We’ve reviewed lots of the world’s best superbikes here on road.cc over the past year – cutting-edge bikes with hefty price tags – and now it’s time to count down the very best of them.
How do we decide on our list? All bikes must fulfil these criteria:
1. It must have been tested on road.cc over the past year. If we’ve not published a review of a bike between 1 January 2017 and December 31 January 2017 it isn’t eligible for consideration. Simple.
2. It has to have a price tag of over £3,500. That’s an arbitrary figure. We could have made the cut off £3,000, £4,000, or anything else, but we chose £3,500, as we did last year.
All £3,500+ bikes that we've reviewed this year are up for consideration.
That’s only the start of the story, though. Every bike on our list has put in a seriously impressive performance well beyond the norm. We’re also looking for engineering innovation and smart design features that lead directly to improved performance. Tech for tech’s sake doesn’t count for anything here, we’re all about the ride.
All of the bikes in our top 10 have a little something extra too. Loads of bikes are competent, many do their jobs very well, but the bikes below all go beyond that. Each of them is stunning out on the road.
What about value? That’s one thing we don’t take into account in the road.cc Superbike of the Year. The 10 bikes here total £58, 219 (and one of them is just a frameset rather than a complete bike), so we're talking about a lot of money, but we push the price to one side because this is our money-no-object category. If one bike here costs £3,600 and another costs £9,000, so be it, they’re treated the same. Our gaff, our rules! If you’re interested in looking at value, click on the link to the full review at the end of each entry on our list.
To sum up, this is a rundown of the high-end bikes that have impressed us most during testing over the past year, with value taken out of the equation. Let’s get cracking.
10. Enigma Evoke Disc £4,200
Enigma's Evoke, made from 3Al/2.5V double butted titanium, is a classy endurance bike that will suit anyone wanting to ride in luxurious comfort on long rides with all the benefits that disc brakes offer. There's space for up to 32mm tyres and nice practical considerations like an external bottom bracket.
For 2018 the Evoke has been updated with 12mm thru-axles and flat mount disc brakes, requiring a new carbon fork and an all-new chainstay and dropout design.
The Evoke is billed as a 'fast endurance' bike by the titanium specialists, and that accurately sums up how it behaves. There is the reassuring stability and relaxed handling that you expect from an endurance bike that makes it a delight when riding at a sociable pace, steady enough to hold a conversation and put the world to rights.
The geometry is what you would expect for an endurance bike, giving you a ride position that’s less aggressive than that of a race bike.
There's no shortage of comfort for those steady rides, the Evoke Disc shrugging off all but the coarsest road surfaces. The ability to fit up to 32mm tyres is a bonus for anyone that wants a large volume of air between themselves and the rough road. So smooth is the Evoke, in fact, you might find yourself wondering why anybody bothers with carbon fibre.
Turn the wick up and the Evoke frameset has the stiffness to respond, but this is probably where you might wish you were on a carbon bike if riding hard and fast is high on your agenda. However, the Evoke is no slouch. The large profile down tube and 44mm head tube endow the bike with a responsive character. It's direct of steering with a lovely neutral stance when banking it into a turn, and there's no sense the frame isn't doing anything but transferring your input into forward motion. Flex, what there is of it, is difficult to detect unless you really, really, really look for it. While the Evoke is sublime and fast on flat and rolling terrain, the 9kg weight does make its presence felt on the steeper gradients.
The Enigma Evoke is full of character, a wonderful blend of smoothness and crisp handling that rewards the rider that likes to mix it up with long rides and short punchy blasts. It's not cheap, but few titanium frames are, and you are getting a UK designed and finished frame packed full of attention and with great service. It’s also one of the nicest looking bikes we've had through the office this year.
Why it’s here This is a titanium masterpiece; a racing bike for the non-racer
9. Ridley Helium SLX £4,900
The Helium is Belgian company Ridley's flagship race model, a bike that's been ridden to victory in many professional races, in the mountains, in sprint finishes and on pavé. The updated SLX is lighter than the SL it replaces, and puts in a great ride with enhanced performance, pinpoint handling and impressive comfort.
While the reduced weight is obviously a good thing (a claimed 750g frame weight, compared with 790g for a medium SL), it hasn't been achieved at the expense of handling and performance, which is a marginal improvement of the already very good Helium SL.
It's a very accomplished race and high-performance bike. Ridley has got the handling and steering dialled to perfection with the Helium, and the new SLX draws on the same geometry as the previous model so there's no great surprise in the way this new bike rides.
