Off the peg bikes have never been better, but for some riders there’s no substitute for choosing every last detail of your bike yourself, and even doing your own assembly.
There are a number of reasons why you’d want to spec or even build a bike from scratch. Maybe you’re starting with a custom-made frame, maybe you’ve acquired a cherished classic, or maybe the frame you love is just not available as a complete bike. Whatever the reason, it’s a chance to pick every part for yourself, right down to the colour of the cable end caps.
There’s a vast choice of frames out there, from inexpensive open-mould Chinese carbon badged under various UK marques, through meticulously-crafted modern aluminium and titanium to hand-laid Italian carbon.
The most romantic option is to have a long chat with a custom framebuilder, work out exactly what you need and then wait a few months while he or she builds it for you. There was a time when that meant you were getting a steel frame, but there are now custom builders working in nonferrous materials too.
Most people don’t need a custom frame. Unless you’re physiologically unusual, a bike built round an off-the-peg frame will fit you just fine. But it’s still appealing to have a frame made to your specific requirements.
The more common option is to start your dream bike from an off-the-peg frame, like one of those in the list below. These frames typically exist because a single visionary obsessive has decided the frames offered by the rest of the bike industry don’t quite match their definition of ‘perfect’ and has either begun making them or found a manufacturer who’ll do the spadework to their exact specs.
In some cases those obsessives went on to found their own bike companies and still offer frames that embody their single-mindedness. Look to the Colnago C64 or Sarto Asola for examples.
Closer to home, the UK has a long history of framebuilders who make both off-the-peg and custom frames. The scene went quiet for a while, but in the last few years new frame companies have sprung up like mushrooms. In some cases there’s a craftsman or -woman wielding a torch to join tubes; in others a designer with years of industry experience has commissioned a manufacturer.
Once you’ve chosen a frame then you need parts to hang on it. Most marques offer a range of options, allowing you to choose a groupset, wheels, tyres, saddle, handlebars and so on, which they’ll then build up for you.
For some bike brands speccing up your own bike is a major part of their offering. Rose Bikes’ Configurator and Ribble Cycles’ Bikebuilder are two examples of systems that let you choose the spec of your bike. They’ll then do the spadework for you and you’ll get a shiny bike in the post.
The alternative is to hit the internet, shop up a storm, then build the bike yourself. In normal times, you can pick up a mechanical Shimano Ultegra group for under £800, though admittedly that's a bit tricky right now. But there are plenty of bargains to be had on the bike’s other parts too. That means you may be able to build a bike for about the same as it would cost to buy one off the peg.
Of course, you’ll need to know what you’re doing, and have the right tools. The toolkit you need to to build a bike is surprisingly small, though; most of that vast range of tools in your local shop are for unusual circumstances.
Nevertheless, you can wreak havoc if you don’t know what you’re doing. Back in my bike shop days we sold a set of cranks and pedals to a customer. A few days later he brought the bike in complaining that it wasn’t working right. He’d managed to force the bearing cups into the wrong sides of the frame, and the pedals into the wrong cranks, trashing the frame and cranks in the process. Caveat mechanicus.
Let's take a look at 29 of our favourite frames; any of these would make a great basis for a dream bike.
With its stiff and light carbon fibre construction, space for up to 45mm tyres and dialled geometry, the Parlee Chebacco is right at home on the road with slick tyres or churning through the rough with knobblies; regardless of the terrain, the performance and handling really shine through. This is a thoroughly well designed and highly capable bike limited only by your imagination and lust for adventure.
Tester David writes: "What really shines through from riding the Chebacco is the performance, and that's regardless of the tyre choice. It doesn't matter whether it has skinny or fat tyres, the handling is the highlight. The frame is exceptionally stiff in the right places and its transfers power very effectively. Steering is direct with a light action and it's predictable at a range of speeds, with the thru-axle fork giving the front end a very solid feel in its feedback through the handlebar.
"At higher speeds, and especially on any fast descent, the Parlee displays fantastic stability and balance, such that you can hurtle down your favourite descents full of confidence. It really is a fun bike on the downhills.
"On rough roads (of which I'm spoilt for choice) it offers a composed and smooth ride, and certainly ticks the comfort box, despite the wide diameter 31.6mm seatpost. Wide tyres no doubt help, but even with 25mm tyres on – at the narrow end of what you'd likely fit to this bike – the frame and fork still do a good job of filtering out the vibrations from a rough road."
