The inaugural Sportive and Endurance Bike of the Year award went down well last year, with Cannondale’s Synapse Ultegra Disc walking off with the shiny gong, so we thought we'd do it again. The popularity of sportive and endurance road bikes shows no sign of slowing down and this year we’ve seen some really interesting new bikes and a lot more competition among manufacturers to offer the best package of ride comfort, performance and value for money.
Picking a winner is never an easy thing, but this year it was particularly difficult because of the very high standard of bikes that have scored well in reviews.
Given that here we're judging bikes from one category this list isn't as diverse as that for the overall awards, but there are still some significant differences between the bikes, which made choosing a winner all the harder - every major frame material is represented. As ever, we've also tried to acknowledge what's going on at different price points too. You can find a full list of categories and more on our judging criteria here.
One thing is for sure, there has never been a better time to buy a sportive bike - yes, we always say that, but it's true.
Disc brakes have found a natural home on sportive bikes and it’s no surprise that the majority of the bikes in this list feature discs. That’s not because we’ve gone out of our way to test disc-equipped bikes, more a reflection of the way the sportive road bike market is heading these days. Some of these models are also available without disc brakes and share similar frame features, but some manufacturers are increasingly phasing out rim brake models in this category.
What is a sportive or endurance bike?
The definition of a sportive bike varies depending on who you speak to. Some manufacturers prefer the term 'endurance bike' and there's a school of thought that says endurance bikes are a distinct category part way between a sportive and race bikes - more of that in a bit though.
We should also say right at the start that while they may be called sportive bikes they are not aimed solely at sportive riders. They're for anybody who likes to ride fast in comfort and who likes the occasional 'big' day in the saddle. Some racers should seriously consider this type of bike.
While there is no common specification, sportive bikes do share some common traits, the most basic of which is that they are designed to combine performance and comfort. That means the geometry needs to be more relaxed than that of a race bike. A classic sportive bike - say the Specialized Roubaix - has a much taller head tube and a proportionately shorter top tube than its racing stablemate, the Tarmac.
A sportive bike also needs to provide a smooth ride, whether that's through clever frame design or simply the fitting of wider tyres. These are bikes built for providing comfort over distance and on long sportives you don't know what sort of road quality you are likely to encounter so a reasonable level of durability is a good thing too.
Wider tyres are a requirement, then, with space for at least a 28mm tyre the minimum we expect. The actual tyre the bike can accommodate varies quite a bit and comes down to what an individual manufacturer thinks is the right thing for their bike and their customers.
Wider tyres are good because they provide more comfort when you run lower pressures. Mudguard eyelets are also a good thing to have, and for some people will be a deal-breaker. Whether you want mudguards or not is down to your personal preference; we like them here at road.cc, but we know a lot of people don’t bother with them at all.
So sportive or endurance, then? Well, our view is that sportive bikes are evolving into, for want of a better word, endurance bikes. Bike manufacturers, and their customers, are realising that there's more to comfort in a long distance performance machine than simply a more upright riding position. Being efficient on the bike should be part of the equation too - something, it has to be said, that many of the old-school Italian manufacturers always said.
This list includes bikes priced from £899 up to £3,199, with aluminium and carbon fibre options.
Time to reveal the winners...
The British designed and painted Orro Gold Limited Edition delivers high-performance gran fondo appeal. The carbon fibre frame and fork does a wonderful job of cancelling out enough buzz that you can focus on the job of getting the power down rather than nursing your battered body towards the end of a long day in the saddle. Like most sportive bikes, this will one take 28mm tyres but it comes with 25mm tyres as standard, there’s clearance for mudguards with the 25mm rubber.
In terms of geometry, the Orro is one of the new breed of sportive bikes (we'd call it an endurance bike). So while the geometry is more relaxed than an out and out race bike with a shorter top tube and taller head tube, it's not as upright as a classic sportive bike. You're in in a more upright position than a race bike, but still low enough for an aggressive, efficient stance when riding in the drops. Ride performance is reassuringly stable, and it’s a confident descender. Features like the tapered head tube and BB30 bottom bracket, and a low weight (7.48kg) contributes to a satisfyingly urgent bike.
