If you want to buy a new bike it’s easiest to buy a complete bike that is ready to ride, but if you have a desire for something a bit special, or want to embark on building your own bike using hand-selected parts, then buying a frameset is a good choice.
It should be pointed at that many production bikes are available as framesets, but the five framesets in this article are not available as complete bikes, so it’s necessary to buy the frameset and spec the parts you want to hang off it.
Fear not if you’re daunted by the prospect of building your own bike from a pile of bits, most good bike shops will happily assist in the build of your new bike, expertly piecing together all the components as good as any bike that has come out of a factory.
Last year we reviewed just three framesets, this year we’ve got five contenders for the coveted award. Most of these framesets are on the pricey side of expensive, but there’s a surprise in store for the winning frameset… Read on to find out.
5. Alchemy Eros £3,200
Without question, the Alchemy Eros is a sublime road bike. It handles with grace and finesse and compares very well to not only the best titanium road bikes but to many of the best carbon fibre frames too.
What the Eros does extremely well is make the case that titanium still has a valuable place in the bicycle world. What gets some cyclists all misty-eyed when talking about titanium is the magical ride quality it offers, which essentially comes down to the fact that titanium is lighter and stronger than steel and aluminium but offers better vibration damping than both materials, making it possible to build a very comfortable frame.
That's not to say all titanium frames ride the same way because the performance still owes a lot to how the frame is constructed, and the shape, diameter and wall thickness of the titanium tubes all influence the ride. Alchemy has used large diameter tubes in the Eros, with a beefy down tube, chunky chainstays, oversized press fit bottom bracket and tapered head tube and the result looks thoroughly modern.
What that all means is there is no shortage of stiffness. Put some power down through the pedals, heave on the handlebars and it's responsive, relaying your commands into direction changes with no noticeable lag. Despite the light build it also felt settled at high speeds and in demanding situations, providing all the confidence you need to commit to a challenging road full of bends, curves and dips. Make no mistake, it's a thrilling ride.
Alchemy specs the excellent full carbon fibre Enve 2.0 fork. It's a popular fork on many high-end and bespoke builds and it's easy to see why. Not only is it light (350g) but it is stiff and the ride is very nice, though it's perhaps a touch on the firm side.
Among the factors that make titanium appealing, aside from its performance, are the longevity that comes from its corrosion-resistance and the unique colour. Painting titanium, as Alchemy has done here, definitely divides opinion. Personally, I'm a fan because it means it doesn't look like just another titanium road bike.
If your numbers come up this week in the lottery and you want one of most beautiful handling road bikes, make sure to give the Eros a closer look. It puts in a stellar performance and excels at everything, fast on the flat and climbs, comfortable on longer rides and a joy on the descents
Why it's here: Sublime ride quality that great handling and looks
4. Colnago Concept £3,499.95
Colnago has joined the aerodynamic arms race with the brand new Concept, a full-blooded aero race bike that is a serious step forward from the Italian company's first aero road bike, the V1-r, from a couple of years ago. It's as state-of-the-art as it gets, has been extensively tested in the wind tunnel and proven to be faster than both the current C60 and V1-r.
Without a doubt, the Concept has all the capability to dice with the fastest in a race situation. The Concept's stiff frame, Vision deep-section wheels and 7.2kg weight give the Colnago an insatiable appetite for speed. It's quick in all circumstances: climbs, descents, flat and undulating roads – everywhere, the bike really shines. It's an exciting bike to ride fast, and like all good aero road bikes encourages you to ride flat-out.
That firm ride, and frame and fork stiffness ensure the Concept accurately follows your inputs, whether through the handlebar or pedals. It reacts very positively to your body language, whether you're blasting up an uphill sprint finish or bombing through a curving descent.