The Fairlight Strael 3.0 is new for 2021 and it 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.
Tester Stu writes: "I didn't think the Strael 2.0 could be improved on, but Dom and the team at Fairlight have achieved it.
"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."
Lots of small bike makers are offering specialist frames in niches that make scaling up to offering complete bikes tricky. The Fearless Warlock, a steel gravel bike frame, is a great example.
Tester Jim Clarkson wrote: "I never felt surprised by the Warlock. It feels very reassuring, with a consistent ride from the start. It felt like a familiar bike quickly, and if I wanted a daily ride that allowed me off-road as well, the Warlock would be perfect for that. It would also be perfect for a long, off-road adventure, loaded up with gear.
"It's nimble climbing out of the saddle off-road, especially shod with the larger tyres. I liked the way it felt lighter when climbing. It felt light, but it's not especially light, as a steel frame will always tend to be a little more on the scales compared to other frame materials, but the ride feel is great. Whilst I won't use the term 'magical', the double-butted tubing coupled with the geometry makes the Warlock a comfortable, responsive and fun ride."
The Condor Italia RC Disc is nimble, twitchy and exciting to ride fast. Aimed at racers, the frame is stiff and very well balanced, providing direct handling that makes the bike great in tight corners
A few miles of riding left me in no doubt that this is an out-and-out race bike. The frame and fork are stiff, a rather tight wheelbase keeps things fun, while the 8.2kg overall weight is very respectable for an aluminium disc brake bike.
If stability is what you're looking for then the Italia RC Disc might not be for you. It was designed to be lively and that is exactly what it is, suiting those who like tight corners and dynamic climbing.
The frame geometry is anything but slack, though you can still achieve a comfortable riding position thanks to the relatively tall 165mm head tube. It made for a position that was comfortable both in the drops and on the hoods, even though I had removed all the spacers from under the stem.
ATR stands for Adventure, Tour, Race, and the Kinesis Tripster ATR is a founding father of the new gravel/adventure bike scene - we've loved it ever since reviewing the original back in 2014. Our tester Dave said that this third iteration of the bike feels like it's come of age in terms of its adventure capability, whilst keeping the comfort, road manners and reasonably light weight it's always had for covering distance at speed.
Highlights include a versatile build with plenty of mounting options, large tyre clearance, classic looks and a lovely ride. All things considered, it's an excellent frameset around which you can build any number of different bikes.
With a design that is focused away from the race crowd, Open's MIN.D frameset is an excellent option for general riding. Balancing low weight with loads of stiffness at the front end and bottom bracket along with a compliant rear end, the frame is perfect for cruising broken roads in comfort and then smacking it up some climbs.
Tester Liam is very impressed. He writes: "Everything that I want in a road bike when I'm not racing is provided by the MIN.D. My riding tends to consist of heading into the Mendip hills with their steep, tough climbs and riding out to the coast at Weston. The roads are broken, so comfort is key, but the steep climbs mean that I need a stiff and lightweight bike. I also want sharp handling to keep things interesting.
"The MIN.D won't ever compete on the flats with today's race bikes with their aero tube shapes, but in all other regards I have found Open's first road bike to be worthy of the 'superbike' moniker. If you're not bothered by the current trend for front-end integration and aero then this is a fabulous option."
The Moots Vamoots Disc RSL is one of those bikes that, once you've had the chance to ride it, you just aren't going to want to give back. It delivers the performance of many high-end carbon fibre race machines while retaining that beautiful titanium ride. As in: how can a frame as firm as this still offer such a sublime feel and so much feedback?
You may have read many times about the way a titanium frame behaves when it comes to stiffness and performance, and it's not all marketing guff. It is a beautiful material to ride, in the way that it seems to absorb road buzz and vibration yet still have the strength and stiffness to deliver on performance. The frames aren't exactly heavy either.
A glance at the geometry table (I'll go into more detail on that in the next section) shows you that this is a no-nonsense race bike. The front end is low and the angles are steep, which means this frame is fun to ride, while the compact frame delivers loads of stiffness for when you really want to get the power down.
