[This article was last updated November 13, 2017]
These bikes are tailored for mass-start, non-competitive events: sportives, gran fondos and Audax rides. They’re great for general road riding like club runs and longer commutes too.
Sportive bikes are designed to be more comfortable for long rides by cyclists who don’t have pro-level flexibility and team masseurs.
A wider and lower gear range than you’ll find on a race bike is almost universal, with compact chainsets standard.
There’s room for at least 25mm tyres to improve shock absorption and grip, and many recent sportive bikes will take 28mm tyres.
Disc brakes are becoming increasingly common because they offer improved stopping power, and are less affected by rain and wheel misalignment.
Sportive bikes — also known as endurance bikes — are 'softer', more comfortable versions of race-orientated road bikes. They have slightly more relaxed handling, frames tuned to smooth the ride and capacity for wider tyres along with a less stretched-out riding position. They’re ideal for events and long distance rides where the extra comfort is a valuable benefit.
That makes them ideal for British riding conditions. Extra comfort from the frame and larger volume tyres (25mm and up) smooth out rough roads, the longer wheelbase makes them more stable, and the higher handlebar position reduces the strain on your back and neck. Some bikes also have shorter top tubes to bring the handlebars closer to the saddle.
One of the big changes occurring on bikes in this category is the rapid adoption of disc brakes. Discs offer increased stopping power, better all-weather performance and lower maintenance. Disc brakes really suit endurance and sportive bikes as these are the sort of bikes likely to encounter a myriad of weather and road conditions, whether in a sportive or if you simply ride year-round. And as these bikes are unlikely to be used in a road race, they don't have to conform to the rules that currently forbid disc brakes on race bikes.
An endurance bike to suit all budgets
As the list below shows, many manufacturers now offer an endurance road bike and many more are adding models to their ranges all the time. Some of the big bike manufacturers have a wide range of endurance machines with the lowest priced here starting from £500 and rising to over £8,000, so there is a bike for everyone.
At the more affordable end you can expect alloy frames and Shimano Sora giving way to Shimano 105 groupsets and carbon fibre and ever lighter compoents and wheels as you work your way up through the price ranges.
Many frames share key features across price points though so often you’re getting the same comfort enhancing benefits and a degree of upgrade potential too.
What makes an endurance road bike?
In essence, an endurance road bike is very similar to a road race bike, but with geometry, specification and frame materials tuned to make them more comfortable over longer rides and rough roads.
A longer wheelbase is common, both to create space for the wider tyres and also to produce a more stable ride, especially useful over choppy surfaces. Many endurance road bikes also have a taller head tube and shorter top tube to create a more comfortable fit over longer distances. There is no fixed formula though, and details differ between manufacturers. Some offer much taller and short frames while offers opt for longer top tubes with marginally taller head tubes, so you've a wide range of choices.
Many offer frames designed to provide a smooth ride, through the carbon fibre layup, tube shaping or both. Taking things a step further Specialized and Lapierre incorporate elastomers in their endurance bike frames to help smooth the ride. Trek have taken things further still with the Domane's IsoSpeed decoupler, which makes the back end of the bike 'active' over rough terrain.
All these bikes have space for wider tyres. Most are sold with 25mm tyres as standard, but many will take a 28mm tyre which offers far more cushioning than a 23mm tyre. You can run them at lower pressures and benefit from a smoother ride without sacrificing speed.
Whether you’re planning a daily commute, a sportive or charity event, or just long Sunday rides, an endurance road bike is probably ideal for you. Unless you’re racing, there’s little compromise in choosing an endurance road bike and taking all the benefits they offer.
Because this category is so competitive, there are literally dozens of very good bikes to choose from. The following list includes many bikes we've tested and liked, starting with some recent additions . You can't go wrong with any of them.
The Giant Contend SL 1 is an absolutely spot-on all-day ride. It's a comfortable and versatile sportive/endurance bike with a dependable feel that encourages you to keep going and just do those extra few miles.
It takes whatever it encounters in its stride with an unflappable assurance that's just what you want in a bike for long rides, handling everything from twisty descents on smooth surfaces to tatty dirt roads, Belgian cobbles and even singletrack trails with equal aplomb.
Aside from colour, the Contend SL 1 remains virtually unchanged from 2017 to 2018.
The Genesis Datum 10 will take pretty much whatever you can throw at it, on or off-road. The spec represents excellent value and the ability to jump between town and country use positions it as a sound contender for an 'only bike' that you won't be sheepish about getting muddy on, while being worthy of a shine-up for the Sunday morning group ride.
