Choosing the best road bike for you is a big decision. There’s a huge range of road bikes available, with the cheapest costing a couple of hundred pounds and the priciest well over £10,000. What they all have in common is two wheels and drop bars, but beyond that there are loads of things to think about if you’re looking to buy a new road bike.
We’ve tested hundreds of road bikes here at Cycling Weekly, so here is our top advice for choosing and our pick of the best road bikes at different prices. With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
A key decision when choosing the best road bike for you is what you plan to do. Are you looking to go fast or race, or are you after a more comfortable bike for more leisurely rides?
A full-on race bike will put you in a more bent riding position, with your head and shoulders lower down over the handlebar. That’s great for fast riding and lowers your frontal profile to lower your wind resistance but can be uncomfortable, particularly for a beginner.
On the other hand, bikes labelled “endurance” or “sportive” will be designed for a more upright riding position, with the bars higher and closer to the saddle. That makes for more comfort on longer rides, but may make you a bit slower.
If you’re riding on hilly roads you’ll appreciate a lightweight bike, whereas aerodynamics are more important if you’re expecting to ride fast on flatter terrain. If you’re looking to race, the more edgy handling of a race bike will work better than the more stable handling of an endurance machine.
An increasing number of bikes are designed to take you off the tarmac as well as letting you ride efficiently on road. A gravel bike will give you wide tyres and lower gears. But many endurance road bikes now come with these features too, letting you take in a wider variety of routes.
You also need to look at how much you want to spend on a bike. That’s not just the initial outlay, but the cost of replacing worn or damaged parts, the cost of servicing your bike and the cost of any upgrades. There’s a big difference in price between lower spec mechanical parts and top of the range electronic gearing.
New wheels are a popular purchase, but you might also find you need a new saddle or want to change your bars or other components.
Pros: Quality frame, stable ride
Cons: Big jumps between gears, budget brakes
Specialized’s budget road bike has a lightweight frame and all-carbon fork, with cables routed internally. The Axis Sport wheels are on the heavy side though and the Tektro rim brakes aren’t the most effective.
The Shimano Claris groupset gives plenty of gear range to tackle hills and there’s room for mudguards and a rack too. It’s an impressive package for the price.
Frame: Specialized E5 Premium alloy
Groupset: Shimano Claris
Wheels: Axis Sport alloy
Pros: Ride quality, great handling
Cons: Quite heavy
Sharing features of Giant’s more expensive bikes, the Contend has a compact frame with a sloping top tube, D-Fuse seatpost and carbon fork. That gives great comfort and handling, letting you ride for longer and inspiring confidence.
There’s bags of low gearing, down to 1:1, to tackle uphills and Shimano 105 gives you quality shifting, although the rather heavy weight doesn’t make for sprightly performance.
Frame: ALUXX SL-Grade alloy
Groupset: Shimano 105
Wheels: Giant P-R2 alloy
Pros: Great value, comfort and looks
Cons: Rim brake only
Decathlon’s in-house Van Rysel brand offers great value in the Shimano 105-equipped Ultra CF. You get a carbon frameset and decent alloy wheels that give stable handling and good braking from the in-series rim brakes. It’s not light too, although a wheel upgrade would definitely up performance and lower weight.
Frame: Ultra Evo Dynamic carbon
Groupset: Shimano 105
Wheels: Aero 700 2024 BTWIN alloy
Pros: Superb ride quality, healthy weight
The highest spec of Canyon’s alloy endurance bike comes kitted out with Shimano 105 and hydraulic disc brakes, along with quality DT Swiss wheels and 28mm tyres.
Ride quality is excellent, thanks to the quality alloy frame and Canyon’s own carbon seatpost. It’s a bike that had us pushing our limits up and downhill.
Pros: Great looks and finish
Cons: Handling not the sharpest
The lightweight Emonda gives you great braking and plenty of comfort, thanks to its 28mm tyres, carbon seatpost and comfort-oriented ride position.
The sub-8kg weight is tops for an aluminium disc brake bike at this price, better than many carbon bikes, while Trek’s Invisible Weld Technology makes for smooth welds that look like carbon too.
Pros: Comfortable and stable, aero features
Cons: A bit heavy
Ribble’s endurance bike offers aero tube profiles and seatpost in a comfort-oriented package, but without lacking frame stiffness for pedalling efficiency.
