Best road bikes 2021: top reviewed bikes for every price point

best road bike

Choosing the best road bike for you is a big decision. Prices and available options cover a huge range. What they all have in common is two wheels and drop bars. 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 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.

What do you want to do on your road bike?

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.

Best road bikes

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 tires and lower gears. But many endurance road bikes now come with these features too, letting you take in a wider variety of routes.

How much do you want to spend on a road bike?

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.

The specification will vary a lot between manufacturers, in particular, prices will be lower at direct only brands (such as Canyon and Ribble) and in-house brands (Vitus at Wiggle or Boardman at Halfords). But to give you an idea, here's a look at common specifications at various investment levels. In the interest of brevity, some bandings are wide and therefore you would expect variation within them.

£750 - £999 / $1000 - $1500

An aluminium frame and carbon fork, aluminium seatpost and handlebar/stem, shifting at Shimano Sora or Claris level, alumnium wheels. Rim brakes. 

£1000 - £1499 / $1500 - $2200

Either an aluminium frame and carbon fork at around Shimano 105 level, or a carbon frame and fork with shifting at Shimano Tiagra level. Aluminium wheels, seatpost and handlebar/stem. Disc or rim brakes. We would advise choosing rim brakes or cable-actuated disc brakes. 

£1500 - £2499 / $2200 - $3500

Carbon frame and fork with Shimano 105 (lower end of budget) or Ultegra (higher end) aluminum rims, carbon seatpost, aluminium handlebars and stem. Disc brakes should be hydraulic from this price point. 

£2500 - £3999 / $3500 - $5600

Carbon frame and fork, Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Rival AXS eTap (hydraulic if disc), carbon seatpost, aluminium bar/stem, aluminium rims 

£4000 - £5999 / $5600 - $8500

Carbon frame and fork, Shimano Ultegra Di2 or SRAM Force AXS eTap (hydraulic if disc) with aluminium wheels, or Shimano Ultegra with carbon wheels 30mm+, carbon seatpost, aluminium bars and stem

£6000 - £7999 / $8500 - $11,000

Carbon frame and fork, Shimano Ultegra Di2 or SRAM Force AXS eTap, carbon wheels 30mm+, carbon seatpost, carbon handlebar

£8000 - £9999 / $11,000 - $14,000

Carbon frame and fork, carbon wheels of 50mm+, Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 or SRAM Red AXS eTap

£10,000+ / $14,000

Accept nothing but the best of everything. Top of the range carbon frame and fork - usually utilising stiffer carbon and therefore fewer layers resulting in lower weight, carbon wheels of 50mm+, Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 or SRAM Red AXS eTap, power meter as standard 

Best road bikes we’ve tested at Cycling Weekly

Best road bikes

Specifications
Frame: Specialized E5 Premium alloy
Groupset: Shimano Claris
Wheels: Axis Sport alloy
Weight: 9.4kg / 20.7lbs
Reasons to buy
+Quality frame+Stable ride
Reasons to avoid
-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.

>>> Best cheap road bikes

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.

Best road bikes

(Image credit: Cycling Weekly)

Specifications
Frame: ALUXX SL-Grade alloy
Groupset: Shimano 105
Wheels: Giant P-R2 alloy
Weight: 9.0kg / 19.9lbs
Reasons to buy
+Ride quality+Handling
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Read more:Full review of the Giant Contend

Best road bikes

Specifications
Frame: SmartForm C1 Premium Alloy
Groupset: Shimano 105
Wheels: RD 2.0 alloy
Weight: 9.0 KG / 19.9 LBS
Reasons to buy
+Versitility 
Reasons to avoid
-None

The CAAD13 has long and low geometry paired with handling which is second to none. Priced low enough to be a first bike it's a frame that you won't outgrow.

At this price point, you get a Shimano 105 hydraulic groupset with a Cannondale 1 crank set, FSA 52/36 chainrings, and disc brakes. The Formular RD 2.0 wheel build and 28mm Vittoria Rubino Pro Bright tires might want an upgrade at some point though.

Read more:Our full review of the Cannondale CAAD13 Disc here

Best road bikes

Specifications
rame: Ultra Evo Dynamic carbon
Groupset: Shimano 105
Wheels: Aero 700 2024 BTWIN alloy
Weight: 8.3kg / 18.3lbs
Reasons to buy
+Value+Comfort+Looks
Reasons to avoid
-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 particularly light, although a wheel upgrade would definitely up performance and lower weight.