At launch two years ago, Dave rated the Di2 11-speed Datum 30 at 4.5/5, finding it a 'hugely capable bike that is loads of fun over all sorts of terrain'. Later that year it won our Sportive Bike of The Year Award, with only the Shimano Di2-influenced price holding it back from taking overall honours. At £3,200 in 2015 money, the Di2 version was a hefty price to pay, but the base model £1,999 10-speed Tiagra bike is a bit less painful on the bank balance. For this spec it's not a class-leadingly cheap bike, but the overall package is worthy of inclusion on anyone's to-be-considered list.
If big miles are your thing then Simplon's Pavo Granfondo Disc is a machine you want to take a good long look at, especially if you want to cover those miles at near race pace. The Simplon devours climbs, descents and those long tedious straights with what feels like the minimum of effort from the rider.
The Pavo Granfondo, as you can probably guess by its name, is a bike designed for those epic rides in the mountains or day-long blasts across a region or a county or two. Granfondo loosely translates from Italian as 'big ride', and this is exactly where the Pavo excels.
Ribble has launched a disc brake-equipped version of its Gran Fondo, the endurance style bike that's been part of the range in rim-braked guise for a fair few years, and it's a fast, comfortable and affordable option for tapping out the miles.
Most of us aren't racers, we just want to cover good distances in relative comfort at a decent pace, something the Gran Fondo allows you to do thanks to a frame that is a solid all-rounder with excellent manners.
The Cube Attain GTC Pro Disc is an endurance road bike that offers an excellent Shimano 105 groupset, powerful hydraulic disc brakes and a smooth ride, all at an attractive price.
The Attain GTC Pro Disc isn't a lightweight, aggressive race bike, it's a bike for getting in the big miles in comfort. It's certainly up for riding fast, but smoothness is more this bike's thing. That's the most obvious characteristic of the ride.
The 2018 version of the Attain GTC Pro Disc doesn't seem to have landed yet, but at 32% off the RRP of £1,700, it's an absolute steal.
The Pinnacle Dolomite 4 is an excellent deal, with hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike well under £1,000. It's a pretty likeable machine that could serve as a commuter or winter bike, and rides well enough to be an enjoyable companion for all-day outings.
It ticks the practicality boxes, too, with mudguard and rear rack compatibility, and also has some unexpected modern touches such as internal cable routing.
This is the Tiagra-equipped 2017 model, which Evans still has in all sizes but XL. If you want a 2018 bike, the £1,050 Pinnacle Dolomite 2 is virtually the same bike.
The Kona Wheelhouse is a quality steel do-it-all machine, with the latest tech, put together in a package sure to impress. It isn't the fastest, but it's stable and fun. And with dual thru-axles, disc brakes and wide tyre clearance, it has functionality written all over it.
The 2018 version here has a full Shimano Tiagra groupset except for TRP brakes and its Reynolds 853 frame is painted a rather gorgeous British racing green.
The 2017 Verenti Technique Tiagra gets an updated paintjob that fits better with its status as a bang up to date entry-level sportive bike with a hydroformed alloy frameset, tapered headtube, full carbon fibre fork and Shimano's Tiagra 4700 groupset. You can even bung full guards on it too.
Wilier's GTR endurance range includes bikes with Shimano's 105 and Ultegra groups, plus one with the Campagnolo Potenza group. Three have rim brakes, but the one of the two 105-equipped bike gets discs, and we were impressed when we tested its 2016 equivalent. It's a quick and smooth endurance bike that offers the assured performance of Shimano's hydraulic disc brakes.
If you want something lighter, the GTR SL bikes are built around a frame that's 200g lighter and start at £2,699 RRP.
The D1 is the top-end model in Eastway's Zener endurance range. It looks great on paper, with a carbon fibre frameset, full Shimano Ultegra groupset, hydraulic disc brakes and Mavic wheels, all for just over two grand and that positivity is carried through to the road. Under the monochrome paintjob lurks a colourful ride. It’s an excellent value endurance machine with performance intentions: an awesome sportive-cum-club run bike
In 2017, Giant split the previous best-selling Defy line in two, and that continues for 2018. The Defy grous comprises three sub-families of carbon fibre-framed bikes, Defy Advanced, Defy Advanced Pro and Defy Advanced SL, all with disc brakes and starting with the Defy Advanced 3 at £1,499. The aluminium-framed Contend range is a six-bike line-up from the £575 Contend 2 to the Contend SL 1 Disc at £1,199.
Giant offers a large choice for women, in the Avail range, with alloy, composite and carbon versions.
The Defy has lay-up and tube profiles that make it a comfortable and involving bike to ride. Critically, Giant has retained the exact same geometry as the previous Defy, so if you're upgrading from an old Defy to a new model, you'll find the fit and position the same.