It's clearly a fast bike, that's something you notice immediately and was a theme that continued through the test. Of course, it's going to be fast on the hills, as any bike weighing just 7kg is going to be, and even the cheap Fulcrum wheels don't hold it back all that much. Go from a 9-10kg bike to one weighing 7kg and you really do notice the lighter weight on climbs, whether long and fast, steep and slow, or anything in between.
Comfort is an area where the bike impressed too. Reviewer Dave rode the Helium SLX on a fast, rolling 215km audax with some cheeky climbs, and – apart from some saddle discomfort – the bike was smooth, controlled and composed over all manner of road surfaces. The geometry helped with its all-day comfort, as it's far from the most aggressive race bike.
The handling is precise, the steering well weighted, with just the right level of feedback through the contact points to inform you of the surface under the tyres. This makes it easy to judge traction in a range of conditions. It flatters you through the corners, being very stable and predictable, and is a good bike for descending fast, with the wheels and their aluminium braking surfaces providing plenty of purchase for the Dura-Ace callipers.
Why it’s here This is a light, fast and great handling race bike
8. Van Nicholas Skeiron £6,142
If you want a high performance, disc brake-equipped road bike with a frame that'll probably last a lifetime then the Skeiron really needs to be on your wish list.
A bike built around a good titanium alloy frame (3Al/2.5V) is almost always an absolute joy to ride and that is completely true of this new Van Nicholas, even if it is one of the stiffest options out there. In their search for all-out performance the designers may have sacrificed a bit of that velvety smooth feeling you expect from titanium, but what you are left with is a bike that absolutely devours the miles beneath you in relative comfort.
The balance of speed, handling and comfort is a masterstroke as you never feel like you are compromising one to achieve the other. The amazing thing about the Van Nicholas is that you never really feel like you are in that much of a hurry on it.
There is nothing overly aero about the way the Van Nicholas is styled – other than the neat integration of the fork and head tube – so apart from awesome power transfer, the bulk of Skeiron's speed comes from the fact that you are so damn comfortable thanks to the geometry and how Van Nicholas has used the material.
The geometry of the frame sits somewhere in the middle of what you'd expect to see for a race bike and an endurance based machine, providing you with a effective and efficient setup. The Skeiron never feels twitchy, but there's enough quickness in the steering to be able to give the bar a flick to change your line should you need to.
Performance is what the Skeiron is all about, and it definitely delivers. A large press-fit bottom bracket shell and oversized down tube keep the bottom half of the frame in check, and while this is no sprinter's machine, acceleration is very impressive indeed. There’s barely any flex at all when really going for it. This benefits climbing too, as even on the toughest slopes the Van Nicholas had no trouble with flex.
Why it’s here This is a titanium masterpiece; a racing bike for the non-racer
7. Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 8.0 Di2 £4,399
Canyon's Ultimate CF SLX race bike has long been a popular bike with road.cc testers and readers, and it's now available with disc brakes. The new version offers the same brilliant performance and handling but benefits from improved braking in all weathers, not only the rain but also in the dry.
On the downside, it's heavier and more expensive than a rim-braked Ultimate with a comparable specification, but if you want a race bike with disc brakes, this is one of the best choices on the market right now. The good thing is Canyon offers a full range of Ultimates so you can choose the braking system you prefer.
In its rim-braked guise, the Ultimate CF SLX is one of the very best performance road bikes you can buy, providing that wonderful blend of weight, stiffness, comfort and speed that you want in a race or high-performance bike. And if you were to ride this disc-equipped version blindfolded (we’re not advising you do that!) you would be hard-pushed to detect any significant difference… Until you pull the Shimano brake levers, that is. Then the difference in braking performance becomes all too apparent. The hydraulic disc brakes, with 160mm rotors front and rear, are simply superior in every situation to even perfectly set up rim brakes in perfect conditions.
Though it's an out-and-out race bike, it's not harsh and punishing even when riding along rough roads. While not in the same league as Canyon's Endurace CF SLX, the ability of the Ultimate to provide a composed and settled ride and avoid getting choppy or skittish is impressive. Despite the slightly beefed up carbon frame, it's without doubt a race bike you can ride in comfort all day long. If you wanted to extract even more comfort, the frame and fork, thanks to the disc brakes, will take up to 30mm tyres.
Why it’s here Although it could be lighter, this is a fast and comfortable race bike with predictable braking rain or shine.
6. Basso Diamante SV Team Issue £8,879
The SV is Italian brand Basso's super-duper, high speed version of its well respected Diamante pro-level race bike, with more focus directed towards aerodynamics. If you're after a fast, lightweight, handmade carbon race machine with a bit of exclusivity, then it needs to be on your list.
