We’ve reviewed some fantastic road bikes here on road.cc over the past year, and here are the very best of them.
What we’re looking for in this category are road bikes that are quick and responsive and also comfortable enough to ride for miles on end. We want speed, excitement and plenty of fun. Beyond that, we’re happy to judge each bike on its individual merits rather than against some preset ideal we have in mind.
One other important factor to bear in mind is that this category is price capped at £3,000. Superbikes like the Trek Madone 9 Series aren’t included here. Those bikes are included in our separate Superbike Shootout.
Why have we made the cutoff £3,000? We could just have easily made it £2,500 or £3,500. We wanted to put a price cap on this category and £3,000 is as good a figure as any, so that’s what it is.
There’s an argument that the B’Twin Triban 520 we reviewed back in July should make it into our top 10. This is the bike that the team debated most about including. In the end we decided not to give it a spot on the basis that it’s a £450 bike that already makes an appearance in the Bargain Bike of the Year and the Commuting Bike of the Year categories. It’s another one of those decisions that could have gone either way.
Before we start, a couple of final observations regarding the componentry on our Top 10 road bikes. First off, if you don't like disc brakes you're in luck here - none of our top 10 has 'em. Those new fangled 52-36 chainsest are also fairly thin on the ground too. Having slung a leg over the Cannondale CAAD 12, we confidently expect discs to put in appearance next year and we're certain we'll see more 52-36s too.
Interestingly, there are no classic 53-39 chainsets on any of the bikes here, something that just a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable on a list of this type.
Okay, with all that said, let’s see which bikes have made it into our top 10.
With its external headset, bottom bracket and cable routing combined with race bike geometry, the titanium Chinook provides a classic appearance, and if the looks don't win you over, the sublimely smooth ride experience sure will. The Chinook is a real delight.
This is a bike that's happy being ridden fast and hard and would make a fine race bike. It's also right at home on the long ride, where the lively performance and comfort ensure it puts a smile on your face.
Why it’s here It offers a fast and sprightly ride, and it’s great in the corners!
Aimed squarely at the sub-£1000 commuter-sportive rider, this bike is a real steal.
Out on the roads, the carbon frameset gives a smooth and comfortable ride. You perhaps wouldn't want to do a cobbled sportive on it, but for everyday roads and bike paths you're well covered.
Racers and more aggressive sportive riders might want something lighter, stiffer and more responsive, but the Merlin Fuse 105 should be on the shortlist of cyclists looking for top bang for their buck under £1,000.
Why it’s here With a carbon frame and Shimano 105 components, it offers excellent value for money
The Oltre XR1 is impressively stiff even when you push hard on the pedals, out of the saddle, in a deliberately high gear. On flat and rolling roads, it has a really punchy character.
Fizzy handling is the real highlight of the XR1; it's a very engaging bike. It's not one for sitting back and taking in the views, it's for pushing those pedals as hard as you can and attacking every single corner, crest, rise, dip and descent. It's hard to criticise its lack of composure on rough roads when it rewards with such pace and verve. If you want a fun bike, the XR1 is very entertaining.
We reviewed the 2015 model which, as the name suggests, came with a Campagnolo Athena build kit. While the frame hasn't changed, Bianchi's build options have. For 2016, if you want the Oltre XR1 with a Campagnolo groupset you've got a choice of either the Bianchi Oltre XR1 Athena at £3,000 or the Bianchi Oltre XR1 Chorus for £3,750.
Why it’s here It provides entertaining handling with plenty of speed
The aluminium-framed Lexa is built to a women’s-specific geometry and comes fitted with a carbon fork and Shimano Sora components.
It is a very enjoyable ride. There’s no feeling of being overburdened with weight, the handling is steady and reliable but nimble enough to be engaging, and it rides well uphill and downhill, as well as on the flat.
It's big selling point for a lot of riders is going to be the very comfortable ride it delivers thanks to an effective but not too aggressive riding position and a sloping top tube that allows for a generous measure of seatpost to show. Oh, and a very comfy Bontrager Affinity 1 WSD saddle; it certainly worked for Lara our tester. Comfort could be increased further with some fatter tyres – you'd probably squeeze a 28mm in there.
The Lexa S certainly punches above its weight in terms of looks, comfort, value for money and in providing a reliably enjoyable and encouraging ride.
Why it’s here This is a bike that's sure to keep new riders riding
What you get with the BMC Teammachine SLR03 are most of the ride characteristics of BMC's range-topping SLR01 Teammachine for a lot less money. How do they do that? By making it from less fancy carbon, and giving it external cable routing instead of internal (not necessarily a bad thing) and replacing the carbon dropouts with aluminium ones. The only downside is that it's a touch heavier than its glamorous stablemate.
While the SLR03’s weight does blunt its speed a touch, there's no lack of enthusiasm in the way it responds to your input, and any notion that the weight would adversely affect the SLR03's climbing prowess proved unfounded; it scampers up hills with a surprising sprightliness. There's no lack of stiffness when you push hard on the pedals, the frame resisting sideways flexing forces.
You get assured and easy-to-live-with handling here. The front end is very communicative, with a good feel for the road surface through the handlebar and a nice sense of available traction. Skinny seatstays and a slim 27.2mm seatpost ensure the BMC offers incredible comfort and smoothness; it dispatches rough roads with impressive ease.
We tested the 2015 model, which, if you get your skates on, is currently available at a highly reduced price, as is the 2016 SLR03 Tiagra which, paint job and slightly later iteration of Shimano Tiagra apart, is pretty much the same bike.
