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 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 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.
Disc brakes are very common on sportive bikes because they offer improved stopping power, and are less affected by rain and wheel misalignment.
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 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 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.
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 new 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.
Although intended primarily for tarmac, 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.
"In combination with the wider tyres, this makes the bike more stable and safer at speed," says Merida.
There are four models in the range, startig 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.
Ever since John took the B'Twin Triban 520 Disc road bike for a first ride in London in early October, we've been keen to see if it could stand up to his first impressions, as well as the great value legacy of previous Triban road bikes we've tested. It really does, although riders used to or wanting a racier geometry should look elsewhere.
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.
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 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 toward 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.
Boardman has recently introduced a new range, updating its wildly popular Performance range with new frames, components and design tweaks, and renaming them. The cheapest of the new models, the SLR 8.6 boasts a 7005 aluminium alloy frame, full carbon fork (an unusually good spec at this price), and 16-speed Shimano Claris components.
Boardman has recently upgraded the carbon fibre version of the SLR 8.9 with Shimano 105 11-speed shifting but kept the price at £1,000. This latest version of the SLR 8.9c boasts hidden mudguard mounts and long-drop brakes that provide room for 25mm tyres with mudguards or 28mm tyres without.
The Mason Definition2 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 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.
For 2019, the Contend SL 1 got the new Shimano 105 R7000 groupset with an 11-34 cassette for the steepest hills, Giant's tubeless-ready PR-2 wheels and a change to 28mm tyres instead of the previous 25mm; all very welcome improvements.
This is the disc brake-equipped version of Ribble's R872, the endurance 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 R872 allows you to do thanks to a frame that is a solid all-rounder with excellent manners.
In 2017, Giant split the previous best-selling Defy line in two. 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 £1,899. The aluminium-framed Contend range is a nine-bike line-up for 2021 from the £625 Contend 2 to the Contend AR 1 at £1,599. 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.
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 2021 range is all disc.
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 was 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 2021 UK Synapse range comprises three aluminium-framed bikes and four with carbon frames, from £899 to £6,000. 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 latest incarnation of Look's 765 endurance bikes includes 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.
It's available in a variety of specs with groupsets from Shimano 105 to Ultegra Di2 and with disc or rim brakes, though if you want the very latest 765 Optimum Plus, above, that's disc only with clearance for 42mm tyres.
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 Front IsoSpeed and expanded the Domane range to include less expensive models with aluminium frames starting with the Domane AL 2 at £625, but you don't get full IsoSpeed on any of the aluminium bikes, just a carbon fibre fork designated IsoSpeed but that doesn't have the mechanical shock-absorption of the carbon bikes' IsoSpeed. Bikes with IsoSpeed front and rear start at £2,100 with the Domane SL4.
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 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 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 Specialized has completely overhauled the much-loved Roubaix for 2020, saving weight, improving aerodynamics and refining the Future Shock bump-absorbing front suspension.
The effective but unlovely CGR seatpost is gone, replaced by the new Pave carbon fibre design that Specialized says still provides plenty of suspension effect, and there's still 20mm of movement up front. Smoother is faster, Specialized says and to that end also provides room for 33mm tyres.
BMC's Roadmachine bikes are focussed on endurance riding, with disc brakes and a frame that has space for up to 30mm tyres.
The Roadmachine is available with frames made from one of two grades of carbon fibre. The bikes with higher-grade carbon are all called Roadmachine 01, followed by a model number that's spelled out, so the range from the top goes Roadmachine 01 ONE, Roadmachine 01 TWO and so on. The next tier lose the '01' and are Roadmachine ONE, Roadmachine TWO and so on. Yes, we're confused too.
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 105 all the way up to Dura-Ace, plus SRAM Red and Force eTap AXS versions.
In 2018 Scott replaced its Solace endurance platform with a branch of the lightweight Addict family revamped to take tyres up to 32mm. Head tubes have been lengthened compared to the racy Addicts (now dubbed Addict RC). Addicts are available in various configurations with disc brakes, and there are women-specific Contessa models too.
If you want something even more suited to crummy roads and dirt tracks, take a look at the Addict Gravel bikes with 35mm tyres.
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 XR4 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.
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.
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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.