Boasting a beautifully made Columbus steel frame with a stunning ride quality, the Condor Bivio Gravel is well suited to long adventures whatever the terrain. The comfort levels are impressive while the endurance-based geometry delivers a machine that is stable on loose surfaces, but with just enough 'edginess' that you can really have some fun.
A steel frame, even a quality one like the Bivio, is never going to compete on the scales against a top of the range carbon frame, but to be fair to the Condor it totally defies its weight mostly because of the 'get up and go' way it ride – the Bivio Gravel is an absolute blast.
Give the pedals a kick and the Condor feels responsive, and while you still get that lovely smooth feel of the steel tubing, stiffness is very impressive.
At its heart this latest version of the Cotic Escapade is still a quality chromoly steel frame that just wafts along, taking the vibration and bumps out of all but the roughest of road surfaces, helped by the fact that it can now accommodate those larger volume tyres. The heavily sloped top tube also means no matter how tall you are you are going to be running a lot of exposed seatpost, bringing a little more flex and comfort to the ride.
Even with the new beefed-up tapered head tube, the front end doesn't rattle your wrists about when you're blasting on the gravel tracks. The whole bike just feels great. Not having to watch out for every road imperfection means you can exploit the long and low geometry of the Cotic. The medium model has an effective top tube length of 560mm with a short 150mm head tube. It's quite an aggressive riding position, but it means the ride is loads of fun.
With its clean, smooth looks and some aero touches going on you'd easily think the new Argon 18 Krypton Pro is a full-on race bike. It certainly delivers on performance thanks to a low weight and plenty of stiffness, but factor in its immense comfort and slightly relaxed geometry and you'll find this is probably one of the fastest endurance machines on the market.
The rear end comfort of the Krypton is seriously like nothing I have ever ridden, even with the 25mm tyres pumped up to 100psi. Sit on the saddle to start your ride and the first thing you'll do is check that you haven't got a slow puncture because the feeling through the seat is that plush.
Tester Jack Sexty was deeply impressed with the Cervelo S5 Disc when he tested it in 2019. He wrote: "The revamped Cervelo S5 is one of the most exciting bikes in the peloton right now and a mighty impressive piece of engineering. The new V-shaped stem solves the issue of having no adjustability on integrated front ends, even though it looks as clean as any one-piece bar and stem system out there. You do pay a little more for the S5 than some notable high-end aero options from other big brands, but I can't see anyone who simply wants to go faster being disappointed with this bike if they can afford it."
When he hit the road Jack found "the S5 Disc's raw acceleration is very addictive indeed. Average speeds noticeably increased, and while I don't have any hard proof I can quite confidently say the S5 is a different beast to any road bike I've ridden extensively before – it's almost like cheating, that's how much difference I think we're talking compared with a more traditional-looking lightweight endurance bike."
While this is an awful lot of money for a frameset it does include Cervelo's dramatic aero bar and stem, which would cost you over £500 if bought separately.
Aluminium bikes are always harsh, right? No, no, no. And in conclusion, no. That's one of the more pervasive myths in the bike world but one ride on the new CAAD13 (CAAD stands for Cannondale Advanced Aluminium Design, fact fans) is enough to demonstrate that's really not the case. The CAAD13 offers a superbly smooth ride.
The CAAD13 represents far more than a quick update for Cannondale's aluminium race frame – drag has been reduced, versatility has increased and the ride is more comfortable than ever. This is a really impressive revamp and an excellent alternative to carbon.
The Genesis Volare 853 Disc frameset blends classic steel looks and ride quality with modern disc brakes and a whole lot of fun – if you've never considered steel for an all-round road bike before, here's a reason to.
If you've always considered steel frames to be a throwback to yesteryear in a world of carbon and aluminium, the Volare will change your mind. Maybe a steel frame suggests a bike for riders who aren't interested in going fast but who want to just cruise around, buy their coffee and cake, then roll home?
That was tester Ash Quilan's point of view until he rode the Volare and found himself having to apologise "completely, totally, unreservedly. In the Volare, Genesis has blended performance cycling with the innate qualities of a steel bike and, with the welcome benefit of disc brakes, I love it."
The Allied Alfa is a lightweight carbon fibre race frame that offers an excellent ride quality and, unusually, it's made start to finish in-house in the US. It's available as a frameset or the UK distributor, The Bicycle Chain, can build it up for you, either completely custom or as a standard build.