Like a lot of bikes of this style, the Basso needs to be ridden hard and fast. This is when it comes alive. You can cruise along on it, yeah, but you won't be unleashing the magic that's stored inside that frame.
The aerodynamic tweaks to this frame aren't as extreme as those we've seen on others in the marketplace, and how much difference they make in the real world is debatable, but that doesn't stop the SV being quick – very quick – with that thrill of travelling so fast on a bike that weighs virtually nothing giving you the feeling of floating. You can cover a lot of ground very quickly and you’ll get plenty of use out of that 53-tooth chainring and the smaller end of the cassette.
Even with the 20mm integrated frame spacer in place and another 15mm on top of that, the Basso is still very long and low, which gets you in the mood for concentrating on your position, keeping things tucked, whether you are on the hoods or down in the drops.
The handling is lively and quick, like you'd expect from a bike of this style, but never overly twitchy, and it's pretty easy to settle things down a bit if you do go outside of your comfort zone, as long as you aren't too heavy handed. The smoother you are, the smoother the bike will respond to your touch.
This shows up when descending, if you choose the perfect line through a twisty couple of bends, as the SV will just swoop round thanks to a very tight front end and the short wheelbase. No fuss, no bother.
If you've got to adjust things for some gravel or a pothole or something, then little tweaks, a dab of the front brake or a shift of your body weight, is all it takes; they need to be tiny changes. If you panic or tense up a bit, the Basso will take a little tussle to keep things on track. You soon learn, though, and as your confidence grows, the more and more you get back from the SV.
Why it’s here This is a beautiful looking machine that offers top-end performance and handling
5. Merida Scultura 7000 £3,600
The Merida Scultura 7000-E is a lightweight and reactive race bike that combines high frame rigidity with plenty of comfort. Merida also boasts that it offers good aerodynamic efficiency.
We’ve said it before and we’ll probably say it again: as a road bike brand, Merida is underrated here in the UK. The Meridas that we review on road.cc almost invariably impress us highly, and the Scultura is among the best of 'em.
The first thing to say is that the Scultura accelerates and climbs well. Our size 56cm review bike, built up with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset and DT Swiss R23 Spline alloy wheels, came in at 7.3kg (16.1lb). During seated climbing the Scultura heads uphill with the minimum of fuss and you feel like this bike is giving you a helping hand up the slopes rather than weighing you down.
When you get out of the saddle to deliver a bit more oomph through the pedals, there's little sideways movement at the bottom bracket. The Shimano Ultegra chainset has a 24mm axle rather than the 30mm axle of some other options, but the chunky down tube holds everything firmly in place through the centre of the frame.
It's a similar story at the front end. Merida has taken the lower headset bearing down from 1 1/2in to 1 1/4in on the latest incarnation of the Scultura in order to reduce the head tube's frontal area slightly, but it still feels solid to me when up on the pedals and throwing the bars around with abandon.
The Merida Scultura’s handling is direct and quick but never twitchy. It's a fast-reacting, well-balanced bike that inspires confidence whether you're negotiating your way through a bunch of riders or pinning it through a tight turn, and it's an absolute joy if you're ever lucky enough to find yourself on a long, swoopy descent.
Merida says that the lack of a brake bridge between the seatstays – the rear brake being positioned on the underside of the chainstays – allows it to extend the potential flex zone upwards and that the inclusion of its Bio Fiber Damping Compound helps back there too. This is a layer of organic flax fibre that's designed to filter out high-frequency vibration. We couldn't tell you how much influence either of these two elements has, but we can tell you that the Scultura won't rattle you to pieces over poor surfaces.
The Merida Scultura 7000 is lightweight but not at the expense of frame rigidity, it responds well when you up the wattage, and the ride quality is high. You'd probably want to whack on some higher end wheels for racing but, as it stands, this is an excellent performance-orientated road bike.
Why it’s here This is a lightweight and efficient road bike that offers fast responses and an excellent ride quality
4. Canyon Aeroad CF SLX Disc 8.0 Di2 £4,499
Canyon's Aeroad CF SLX has been one of the benchmark aero road bikes since it launched in 2014 and it's now available with disc brakes. The good news is that the Aeroad CF SLX Disc is every bit as good as the regular rim brake Aeroad – fast, comfortable and with predictable handling – but enhanced by the improved braking performance of the hydraulic discs. Yes, there's a weight penalty, but you'll be really hard-pressed to detect that when you're screaming along the road at full chat.