Read more:Full review of the Van Rysel Ultra CF

Best road bikes

Specifications
Frame: Ultralight 300 Series Alpha Aluminium
Groupset: Shimano 105
Wheels: Bontrager Affinity Disc alloy
Weight: 7.8kg / 17.2lbs
Reasons to buy
+Great looks+Low weight
Reasons to avoid
-Handling not the sharpest

The lightweight Emonda gives you great braking and plenty of comfort, thanks to its 28mm tires, carbon seatpost and comfort-oriented ride position.

The sub-8kg (17.6lbs) weight is impressive 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.

Read more:Trek Emonda ALR Disc 5 full review

Best road bikes

Specifications
Frame: SystemSix carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Wheels: Cannondale Knot 64 carbon
Weight: 7.6kg / 16.8lbs
Reasons to buy
+Compliance+Handling
Reasons to avoid
-Low spec tyres-A bit heavy

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 tire width of the 23mm tires fitted up to 26mm.

At 7.6kg (16.8lbs), the SystemSix is adequately light, although not class-leading.

Read more:Full review of the Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra Di2

Best road bikes

Specifications
Frame: Foil Disc HMX carbon
Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Wheels: Syncros Capital 1.0 50 Disc carbon
Weight: 7.5kg / 16.5lbs
Reasons to buy
+Rapid +Looks great
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to adjust

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 tires, 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.

Read more:Full review of the Scott Foil Premium

Best road bikes

Specifications
Frame: Tarmac SL7 FACT 12r Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Wheels: Roval Rapide CLX carbon
Weight: 6.6kg /14.5lbs
Reasons to buy
+Fast+Light +Aero
Reasons to avoid
-Harsher than SL6

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.

Read more:Full review of the Specialized Tarmac SL7

Best road bikes

Specifications
Frame: Trek OCLV 700 carbon
Groupset: SRAM Red eTap AXS
Wheels: Bontrager Aeolus XXX6 carbon
Weight: 7.5kg / 16.5lbs
Reasons to buy
+Great ride quality and handling+Comfortable+Very aero
Reasons to avoid
-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

Best road bikes

Argonaut RM3

Specifications
Frame: Custom Argonaut Carbon Layup
Groupset: SRAM Force eTap AXS
Wheels: Enve Foundation Carbon
Weight: 15.1 lb
Reasons to buy
+Low weight+Custom frame
Reasons to avoid
-Build time

If you value uniqueness the Argonaut RM3 is as unique as it gets. Everything about the RM3 is custom and built to order at the US based Argonaut headquarters. Choose your desired geometry and tune the carbon layup to your riding style. The frameset is disc brake only with a built weight as low as 15.1 lbs.

Buy now:Argonaut RM-3 complete builds starting at $11,600

Best road bikes: what to look for

Frame material

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 fiber. The fibers give the bike strength and are embedded in a synthetic resin to hold them together. The mix of fibers used and their lay-up determine the bike’s ride feel and more expensive bikes will use more high modulus carbon fiber, which lowers the weight without reducing the bike’s strength.

Best road bikes

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.

>>> Best bike seatposts

Fit

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.

Best road bikes

A bike fit should help you get more comfortable
(Image credit: Picasa)

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. A bike fit will cost some money but will ensure that your saddle and bars are optimally placed for efficient riding. Consider a good fit an investment.

Aerodynamics

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.

Best road bikes

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.

Gears

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.

Best road bikes

Wider range cassettes help in the hills
(Image credit: PHILIPP FORSTNER)

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.

Best road bikes

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 or rim brakes?

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.

Best road bikes

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.

Wheels and tires

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 fiber rims. These lower weight and are often deeper, to improve aerodynamics over a shallow wheel. Otherwise, alloy rims are the norm.

Best road bikes

Wheels are a component where bike makers often look to economize, 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.

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Road bikes now come with increasingly wide tires. A 25mm width is usually the minimum and even race bikes often have 28mm tires, while endurance machines may go to 30mm or more.

With wider tires it's possible to run a lower pressure for more comfort and added grip. Wider tires also mean heavier tires and slower acceleration. Match the tire size to the riding you want to do.

Wheels and tires 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.