Before we get too stuck into testing the latest 2015 products and components, let’s stop for a moment to take a look back at the best stuff we tested last year. This year we’ve compiled a list of the best upgrade components for your bicycle, and a separate list of the best upgrades for you, the cyclist.
You might not agree with our lists, but that’s fine. Product testing is largely a matter of opinion, but these are the products that scored top across a variety of categories. So without further ado...
Shimano’s 105 groupset has always offered serious value for money, and the latest 500 upgrade introduced 11-speed and other features trickled down from the more expensive Ultegra and Dura-Ace. The update has made it the best 105 groupset ever produced, and really, unless you’re a weight weenie, it’s hard to make a case for choosing one of Shimano’s more expensive groupsets, it’s that good.
Shifting is light and precise, the lever bodies are more compact than before, the new brakes are more powerful, the new chainsets use a single bolt circle diameter for easier chainring changes, and the new look front mech creates much sweeter front shifting. Plus, Shimano offer a choice of 11-speed 11-32, 11-28 and 12-25 cassettes that will suit most people, from racers to grimpeurs.
“Wonderfully comfortable fusion of classic ideas and modern materials,” is how John summed up the Brooks Cambium C17 saddle. Brooks are known for traditional leather saddles, but the Cambium takes the well-loved ‘hammock’ shape of a leather saddle, and builds it with very modern materials, most prominently an upper material that doesn’t need breaking in like a Brooks leather saddle, so it’s comfortable out of the box.
What most impressed about Spin’s Koppenberg MAX25 25mm Wide Fat Boy clincher wheels was their combination of a decent weight (1,540g) durable hub bearings, fast engaging freehub, and a 25mm wide rim with an internal width of nearly 20mm, much wider than most rims. Stick a 23mm tyre on and it expands to above 25mm width, giving you the benefits of a wider tyre, that is, a bigger volume for running lower pressures, without adding the weight of a wider tyre. The wheels are tough, ideal for daily commuting, racing and sportives, and offer plenty of performance for an attractive price.
Michelin Pro 4 Grip tyres £41.99
We get a lot of weather in the UK, and a tyre that copes with whatever comes your way while also offering good speed and puncture protection can make a big difference to the ride. The Michelin Pro 4 Grip tyres use a rubber compound that provides plenty of traction in the rain and a puncture belt to keep flats at bay. Both features combine to make this a great winter tyre, which is light and speedy enough to be used even when it’s not raining.
Costing £699 and weighing just 1,290g, the Spada Stiletto wheels are impressively light for the money. You can really feel weight in the wheels when riding, a light set of wheels therefore can have a big influence on the ride quality. Despite their low weight, they’re marketed for regular use by the Italian company and we found them to live up to that claim, being sturdy enough to be used everyday without flinching.
Disc brake road bikes are sweeping through the cycling world with more frame, wheel and disc brake options all the time. The TRP Spyre has been around for a few years, this SLC version being the best yet, and it's substantially cheaper than a hydraulic disc brake. The updated SLC brakes are a significant improvement over the regular Spyres, backed up with great reliability, a clear bite point and plenty of modulation. Pad life is excellent too.
SRAM Force 22 groupset £1124.99
SRAM’s Force groupset is on a similar level to Shimano Ultegra, but it’s a fair bit lighter (about 200g) making it a good option for anyone wanting to build a lightweight bike. The unique DoubleTap shifting system is easy to use and provides extremely clean gear changes, and with their Zero-Loss Technology there’s no free lever travel, so gear changes are immediate. The brakes are very good and the latest front derailleur is really easy to setup and works well, with no trim positions or multiple shifts needed. Force is a top performing groupset available at a great price (as low as £600 if you shop around).
Schwalbe One V-Guard tyres £44.99
Schwalbe reckon this is the fastest tyre they’ve ever manufactured, and while we don’t have the testing rigs to test that claim accurately, in the real world against other fast tyres, the One V-Guard tyres certainly impressed. Not only are they startlingly rapid in all conditions, but the rubber compound is hard-wearing and the puncture protection strip under the tread really works. They’re available in a range of widths up to 28mm, and in clincher, tubular and tubeless versions.
Fabric Scoop Flat Pro saddle From £40
The Fabric Scoop saddle is a familiar shape (it’s the same as the Charge Scoop) but it’s now available in a range of widths and curves so you can get the right saddle for your riding style and preference. It’s the sort of shape that works really well for a lot of people, most of the road.cc team getting on famously with the shape. The new design is sleek, with a waterproof and durable microfibre cover moulded to a one-piece base. Very clean. Different base and rail materials mean there are options priced from £40 to £160.
The biggest development in the road cycling market lately has been is the rise of disc brakes. The Shimano BR-R785 is the first of a new generation of road-specific hydraulic disc brakes, and Shimano have put their extensive mountain bike disc brake knowledge to excellent use, because these brakes are stunning. They’re a genuine improvement in braking power and control. If you’re looking to upgrade from mechanical disc brakes to hydraulics, these are the current benchmark option.
There’s a real trend towards wider tyres and the Challenge Strada Bianca comes in a whopping 30mm. It’s named after the white gravel roads of Tuscany and is a brilliant all-rounder with a decent turn of speed from the handmade 260TPI carcass and herringbone tread. You can run them at low pressures, down to 70-80psi is good. Better puncture protection than the similar Challenge Paris-Roubaix tyre makes them better suited to UK winter cycling.
Wheels contribute massively to the performance of a road bike, so a good set of wheels is a good investment to make. If you want to go fast, these Vision Metron 40 Tubular wheels have been raced victoriously on the professional circuit and in our hands proved commendably quick. A 40mm deep carbon fibre rim with a 25.4mm wide profile and a rounded rim shape echoing a Zipp Firecrest, they’re fast in a range of conditions and stable in blustery crosswinds. They’re light too, with a weight of just 1,332g.
“Shimano's 11-speed Ultegra 6800 groupset is really, really, really good,” summed up Dave in his review of Shimano’s latest Ultegra groupset. Benefitting from technology and features trickled down from top-level Dura-Ace, the latest Ultegra offering is the best yet. You get reshaped STI levers, better brakes, 11-speed, improved brakes and a front derailleur redesign that provides even slicker shifting than before, and it was already pretty slick. It’s worth shopping around because there are some decent discounts to be had.
As one of the main contact points with your bike, bar tape is a very important part of your bike, and one ripe for upgrading. The Tortec Super Comfort bar tape is a really good price and ticks all the boxes - it's super grippy in use with just the right amount of padding for long distance comfort. A wrapper's delight - comfortable, super-grippy and reusable.
Deda Superleggera Black Bar £271.99
At just 180g for a 42cm bar, the Deda Superleggera Black Bar is impressively light made completely from high modulus carbon fibre with a very high level of stiffness that becomes apparent when sprinting out of the saddle. It’s a nice bar shape too with a 75mm reach and a 130mm drop with nice styling that looked good on the test bikes we fitted them to. They're not cheap (but cheaper if you shop around; we've seen them nearly half price), but they are light and stiff.
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.