The Alfa balances its light weight with a high level of stiffness, particularly through the centre of the frame, and it feels great throughout the longest rides. The overall offering is hugely impressive.
Jump aboard and this is clearly a bike that's built for speed, putting you into an efficient flat-backed riding position. Although Allied hasn't sought to shave off the grams at all costs, this is a light bike with a claimed frame weight of 875g and a fork weight of 325g. You can certainly find lighter out there, but built up for us by the UK distributor, our complete bike (minus pedals) came in at just 6.89kg (15lb 7oz). Even if you're not one of those people who gets obsessed by bike weight, this is a bike that feels very light in use.
One other thing you notice straight away is the level of frame stiffness on offer, particularly through the middle of the bike. Get out of the saddle and sprint hard and the bottom bracket area doesn't budge – not so much that we could detect, anyway, even when giving it full beans.
Kinesis is mostly known for making aluminium bikes and the 4S Disc is crafted from the company's proprietary Kinesium aluminium tubes. The massive downtube is as big as it can be while still allowing a 68mm threaded bottom bracket, which is a much more easily serviceable option for a bike that's going to see some foul conditions. The rest of the tubing is equally chunky, although the 4S Disc uses a 27.2mm seat tube to add a bit of comfort from seatpost flex.
It's a fun bike to throw around, and although the 1025mm wheelbase and 606mm stack height of the 60cm frameset suggest a more stable and leisurely ride that's not the nature of this bike at all. There's nothing it likes better than kicking off in response to a big jump on the pedals, and the big downtube and beefy stays make for excellent power transfer with no hint of flex.
At the front the well-built fork is precise and stable at speed. Our tester could eke some rotor rub out of the front disc when sprinting, suggesting there's a bit of flex in the system, but it never felt like an issue and it's a bike that's happy to pin it round the corners without ever feeling vague.
Although it's called the 4S Disc you don't have to fit discs to it. This Kinesis is one of only a handful of bikes that can be built up either with rim or disc brakes.
The latest version of Bowman's Palace frameset has an all-new 6069-T6 aluminium tube set and slimmed down full carbon fork, but retains the geometry — and therefore handling — that we loved about the first two versions. And this version has mounts for disc brakes, where the original was rim brake only.
The bottom bracket is still threaded for easy live-withability, but for the Palace 3 Bowman has moved the cables inside the frame using large, removable cable ports to make servicing easier. All the tube shapes have been tweaked, perhaps most noticeably the head tube which is tapered to accommodate the new 1 1/8 - 1 3/8 steerer, and the Palace 3 has clearance for 30mm tyres.
Tester Stu Kerton called the Palace:R "an exceptional race machine just perfect for pushing you up the points table in your local race league or smashing that personal best on your favourite loop."
Oh, and the Palace 3 isn't bad news for rim brake fans: there's a £795.00 version, the Palace 3c which takes rim brakes and still has clearance for 30mm tyres. #SAVETHERIMBRAKE indeed.
Mason Cycles' Definition is a four season long distance machine with the manners of a tourer and the temperament of race bike.
It's good. So bloody good our tester of the first version found it hard to get into words just how a handful of alloy sticks welded together can leave you feeling so excited. You don't get a ride governed by angles and dimensions here; the Definition seems to mutate as the speed/gradient/direction changes leaving you wondering if you are still riding the same bike you were five minutes ago.
The second generation Definition has some subtle alterations, including the flat-mount standard and thru-axles front and rear and new rear dropouts, made with precision by Mason and their Italian framemakers. With a wheelbase of 1010mm, room for full mudguards with 28mm tyres and a relaxed looking front end you'd be excused for thinking the Definition is some sort of audax-style winter trainer. What you get though is a frame that's mild mannered and easy to ride whether it's doing 16 or 60mph in the wet or dry.
The key to a good mile muncher is that you don't notice it. If you've tapped out a steady hundred miles and not once thought about the bike it's doing its job. The Definition can do this, miles and miles can go by and the bike will just roll on with little input through the steering.
It’s teal, it’s steel, and the ride quality is real…ly good. From the racier end of the gravel/adventure spectrum the lack of mudguards and rack mounts will deter some, but if you’re after a bike for fire-road blasting, tackling rutted country lanes at speed, and even some singletrack shenanigans then the Outback could be the bike for you. It shares some of its DNA with Ritchey’s Swiss Cross cyclo-cross bike, but by no means all. For starters like most classic US gravel racers it’s got a long wheelbase which makes for a stable ride over bumpy terrain.
