10 Great Bikes Under $500, According to a Bike Mechanic
Brands like Trek, Fuji, Cannondale, and Giant all have complete bikes ready to ride under $500.
Bike sales are booming right now. Even in places like Omaha. With most gyms remaining closed in larger cities, people need to find a responsible way to exercise, explore, and have copious amounts of fun that doesn't wreak immeasurable havoc on their knees (looking at you, running). The answer is, of course, riding a bike.
I've been an avid cyclist in NYC for ten years now, commuting to work, riding on weekends, and going for morning exercise rides while the streets are vacant -- save for runners callously destroying their own knees. In my opinion, it's the best hybrid of transportation and exercise. But is it for everybody? Yeah, probably!
And to help you pedal through the shiesty peddlers of busted bikes, we've enlisted the help of Samvel Boyajian, a veteran NYC bike mechanic, enthusiast, and decades-long bike boss to compare 10 great bikes under $500. The options range from single speeds, geared bikes, hybrids, folding options, and even a BMX (for a grown-ass person).
Boyajian begins my telling me, "Basically every big bicycle brand has an 'entry level' bike. It will be a hybrid with large diameter wheels and mid/low width tires. There will be a disc brake option for a slightly higher price. You will NEVER need that upgrade."
Boyajianl also noted that many of the bikes here share a ton of commonalities, meaning a lot will come down to personal preference, and that you should always test a bike before buying. That said, most of the bicycles here are commonly employed as commuter bikes and will stand their ground in major cities or on packed dirt. You're probably not winning any major cycling competitions with these, but they'll get you where to need to go safely, comfortably, and with money left in the bank.
Get this bike if: You're new to the world of riding and want something reliable from a legacy brand. The FX1 offers a ton of versatility as well, which is a huge reason people love it so much. The frame will give you myriad options to add on accessories (panniers, baskets, etc) while the bike’s 21 speeds help you over steep terrain and/or bridges.
Get this bike if: You want something with a sporty look that'll put in miles on the weekend and get you to the office without breaking a sweat. It's also made by Cannondale, a leader in cycling, and is fitted with Shimano brakes, Cannondale grips, and a comfortable -- but not overly bulky -- saddle.
Get this bike if: The previous two just weren't doing it for you. Jokes aside, Giant makes an excellent entry into the world of cycling. The bike is able to easily handle country roads as well as a city commute and is equipped with fender mounts so you can tailor it to your needs (e.g., by adding a rear rack/luggage carrier).
Get this bike if: You want the quality of a big brand, but budget is top of mind. You'll save about $50 when you go with a Jamis and get the same kind of tuning you'd see on a Trek or Cannondale. That means the same quality parts, same lightweight frame (in this case, aluminum), and the same setup that's equipped for a city commute or ride on backcountry roads.
Get this bike if: Well, in the words of Fuji itself, get this bike if "You want a bike for fitness. You want a bike for commuting. You want a bike for your first charity ride. And you want it to be fun, and fast." This is another one that's similar to a Trek or Cannondale, but comes in at a lower price point and shares the name of a delicious apple.
Get this bike if: You live in a city and want something simple, easy to care for, and strong (it's made from 1020 steel by a grownup BMXer that started a not-BMX brand). From Fairdale, "Don’t overthink or over-complicate the bicycle, just hop on an Express and ride." Well said, Fairdale. Well said.
Get this bike if: You really like the look/simplicity of the Express, but want an additional seven speeds to take you on even further rides. Definitely a great fit if you live in hill country or have to tackle some bridges five days a week.
Get this bike if: You're interested in getting into fixies but don't want to dish out the big bucks to make it happen. I rode a State for about a year before it got stolen. The bike always felt sturdy, didn't have any major issues (I upgraded the seat), and was used as my primary commuter for that time. Boyajian, on the other hand, isn't a huge fan of online bike stores in general but did recommend State if you're going to take that route. He also recommends having the bike shipped to your LBS (local bike shop) for expert assembly.
Get this bike if: You want a smooth AF ride with solid handling. Boyajian told me that "Kona does the same thing as all the other big brands, but they throw 650b size tires on their hybrids. What that jargon means is that the diameter of the wheel is slightly smaller than a standard hybrid, which allows for a wider tire to be fitted on the bicycle with very little difference in handling, ultimately providing a more supple ride."
Get this bike if: Convenience is key… and/or you want "the cheapest alternative until you get a Brompton," says Boyajian. A Brompton, however, will set you back almost double the price of a Dahon. The Dahon Speed Uno is a single-speed foldable bike that's tailored to city-dwellers who want the flexibility of biking but are lacking the space to store a full-sized cycle. The benefit of a bike like the Speed Uno is that it'll handle and ride like a full-sized bike, but can be tucked away in a closet or under your bed when not in use.
Get this bike if: "You're a grown up BMXer who still rides BMX," says Boyajian. What? It's a list of great bikes under $500. This totally counts!
And though you can easily buy most of these bikes online, Boyajian recommends hitting your LBS to buy your ride. He says "Bike shops are usually the best place to buy since they'll be doing the work on your ride. They may even have a repair bonus. It might be a little more expensive, but they can guide you towards things you need and new and/or cool stuff. And remember, things are crazy right now and most shops are busier and less staffed than they've ever been. So don't be a dick." The takeaway: Be patient. If your local shop doesn't have what you're looking for, it's probably because the manufacturer doesn't have it either.