The road.cc Bike of the Year 2013-14
The 11 best bikes we’ve tested on road.cc over the past 12 months
We’ve had some fantastic bikes in for review here at road.cc over the past 12 months and here are the very best of them.
First off, why have we gone for a top 11 this year rather than our usual top 10? Well, it's one louder, isn't it? Plus, all the big groupset manufacturers have gone to 11-speed now so we thought we’d join in. And if you want the real reason, we were arguing the toss about which bike to leave out and in the end decided that 11 were worthy of mention, so that’s what we did. We’re such anarchists around here!
Second, why ‘The road.cc Bike of the Year 2013-14’ rather that ‘The road.cc Bike of the Year 2013’? These are all bikes we tested during the 2013 calendar year, but 2014 model year bikes started appearing from the summer onwards, so the bikes featured here are from both the 2013 and 2014 model years. Different manufactures release bikes at different times, so it’s never going to be neat and tidy.
Third, how did we come to our conclusions? It’s a difficult job… What we didn’t do was simply look at the scores we’d given to each bike we tested over the course of the year. Different reviewers might have different priorities and they might mark slightly differently, so we got everyone together and had a big old discussion over coffee and cake (okay, when I say it’s a difficult job, it’s all relative).
As usual, we disagreed among ourselves about the exact order of the bikes in our final list, so we’re absolutely certain that many road.cc readers will argue with our selections and wonder why a particular model has been left out. That’s always going to be the way.
Value, for example, always divides opinion. Spending a couple of grand on a bike is nothing to some people while others will think it’s a ridiculous amount of money to pay. We’ve tried to be as fair as possible by judging each bike on its merits.
May the best bike win…
So what are the criteria for making it on to our bike of the year list? They're complicated, is the short answer. With the road.cc Superbike Shootout, we don't take value into account. In the road.cc Bike of the Year, we do. That’s why our Superbike of the Year can make it on to the list and be beaten by a bike it beat in the Superbike category.
This year to try and simplify the process a bit we’ve added extra awards to reflect the diversity of the bikes on the list, and the diversity of things people want from a bike. So as well as a Budget Bike of the Year we’ve got a Best Value Bike Award (bit of a surprise that one) and we’ve also introduced a sportive bike category. As we test more bikes in the future we will probably introduce more categories too.
Every year we struggle with the question of whether the Bike of the Year should go to the best bike or the best bike for the most people. Ideally, of course, the winner is both. This year we went for the best bike, although others will no doubt beg to differ.
Let’s reveal the top 11 (click on the bike name for its original review), in reverse order, naturally… or this year for the full immersive experience you can watch it all in moving pictures first, read all our comments below AND click on the links to the original review.
The September, made from straight gauge 3Al/2.5V titanium tubing, is designed as a year-round bike for utility and audax riders. Large 28mm tyres fit easily, even with mudguards attached, and if you want to press the Sabbath into commuting service rack mounts are also attached that can carry up to a claimed 25kg.
The geometry is pretty relaxed, there are plenty of build variations available, and the frame also comes with the option of custom fit geometry by filling in the form on Sabbath's website.
The frame has the comfort/stiffness balance down to a tee, taking every vibration out of the ride. Push the frame and that suppleness isn't at the cost of stiffness. Whether you're climbing, accelerating or sprinting the Sabbath remains planted beneath you and responds to changes in pace instantly.
A bike of this ilk isn't really about all out performance but the September easily maintains speed, keeping your average up over the distance. The by-product of that comfort also means you can maintain that speed for a long time before muscle fatigue starts to kick in. It’s a fun ride if you fancy a quick blast but also reserved and well mannered enough that you can ride for hours on it without giving it a thought.
The Pinnacle Arkose Three is a very well-rounded example of a versatile, do anything disc-equipped commuter/cross bike. It sneaks under the £1k Cycle to Work limit with a mostly Shimano 105 drivetrain and good brakes. It's a good ride to boot, and light enough for a crack at a cyclocross race if you fancy punishing yourself for an hour.
The Arkose frame is a solid-looking thing, fashioned from 6061 aluminium alloy. The fork has carbon legs with mudguard mounts, and there's plenty of room for a mudguard and the Kenda Small Block 35mm tyres.
This is a solid bike that puts in a good show across the board. If you're looking for something that will take the strain of daily use and also be up for the odd weekend excursion – even the odd CX race – then it's a tempting package for the money. The bike's performance is solid rather than stellar but it doesn't do anything badly. That, in conjunction with the fact that it's very good value, means it certainly merits a place in our top 11.
Genesis’s Croix De Fer is a do-it-all bike, and its credentials were firmly established in 2010 when Vin Cox got the Guinness World Record for riding it around the world faster than anyone had done before.
Okay, it's not really a bike for racing on, but the Croix de Fer is a good choice to do pretty much everything else on. With a set of mudguards and some decent road tyres, you've got commuting, audaxing and club rides sorted. Stick some decent 'cross tyres on, and you'll find it surprisingly capable off-road – to the point where your mountain bike might find itself staying in the shed.