The BikeBuilder lets you choose your own spec upgrades to match your budget; it might be worthwhile choosing lighter, more aero wheels than the Mavic Aksiums tested. You get mudguard mounts, for all-weather riding and the option to fit road-smoothing 28mm tyres.
Frame: Toray T800/T1000 carbon
Groupset: Shimano 105 Disc
Wheels: Mavic Aksium Disc alloy
Pros: Good value, comfortable, versatile
Cons: Messy cable routing, uncomfortable saddle
Giant’s endurance-focussed Defy is loaded with comfort features, including its flattened bars and D-shaped carbon seatpost. There’s masses of tyre clearance and the Defy’s Giant wheels come kitted out with 32mm rubber.
Despite that comfort, the Defy feels nimble and descends well, while the big tyres give you off-road riding potential.
Frame: Giant Advanced Grade Composite carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra
Wheels: Giant P-R2 Disc alloy
Pros: Stiff, comfortable, light
Cons: Awkward Fizik saddle, non-standard sizing
Canyon’s lightweight bike gets aero touches and ride quality is excellent for all-day comfort. In this spec, you get the innovative SRAM Force 12-speed wireless electronic shifting along with a Quarq power meter. The Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 comes with a quality set of DT Swiss 48mm carbon wheels too.
Frame: Ultimate CF SLX carbon
Groupset: SRAM Force eTap AXS
Wheels: DT Swiss Pro 1400 Dicut db carbon
Pros: Compliant, fast wheels, great handing
Cons: A bit heavy, low spec tyres
Cannondale’s aero race bike gives you top-notch aero features and aggressive looks. It’s still comfortable enough for the usual mixed bag of road surfaces though. That’s in part due to the extra-wide Knot 64 aero carbon wheels, which increase tyre width of the 23mm tyres fitted up to 26mm.
At 7.6kg, the SystemSix is adequately light, although not class-leading.
Frame: SystemSix carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Wheels: Cannondale Knot 64 carbon
Pros: Truly rapid, great looks
Cons: Difficult to adjust fit
We’ve tested the Foil in various specs and with rim and disc brakes and always come away impressed with its quality and out-and-out speed. In its Premium spec, the Foil ticks all the aero boxes in a superb-looking design, with well-integrated cabling and a quality set of Syncros aero wheels, along with 28mm tyres, for a bit more smoothing of the edgy ride.
There’s top-spec Dura-Ace Di2 shifting, although we’d have liked to see a power meter as part of the deal.
Pros: Very fast and aero, light
Cons: Very expensive, harsh ride
The latest iteration of the seven-times Tour de France-winning Dogma is stiffer, faster and more aero. Its integrated bar and stem hide the cables and reduce drag by 5% from its predecessor and Pinarello has upped stiffness too. There’s a choice of disc brakes or the direct mount rim brakes we tested.
The Dogma F12 feels super-fast and is light and well specced, but the ride is a bit harsh over poor road surfaces.
Pros: Fast, light, aero
Cons: A harsher ride than its predecessor
The new Specialized Tarmac SL7 is so good, it eclipses the brand’s Venge aero bike. With feedback from the pros, the new Tarmac is stiffer, more stable and more aero than its predecessor – and 45 seconds quicker over 40km at 50kph.
Specialized’s new integrated bar and hidden cable routing aren’t too difficult to work with and there’s more tyre clearance – up to 32mm. It’s super-light too, bettering the UCI weight limit by 200g.
Frame: Tarmac SL7 FACT 12r Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Wheels: Roval Rapide CLX carbon
Pros: Great ride quality and handling, comfortable, very aero
Cons: Highish weight, price
Our tests showed that the Madone is one of the most aerodynamic bikes available. But Trek’s in-built IsoSpeed suspension system is tuneable and makes the Madone surprisingly comfortable, despite its chunky looks. There’s a choice of rim brakes as well as the disc brake bike tested. That should shave a few hundred grams off the test bike’s highish 7.5kg weight.
Read more: Full review of the Trek Madone SLR 9 Disc
Frame: Trek OCLV 700 carbon
Groupset: SRAM Red eTap AXS
Wheels: Bontrager Aeolus XXX6 carbon
A major difference between cheaper and more expensive bikes is their frame material. Bikes costing under £1000 are typically made of aluminium alloy, with the tubes welded together. It’s a material used in more expensive bikes too and can result in a strong, lightweight machine.