With its Trident 2.0 tube profiles (essentially a cut-off aerofoil, Kamm tail shape) and skinny head tube and fork blades, the Aeroad is a fast bike. It requires less effort to ride fast than regular road bikes. The drag is reduced further by fully internal hose and wire routing, even including around the handlebar with Canyon's own one-piece setup providing a very clean and uncluttered front-end.
Perhaps one of the biggest compliments that can be paid to the Aeroad CF SLX is that it rides and copes with any situation. The geometry produces a bike that handles very predictably with quite a neutral manner – it's certainly an easy bike to ride despite its aggressive race credentials.
It's well poised and balanced and you can easily exploit the frame stiffness in sprints and out-of-the-saddle climbing. Corners and descents are where aero road bikes shine, and the stiffness of the frame backed up by the thru-axles, deep-section wheels and grippy tyres provides properly quick descending potential. The hydraulic disc brakes are a revelation on demanding and challenging descents, providing a fine level of control and all the stopping power you need should a car suddenly pull out in front of you.
One of the aces up the standard Aeroad's sleeve is the impressive comfort it offers. It's not a comfort-orientated bike but it puts some other aero road bikes to shame. Despite the slightly beefed-up frame, the new Aeroad retains that compliant feel over rougher roads, but it's possible to detect slightly more feedback through the handlebar than previously – though it is well within tolerable limits.
You can savour all the speed, aggression, performance and handling the Aeroad offers safe in the knowledge that your brakes are going to provide predictable performance 100 per cent of the time. On a bike built for speed, having better brakes means you can deal with situations that arise as a result of those high speeds. The difference in braking performance between the direct mount brakes on the regular Aeroad and the disc version here is huge.
In the Aeroad CF SLX Disc, you can enjoy the performance, handling and aero advantage of the standard design without any compromise in braking performance.
Why it’s here All the speed and handling of the regular Aeroad but with superior braking.
3. Merida Reacto Disc Team-E £9,500
The new Merida Reacto Disc Team-E is a fast and responsive aero bike that offers plenty of comfort alongside the all-weather capability of hydraulic disc brakes. This bike is an absolute peach.
The Reacto has NACA Fastback profiles on all tubes apart from the top tube and the seatstays, and Merida has slimmed down the tube shapes, lowered the junction between the seatstays and the seat tube, and now runs those seatstays closer to the rear wheel with a larger outward bend in the lower section.
Merida has also introduced a one piece cockpit in the shape of a Vision Metron 5D integrated handlebar/stem. The head tube and top tube have been sculpted to work specifically with that cockpit and its dedicated headset spacers.
Merida says the new Reacto is more aerodynamically efficient than the previous version by about eight watts at 45km/h (28mph). That equates to around 5%. Merida also says that the difference in aero efficiency between the rim brake and the disc brake versions of the Reacto is less than one watt at 45km/h (28mph).
The new Reacto certainly feels as stiff as the old one, and while it doesn’t boast the same level of frame rigidity as Merida’s Scultura, it doesn’t lag too far behind. There’s a little less rigidity at the bottom bracket during a full-on sprint or when you get out of the saddle and power up a short climb, but it’s hardly noticeable, and the fork feels solid and accurate when you rail hard into a fast bend.
The overall feeling is one of solidity. The Reacto is quick off the mark and responds beautifully to surges in effort when you’re trying to get a gap, close one down or just trying to stick on the wheel of someone who’s digging deep.
The Merida Reacto Disc Team-E is an excellent pro-level race bike. It’s designed for aero efficiency, it’s fast to react, it’s comfortable and it has a superb spec. Okay, not many people are going to fork out £9,500 but the more accessible models in the range look very attractive indeed.
Why it’s here Aero, reactive and comfortable, this is a superb bike for those with a need for speed.
2. Specialized Tarmac S-Works £8,500
What. A. Bike. The redesigned S-Works Tarmac – lighter, more aero and comfortable – provides an exceptional performance. It's a big step forward from the previous bike, and the changes push it firmly into superbike territory. It does everything extremely well; its performance is flawless.
The 2018 version is the sixth generation Tarmac and the changes are substantial; less a refinement and more a clean sheet redesign, with a focus on reducing weight, improving comfort, frame stiffness and, for the first time since the original Tarmac, added aerodynamics. It's initially available with rim brakes with the disc brake Tarmac coming next year, and is priced from £3,500 to £9,000. The model we tested was the £8,500 S-Works Tarmac SL6.
The new Tarmac is much lighter than previously, the model we tested being built up with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 and Roval CLX 50 carbon wheels and weighing in at 6.35kg (13.99lb). Lighter would certainly be possible: an Ultralight frame sheds more weight with a 10g paint finish and shallower wheels, for £9,000.
