If you have £1,000 to £1,500 to spend on a road bike, you really do get a lot for you money. A benefit of spending this sort of money is that the bikes start to get much lighter than those costing half as much, which will have a significant impact on the ride quality and performance, and your times up your local hills.
Shimano 105 and Tiagra are the dominant groupsets in this price range. While there is a lot of own-brand kit for parts like wheels, handlebars and saddles, which is no bad thing (manufacturers have really raised their game with own label components), there is a lot more branded kit from the likes of Mavic and Fizik.
At the time of writing (October 2015) we're in the transition between 2015 and 2016 models, so our selection reflects that. There are some 2015 bargains here, as well as some of the best 2016 bikes in the category.
Boardman is making some great bikes this year – both in terms of performance and value – and the Road Pro Carbon is no exception. If you're after a disc brake road bike that's engaging to ride, you should certainly take a look at this. If you're looking for a more versatile all-rounder, it's not such a good fit.
Given that this bike comes from an endurance mould you might expect the ride to be more forgiving than it actually is. The Boardman doesn't have the surface-taming characteristics of something like a Cannondale Synapse or a Trek Domane, it's much more of a road bike feel. It's not uncomfortable, but it is firm. It's well balanced in that the front and the back give about the same level of feedback from the road.
Certainly the frame and fork are a package that's worthy of some upgrades here: it's a very well-balanced bike that responds well to pretty much every kind of road riding. The steering is very predictable and never nervous, and I had no issues with any wobbles, vagueness or lift-off descending at speed.
With a lightweight carbon fibre frame and Shimano 105 group, this speedster from Trek's racing range would be a good deal at its £1,300 RRP; at this price it's a steal.
The Emonda line is Trek's take on making the lightest road bikes it can produce for a given price, which means the frame here is worth upgrading as the parts wear out; it wouldn't be shamed by a Shimano Ultegra group.
This is the successor to last year's Sensium 100 which we found to be an easy bike to get along with. With the same frame, this should also be comfortable to ride for hours on end at the weekend or for an hour’s blast after work. It’s agile and fun when you want to mix it up in a group, and it’s solid and reliable enough to keep maintenance to a minimum. It doesn’t really have a notable weakness. Okay, it could have better wheels, but that is an option higher up the Sensium range.
The Sensium’s carbon-fibre frame is built with a comfortable ‘endurance’ geometry: a lengthened head tube compared to a standard road bike, and a shorter top tube to put you into a more relaxed riding position. The main change from last year is the updated Shimano Tiagra group, which now routes the brake cables tidily under the bar tape.
Giant’s Defy has long been a benchmark for bikes that combine comfort, endurance and value. Over the years the model range has grown from being purely a mid-price aluminium bike to where we are now where the Defy spans price points all the way from £500 up to £8,000.
The Defy Advanced models are the first carbon bikes in the Defy range. There are three models but the Defy Advanced 2 looks the pick of the bunch. It has the extremely highly rated Shimano 105 11-speed transmission, plus TRP’s also highly rated Spyre mechanical disc brakes.
At £1,149 the Defy Advanced 3 is also worth a look, same frame and brakes but with the new Shimano Tiagra groupset.
If the 2015 version is any guide, this will be an excellent bike that’s reasonably quick, solid and reliable. It offers a comfortable, assured ride that comes from a dependable frame and fork and a well-considered equipment package. You get Shimano's excellent hydraulic discs without any major compromises elsewhere.
The frame is hydroformed and double-butted aluminium while the fork has carbon legs and an alloy crown and steerer. The head tube is tall for a fairly upright ride position. It's a comfortable bike, both because of the position and because the 28mm tyres and decent bar tape and saddle take a lot of sting out of the ride. Overall, this is a really good multi-purpose road disc bike that's well-specced.
The Vitus Venon Disc is a well-priced carbon build that is fun, stiff and surprisingly comfortable to ride over long distances. It comes with a pretty decent build kit too, and for 2016 gets TRP Spyre disc brakes.
At the heart of the Venon is a T700 high modulus, unidirectional carbon fibre frameset. It's hung with a complete Shimano 105 11-speed groupset. It's solid, reliable stuff, providing a good compromise of shifting and longevity.
The Venon is a very easy bike to ride, with precise handling. Initial acceleration isn't the sharpest due to heavyish wheels and an all up weight of 8.73kg (19.25lb) but once it's up and rolling it maintains speed well.
The Focus Cayo 105 Mix uses a race-proven carbon fibre frame and fork with a more relaxed fit and geometry than the German company's racier offerings. The frame is fitted with Shimano 105 11-speed gears and RS500 semi-compact crankset, along with Fulcrum WH-CEX 7.0 wheels and Schwalbe Lugano tyres. Focus uses its own-brand Concept for the handlebars, stem, saddle and brake calipers.
We bet most people will want a Bianchi on any new bike shortlist. Bianchi classifies the Intrepida as part of its endurance racing line-up which places an emphasis on comfort over long distances. That means a slightly more relaxed geometry and more upright position than a traditional race bike. Bolted to the frame is Campagnolo's Xenon groupset with an FSA Omega chainset and Bianchi's own label Reparto Corse for the wheels and all finishing kit, including the brake calipers.
German company Canyon has made quite an impression in the UK with its direct-to-consumer business model meaning big savings for those prepared to bypass the bike shop for their next bike purchase. The Ultimate CF SL is produced using the same mould as that the Ultimate CF SLX we tested a while ago, it's just using a cheaper carbon fibre. That keeps the price lower. Although the weight does go up a bit, it's still light at a claimed 940g. This is the entry-level model built with a full Shimano 105 groupset, Mavic Aksium wheels, Continental GP 4000 25mm tyres, Canyon's own bars and stem and a Fizik Antares saddle.
If your tastes run to fast and sharp-handing road bikes, but your budget won't stretch to the astounding Specialized S-Works Tarmac Disc, this everyman race bike will provide a big chunk of the thrills without holing your bank account below the waterline. It has Specialized's light, nimble FACT 9r carbon frame with a Shimano 105 groupset providing the stop and go bits.
It might seem a lot of money to spend on a frame that isn't carbon, but the CAAD12 sets a new benchmark for all aluminium frames and puts a lot of carbon bikes to shame. With a frame weight under 1,100g for the disc brake and regular versions, it's not much heavier than carbon either. Cannondale package the frame with a full Shimano 105 groupset and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, carbon fibre fork with tapered steerer tube, 52/36 crank and a Selle Royal Seta S1 saddle.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.