Great bikes for between two and three grand in carbon, aluminium, titanium and even steel

[This article was last updated on February 19, 2017]

Two grand is clearly a lot of money to spend on a bike but it can get you a very good, well-equipped machine. At this price there’s a vast choice of brands offering very high-quality road bikes, whether it’s for racing or sportive riding.

Carbon fibre dominates frame materials at this level, and you’re looking at advanced high-quality carbon frames that benefit from technological trickle-down effect from the very top end. You'll also encounter titanium frames that bring that unique aesthetic and ride quality that only titanium can offer.

And don’t discount steel. While similarly uncommon, the latest Reynolds and Columbus tubesets build into splendid frames, especially if outright stiffness isn’t top of your list of priorities, and you value the traditional look of a skinny tubed steel bike.

Aluminium frames are now rare in this price bracket, but there are some very good ones out there, and choosing the cheaper frame material can pay dividends elsewhere in the spec. You may be able to go up a level in groupset quality or add a power meter without busting the budget.

While the frame still makes up a large chunk of the price, you can expect groupsets of the Shimano Ultegra level and even some smattering of Dura-Ace. SRAM’s Force and Campagnolo Athena and Chorus are alternative choices. Electronic shifting? It's possible.

As for finishing kit, you can expect branded components from well established brands that specialise in handlebars, stems, seatposts and saddles. Carbon starts to replace aluminium for items like handlebars and seatposts, but don’t automatically assume carbon is better — some aluminium components can actually be lighter than carbon.

Trek Domane SL 6 — £2,600

2018 Trek Domane SL 6.jpeg

2018 Trek Domane SL 6.jpeg

One of the smoothest endurance bikes out there, the latest incarnation of Trek's Domane platform has the company's IsoSpeed bump-absorbing feature front and rear. When he reviewed the SL 6's lighter sibling, Dave Arthur called it "incredibly smooth".

A common complaint with the original Domane centred around the front end feeling much stiffer than the compliant rear end.

To solve this, Trek integrated an IsoSpeed decoupler into the head tube, allowing a specially shaped carbon fibre steerer tube to bend slightly between the two headset bearings. We're only talking a very small amount of deflection, with rider weight and stem length being a factor in the bending range. The SL6 also has Bontrager's Race Lite IsoZone VR-CF handlebar with foam pads on the tops to deal with road buzz.

Read our review of the Trek Domane SLR 6
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Focus Paralane Ultegra — £2,699

2018 Focus Paralane Ultegra.jpg

2018 Focus Paralane Ultegra.jpg

For 2018 Focus's Ultegra-equipped endurance rig gets the new Ultegra R8000 groupset as you'd probably expect, and is £300 cheaper than last year, which you might not. The Paralane offers a fast and comfortable ride with a healthy dose of practicality and versatility.

At £2,699 it's a good value proposition against other contenders for the endurance bike throne such as the Canyon Endurace, Cervelo C5, Trek Domane and Specialized Roubaix. You're spoilt for choice, but after riding the 2017 model, we have to say that the latest Paralane should definitely be on your shortlist.

Read our review of the Focus Paralane Ultegra
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Reilly Gradient — £2,799

Reilly Gradient.jpg

Reilly Gradient.jpg

South Coast-based Reilly Cycleworks has produced the Gradient as a do-everything adventure and gravel bike, with a lovingly finished titanium frame and smart specification. It provides a ride that is as lovely as the bike is to look at, with space for wide tyres for heading off into the wilderness or adding dirt and gravel roads to your route, and a high level of refinement.

Read our review of the Reilly Gradient

Fairlight Strael Ultegra — £2,399

Fairlight Strael.jpg

Fairlight Strael.jpg

Fairlight Cycles' new Strael is an absolutely stunning machine to ride, offering four-season adaptability and durability without sacrificing high speed or a racy performance. Intelligent tube choices coupled with a long and low geometry make for a bike you can blast about on all day long and the only muscles that'll ache at the end of it will be from grinning too much.

Read our review of the Fairlight Strael

Orro Gold STC Ultegra — £2,000

2018 Orro Gold STC

2018 Orro Gold STC

The Orro Gold STC Ultegra is a gran fondo bike that's as lively and responsive as most road race bikes, with plenty of comfort thrown in.

