If you have £1,000 to £1,500 to spend on a road bike, you really do get a lot for you money. A benefit of spending this sort of money is that the bikes start to get much lighter than those costing half as much, which will have a significant impact on the ride quality and performance, and your times up your local hills.
Shimano 105 and Tiagra are the dominant groupsets in this price range. While there is a lot of own-brand kit for parts like wheels, handlebars and saddles, which is no bad thing (manufacturers have really raised their game with own label components), there is a lot more branded kit from the likes of Mavic and Fizik.
You'll typically find yourself making a decision between an aluminium frame (which range between very good and superb in this price range) with a groupset such as Shimano 105 or a carbon frame with Shimano Tiagra. Which you go for will depend, among other things, on whether you're a parts upgrader or a bike replacer when it comes to future developments.
We're also starting to see some intriguing, innovative thinking in this price range, like the fat-tyred, single chainring Road Plus Whyte Glencoe, if you fancy something more than a bit different.
The Planet X Pro Carbon has always been a popular entry-level carbon fibre bike, but it was looking a bit dated. This new version corrects that with modern lines, a new lay-up, and tapered steerer, among other changes, and it's currently available with Shimano's 105 R7000 groupset for the frankly amazing price of a thousand quid.
The Ultra CF 900 is further evidence, if any was needed, that B'Twin knows how to build awesome-riding race bikes which offer excellent stiffness, handling and speed while also managing to be unbelievably comfortable. Bung in a sub-£1.5k price tag for a full-carbon frame and fork, Shimano 105 groupset and Mavic wheels, and it really is an exciting package.
With its 'UCI approved for racing' logo on the top tube and its geometry, I was really expecting the Ultra CF 900 to be a no-nonsense speed machine, sacrificing comfort for performance, especially when you take into account those huge tube profiles. In use, though, it is completely the opposite.
The ride is sublime, absorbing pretty much everything the road surface can chuck at it, so you just waft along at a very impressive pace, smashing mile after mile without effort.
The Boardman ASR, or "all season road", is a really good value package that offers a relaxed ride with the classic looks and feel of steel, the modern convenience of hydraulic disc brakes, and clearance for wide tyres.
The 8.9 arrives ready for winter, with mudguards fitted to the frame, 28mm Vittoria tyres, plus reflective frame details ticking all the boxes for commuting through the rough British weather. Remove the mudguards and the bike easily has clearance for wider tyres, so it also fits the bill for summer towpath pootling and brief gravel forays.
Riding over rough stuff on my cycle path commute was generally a breeze, and the only real 'problem' I had with it was manoeuvrability. While the stem is shortened in an attempt to make the steering springier, I did find the ASR a bit sluggish when trying to corner quickly, which I'll put down to the relaxed angles of the frame and longer top tube making the bike quite slow to respond.
It does make for really stable handling, though, and it's not really designed to be aggressively chucked around; it's more about finesse than fast and furious. Eating up long, steady miles in comfort is what the ASR does best, and as someone who's prone to head out for a run or carry on riding if the weather's okay when I get home, it was ideal for a period of building base fitness in early spring.
Whyte's Glencoe is a 650B-wheeled Road Plus bike that brings together a lot of the emerging trends in the road bike market into a really compelling package that will appeal to anyone wanting a smooth, comfortable, stable and confidence-inspiring road bike.
The Glencoe combines an aluminium frame and fork rolling on wide profile WTB tubeless-ready rims and WTB Horizon 47mm tyres, and the stop and start are taken care of by an SRAM Apex 1x11 groupset, with an 11-42t cassette and 44T chainring, and TRP HyRd hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors. The finishing kit is all Whyte branded, including the 50cm wide handlebar that is unique to the Glencoe. Yes at 11.56kg (25.48lb) it’s heavy, but weight isn’t everything.
