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 tends to mean the best sportive bikes are ideal for British riding conditions. Extra comfort from the frame and larger volume tyres (25mm and even bigger with disc brakes) 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 sportive bikes also have shorter top tubes to bring the handlebars closer to the saddle.
Endurance 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.
The best sportive bikes are designed to be more comfortable for long rides for 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.
Sportive bikes tend to have room for at least 28mm tyres to improve shock absorption and grip, and many will take 30mm tyres and fatter.
Disc brakes are very common on sportive bikes because they offer improved stopping power, and are less affected by rain and wheel misalignment.
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 Fairlight Strael 3.0 takes everything brilliant from its predecessor but includes some updates that not only improve the ride quality but also give the Strael an even smoother, more refined look.
One of the best things about the Strael is the ride quality, which comes from its use of steel tubing. What really helps is that Dom Thomas, Fairlight's co-founder and head of design, really knows his onions when it comes to getting the most out of the material, working extensively with Reynolds to design a custom drawn tubeset, which takes that ride feel to the next level.
Stiffness levels are great. Stamp on the pedals and the Strael responds, not quite as sharp as a carbon superbike but not far off. It certainly feels no slouch off the line or when climbing hard. The comfort levels are absolutely spot on and well balanced too. When you are seated, regardless of pace, the rear end really takes the bumps and vibrations out of the road; the racer becomes a cruiser.
What surprises most about the Triban 520 is just how accessible the ride is; how easy it is to pedal the bike at moderate speeds and feel like you're just cruising along. Cornering in any situation is confidence-inspiring, and it rolls incredibly smoothly too. It takes poor road surfaces in its stride, with a good amount of all-round compliance keeping things comfortable, and as long as you stay in the saddle it climbs moderately well too.
The geometry thing is a really important point here. With the Triban 520, it's all about a functional position aimed right at tourers and regular commuters at one end of the spectrum, and endurance roadies at the other.
With a super-tall head tube and compact top tube, the bike sits you upright relative to your general entry-level race bike, or even a fair chunk of the endurance-specific market too. It fully justifies its do-it-all tag for everyone except budding racers.
Also consider: The RC 520's stablemates, the £649.99 RC 500 and RC 120 (£499.99) are also superb value for money, and very, very good bikes in their own right.
Specialized’s Roubaix was one of the first widely-available endurance bikes. It's been through several iterations, and Specialized completely overhauled the much-loved Roubaix for 2020, saving weight, improving aerodynamics and refining the Future Shock bump-absorbing front suspension.
From the cobbles of northern France and the iconic race it's named after, to the roads of the Cotswolds, the latest generation Specialized S-Works Roubaix offers unmatched comfort and near-race bike speed. Granted, this lavishly equipped S-Works model is eye-wateringly expensive, but there are more affordable options in the range that inherit all the key changes.
The Future Shock works overtime to smooth out the wrinkles, cracks and holes that are abundant on my local roads, and which on a stiff race bike can lead to a bumpy ride. The 20mm of suspension is buttery smooth and quiet during use. You don't notice it, apart from the smoothness you're feeling through the handlebar and when you look down to see the protective rubber boot being constantly squashed.
Thanks to the new Pave seatpost with built-in flex and the dropped seatstays seated comfort is the equal of any other endurance bike on the market, such as the Trek Domane or Canyon Endurace, if not a touch more impressive. Combined with the Future Shock, the result is a very balanced bike that dishes out silky smoothness over the coarsest roads.
Dom Mason's titanium superbike is a beauty, both in the way it looks and the way it rides. The tubeset, the fork and the geometry all work together to give a sublime ride quality and an excellent level of feedback no matter how rough the road surface is.
Initially the Aspect feels firm: stiff around the bottom bracket and with a tautness at the front that gives a very direct feeling to the steering. But back off the pace a little and things smooth out and with a little playing with your effort level you start to feel how the rear triangle takes the sting out of the road surface. Whack the power through the pedals again and, boom, off the Aspect surges.
Just like the Definition and Resolution, Mason's similar themed aluminium and steel offerings, it really is amazing how a longish wheelbase and relatively slack front end can deliver such sharp and confident handling. Point the Aspect downhill and it feels absolutely planted, even when things start to get technical.
The whole bike responds well to subtle shifts in body position, keeping the Aspect feeling balanced, and with the amount of feedback coming through the frame and especially that Aperture2 fork from Mason's own mould, you really know what the bike is up to.