This is an excellent bike for gran fondos, sportives, and other fast sports rides. It's quick and responsive, essentially a race bike in a slightly more relaxed geometry, and as such it has tons of appeal. The frame is superbly stiff and the Ultegra groupset doesn't lag far behind top-level Dura-Ace in terms of performance.

There's a disc-braked version for £2,500 and an bike with Ultegra Di2 for £2,800 as well.

Read our review of the Orro Gold STC Disc Ultegra
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Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra Disc — £2,200

2018 Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra.jpg

2018 Cannondale CAAD12 Ultegra.jpg

The CAAD12 is the latest in a long series of well-received bikes from Cannondale, most recently its predecessor, the fabled CAAD10. The CAAD12 is lighter, stiffer, more comfortable and available with or without disc brakes. Showing the company's commitment to disc brakes, the disc version was actually designed first, and the new frame is a whopping 206g lighter than the CAAD10 Disc that came out a couple of years ago.

Following the popular and likeable CAAD10 was always going to be a tough act, but Cannondale has succeeded not only in retaining the key qualities of the previous model but also improving the ride quality. It's nothing short of marvellous.

The CAAD12 is a finely honed bike with a level of comfort and refinement that makes you wonder why you would buy anything else. It's so smooth that it outshines many carbon fibre road bikes we've tested over the years.

Read our review of the Cannondale CAAD12 Disc Dura-Ace
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Specialized Ruby Elite Disc — £2,600

2018 Specialized Ruby Elite.jpeg

2018 Specialized Ruby Elite.jpeg

Our Lara Dunn tested an earlier version of the Ruby and found a comfortable, fast and stylish bike that proved to be an excellent all-round women’s sportive choice. Specialized use their own FACT 10r carbon to craft the frame and fork with comfort provided by the clever flexible seatpost and 20mm of suspension travel in the head tube to absorb bumps.

The Ruby Elite — like quite a few other bikes in the Ruby family — has hydraulic disc brakes. It's lost 2016's Di2 shifting, but if forced to choose we'll take better stopping over clicky-whirry gears. It rolls on DT Swiss R470 wheels with Specialized's Turbo Pro tyres. A Body Geometry Ruby Comp saddle and Specialized Hover Comp short reach/shallow drop handlebar complete the package.

Read our review of the Specialized Ruby Elite.
Find a Specialized dealer.

Merlin Nitro SL Di2 — £2,000



Merlin Cycles has been offering its own brand of bikes for a while, and the Nitro SL is an excellent addition thanks to its balance of speed, light weight and comfort. A lot of companies get slated for rebadging off-the-shelf carbon fibre models but Merlin has chosen well with this Belgian beauty.

It's no secret that Merlin has opted for Ridley's Helium SL frameset as its base for the Nitro SL. With the Helium SL being upgraded to the SLX, the Nitro SL could be considered outdated tech, but it is far from it.

The frameset holds its head up high and delivers across the board against the competition. The ride is sublime, that balance of stiffness and the way it deals with the bumps in the road is a masterclass in carbon fibre layup and tube design. The Nitro SL just seems to take everything in its stride with regard to road surface imperfections.

Okay, we're cheating slightly here: this is a 2017 model. But it's probably the cheapest bike you can buy with Shimano's excellent Di2 electronic shifting, and it's still available in small, medium and large sizes.

Read our review of the Merlin Nitro SL

Rose Xeon DX-3100 Di2 — ~£2,465.85*



Here's evidence that not only can aluminium still cut it, but if you want state-of-the-art features like electronic shifting and hydraulic brakes, the most affordable way to get them is to put up with the slight weight penalty of modern aluminium over carbon.

Big Dave Atkinson reviewed this bike's predecessor a couple of years ago and loved it, calling it a "cracking" bike and "great fun to ride". He added: "It's a bike designed to go after it, and that's how it's best enjoyed".

This incarnation gets the updated 11-speed of the previous bike's Ultegra components and the finely-tuned stopping power of Shimano's hydraulic disc brakes.

General price increases in cycling and the state of the pound mean this isn't quite the astonishing deal it was previously, when it was just £2,000, but it's still great value for a bike with Ultegra Di2 and disc brakes.

*Rose bikes are priced in Euros so change with the exchange rate.

Read our review of the Rose Xeon.

Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 8.0 — £2,349

2018 Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 8.0 .jpg

2018 Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 8.0 .jpg

This manufacturer-direct deal from Germany straddles the border between race and sportive bikes. With a carbon fibre frame and full Shimano Ultegra groupset with disc brakes it's excellent value for money at a price that includes shipping from Germany.