Why it’s here: Good handling, and plenty of comfort - a bike built for big rides with no hanging about
French bicycle brand Lapierre offers the Audacio 400 for non-racing cyclists who still want to ride fast. Sportive bikes may generally offer a more relaxed riding position, but they don’t need to compromise on performance.
Aluminium is a common frame material at this price - yes, we're going to deploy the phrase 'bangs per buck at this point', and the Audacio 400 is well made with some clever details, easy to service external cables and a nicely curved top tube. As well as the tall head tube and short top tube, the Lapierre has a slacker head angle to give more stable handling in the corners. It's an easy bike to control whether in a group or riding on your own.
Lapierre offers a choice of gearing options including a compact and triple chainset and 11-25 or 11-28 cassette, depending on your riding preference and local terrain.
We tested the 2015 model - shop around and you can get that for considerably less than its full list price, and we do mean considerably.
Why it’s here: Affordable aluminium sportive bike that looks the part. Well priced to start with and even more of a bargain now
Buying direct from a manufacturer like Rose can net you some significant savings, and for just over £2k this Rose Xeon CDX-4400 offers an outstanding package for the money, with a SRAM Force 22 hydraulic disc brake groupset and DT Swiss wheel. It’s one of the lightest bikes we’ve tested in this class this year, with a 7.5kg weight. That's as light as many good race bikes.
The Xeon is quick, easy to live with and delivers a lot of fun miles. The steering is quick and the front-end is quite stiff, and at times it feels more like a race bike than a sportive bike - in fact, possibly too much like a race bike in the opinion of Stu our tester.
For pushing on it's fair to say, the Rose doesn’t hold you back. The Rose also sports thru-axles to bolt the wheels to the frame, and it’s ahead of the game by being one of the few bikes with Shimano’s new Flat Mount disc brake specification.
Granted the SRAM brake hoods aren't lovely to look at, but they are lovely to ride with, and that extra height virtually disappears once you get comfortable in the saddle. The bike comes with 25mm rubber but it’ll take 28mm tyres.
Why it’s here: Ultra modern carbon frame and super light overall build makes this a fast and stiff sportive bike
The second aluminium bike on our list is the excellent Fuji Sportif 1.1 Ltd is both a comfortable and well-specced sportive bike. Like the Lapierre the Fuji here uses an aluminium frame with a carbon fibre fork, the big attraction on the spec front when we tested it back in April were the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes.
The Fuji's frame has double butted tubes to save weight and improve the ride performance, with a tapered head tube and large BB86 bottom bracket, so it's not slow when it comes to getting your power down. Two things combine to make the Fuji a comfortable ride. First, the geometry which is not too aggresive, the Fuji has one of the more upright riding positions of the bikes in our top 10. Second, it comes with 28mm tyres - guaranteed to take some of the sting out of the road. Decent bar tape, a good saddle, and the fact that the curving top tube allows you to run plenty of seat post also help take a lot of sting out of the ride.
The frame itself is pretty stiff but not harsh but that's tempered by the component choices and the end result is a bike that's easy to ride for hours at a time. Extra versatility is added by the fact that you can fit mudguards - even with those 28mm tyres - and a rack so light, touring, commuting, or an audax are all perfectly within its scope.
We tested the 2015 model which we reckoned was a fair price at £1300 - especially with those Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, you can get it for way less than that now. Indeed the 2016 model is also significantly reduced in the January sales.
Why it’s here: Well-specced aluminium sportive number with mechanical disc brakes
BMC’s Gran Fondo is one of the more mature choices in the sportive category. The GF01 Disc offers a very comfortable ride position with a plush smoothness that will make you want to ride for miles and miles. In keeping with this year's Sportive and Endurance awards, while the position is not as nose down as a pure race bike, it's by no means upright either – a good balance between the two. The BMC also makes a very good job of balancing front end stiffness and back end comfort.
Along with the comfort and smoothness, the bike is stiff and light enough to indulge any desire you might have to try and bag a fast time on a sportive. Seated comfort is excellent thanks to the ‘carbon flex tuned’ seatpost, and the ‘angle compliance’ front and rear dropouts, which introduce a mild cantilever effect.
The handling is pin sharp, especially when descending where it feels rock solid. Shimano’s reliable 105 groupset offers mechanical shifting and the hydraulic disc brakes add further pleasantness to the ride with bags of well-modulated stopping power. We also like the fact that the BMC runs with 140mm rotors rather than 160s. It’s a shame the bike comes with 25mm tyres and not the 28mm tyres it came with last year, but you can't have everything.