The frame is made from lovely Reynolds 725, the Avid BB7 cable-operated disc brakes work well, and the Shimano Tiagra 10-speed groupset specced on the Croix De Fer is a joy to use.
It’s a capable on- and off-road steel mile-muncher that has become a modern classic.
Aluminium is well and truly back, folks. You can get a carbon bike for this kind of money but this alloy offering is ready to race; just slap some pedals on and you can mix it straight out of the box.
The RS-3000 is great fun to ride. The first impression as you roll off the drive are that it's a bike designed to go after it, and that's how it's best enjoyed. The alloy frame and full carbon fork deliver plenty of ride feel and it's an engaging bike to be astride, although it's happy enough to cruise along too, and the neutral handling means it's not too mentally taxing.
Climbing isn't a problem for the Rose. Either seated or standing, it's efficient and responds well to your input, and there's never any flex though nor any hint of brake rub at the rear.
Comfort isn't necessarily something we associate with alloy frames, so it might surprise you to know that the Rose is a pretty comfy ride. The seatstays have been thinned and shaped with the same aim of offering some compliance, and they work.
If you're looking for a light, stiff race perch and you're on a tight budget then there's no upgrades needed here. Everything is race ready and nothing is compromised. A great bike for the money.
Superbike of the Year
7 BMC Team Machine SLR01 £6000
Stiffer, lighter, faster – yes the new TeamMachine really does tick those three boxes.
This lightweight successor to the Tour de France winning TeamMachine SLR01 raises the stakes with a new 790g frame designed using BMC's own computer modelling software. It offers a scintillating ride while still retaining the angular lines that makes it such a distinctive looker and opinion divider.
Very few bikes we’ve tested at road.cc feel as sensationally fast or willing to accelerate as the new BMC TeamMachine SLR01. You feel the BMC's lack of weight (it's 6.45kg as pictured) and huge level of stiffness the moment you roll down the road on the first ride. Approach a hill and it scampers up with just the merest encouragement and it’s hard to fault the handling. The real shock, considering the high stiffness, is just how comfortable it is. The new frame and fork handle vibrations far better than the previous TeamMachine. It sails along rough roads with fantastic stability, isn't bounced off line and remains composed at all times.
The new TeamMachine is stiff yet comfortable, fast and engaging, a thoroughly commendable race bike that will have more established rivals looking over their shoulders. Taking money out of the equation, the BMC is our Superbike of the Year.
The Sa Calobra stands out at one of the most competitive road bike price points with a very well put together triple-butted 6066 aluminium frame and a smart ride.
Track champ Chris Hoy worked exclusively with Evans Cycles, and in particular with established designer James Olsen, on the bikes bearing his name. Resisting the temptation to go for a budget-compromised carbon frame, the mid-range Sa Calobra 003 places extra emphasis on build quality, ride feel and on the componentry that really matters at this price.
The Sa Calobra 003's drivetrain has Shimano 105 shifters and gear mechs and Shimano RS 10 wheels. The FSA Omega chainset is a compact and the Hoy branded handlebar, stem, saddle and seat post are all decent offerings. The complete bike weighs in at almost exactly 9kg (19.84lb).
It's no surprise that Hoy has a penchant for stiffness in power transfer, but some might find it surprising that reasonable comfort is the first thing that impresses when you climb on the Sa Calobra.
There are aluminium-framed bikes with better componentry at the same price but we haven't ridden many that handle all types of roads as well as this. By focusing the fine detail of design on a superb aluminium frame instead of trying to squeeze a carbon frame into the budget, Hoy have created a machine that feels like more than the sum of its parts. We couldn’t fault it in terms of ride feel or handling prowess.
Best Value Bike of the Year
5 Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0
The redesigned Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 is fast accelerating, sharp handling and lightweight; you'll do well to find a better race bike at this price – which is why it’s out Best Value Bike of the Year.
Our complete test bike, a large, hit the road.cc Scales of Truth at 6.08kg (13.4lb) without pedals. That's the lightest bike we've ever had in on test. The frame is just 790g with the fork and Acros Ai-70 headset adding 400g.
Canyon have shaved off a few grams by using carbon dropouts, a PressFit bottom bracket, and slimming down the Maximus seat tube. None of these changes has reduced frame stiffness – in fact, Canyon have increased stiffness with some clever frame and fork features. They’ve also added comfort by slimming down the seat posts and flattening the top tube, for example.
The Canyon is incredibly quick off the mark. Put the power down and it's like it was just waiting for an excuse to spring into life. The front end in particular feels absolutely solid even when you wind the bike up for a full Cav-esque sprint, and it's super-precise through the turns. The Canyon scores highly for comfort too.
Canyon offer the Ultimate CF SLX in loads of different builds, starting at £2,799.
The Raleigh Militis represents a commendable return to form for the historic bike brand. With a sweet-handling, pro-quality frame, decent components and great wheels, the Raleigh Militis 3 puts Raleigh back on the high-performance map.