Stack on on our XL sized test bike was 596mm and the reach 401mm. The chainstays are 437mm on all of the Outback frames, the wheelbase on the XL model is pretty long at 1047mm and the bottom bracket drop is 70mm, considerably more than it is on the Swiss Cross.
For £1,299 you get the frame, Ritchey WCS full carbon fork with 12mm thru axle, and a WCS headset. As mentioned you don’t get any rack or mudguard mounts - if you want those Ritchey also make the Ascent which can run 700c or 650b wheels and can be built up with drop or flat bars.
In terms of tyre size the Outback can be fitted with anything up to a 40mm tyre - not as fat as some will go, but what you’d expect from a gravel racing bike.
In a sea of lookalike carbon sportive bikes, the Alpine stands out a mile.
Ok, so it's technically an audax bike, but what is a sportive but an audax without the cake? If you want a distinctive bike that will be fast and comfortable over long distances then the Alpine is well worth checking out.
If you just want to splat down a wedge of cash and walk away with a flash bike to impress your mates, the Alpine isn't for you.
Rather, the Alpine is a classic example of what's available from a custom builder if you take the time to specify what you want. You end up with your own choice of details in a frameset that has the stiffness to climb well and go fast, but which doesn't beat you up. In fact the defining quality of the bike is the smoothness of the ride, it glides where other bikes would bounce and judder.
Selecting each individual tube rather than an 'off the shelf' tubeset is what gives the Resolution, Mason Cycles steel framed four season speed machine, its identity. Each tube has a specific role and delivers on that with complete precision, the real trick though is how they all unite to deliver what can only be described as a phenomenal ride.
Dom Mason went to Columbus in Italy to handpick each tube individually which has allowed him to fine tune the feel and response of the frame. It's a blend of stiffness and comfort that is so subtle it's barely noticeable until you really require one or the other, a sort of 'Wow, where did that come from?' kind of thing.
Although steel has evolved, many builders have gone with it in the way they use steel tubing, holding on to that traditional skinny tubed look and external cable bosses. Mason has shunned that and brought the steel frame bang up to date with the likes of a tapered head tube and his MultiPort system.
Enigma is best known for titanium frames, but also makes a couple of lovely steel frames. This top model, the Elite HSS, uses the latest Columbus Spirit HSS tubeset and is all the better for it, displaying the sort of ride that would make you question all other frame materials.
It doesn't take many rides to be won over by the Elite's charm. That's not a word we often use to describe a bicycle, a collection of steel tubes and mechanical parts, but the Elite has charm in spades. If you ever questioned why people are still building frames out of steel when there are arguably better materials available, a few miles on the Elite will have you changing your mind.
Steel is well known for its smoothness and in this regard the Elite impresses. It has that quietness that only good steel frames really posses. It floats across rough road surfaces and tracks brilliantly when hitting such roads at high speeds, it isn't bounced around like some frames. It's one of the smoothest steel frames we've ridden.
Yet it has ample stiffness to indulge your appetite for riding fast. We took it along to our local evening chaingang, where as it was surrounded by the latest crop of top-level carbon fibre race bikes and deep-section carbon wheels. In such company you'd think the Elite might struggle. It didn't.
Enigma offer the Elite HSS as a frameset for £1,943.99 or as a frame only for £1,620.
Not everyone wants or needs drop bars. For some it's health reasons – maybe arm, shoulder or back issues prevent placing a lot of weight forward. Perhaps they want a more upright stance for dealing with traffic, or neck issues come to the fore with more bent-over positions. Maybe they just want to enjoy the view, or prefer thumb/grip shifters.
The Snowdon Paradox is a titanium frame that's specifically-designed to work best with a flat bar. But you can't just bung a flat bar on a bike designed for drops and vice versa, and expect sensible results. You need something fit for purpose.
The Paradox answers all these needs, but with absolutely no compromise to the rarified air of the high-end titanium custom road bike build. Sublime weld quality aside, the smaller triangles and use of a large and subtly-bi-ovalised down tube and hourglass chainstays mean this is a bloody fast bike, period.