As a complete package there's very little to split the BMC Gran Fondo and the next carbon bike on the list that gets a higher placing for giving you Shimano Ultegra and a (very) slightly lighter build for only £100 more. But if you're one of those that thinks the new 105 makes Ultegra redundant - and it's a perfectly valid view-point - feel free to swap them round.
Why it’s here: Superbly made carbon sportive bike with a ride that doesn’t put a foot wrong
The Light Blue Wolfson Ultegra is the first steel bike in our top 10, but not the last. It also completes the set of rim braked bikes on our list - along with the Lapierre. The Wolfson scores by delivering speed and comfort in spades, and despite its classic looks is a thoroughly modern steel frame. The fact that it splits the two carbon frames at 6 and 4 in our list also demonstrates just how tight things are as we approach the business end of our top 10.
The Light Blue’s frame is made from Reynolds 853 so it’s plenty stiff enough, but only where it needs to be. This is a bike that manages to deliver both a plush ride feel and a fast, direct performance. Ride position is long and low, race-inspired rather than sit up and beg. The wheelbase is longer than a race bike though and that makes for a stable, planted ride. What this all adds up to is a fast bike that likes to be ridden hard. You can chuck this into the corners like a race machine with the confidence that the frame isn’t going to deal out any nasty surprises even on Britain’s rubbish road surfaces.
We tested the Wolfson as a complete bike and it is available as a frameset option too - and though the complete bike certainly isn’t over-priced, we’d be very tempted by the frameset. It was a bargainascious £599.99 when we did our original review last month. Light Blue has moved quickly to bolt that particular stable door and it’s now £699.99, but even so…
Why it’s here: Classy steel frame that delivers comfort and speed over distance by the bucketload
The Scott Solace 15 Disc is one of the newest sportive disc brake models on the market this year. The carbon fibre frameset has the more relaxed geometry you’d expect of this sort of bike, but it’s not as relaxed as many in this category (with a shorter wheelbase than most sportive bikes) and that difference was noticeable when we rode it: it’s more aggressive and more performance-orientated. That’ll suit non-racers who don’t want to compromise too much on fit.
The carbon frame offers one of the smoothest riding experiences here, and it absorbs road vibrations really well. The bike feels planted on any sort of rough road surface. It's a bike you can ride for miles at a quick pace, whether you're in the drops or on the hoods. It feels purposeful and in its element, making for a fun time in the saddle as you nail that tight bend or chicane.
It's well spec'd too - we're big fans of the Shimano Ultegra mechanical plus hydraulic disc brake combo it sports, and while it might seem odd to say it of a bike with a £2,599 list price, the Solace 15 has upgrade potential - we're thinking about the wheels in particular.
So, you know we said it was one of the newest carbon framed disc braked bikes on the market? Well, we've got good news and bad news. First the good news: where just a few short months ago the Solace 15 Disc was the only disc braked Solace, now there are three starting with the Shimano 105 equipped Solace 20 Disc.
The bad news is that the Solace 15 isn't one of them. That seems to be because it's turned into the Solace 10 Disc - which as far as we can see, bar paint job and name, is the same bike at the same price. The bonus good news is that if you shop around you can find the Solace 15 at a very discounted price - especially if you ride a 54cm.
Why it’s here: Super comfortable carbon bike with an efficient ride position and great handling
“Phenomenal steel ride from a bike that is fabulously put together and which brings the material bang up to date,” is how Stu summed up the Mason Resolution when he reviewed it this year. One of the most eagerly anticipated new bikes this year, from the British designer previously responsible for all Kinesis bikes, the Mason Resolution is a thoroughly modern design using Italian-made Columbus steel tubing.
The Resolution is a great demonstration of all the best qualities of a well-made steel frame, with a velvety smoothness that absorbs road vibrations a treat. It’s no slouch and longs to be ridden fast while the mild manners and stability, no doubt helped by the slack 71.5° head angle, will look after you long into a double century ride. Like most of the bikes here, the Resolution will accommodate up to 28mm tyres and there are hidden mudguards. It’s packed with lovely details that show extraordinary attention to detail.