Also consider: Mason Definition2 Ultegra Hydro — £3,175. This is simply a superb machine, crafted with attention-to-detail to give a ride sensation that almost defies logic. It's lively yet relaxed, delicate yet you'd take it anywhere, and is just really fun to ride. We can't imagine getting bored of it, and it puts any other alloy bike we've ridden firmly in the shade.
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. The last set of tweaks to the Synapse were targetted at providing better ride comfort with more speed and performance. While it retained a similar aesthetic to the previous model, the current 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.
Also consider: The current UK Synapse range comprises 11 aluminium-framed bikes and 5 with carbon frames, from £899 to £7,000. All have disc brakes, and there are women's versions of all the aluminium bikes and two of the carbon models. The Synapse Ultegra Disc won the road.cc Bike of the Year 2014/15 Awards.
The Ribble R872 Disc Tiagra is a carbon fibre road bike that's built to a sportive-friendly geometry and it offers a much higher performance than you've a right to expect at this price. Plus, there's the bonus that you can tweak the spec to suit your taste and budget.
The feature that surprises most about the Ribble R872 Disc's ride is the front end stiffness. In this respect it feels like a bike costing way more than this. Haul on the alloy handlebar and everything is absolutely rock solid. You might not pull out your best Mark Cavendish sprint all that often but you'll appreciate the rigidity when climbing out of the saddle and also when cornering hard – you can really chuck this bike through the bends.
The frame is almost as stiff elsewhere, giving the feeling that none of your energy is going to waste. It really is hugely impressive for the money, made with T700 carbon fibre and boasting a tapered head tube, neat internal cable routing and compatibility with Di2 electronic shifting – indeed, Ribble will supply the bike built up with Shimano Ultegra Di2 if you like. The fork is full carbon too.
Most of us aren't racers, we just want to cover good distances in relative comfort at a decent pace, something the R872 allows you to do thanks to a frame that is a solid all-rounder with excellent manners.
Boardman's road bikes have been consistently good performers in road.cc tests over the years, and the SLR 9.6 Disc is no exception. It's a really good bike that neatly toes the line between race and endurance, offering enough speed for the former while adding in plenty of versatility for the latter. If you ride quickly on tarmac and you want a bike to handle all your riding, it's definitely one for the shortlist. Boardman has dropped the 'Endurance' tag, presumably to emphasise the fact that this is a quick bike that's been aero-optimised, but it's still a good choice for longer rides too.
If there's one word that sums up the ride experience of the SLR 9.6 Disc it's probably composed. Right from the off the Boardman feels like a bike that's been well considered. It's not a bike that looks especially flashy, but everything about it is high quality, and the ride kind of reflects that. It's a very well-behaved bike to the point where often it doesn't even feel especially fast. There's very little of the seat-of-your-pants feel that you get from some road bikes, especially skittish super-light ones.
The position is 'comfortably quick' but not especially aggressive; it's definitely endurance rather than full-on race. Wind the Boardman up along the flat and it's happy to cruise along with minimal input. It responds well to sprint efforts too: stamp on the pedals and there's no noticeable flex along the power line.
You could show up to a local race on the Boardman fresh out of the box and not feel like you were giving anything away, but realistically most people aren't racing; a rung below that, it's a great bike to chuck at a sportive, the local club chaingang, rides with your friends... more or less anything that's quick, really.
Also consider: Boardman offers one of the cheapest bikes with a carbon fibre frame in the £1,100 SLR 8.9 Carbon, which is built round a very similar frame to the SLR 9.6 Disc, but with rim brakes and a slightly cheaper (and therefore heavier) carbon blend. But for not much over a grand, with an 11-speed Shimano 105 transmission, it's amazing value and an excellent ride.
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.
The current Contend SL 1 has a Shimano 105 R7000 groupset with an 11-34 cassette for the steepest hills, Giant's tubeless-ready PR-2 wheels and 28mm tyres instead of the previous 25mm; all very welcome improvements.
Giant offers two lines of endurance bikes. The Defy group comprises two sub-families of carbon fibre-framed bikes, Defy Advanced, and Defy Advanced Pro, all with disc brakes and starting with the Defy Advanced 3 at £2,099. The aluminium-framed Contend range is a nine-bike line-up for 2021 from the £749 Contend 2 to the Contend AR 1 at £1,799. Derived from the Contend SL Disc, the Contend AR has clearance for 38mm tyres so you can escape the traffic and tackle rougher roads and trails.
Giant offers a large choice of sportive bikes 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.
The Canyon Endurace CF SLX Disc 8.0 eTap is the ideal bike for riding fast and long. It's quick, offers plenty of stiffness, and comes fitted with the highly efficient gear ratios of the 12-speed SRAM Force eTap groupset. It's a match made in heaven. The Endurace is Canyon's take on the endurance bike – a road bike that sacrifices a little bit of performance for a gain in comfort. Although, this CF SLX Disc 8.0 model doesn't really sacrifice that much.