If your dream is of travelling to faraway places to ride deserted roads in sun-drenched mountains, then the Ritchey Break-Away Carbon can help make your dream come true. This is a lightweight, performance-focused frameset that splits in two and packs down small enough to take as standard luggage when you fly. It really is a clever design.
The Break-Away splits at the top of the seat tube and at the bottom of the down tube, just in front of the bottom bracket, doing a similar job to S&S couplings but at a lighter weight. The top of the seat tube slots inside the end of the top tube, and the junction, which doubles as the seatpost clamp, is secured by two bolts.
I printed off the instruction sheet, got a cup of tea, and set to work. I had the Break-Away packed up in 20 minutes – before I'd even finished my cuppa – and that included stopping to take a few photos along the way. That was without rushing and without stress. Honesty, it's really simple.
On the road, if you didn't already know, you wouldn't be able to detect that it splits in the middle purely from the way that it rides. The Break-Away feels like a bona fide, card carrying road bike that just happens to be able to split in two.
The C64 the latest iteration of Colnago’s ‘C’ range of lugged carbon bikes launched in February 2018 replacing the C60 at the top of Colnago’s road bike range.
It’s evolution rather than revolution in terms of change, but the C64 drops a chunk of weight over its predecessor; the disc version drops 270g over the the disc C60 frame while the rim version drops 205g. Other changes include a redesigned and lengthened fork – although the stack height remains the same – asymmetric chain stays on the non-driveside, and full carbon dropouts. The disc fork gets a new, lighter threaded thru axle, and the disc bike is now designed to accommodate flat mount brakes - braking on the rim version moves to direct mount. The other big change is that the C64 will now take fatter tyres than the C60; the frame will comfortably swallow a 28mm tyre. What hasn’t changed is that the C64 offers the same levels of assured handling, and high speed stability that was such a feature of the C60, with an added smoothness, reckoned David Arthur when he rode it at the launch.
One other significant change Colnago have made with the C64 is that as well as being available in in sizes it also comes in a choice of two geometries - the classic sloping one in both a rim brake version and a disc brake version and what Colnago call High Geometry also in a rim version and disc version which means you can have a less aggressive riding position without the need for a stack of spacers. Oh, and as well as the standard colourways the C64 comes in two Art Deco finishes for a few hundred quid more.
3T boasts that the Exploro is the world's first aero gravel bike. You can file that under 'groundbreaking' or 'madness', depending on your point of view.
The Exploro is an absolute blast on gravel. If you have fairly well surfaced, fairly well drained tracks around your way, you're in for a treat. This is a bike that allows you to get your head down and crank the speed up high. That's when the Exploro is at its best – when you're pinning it across rough but firm roads. It flies across that stuff faster than any other gravel bike I've ridden.
Head onto muddy bridleways and it's still a very capable performer, the proviso being, as it is with any other bike, that you fit the right tyres. The Exploro has plenty of clearance – masses of it, in fact. Our review frameset came fitted with 650B wheels and 47mm tyres although you could go up to 54mm (2.1in) with these wheels or 40mm with 700C wheels.
And it's a blast on well-surfaced tracks and open bridleways it'll leave a mountain bike in the dust, but we were stunned to find it gives almost nothing away on the Tarmac, being perhaps a fraction of a mile per hour slower. We didn't find it to be as quick as the quickest road bikes, but it certainly doesn't hang around or feel unsuitable when you hit the asphalt, so for multi-surface adventures it's a very willing and able companion.
In March 2018 3T launched a new version of the Exploro frameset. The only real change to the frame itself is that it went from post mount to flat mount disc brakes and incorporated the same wedge collar seat clamp design using on 3T's Strada road bike frame. There was a big change to the frameset though as 3T swapped the previous Luteus II fork for the Fango fork (Italian for mud) which has a slimmer crown, more aerodynamic fork blades and fully internal hose routing. The dropouts have dedicated 12mm thru-axle threads and the company specs the Syntace X-12 axle, which 3T reckons is the stiffest axle available.
Colnago says the V3RS is the successor to previous bikes where the storied Italian bike maker strove to combine low weight and aerodynamics such as the V1-r, V2-r and Concept. The V3Rs received a substantial redesign over the previous bikes. The frame weight dropped from 835g to a claimed 780g for a size 50cm disc frame, and Colnago says it's stiffer and more compliant too.