This bike puts in a scintillating performance on rolling terrain and in the hills. There's no lag or delay in the way it responds to your power, it zips up to speed very quickly, and on undulating roads it maintains momentum in the way you expect of an out-and-out aero bike. Somehow, despite that low weight, it never feels anything but planted and stable, no skittishness spoiling the sublime ride.
It's sharp and agile in the way it responds to your inputs through the handlebar too, with well-weighted steering that is neither too fast nor too slow and delivers big confidence for attacking corners and descents. The bike changes direction with startling accuracy. There's no shortage of stiffness, with a very reassuring feeling of stoutness from the front of the bike that ensures there's no vagueness when you're really pushing on at pace, and when you're doing your best Peter Sagan sprinting, the bottom bracket stiffness is more than adequate, despite the new slimmer BB design.
The previous Tarmac was never short of comfot, but the new bike provides a noticeable improvement in this department. The new seatpost with its top section engineered to provide flex – it visibly flexes when you press down on it too – really delivers fantastic seated comfort.
The way the front end handles coarse road surfaces is also impressive. With 26mm wide Turbo Cotton tyres inflated to about 90psi the Tarmac is hugely compliant. Granted, it's no endurance bike – it doesn't compare to the Roubaix for example – but it's more composed than other overly stiff carbon race bikes. There's even space for up to 30mm tyres if you want even more comfort for daily riding.
It's the Tarmac’s overall balance that really impresses. Specialized has managed to wrap up the weight drop, aero savings, comfort improvements and handling refinements into a package that gels really well. Until now road bikes have been specialists: the choice between a lightweight climbing bike or an aero road bike. The new Tarmac shakes up that convention, and offers the best of both worlds.
The Tarmac has long been a popular race and performance road bike, and the latest SL6 is the best revision in its long history.
Why it’s here The all-new Tarmac puts in a flawless performance.
1. 3T Strada £3,600 (frameset)
It’s not often that a bike comes along that can legitimately be described as radical, but 3T’s Strada is exactly that. It's a stunning bike with breathtaking speed, impressive smoothness and fine handling balance. Our man Dave got the overwhelming impression that this is one of the most exciting road bikes available right now.
In short, what you get here is an aero road bike with disc brakes, a 1x drivetrain (with a single chainring) and enough clearance for 30mm tyres.
“There was no 'nice bike, but...' moment during my four weeks riding the bike,” said Dave. “There was never an occasion when I wished to be on a more conventional road bike with a standard groupset. The Strada performed admirably in every situation I put it in, from 20-per-cent-plus lung-busting climbs to fast-paced group rides. It's comfortable on long, steady rides and fast enough when you're feeling like laying down some watts and showing a clean pair of heels to your riding pals.”
The Strada has been designed to slice through the air and it's a seriously fast bike. As well as the spectacular speed, there are other benefits to the design, namely comfort and smoothness. Wide tyres contribute to extra cushioning on rough roads, and the Strada has an uncanny ability to smooth over the worst surfaces. It damps nasty vibrations, providing the sort of comfort normally reserved for an endurance bike, like a Cannondale Synapse or Giant Defy, say, only so much faster.
Disc brakes and wide tyres are a well-proven combination and work to great effect on the Strada. Here's a race bike that descends brilliantly and copes when the weather turns bad. The wide tyres provide a high level of traction, which is a real benefit on sodden roads.
The handling is well balanced but leans towards high-speed stability rather than low-speed agility. The steering is well weighted, ensuring absolutely rock solid stability at the higher speeds the Strada makes easily achievable. What it's not is super-agile around lower speed corners in the way a Tarmac or Emonda is. The Strada isn't really a bike you flick about the road, more point it at the horizon, stamp on the pedals and hold on as the Strada surges forward.
There's only a single derailleur so changing gear is super-simple. There's no need to worry about what chainring you want to be in, or those occasionally awkward double shifts at the bottom of a steep climb (which always raises the risk of dropping a chain). Just press the gear shifter for an easier or harder gear as you need.
“I have never ridden a bike that combines such astounding speed wrapped up with superlative comfort,” said Dave. “Even though it's rolling on tyres that measure 31mm wide, it's as fast, if not faster, than many of the best race bikes I've tested. And it's more comfortable on my rough local roads than any other aero road bike; heck, it's as comfortable as some endurance bikes.”
Why it’s here The Strada is a fast, comfortable and exciting aero race bike that works brilliantly
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.