Why it’s here Top performance at a competitive price makes the SLR03 a compelling choice
Dave Arthur REALLY liked the £750 Raleigh Criterium Sport – and there's a lot to like. For £750 (less if you shop around) you get a sorted aluminium frame, a carbon-fibre fork and a Shimano Tiagra groupset. Better still, it provides an involving and exciting ride.
The first thing that strikes you about the Criterium Sport is how smoothly it rides over a variety of surfaces.
The geometry is well judged while the frame and fork come together to give a good level of agility; it'll suit wannabe racers as much as sportive challengers. If you like to throw your bike around the road, powering out of the saddle to sprint over rises and belting through corners as fast as you dare, the Criterium Sport indulges.
It’s a very accomplished sporty bike that has the comfort to be relaxing on longer rides. The frame and fork even have mudguard mounts for year round practicality - so if you need a road bike for more than just riding fast at weekend this is worth a look.
Whether you're buying your first road bike or you’re upgrading, the Raleigh Criterium Sport will definitely put a smile on your face and keep it there.
Why it's here: This is a cracking bike for the money, and it isn’t easily embarrassed by rivals that are considerably more expensive
When we first tested the Emonda ALR 6 it's list price was £1,700 and we thought it was a bit of a bargain. It's now £300 less.
The Emonda ALR 6 proves that there's still plenty of life left in aluminium, if that was ever in doubt. The ALR 6, Trek’s lightest ever aluminium road biken (our 58cm bike tipped the scales at 7.89Kg), rides really well, providing snappy acceleration through its taut frame.
It has very good climbing skills, transferring your effort efficiently into forward movement, and it provides you with plenty of assurance on the way down. Rather than wavering about, the bike takes you exactly where you want to go and that gives you the confidence to keep pushing the speed. It provides lots of comfort too, and the Shimano Ultegra components are superb.
It still has some upgrade potential too. Swap the Bontrager Race wheels off for something lighter and the ALR 6 would be an even more exciting proposition.
Why it’s here It’s a quick and lively aluminium road bike with a good ride quality and excellent Shimano Ultegra kit
Specialized’s Tarmac Comp really impressed us with a fast and engaging ride that will suit budding racers, along with sportive cyclists who favour a race-orientated position.
It's a versatile bike that can be ridden all-day long in comfort, booted around a tight and twisty criterium circuit, ridden to work, used on the chaingang, or just for lazy Sunday morning rides to the coffee shop. It's happy pootling or going flat out.
It's a classy piece of kit too, with some real racing heritage behind it. The Tarmac SL4 frame it's based on has a seriously impressive palmares. The only difference here is that the Comp is made from a lower grade of carbon fibre – Specialized's own FACT 9R, to be exact.
The Specialized Comp is simply a very good road bike with an emphasis on speed, and the highly tuned handling that has been developed on the racing circuit makes it a lot of fun to ride.
We tested the 2015 model and (you know what I'm going to say next) if you shop around it can be had for considerably less than its £2,000 list price. How does the 2016 model differ, you ask? Well, as far we can see, it's a different colour and that's it. The newer Tarmac Comp does look cool, though.
Why it’s here It provides a sparkling ride that’s backed up by a predominantly Shimano Ultegra build
The B’Twin Mach 720 surprised us with its punchy ride and fast turn of pace. It’s all about going fast; it’s very much a race machine. Few bikes out there offer such an enjoyable performance or such good value for money… and Decathlon have just put it in their sale at £799.
The carbon-fibre Mach 720 is stiff when you apply maximum power, with a crisp reaction to your pedalling. Move the bike around on the road and through bends and it feels direct and responsive. The steering provides a good amount of detail, and there's enough feedback through the carbon fork about the road surface to let you push on in earnest without much risk of overcooking it into the corners. Settle down to a steady cruising speed and the Mach 720 impressively soaks up all the vibrations caused by riding over crumpled tarmac and scarred road surfaces.
There really isn't much not to like in a bike that delivers this level of performance and handling at this price. The groupset is predominantly Shimano 105 and it has a 52-36 chainset which we reckon is the ideal set up for this sort of bike. Most of the other bikes on our list come with a 50-34 compact as standard. While the Mach 720 isn't light, a claimed frame weight of 1,150g with a 320g fork means there should be some scope for weight saving upgrades as the components wear out over time.
Why it’s here It offers a fast and comfortable ride, and cracking Shimano 105 11-speed kit, and in terms of bangs per buck it really delivers
And the winner is… the very blue and very lovely Storck Visioner C 105. If you're lucky enough to have around two grand burning a hole in your pocket (in fact, you can find it for a lot less than that in the sales) and hanker for an unadulterated race machine, the Visioner C is pretty much the definition at this price.
This bike isn't just stiff, it's composed too and delivers your power in a very smooth manner. You feel everything through the bottom bracket and it's just power, power, power without a hint of flex. You get these same benefits when climbing too, especially out of the saddle, and the Visioner C doesn't disappoint when it comes to descending either.
The ace up the Visioner C's sleeve, though, is that it is also a very comfortable bike. You could nail a sprint on it, but you could also knock off a long sportive without feeling in any way battered by it. Like the Specialized Tarmac Comp, although it's an out-and-out race bike it's also quite happy to pootle along on a club run or a Sunday jaunt through the lanes.
The base level price for the Visioner C 105 build is £1,799. Ours came with a couple of upgrades, including a fancy seatpost that bumped the price up to £2,209. Our tester Stu Kerton reckoned you'd be better off sticking with the base model and upgrading the DT Swiss R23 wheels to take the performance up to another level again. The Visioner C is available in a choice of other builds too.
Why it wins: It’s a perfect race/club run/sportive machine capable of blistering performance but with a cosseting ride too; it's an absolute blast
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.