The Vitus Zenium SL is a long-standing road.cc favourite. Last year's edition was a big orange bundle of fun: quick on the flat, grin-inducingly swoopy on twisty descents, and civilised on climbs. This more subdued-looking 2018 version gets a few tweaks that should make it an even better all-day ride, and it'll now take mudguards. Even better: CRC has just lopped over £300 off the price.
Fuji characterises its Roubaix as a race bike and completely reworked the frame for 2017, putting it firmly in the category of Very Light Aluminium at a claimed weight of 1,090g. It was £1,149 until recently; at this price it looks a tremendous bargain.
The fork is all-carbon, as befits a lightweight bike, and there are Shimano Tiagra gears and brakes to make it stop and go. The Oval Concepts finishing kit includes a chainset with Praxis rings. It looks like an excellent package for the money if you're in the marker for a fast, light traditional road race bike, and that light frame is a perfect platform for future upgrading as cashflow allows
Giant has two families of endurance bikes, the Defy series with carbon fibre frames and disk brakes throughout the range, and the Contend bikes with aluminium frames and a choice of discs or rim brakes. This is the top model in the six-bike Contend family. It has Shimano's excellent-value Shimano 105 11-speed transmission, and Giant's own hydraulic disc brakes. We liked the rim-braked 2017 version, but thought it could use better brakes.
The Pinnacle Arkose 3 is a great option if you're looking for a versatile aluminium adventure, commuter or winter bike (or indeed all three at once) that is well specced for the price.
Pinnacle has been making the Arkose for a number of years. It was originally created off the back of a cyclo-cross design, and has become more of an adventure/gravel bike over time. The frame was redesigned in 2017 and the version I've been testing is the third tier of the bunch, sitting above the Arkose X and below the Arkose 4 and Arkose LTD.
Cross, Gravel, Road, that's what the CGR initials stand for on Ribble's latest all-rounder. A disc brake-equipped, mudguard-shod 'do a bit of everything' machine that makes a lot of sense for the rider who doesn't always want to stick to the tarmac. Thankfully, this jack of all trades is no master of none.
Thanks to Ribble's online bike builder, you can have any spec you like. The CGR starts from £799 with Shimano Sora; the price here is for the option with Shimano 105 and hydraulic brakes, which gives a good combination of slick shifting and powerful stopping.
When it was launched the CAAD12 set a new benchmark for all-aluminium frames; it still puts a lot of carbon bikes to shame. With a frame weight under 1,100g for the disc brake and regular versions, it's not much heavier than carbon either. Cannondale package the frame with a full Shimano 105 groupset, carbon fibre fork with tapered steerer tube, 52/36 crank, Mavic Aksium wheels and a Selle Royal Seta S1 saddle. You can also have it with disc brakes for an extra £300.
German company Canyon has made quite an impression in the UK with its direct-to-consumer business model meaning big savings for those prepared to bypass the bike shop for their next bike purchase. The Ultimate CF SL is produced using the same mould as that the Ultimate CF SLX we tested a while ago, it's just using a cheaper carbon fibre. That keeps the price lower. Although the weight does go up a bit, it's still light at a claimed 940g. This is the entry-level model built with a full Shimano 105 groupset, Mavic Aksium wheels, Continental GP 4000 25mm tyres, Canyon's own bars and stem and a Fizik Antares saddle.
This bike has at its heart the aluminium version of Trek's lightweight Émonda platform, equipped with Shimano's new 105 R7000 groupset.
The Emonda line is Trek's take on making the lightest road bikes it can produce for a given price, which means the frame here is worth upgrading as the parts wear out; it wouldn't be shamed by a Shimano Ultegra groupset.
German direct-sales operation Rose has some very keenly priced bikes, like this disc-braked sportive/endurance model that boasts an aluminium frame with room for 28mm tyres, and a full Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic brakes. When he reviewed the next bike up in the range, the Ultegra-equipped Rose Pro SL Disc 3000, Stu Kerton said "Thanks to its neutral handling and impressive build spec, the Pro SL is the ideal steed for a day in the saddle with no surprises."
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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.