And while the position is more relaxed than a race bike, it’s not as upright as some of the other bikes here, with a 155mm head tube on the 54cm bike suggesting it’s reasonably low up front. Then there is the finish, which really is in a class of its own. It could win a award just for the superb quality of the paintwork and graphics, impressive given the small scale production. That’s the reason the Resolution is on the pricey side, and ultimate stops it from finishing higher up this list.
Why it’s here: Wonderful British designed steel bike with first class finish sets it apart. Very nearly a winner
Tying for third spot is the Kinesis GF_Ti Disc. It just lost out to the Mason for Frameset of The Year, but we can’t split them in this category. It really just comes down to whether you prefer steel or titanium and which you like the look of. As much as Stu loved the Mason, Mike loved the Kinesis - both wanted to give their respective test bikes a 10.
Various incarnations of the Kinesis Gran Fondo (as it used to be known) have featured in our awards over the years, and, as the name suggests, it’s a bike built for endurance riding. It’s always been a lot more than that though. This is a machine that delivers near superbike levels of performance but it will also take mudguards and even a rack. The addition of disc brakes add further to the mix - you can fit rubber fat enough to tackle the worst roads… and even, dare we say it, venture on to trails too.superbike levels of performance but it will also take mudguards and even a rack. The addition of disc brakes add further to the mix - you can fit rubber fat enough to tackle the worst roads… and even, dare we say it, venture on to trails too.
Whatever sort of riding you’re doing, the Kinesis is the sort of bike that you’ll want to ride faster, and if you take it out of your normal comfort zone it’ll forgive you too with its supremely assured handling.
Why it’s here: Fast, forgiving, light, comfortable, tough, durable… and it’ll last forever too
2. Eastway Zener D1 Ultegra £1,800
In at number two is the Eastway Zener D1 Ultegra - which we tested last month. A full carbon frameset with Shimano Ultegra gears and disc brakes plus Mavic Aksium wheels for £1800 was always going to look good on paper. That it also proved to be a belting bike to ride is what really counts, though.
Like so many of the bikes that have make this year’s Sportive and Endurance shortlist, the Zener is of the new breed of racier sportive bikes. While the geometry is more relaxed than a take-no-prisoners race machine, it is more aggressive than sportive bikes of yore and delivers pleasingly direct performance but not at the expense of your butt or your back.
At 8.63kg (19.03lb) It’s not super-light, but then it’s not super-heavy either. Tester Stu found that it’s no slouch on the climbs. That said, you could drop some weight easily enough by upgrading the wheels.
EastwayEastway is one of Wiggle’s in-house brands and it has used its buying power and the fact that (like other big on-line retailers) it is effectively cutting a layer of costs out of the equation to deliver a great bike at a killer price. Who’s not going to like that?
Why it’s here: Good frame, great spec, fab price and it delivers on the road too
And so the big reveal. The road.cc Sportive Bike of the Year 2015-16 is the brand new Genesis Datum. British bicycle brand Genesis has a huge following due to it's really well designed road bikes that suit the requirements of British cyclists and our roads, and its second foray into carbon fibre (after the Zero race bike) has been brilliantly judged. Few bikes deliver such a complete package as the Datum; it’s fast and fun enough for summer riding and ready for the winter with mudguards and disc brakes.
What really sets it apart is the fabulously smooth ride quality from the carbon fibre frame and fork, and massive tyre clearance for up to 33mm tyres, while still providing space for full-length mudguards. It’s straying close to adventure/all-road territory but the ride quality is firmly in the sportive and endurance class. It’s fast, sprightly and fun on the climbs, and it’s solid and stable on the descents.
A thru-axle fork keeps the bike feeling very taut when pushed hard, and removing wheels is easy due to the exact alignment of the dropouts, and brake rub is completely eliminated. The geometry is relaxed and the front-end quite high which is ideal for comfortable mile-munching. If you don’t race and you want one bike to ride year-round, the Datum without question offers that.
We tested the top-of-the-range Datum 30, but Genesis offers two cheaper models that are based on the same carbon fibre frame. Each has a Shimano groupset and hydraulic disc brakes, so if you like the sound of this bike, but your budget won't stretch to the asking price, be sure to check out the Datum 10 (£1,799.99) and 20 (£2,099.99) models.
Why it wins: Impressive comfort with responsive carbon frame and space for up to 33mm tyres
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.