People sometimes accuse Colnago of being a traditional company, and when you look at the C64, the company's current flagship road bike, it's easy to see why. Lugged carbon frames look dated compared to the smooth and swoopy moulded carbon frames that populate the road bike market.
But Colnago has a pioneering drive. Way back in 1986 Colnago developed one of the earliest carbon fibre road bikes in collaboration with Ferrari. Called the Concept, it never actually went into production, but the lessons learned eventually made their way into Colnago’s first production carbon road bike, the legendary C40.
Yep, as the name suggests it’s light. We built our frameset into a 6.7Kg bike, we reckon it’s the lightest disc brake equipped bike we’ve tested yet. It’s stiff too, but the fact that you can fit wider tyres dials in some comfort.
The Urgestalt is all about performance, 'Key aspects of [the design are] efficient power transmission, best directional stability and maximum stiffness,' says Lightweight. And it certainly delivers on all three. Possibly the biggest feather in the Lightweight’s cap is that it manages to combine being so light with excellent handling.
Here’s how Mat summed up the ride: “In use, the Lightweight Urgestalt Disc feels super-responsive when you put in extra effort, joining in energetically when you ask for a burst of speed to get away from the group or chase down someone with escape on their mind. The sharper the acceleration, the more you notice the lack of ballast.”
As well as the frame (natch) the Urgestalt frameset package comprises the fork, headset, carbon headset spacers, thru-axles, clamp for the seatpost and rear derailleur hanger.
The Sarto Asola is a lightweight, smooth-riding frameset that handles beautifully. It's certainly not cheap, but you can have this Italian beauty made to measure and built with the features you want.
Sarto is what you could class as a boutique brand. You won't have seen many, if any, of its frames around. All Sarto frames are handmade in Italy, only about 2,500 per year.
Most Sarto frames are made to measure, although the one we tested was a standard model. The Asola is built from M55J and M46J carbon-fibre tubes that are assembled into a frame using a tube-to-tube technique.
This is a rare thing then: a custom-built carbon fibre frame. Compared with using a mould, tube-to-tube is a labour-intensive process, but it allows you to choose your own geometry and the bottom bracket standard you want. You can also opt for either a standard or an integrated seatpost, and have the frame built for electronic or mechanical shifting, or have it compatible with both. Additionally, the frame can be finished in whatever colour you like.
It seems like 3T are determined to turn the world of high-end bikes on its head. First there was the dramatic Exploro, and then the radical Strada with its swoopy aero seat tube and mandatory single-chainring drivetrain. On the face of it, it's a bonkers set-up for a road bike — and then you take it down the road and it all falls into place. Indeed so much so that the Strada was road.cc's Bike of the Year 2017-18 and our Superbike of the Year too.
When he reviewed it, Dave Arthur was very, very impressed. "The new 3T Strada has blown me away," he wrote. "It's a truly stunning bike with breathtaking speed, impressive smoothness and fine handling balance. If this is the future, as some people have speculated, I'm sold. Take my money 3T.
"As for the issues about clearance and gearing – the two key talking points since the bike launched – well, they simply fade away once you ride the bike. I was left with the overwhelming impression that this is one of the most exciting road bikes available right now."
This version will accommodate a double chainset and unless you're a dedicated fan of 1X gearing, that's probably the way to go.
Concentrating on aerodynamics and power transfer, the NK1K is a high performance machine that embraces the latest trends in the road cycling world such as room for wider tyres; you can even get a disc brake version.
When you finish a 70-mile ride with an average speed 3mph quicker than normal, you know the NK1K is a fast bike. Well, in fact you know before then – you realise the second you start pushing the pedals.
The thing is, unlike other aero road bikes we've tested such as the Storck Aerfast, the Cipollini doesn't just seem to show its wind-cheating benefits once the speed gets higher, above 23mph or so. The NK1K feels quick throughout the range.
The NK1K is a lot of money, even against other Cipollinis in the line-up, and you can get a lot of other professional-level framesets for a lot less money. You can probably get the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX – a very good bike in its own right – as a complete package for the same money as the NK1K's frameset.
But the Cipollini is a different product, and it's the engineering, the design and the exclusivity that you are paying for here. It's a tough shout, but if you have the money then you won't be disappointed. The NK1K as a whole package is pretty awesome, and you'll never get bored of fellow riders stopping to take a look at it.
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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.