Bikes - Road
Giant's new TCR SL 2 is £1,250 of well specced aluminium loveliness, with a delightful ride character and all the potential to stand a few upgrades over the years. Yes, it's not carbon, but at this price I think you're better off with aluminium. And this isn't any ordinary aluminium frame: Giant have poured all their knowhow into producing a feathery light 1,050g frame. That's light enough to give many carbon frames a bloody nose.
From its second outing onwards the Stevens Izoard was casually referred to as 'Fast Eddy'. Eddy Izzard, right? Okay, I know, the Col D'Izoard is a famous alpine climb, and I'm happy to acknowledge my vintage by saying I was lucky enough to be spectating at the roadside when Lucien Van Impe crested it first in the 1976 Tour de France, but the double entendre is appropriate for a bike that conspired to temporarily switch my ride settings from vague meanderer to marathon man and depilate my legs for the first time in a decade.
As the smooth road transitions into the pavé that marks the beginning of the Oude Kwaremont, the fearsome 2.2km cobbled road that features not once, not twice, but three times in the Tour of Flanders professional race (just once in the sportive, mercifully), the steel-framed Stoemper shows impressive smoothness, control and speed.
Last year Canyon's Ultimate Al rode away with a bike of the year gong, and the RS-3000 from German compatriots Rose is a cracking bike too. You can get a carbon bike for this kind of money but this is a ready-to-race weight and spec; just slap some pedals on and you can mix it straight out of the box. Aluminium is well and truly back, folks.
Sabbath bikes are a British company that's been going for the best part of seven years and have a small range of just six titanium bikes comprising of top end race, full touring and sportive style machines.
Mekk have produced a lovely frame here that, with a few changes to the componentry - preferably before you even leave the shop - will offer an excellent racey ride.
As the cheapest bike of eight in Specialized's Tarmac range, the base level Tarmac suffers in the parts specification stakes in order to make price room for a high quality carbon frame and fork. It's hard to fault its performance though.
The BMC GF02 105 is BMC's take on the endurance/sportive bike category, joining the likes of Specialized and Trek in offering a more comfortable bike which can also be raced. Its carbon big brother – the GF01 – was developed with the northern classics in mind and has been raced there with success under the likes of Thor Hushovd and Taylor Phinney. Evidently, the race pedigree is there, but what remains to be seen is how this translates to the cheaper aluminium framed 02.
Fuji's Sportif 1.3 does a good job of being a well-rounded all-round winter workhorse. The frame's good, new Sora is good, the wheels are good and the £700 all-in price (even cheaper online) is good. As a first sportive bike, a winter trainer or an all-year commuter it's definitely worth a look.
Vitus bikes have been part of Chain Reaction Cycles for the last few years and the range now carries four different models with varying kit levels on each. We were impressed with how the Dark Plasma rode, especially the frame when we tested it a couple of years back and on quick inspection the spec sheet for the Vitus Vitesse here doesn't look too shabby either.