All the Defy models share similar frame features, with the D-Fuse seat post (and integrated seat mast on the top models), new top tube and seatstays, all contributing to a smoother ride when the road surface gets rough and bumpy. The frame also features a hugely oversized head tube and bottom bracket to ensure it provides good stiffness for responsive handling.
Of the Contend models we've ridden and liked the rim-braked Contend SL1, and the £999 Contend SL 2 Disc stands out as bike with hydraulic disc brakes for a price under the common Cycle To Work Scheme threshold.
In 2016 Cube gave its popular carbon-framed Agree sportive bike range an aero makeover, with some models getting disc brakes too. Disc brake skeptics will be along in a moment to point out that puts you back to square one in aero terms, but at least you'll be able to stop in the square if it's wet. The 2018 range carries on in the same vein, with two disc-braked models and two with rim brakes, and there are some excellent deals around on 2017 models.
German direct-to-consumer brand Rose launched the Xeon Team GF as a brand new bike in 2014, combining a choice of aluminium or carbon fibre frames with 'marathon' geometry, which includes a taller head tube, shorter top tube and longer wheelbase.
Rose's Marathon/gran fondo range now comprises 38 models in aluminium and carbon fiber, with lots of disc-braked options and some of the most keenly-priced bikes with Di2 electronic shifting.
On the rim-braked bikes, Rose have put the rear brake on the chainstays. That allows the seatstays to be exceptionally skinny to provide some vertical deflection. A neat touch is the easy adjustment of the head tube height, as instead of regular spacers, spacers screw directly into the head tube below the upper bearing.
*Note: Rose prices vary with the Euro/Sterling exchange rate
Merida has been offering endurance road bikes for some time. The Ride range encompasses some 18 models starting from just over £500, including women's models, and, of course, includes disc-braked models. The Ride bikes have a shorter top tube and a longer head tube than the Reactos (Merida's race bikes) for a slightly more upright ride position.
The Ride bikes have several features to absorb vibrations and smooth the ride. The seatstays meet the seat tube low down. The flattened chainstays and skinny seatpost contribute a degree of vertical deflection. The top-end model uses flax fibres woven into the carbon to add even more smoothness, while the fork has F-Flex technology, small cut-outs in the lower fork, to damp vibrations.
The Ride range starts at £524.99 for the Ride 88, and tops out at £2,400 for the Ride 7000.
It's not sold as an endurance bike as such, but the Boardman Sport is a bike that has impressed us hugely. It won the road.cc Budget Bike of the Year 2013-14 and it’s worth including because it has what Boardman call sportive geometry. It’s a bit racier than many of the bikes here, with a longish top tube and short head tube which isn’t mega-tall for the size. It does have space for wider tyres and it comes with 25mm tyres already fitted. The frame does feature curved wishbone seatstays which Boardman claim flex slightly to increase comfort.
It's just had a facelift, but remains fundamentally the same very nice bike, and excellent value.
If it's carbon you're after the Boardman Team Carbon is essentially the Sport, but in carbon and with better wheels and an uprated groupset and for £900 it's a very good deal.
The Synapse is Cannondale's distance and sportive offering, and it had a major update just a couple of years ago. To provide the necessary smoothness customers demand from such bikes, Cannondale has used a combination of design features — a skinny 25.4mm seatpost, sculpted stays and shock-damping carbon layup — that together produce a buttery smooth ride.
As well as that super skinny seatpost, Cannondale has integrated the seat clamp into the top tube so there is more exposed seat tube to flex. The head tube is 2.5cm taller than the racier SuperSix Evo and the wheelbase is longer, while the reach is about the same as the Evo.
Despite the Synapse's popularity, Cannondale hasn't been twiddling its corporate thumbs. For 2018 there's an all-new Synapse targetted at providing better ride comfort with more speed and performance. While it retains a similar aesthetic to the previous model, the new Synapse is built entirely around disc brakes, is lighter with a frame weighing a claimed 950g for a size 56cm, accommodates 32mm (measured) tyres, has mudguard eyelets and a new integrated handlebar that boosts front end comfort.
The Synapse range comprises four aluminium-framed bikes and 11 with carbon frames, from £850 to £7,800. All but two — the Synapse Carbon 105 and Synapse Carbon Tiagra — have disc brakes. The £2,499 Synapse Ultegra Disc won the road.cc Bike of the Year 2014/15 Awards.
The latest incarnation of Look's 765 endurance bikes incudes of flax fibres in the layup of the frameset.
“A layer of linen fibre has been positioned between the carbon thicknesses on the fork and chainstays to encourage the dissipation of vibrations,” says Look.
Decathlon’s B’Twin Triban bikes have more relaxed geometry than other models higher up the B'Twin range, placing the bars higher so the should be ideal for racking up the big miles. The 540's frame is made from 6061 aluminium and built with a largely Shimano 105 spec — recently upgraded to 11-speed — which for the asking price is very good value for money.