Various grades of carbon-fibre are used throughout the frame with the one Raleigh happiest to shout about being Toray’s T800. Stiff with a high tensile strength, it’s perfect for high load areas like the down tube and bottom bracket area. The frameset might look pretty chunky but a quoted weight of 880g for the frame and 395g for the fork is impressive.
SRAM’s second tier Force takes care of the shifting and braking with a small deviation to a FSA Energy BB30 chainset. FSA also provide the bars, stem and seatpost all from their Gossamer range.
Stiffness is the overriding factor out on the road and the Militis will certainly lay the power down without even the slightest whiff of flex. The ace up its sleeve, though, is descending. This bike is so balanced you can really push it through the bends at high speed. This is a thoroughbred race machine with performance and handling to match. It’ll happily do the long miles at a more sedate pace but the real rewards come when it’s being ridden hard.
Budget Bike of the Year
3 Boardman Road Sport £499.99
At a penny under £500, the Boardman Road Sport is the least expensive bike in our top 11. It’s a solid road bike that's as capable commuting to and from work with a rack and mudguards fitted as it is getting in the miles on a demanding sportive. It’s not just good for the money, but good, full stop, and it’s a clear winner as our Entry-level Bike of the Year.
It's made from 7005 aluminium alloy and the tubes are double-butted. Boardman say that the Road Sport is built to a sportive geometry although the ride position isn't as upright as you'll find on some sportive-specific bikes. You get a largely Shimano 2300 groupset with a compact chainset to get you up the hills, and some sturdy wheels courtesy of Mavic and Formula.
Overall, this bike is easily up to the job of commuting, and it's certainly competent enough to take you on longer rides – big weekend rides, group rides, sportives – in comfort. It's a real road bike rather than simply road bike-esque and it puts in a strong performance for the money.
Sportive Bike of the Year
2 Cannondale Synapse Carbon 3 Ultegra £2,500
A close runner-up, the Synapse is a super-smooth and comfortable distance bike with rewarding handling and a fast performance.
Cannondale's revamped Synapse offers much of the performance of a race bike but with added comfort, both from a geometry that is more relaxed and a frame that’s designed to absorb vibrations and deflect impacts. If you like to ride fast but don’t necessarily race, then a bike like the new Synapse– which combines the performance of a race bike with added comfort – is a smart choice.
Cannondale pack the Synapse with what they call SAVE+ (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination) micro suspension features, including a skinny 25.4mm seatpost, sculpted stays and shock-damping carbon layup in a smart looking frame. These three key features combine to absorb the impacts that could otherwise lead to a choppy and bumpy ride, and help make the Synapse our Sportive Bike of the Year.
The Synapse also offers a good range of riding positions too coming equipped with a good stack of spacers for those who want or need a more upright position. If anything the standard position was a bit too tall for our tester, Mr Arthur and he swapped out the standard bottom spacer for the less tall equivalent from Cannondale's out and out race bike, the SuperSix Evo which gave a pleasingly efficient yet still extremely comfortable position - although it did lead us to wonder whether given the outstanding levels of comfort also offered by the SuperSix Evo some people who think they should be on a Synapse might not be better off on that.
Cannondale haven't sacrificed performance or stiffness. There's plenty of gusto when you stamp on the pedals, and whether you’re slinging it up the hills or sprinting along flat roads, the frame and fork reveal a tautness that puts some race bikes to shame.
Cannondale offer the Synapse in both standard modulus (our test bike) and high modulus versions and there's a range of aluminium Synapses too so there is something here to suit all pockets.
Our £2,500 Carbon 3 Ultegra model sits in the middle of a six-bike range.
Bike of the Year 2013-14
Bianchi Infinito CV £7,100
The road.cc Bike of the Year is the Bianchi Infinito CV. Same name but a very different bike from previous version of the Infinito. The Italian company's new endurance bike features cutting-edge carbon-fibre technology to dampen high frequency vibrations and produce a smooth ride while still delivering all the stiffness you need for a superbly responsive and direct ride.
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 reduce high-frequency vibrations by as much as 75% compared to a regular carbon frame.
The profiling of the tubes is also integral to the frame's ability to tame bumps. Naturally, the seatstays are extremely skinny, and curve around the rear wheel, while the top tube is slender too.
It works too. Out on the road, the Infinito CV delivers an extremely smooth ride. The combination of the CounterVail technology and the geometry gives outstanding balance, equipping the rider with bags of confidence. It's also very direct, and an easy bike to ride fast. The CV is a class-leading bike that does everything you want from a performance machine, and more.
The Infinito wins because in our view it was the most complete package in terms of ride, performance and technology - by a whisker mind. You don't have to be a racing snake to ride it, but if you're not the Bianchi will make you feel like one. For the performance cyclist who can extract the maximum from its sure-footed handling it's an equally rewarding ride.
Yes, our review bike was very, very expensive, but a lot of that price was down to the wheels we had - in fact we took them off and replaced them with something a little more real world as soon as it was polite to do so. While still pricey, you can get a complete Infinito CV for £3,500.