you’ve a few quid more, you could spec this bike up to just shy of the Ribble’s performance – no problem whatsoever.

In fact, we highly recommend nosing around Dolan’s online bike configuration tool to see what’s possible if you spend a bit more.

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