The bike that Fabian Cancellara rode to success in the last couple of years of his career really needs little introduction. The really clever aspect of the Domane’s approach to smoothing the ride is the IsoSpeed Decoupler, which separates the seat tube from the top tube so it’s free to move back and forth. Trek says this means the Domane has 35mm flex at the back end.
Geometry for the Domane features a shorter top tube than you get on Trek’s standard road bikes and the head tube is taller, and of course there is a longer wheelbase.
Since its launch Trek has added bump-damping IsoSpeed forks and expanded the Domane range to include less expensive models with aluminium frames starting with the Domane AL 2 at £625; bikes with IsoSpeed front and rear start at £1,000 with the Domane ALR3. In the aluminium frames, the Isospeed technology doesn’t provide quite as much compliance as its carbon sibling. Carbon fibre Domanes start at £1,350 with the Domane S 4.
Trek also offers a range of nine Silque women's bikes which have the Isospeed decoupler but aren't quite "women's Domanes". Rather, the frame's stiffness and weight distribution is tailored to better suit the way a woman's body produces power.
The range of German Internet specialist Canyon includes the Endurace bikes, which offer a more relaxed geometry than the Ultimate and Aeroad race bikes. However, where some sportive bikes have radically tall head tubes, the Canyon approach is more conservative. It's more relaxed compared than the race bikes, but is lower than something like the Specialized Roubaix below.
Offered in aluminium or carbon fibre, Canyon's Endurace VCLS (Vertical Comfort Lateral Stiffness) technology is baked into the fork and seatpost, and it's also used in the carbon frame. Canyon spec each bike with wheels featuring wider rims and tyres, so the 25mm tyres on the bike we tested recently actually measured 27mm across. That bigger volume contributes to the smoother ride.
Specialized’s Roubaix was one of the first widely-available endurance bikes. It's been through several iterations, and with the latest Specialized has added a front suspension unit with 20mm of travel to the steerer to directly absorb bumps. To look after your bum, there's the CG-R FACT carbon post from the Diverge adventure bike series.
Specialized doesn't offer a women's version of the Roubaix, but instead has the Ruby platform which shares many of the same features, including the front suspension, and each model is built with women-specific components.
For 2017, BMC refocussed its roadmachine bikes on endurance riding, equipping them with disc brakes and a new frame that has space for up to 30mm tyres.
The roadmachine is available with frames made from one of two grades of carbon fibre, or aluminium. Maximum tyre width is 30mm on the carbon-framed bikes, and 32mm on the aluminium version; you'll have to go down 2mm if you're fitting mudguards. The mid-range carbon roadmachine 02 has hidden mounts for mudguards, while the aluminium roadmachine 03 takes mudguards and a rack.
All the roadmachines have 12mm through-axles front and rear and use the emerging standard 142mm rear spacing. There's a choice of Shimano spec from Tiagra all the way up to Dura-Ace.
For 2018 Scott has replaced its Solace endurance platform with a branch of the lightweight Addict family revamped to take tyres up to 32mm for the disc-braked models and 28mm for rim-braked bikes. Head tubes have been lengthened compared to the racy Addicts (now dubbed Addict RC).
There are three models each of disc-braked and rim-braked Addict.
One of the most interesting endurance road bikes, because it’s packing some of the latest carbon fibre technology to tame vibrations caused by riding over rough surfaces, gravel or cobbles. At the heart of the Infinito CV is a viscoelastic material incorporated into the carbon fibre layup, which Bianchi call CounterVail Vibration Cancelling Composite Technology. Or CV for short. Bianchi reckon this helps the frame to reduce high-frequency vibrations compared to a regular carbon frame, by as much as 75%.
The geometry has also been adjusted with less of the aggressiveness and savagery of their Oltre XR2 race bike. That means a taller head tube, but it’s still shorter than many other bikes in this roundup, and a longer wheelbase of 100.2cm on the 55cm size. Last year Bianchi added the choice of disc brakes. While the frame looks mostly identical, it has gained 70g and the hoses are very neatly routed internally.
Another model in the Bianchi range worth considering is the Intrepida. Crucially, it offers the same geometry as the Infinito, but a lower price point due to a vastly different carbon fibre frame, without the fancy CV technology.
Lapierre completely revamped the Pulsium for 2017 with a clean new carbon fibre frame. The French company says the gentle curves in the top tube and seatstays provide comfort, and has dropped last year's elastomer inserts.
Up front, the carbon layup of the fork is designed to increase the flex capability and the absorption of vibration. The geometry has a 15mm taller head tube than Lapierre's Xelius EFI race bike, 4mm longer chainstays and plenty of tyre clearance for fatter rubber than the stock 25mm.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.