But pricier bikes are usually made of carbon fibre. The fibres give the bike strength and are embedded in a synthetic resin to hold them together. The mix of fibres used and their lay-up determine the bike’s ride feel and more expensive bikes will use more high modulus carbon fibre, which lowers the weight without reducing the bike’s strength.
Titanium is another material used in some more expensive bikes. It’s lightweight, strong and doesn’t rust or fatigue. And you can still find bikes made of the steel alloy which was the traditional framebuilding material. It’s not quite as light as other choices, but robust and gives a distinctive ride feel.
You should also look at what the bike’s fork is made of. Many bikes will have an all-carbon fork or one with carbon fork blades and an alloy steerer. This tends to absorb road bumps well for a more comfortable ride, but you can find alloy or steel forks on some lower priced bikes.
It’s important to get the right size bike for you. Most bikes come in a range of sizes to fit your stature and bike makers will usually publish a rider’s height range which a bike of a specific size will fit. You should feel comfortable seated on your bike and be able to put both feet flat on the ground when standing over the crossbar.
You’ll usually find more detailed frame dimensions listed too, which give you more details of how your bike will fit you. The most important are reach and stack, although they’re a bit complex to interpret.
To make sure that your bike is set up correctly and to avoid the risk of injury from incorrect fit, it’s well worth getting a professional bike fit. It will cost upward of £100 but will ensure that your saddle and bars are optimally placed for efficient riding.
Bike makers push their bikes’ aero credentials, especially on more expensive machines, with claims of wind tunnel testing and time saved. Time was, an aero frameset was significantly heavier than one with the traditional round tubes, but a modern aero bike can be as light as a non-aero one.
On the other hand, around 80% of the wind resistance comes from a rider, not the bike and those time savings are typically when riding at 45kph/28mph. Since wind resistance increases as the cube of speed, if you’re riding at half that, you’ll have an eighth of the drag, so all those aero features won’t make a lot of difference.
After the frame, gears are the most important thing to consider when choosing a road bike. Bike makers will often name the spec levels in a model range for the groupset fitted.
Shimano gearing is the most fitted, but the other major options are SRAM and Campagnolo. Shimano’s top end groupsets, Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105 have an 11-speed cassette, while less expensive bikes may come with 10-speed Tiagra, 9-speed Sora or 8-speed Claris.
The rear gearing is usually paired with a chainset with two rings. The most common options are 50/34, called a compact, and 52/36, called a semi-compact.
Cassette range is denoted by the number of teeth on the smallest and largest sprocket. An 11-28 is usually the smallest range fitted, but in modern groupsets that may go up to an 11-34. That gives you more range to tackle uphills, but at the expense of larger gaps between ratios.
Most groupsets are mechanical, using cables from the shift levers to change gears. But a premium bike may come equipped with electronic gears, where a motor shifts the derailleurs between ratios. The main systems are Shimano Di2, Campagnolo EPS and SRAM eTap AXS, with the latter offering 12 speeds and wireless connection to the shift levers.
Disc brakes are taking over on road bikes and many high end machines are now disc brake only, although other bikes offer you the option to choose disc or rim brakes. There aren’t many pricier models now that only offer rim brakes.
That’s because disc brakes give you more consistent stopping, whatever the weather conditions, better modulation and greater overall stopping power. On the flip side, they’re heavier than rim brakes.
Most disc brake bikes use hydraulic calipers, although you can find mechanical disc brakes, usually on cheaper machines. Discs are creeping down the price range, but many of the most affordable bikes still come with rim brakes.
Road bike wheels are typically 700c size, although Canyon for one fits smaller 650b wheels to smaller sized frames in some of its bikes, so that their geometry is more consistent with larger sizes.
More expensive wheels often come with carbon fibre rims. These lower weight and are often deeper, to improve aerodynamics over a shallow wheel. Otherwise, alloy rims are the norm.
Wheels are a component where bike makers often look to economise, so a budget wheelset may feature even on an expensive bike. It’s worth considering whether you’ll need to upgrade them to get the best out of your new bike.
Road bikes now come with increasingly wide tyres. A 25mm width is usually the minimum and even race bikes often have 28mm tyres, while endurance machines may go to 30mm or more.
The wider tyres smooth the road surface and add grip and you can lower tyre pressure to up comfort.
Wheels and tyres are increasingly tubeless-ready too. This means that you can add sealant and dispense with the inner tubes, reducing the risk of punctures and upping grip and ride comfort even more.
This content was originally published here.
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