By Paul Norman
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.
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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.
Best road bikes we’ve tested at Cycling Weekly
Pros: Quality frame, stable rideCons: 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.
Read more:Full review of the Specialized Allez
Frame: Specialized E5 Premium alloyGroupset: Shimano ClarisWheels: Axis Sport alloyWeight: 9.4kg / 20.7lbs
Giant Contend SL 1
Pros: Ride quality, great handlingCons: 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.
Read more:Full review of the Giant Contend
Frame: ALUXX SL-Grade alloyGroupset: Shimano 105Wheels: Giant P-R2 alloyWeight: 9.0kg / 19.9lbs
Cannondale CAAD13 Disc 105
Score: 10/10Pros: VersatileCons: 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.
Frame: SmartForm C1 Premium AlloyGroupset: Shimano 105Wheels: RD 2.0 alloyWeight: 9.0 KG / 19.9 LBS
Van Rysel Ultra CF
Pros: Great value, comfort and looksCons: 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
Frame: Ultra Evo Dynamic carbonGroupset: Shimano 105Wheels: Aero 700 2024 BTWIN alloyWeight: 8.3kg / 18.3lbs
Buy now in UK:Van Rysel Ultra CF at Decathlon for £1499.99
Buy now in US: Van Rysel Ultra CF at Decathlon for $2499.00
Canyon Endurace AL Disc 7.0
Pros: Superb ride quality, healthy weightCons: None
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 tires.
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.
Frame: Endurace Al Disc alloyGroupset: Shimano 105Wheels: DT Swiss E1850 Spline db alloyWeight: 8.3kg / 18.3lbs
Buy now in US: Canyon Endurance Al Disc 7.0 from Canyon for $1899
Trek Emonda ALR Disc 5
Score: 10/10Pros: Great looks and finishCons: 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
Frame: Ultralight 300 Series Alpha Aluminium alloyGroupset: Shimano 105Wheels: Bontrager Affinity Disc alloyWeight: 7.8kg / 17.2lbs
Buy now in UK: Trek Emonda ALR Disc 5 2021 from AJ Cycles for £1775
Buy now in US: Trek Emonda ALR Disc 5 2021 from Trek Bike for $1999.99
Ribble Endurance SL Disc
Pros: Comfortable and stable, aero featuresCons: 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 (fenders in the US) mounts, for all-weather riding and the option to fit road-smoothing 28mm tires.
Frame: Toray T800/T1000 carbonGroupset: Shimano 105 DiscWheels: Mavic Aksium Disc alloyWeight: 8.6kg /19lbs
Buy now in UK: Ribble Endurance SL Disc from Ribble from £1899
Buy now in US: Ribble Endurance SL Disc from Ribble from $2044.43
Giant Defy Advanced 1
Pros: Good value, comfortable, versatileCons: Messy cable routing, uncomfortable saddle
Giant’s endurance-focused Defy is loaded with comfort features, including its flattened bars and D-shaped carbon seatpost. The Defy’s Giant wheels come kitted out with 32mm rubber and there's room for up to 35mm.
Despite that comfort, the Defy feels nimble and descends well, while the big tires give you off-road riding potential.
Read more:Full review of the Giant Defy Advanced 1
Frame: Giant Advanced Grade Composite carbonGroupset: Shimano UltegraWheels: Giant P-R2 Disc alloyWeight: 8.6kg / 19lbs
Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0
Pros: Stiff, comfortable, lightCons: 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 carbonGroupset: SRAM Force eTap AXSWheels: DT Swiss Pro 1400 Dicut db carbonWeight: 7.1kg / 15.7lbs
Buy now in Uk: Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 from Canyon for £5099
Buy now in US: Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 from Canyon for $5999
Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra Di2
Pros: Compliant, fast wheels, great handingCons: A bit heavy, low spec tires
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.
Frame: SystemSix carbonGroupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2Wheels: Cannondale Knot 64 carbonWeight: 7.6kg / 16.8lbs
Score: 9/10Pros: Truly rapid, great looksCons: 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 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
Frame: Foil Disc HMX carbonGroupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2Wheels: Syncros Capital 1.0 50 Disc carbonWeight: 7.5kg / 16.5lbs
Pinarello Dogma F12
Pros: Very fast and aero, lightCons: 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.
Read more:Full review of the Pinarello Dogma F12
Frame: Dogma F12 carbonGroupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2Wheels: Fulcrum Wind 400 carbonWeight: 6.7kg / 14.8lbs
Buy now in UK:Pinarello Dogma F12 from Sigma Sports for £10,000
Specialized Tarmac SL7 Dura Ace Di2
9/10Pros:Fast, light, aeroCons: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 CarbonGroupset:Shimano Dura-Ace Di2Wheels:Roval Rapide CLX carbonWeight:6.6kg /14.5lbs
Trek Madone SLR 9 Disc
Pros: Great ride quality and handling, comfortable, very aeroCons: 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.
Frame: Trek OCLV 700 carbonGroupset: SRAM Red eTap AXSWheels: Bontrager Aeolus XXX6 carbonWeight: 7.5kg / 16.5lbs
Pros: low weight, custom frameCons: 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.
Frame: Custom Argonaut Carbon LayupGroupset: SRAM Force eTap AXSWheels: Enve Foundation CarbonWeight: 15.1 lb
State Bikes 4130 Road
Pros: price, styleCons: brakes could be better
A steel road bike with downtube friction shifters is a departure from everything modern. It's comfortable, sporty, and capable as well as being inexpensive.If your road bike identity lends itself more to cruising the city than it does shooting for fastest times the State Bikes 4130 is a good choice.
Frame: Doble-Butted 4130 Grade Chromoly SteelGroupset: 44T chainring with an 8 speed 11-28T cassetteWheels: Light-weight 'Lo-Pro' quick release wheelsWeight: 22 lb 10 oz
Read more:State Bikes 4140 road bike reviewed
Best road bikes: what to look for
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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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