The Endurace's riding position is higher than that of a race bike, but not as upright as a canonical sportive bike such as the Specialized Roubaix, the bike that arguably kicked off the whole sportive category. But it's closer to a race bike in its handling, demonstrating race bike speed when you stamp on the pedals and letting you get pretty low on the drops if you're trying to make keen progress into a headwind.

The large-volume tyres keep you comfortable, while the superb Ultegra brakes and gears are the pinnacle of Shimano's considerable component design and manufacturing ability.

Read our review of the Canyon Endurace CF 9.0 SL

Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon — £2,600

2018 Specialized Diverge Comp.jpeg

2018 Specialized Diverge Comp.jpeg

The Diverge is part of what Specialized call their Adventure range. It's a bike that's designed for the road less travelled and long, all-day rides over rough roads and that's something it does incredibly well, fast and with a silly grin on its face.

When he reviewed the original Diverge, Jo Burt liked it so much we thought he was going to propose to it. He wrote: "I bloody love it. I like my road bikes but I also like my cyclo-cross bikes and I like my mountain bikes, and because of this I often find myself on my road bike bouncing around on inappropriate terrain. The Diverge makes this stupidity a lot easier without your riding jollies being jeopardized by the bike being a tedious slug on the road. A friend who borrowed it said it's the sort of bike that makes you want to move house because it opens up a vast web of riding possibilities. Bit of Flanders, section of Strada Bianche, poxed tarmac, random 'where does that go' moments? Bring it on."

Since then, Specialized has completely revamped the Diverge in ways that make it even more capable and versatile. The frame now has room for 42mm tyres and up front gets the Future Shock impact-damping fork from the Roubaix line. Dave Arthur reviewed the top-of-the-line S-Works version and said: "It's a comfortable, long-distance cruising bike on the road, with fantastic poise and cornering ability. Off the smooth stuff and the combination of the big tyres and Future Shock let you attack any rough paths, gravel tracks and technical descents with relish. It's a very accomplished bike and more than most manages to be master of all terrain."

Read our review of the 2018 Specialized S-Works Diverge
Read our review of the Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon
Find a Specialized dealer

Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra Disc — £2,700

2018 Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra.jpg

2018 Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra.jpg

Our 2015 Bike of the Year and Sportive Bike of the Year, the Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra Disc boasts fast and smooth performance with all the benefits of Shimano's hydraulic disc brakes with mechanical shifters. It's a very attractive bike for the cyclist who likes to ride fast, but doesn't want to race and demands comfort and the option to run wider tyres; it comes with 28mm tyres as standard.

This is a super smooth and comfortable distance bike with rewarding handling and fast performance; the hydraulic disc brakes make it an even more compelling package as a year-round bike.

Read our review of the Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra Disc
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Jamis Renegade Elite — £2,900

2018 jamis renegade elite v2.jpg

2018 jamis renegade elite v2.jpg

We don't lightly hand out five-star reviews, and in fact this superb machine is one of very fews bikes we've ever given our highest accolade. 

The Renegade Elite has an intoxicating combination of road lightness and trail toughness plus Shimano's stunning hydraulic disc brakes and a great wheel and tyre package. It offers excellent (if relaxed) road manners and is outrageously good fun off the beaten track too. In fact its depth of off-road ability is simply astonishing.

But this isn't a simple mud-plugger with drop bars. A change of tyres is all that's needed to use it for fast all day road rides or even chaingang lung-busters. Leaving no boxes unticked, it also takes mudguards and a rack, and can accommodate tyres up to 40mm. In short, it's an absolute belter.

If you can live without the 2018 Ultegra R8000 groupset, the 2017 model is still available in all but the smallest sizes for £2,299.

Read our review of the Jamis Renegade Elite
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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.


dreamy [18 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

That Rose Xeon looks damaged. I'd be sending it back.

rjfrussell [460 posts] 5 months ago
dreamy wrote:

That Rose Xeon looks damaged. I'd be sending it back.


at the very least it has had a big thwack from the ugly stick. 


Those seat stays look awful.  Like a footballer hacked from behind collapsing to his knees.

Disfunctional_T... [291 posts] 5 months ago

The Jamis Renegade has been updated since the review. (A giveaway is that the seat clamp is now very clean looking.) 2018 has some really nice color options, a white frame with some stripes and a black frame... both of which look really nice.