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feature Frameset of the Year 2016-17

Check out the best frames we've reviewed over the past 12 months and discover our absolute favourite

Most people opt to buy a new bike as a complete package, but you might prefer to buy a frameset and build it up yourself (or have a bike shop do it for you), in which case we have a handful of stunning options here.

It might be more hassle but the advantage of buying a frameset is that you can choose the exact components you want, whether new or swapped over from an existing bike.

We don’t test that many framesets here on simply because we like to reflect the market that's dominated by complete bikes. Those we do review tend to be expensive, designed for people who really know what they want and who are prepared to pay for it.

We’re just giving you our top three framesets from those that we’ve reviewed over the past year. They’re all priced at over £3,000. Yeah, sorry about that, but what these models lack in affordability they more than make up for in quality and performance.



3. Parlee Chebacco £3,499

Parlee Chebacco  - 2.jpg

With its stiff and light high-modulus 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. 

Parlee has built a reputation for designing and building high-performance carbon fibre bikes, but it has stepped out of its comfort zone and into the adventure category with a bike designed for both the road and the rough. It can cover everything from fast endurance riding to commuting, cyclo-cross sportives, gravel riding and any sort of long-distance adventure you might be tempted to tackle.

What really shines through from riding the Chebacco is the performance. 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.

Yes, it’s expensive, but if your pockets are deep enough, the Parlee Chebacco absolutely delivers on its guiding design principles, being equally at home on the road or well away from it on gravel paths and beaten tracks. This is a thoroughly well designed and highly capable bike limited only by your imagination and lust for adventure.

Read the review here.

Why it’s here An exceptional bike with exciting handling whether on the road or off the beaten track


2. Cipollini NK1K £4,200

Cipollini NK1k - riding 1.jpg

Concentrating on aerodynamics and power transfer, the NK1K, created using Toray T100-M46J carbon fibre, 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.

On the flat, the NK1K is easy to maintain a high pace on. The geometry puts you in a long and low position ideal for keeping out of the wind.

With such large tube profiles and the massive bottom bracket junction, frame stiffness is extremely high. This means that under acceleration or when sprinting or climbing, you don't feel any wastage of power at all.

All of this stiffness does come at a slight compromise, especially in terms of comfort. If you want a plush-riding, day-long machine then the NK1K probably isn't what you are looking for.

Up front the NK1K has a tapered head tube and fork steerer, increasing in diameter at the fork crown, which gives a larger cross sectional area and therefore stiffness. This gives pinpoint accuracy to the steering.

The NK1K is a pure performance machine that also happens to be stunning to look at, with a real focus on the details. If you want a frameset for racing on and your pockets are deep enough, the Cipollini puts in a top-level performance .

Read the review here.

Why it’s here Stunning performance and looks help justify the high price and minimal comfort of this peloton-ready Italian superbike


1. 3T Exploro LTD £3,360

3T Exploro LTD - riding 1.jpg

Yes, yes, yes, the 3T Exploro LTD frameset is niche and very expensive, but this fast and agile gravel design brings new technology to the table and puts in an excellent performance.

3T boasts that the Exploro is the world's first aero gravel bike and it’s an absolute blast to ride. 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. 

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.

When things get technical, the steering is lively enough for loads of manoeuvrability. The Exploro is quick to respond when you need to change your line to avoid dips and bumps, and tight corners really aren't a problem. Short chainstays (415mm) keep the wheelbase short for a bike of this kind, so the handling is similar to that of a road bike.

The frame has many aero features including what 3T calls Sqaero tube profiles, which essentially means you get a leading edge designed for aerodynamic efficiency with a square rear section, the idea being that the airflow behaves largely as if the profile had a long, tapering tail.

The result of the aero shaping, according to 3T, is that at 20mph (32km/h) the Exploro saves 7 watts over a round tube frame with the same tube widths, the same frame details and the same components.

The 3T Exploro is never going to have mass market appeal, especially at this price, but this would be a great bike for gravel racing, taking on a gravel/cyclo-cross/multi-surface sportive (there are a few around these days), or just getting away for a fast-paced adventure. 

Read the review here. 

Why it wins Aero gravel bike that's fast and agile, but the price... Ouch!

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been technical editor for over a decade, 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 winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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