With hydraulic disc brakes and wireless mechs, this medium sized eTap model weighs in at a pretty light 7.77kg (17.1lb), which transfers to the ride. It's very responsive under acceleration and pretty good on the climbs too.
Stiffness levels are high, which means you can attack the hills either seated or smashing it out of the saddle, and when I only had time for a quick blast of an hour or so I enjoyed riding the Canyon hard. It definitely has a get up and go attitude.
It's on longer trips where the Endurace really shows its hand, though, mostly because of how comfortable it is. The first thing you'll notice is the bump-taming properties of the leaf-spring S15 VCLS 2.0 CF seatpost. It allows a small amount of movement which takes the edge off rough road surfaces and just smooths the ride – great when you are out for four or five hours as you'll return home noticeably less beaten up around the chamois area.
Also consider: The full Canyon Endurace range — £1,099-£8,099
Where a lot of 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.
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.
The 2021 version of the Cube Agree C:62 SLT is a nimble and fun bike considering its endurance intentions, but that makes it great for anyone that wants to ride fast. You don't need epic handling skills to exploit this bike in the bends, and the ratios of the Force eTap groupset let you get the most out of it, whether you're climbing up or hammering down.
The Agree is Cube's take on the endurance bike; still fun and fast to ride, but not quite as extreme as what you find in, say, their Litening range. That's easy to read as it being sedate or boring, but in reality it definitely isn't. It's a bike with slightly slackened angles compared to a race machine, and maybe a longer wheelbase, yet somehow it feels a lot more urgent than it really should.
Tester Stu writes: "At pace it feels really flickable, darting about from the smallest of bar inputs, although thanks to the 72.5° head angle and 1,006mm wheelbase there is an air of stability to it all; a sense of security which lets you exploit the capabilities of the bike.
"I found the Agree a lot of fun to ride, but the highlights probably came as the routes got longer. That slacker front allowed me to tap out the miles on the mundane sections or those flat roads when there isn't a lot to be thinking about, along with a bit of assistance from the mid-depth carbon rims and aero details of the frame."
The Orro Terra C 105 Hydro is a stable carbon bike that's quick on the road, with the strength and confident handling required for heading on to gravel and other hard-packed trails with the appropriate tyres. Mudguard and rack mounts make this a versatile option that can cope with everything from commuting to adventure biking. It's slightly towards the endurance road end of the spectrum between road and gravel/endurance bikes, as the frame doesn't have room for fat 650B tyres, and off the peg it's equipped with road-going Grand Sport Race 32mm tyres. What we have here then is a bike with plenty of road-friendly features while still being capable of tackling bridleways, tracks and trails. Think of it as Endurance Plus.
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. Bikes with IsoSpeed front and rear start at £2,100 with the Domane SL4.
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%.
Lapierre completely revamped the Pulsium a while ago with a clean new carbon fibre frame. The French company says the gentle curves in the top tube and seatstays provide comfort. 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.
The Scultura Endurance bikes from Merida are more relaxed, less aggressive versions of the Scultura race bikes. They still offer plenty of performance and comfort, but they're more suited to those big rides – and, thanks to large tyre clearances and mudguard mounts, you can use them whatever the weather too. Merida says that the disc brake bikes can take 700 x 35mm tyres and easily tackle surfaces like fire roads. The Scultura Endurance comes with an entirely new geometry. As you'd expect, the head tube is longer than that of either the Scultura or the Mission CX. The head tube angle is a touch slacker than the Scultura's too, and the wheelbase is slightly longer.
There are four models in the range, starting with the Shimano 105-equipped Scultura Endurance 4000, stepping up to the Scultura Endurance 5000 with a mostly Ultegra group for £2,200, then the full Ultegra Scultura Endurance 6000 at £2,500. Electronic shifting? That'll be the top-of-the-range Scultura Endurance 7000 with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset, for £3,500.
The Equilibriumis a thoroughly modern take on the classic British club bike, with tubes in Reynolds 725 chromoly steel. "The ride quality is beautiful", says tester Stu kerton. "Taking to the back lanes sees it float across broken road surfaces. It just seems to dampen everything out and feels so composed. That means you can ride this bike for hours without feeling battered or broken. That makes a big difference on something like an audax, riding a challenging sportive, or if you're out touring."
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.
As the list above 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 components 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.
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 or 28mm tyres as standard, but many will take a 30mm tyre or larger for even more cushioning. 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.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.