But all-out speed isn't all the Concept is about, and it's not just a bike for racing. The Concept provides adequate composure and comfort, allowing you to tackle long distance rides at a few notches below race pace and not be dealt a hammer-blow to the lower back the moment the tyres encounter anything but a billiard-smooth surface. The front end of aero race bikes can often be overwhelmingly harsh, but the special headset and fork steerer tube that Colnago has developed means it's smoother up front than would normally be expected on an aero road bike.
Comparisons with the C60 might be a bit unfair, but I'm going to make them anyway. The C60 offers one of the finest and most sweetly balanced rides of any bike I've yet tested. It's one of my faves. The Concept is a different beast. It's clearly better at slicing through the air and records faster times on flatter roads, but it lacks some of the liveliness and sweetness of the C60. It's more efficient and effective but for me lacks some of the sparkle that makes the C60 such a joy to ride.
In a dose of real-world usability, the Concept also provides clearance for up to 28mm wide tyres. Interestingly, Colnago says it tested 25 and 28mm rear tyres in the wind tunnel and found little drag difference, citing the seat tube as effectively shielding the rear wheel from the airflow
The new Concept is, without a doubt, a stunning bike with awesome speed and the excellent handling that is synonymous with the legendary Italian brand. Based on my own experience and testing, the performance is comparable to many other aero road bikes on the market right now, though it trades some outright aero performance (integrated brakes and cables concealed in the handlebar) for real-world usability, which to my mind, unless you're a professional racing cyclist, is a smart move.
Why it's here: Because it offers fast performance and fine handling
3. Open UP £2,300
Open's distinctive, bright orange UP (which stands for Unbeaten Path) combines a light and stiff carbon fibre frame and fork designed explicitly to perform on dirt and gravel with huge tyre clearance, so you can fit just about any tyre you want including mountain bike options. It's packed with nicely executed design details, but it does command a high price.
The Open is a bike you can ride pretty much anywhere. The same can be said of a growing number of gravel and adventure bikes, of course, but where the Open scores highly is in that huge tyre clearance. Everything from 28mm slicks for road riding to 38-40mm gravel-specific tyres, 47mm-wide 650Bs and even 2.1in mountain bike knobbly tyres fit inside the cavernous clearance front and rear.
Make your tyre choice and take the Open off-road onto gravel roads or narrow bridleways and the bike instantly feels at home. The geometry gives the bike a measured stance, with the slowish steering ensuring it never feels nervous or twitchy when the tyres are scrabbling for grip or you're screaming down a loose and fast descent. While the stability makes it an easy bike to travel fast across rough terrain, there's a lively edge to the Open's handling when you ask for it, and it nips and tucks through corners and carves beautiful turns with solid ease.
Where the geometry really shines is in just how far you can push the Open in tricky and technical terrain. Its limits far exceed that of a cyclo-cross bike, especially if you go to as wide a tyre as you can fit in the frame, and there's no need to tip-toe over roots or rocks, you can charge full bore through and over them. I was able to ride many of my easier mountain bike trails on the Open, not something I've ever tackled before on a road bike.
It's not only in off-road situations that the Open shines. Swap the knobbles for slick tyres – I went for a 28mm – and its road riding manners prove to be more than adequate for long rides. It's not a full-fledged road bike, but the carbon frame and fork, along with the oversized bottom bracket and large profile chainstays and down tube, give the Open a high level of stiffness.
Transitioning from the road to off-road, with a focus on exploring the 'unbeaten path' – to use the bike's full name – is what it does so well. With the right tyre you can ride anywhere and over everything and not feel overly compromised at any point. You're not constrained by the terrain and this results in huge smiles – it's the most fun bike I've reviewed in ages.
If you look at the Open UP as two bikes in one with just a change of tyres or wheels, the premium price tag is a little easier to justify. Putting the price to one side, the UP is a beautifully made and finished product, packed with smart design features and offering a level of performance for off-road and mixed terrain riding that ensures it's one of the best options in the gravel/adventure category.
Why it's here: Superb multi-terrain adventure and exploration bike
2. 3T Strada £3,600
Arguably the most distinctive and divisive road bike of the year, and it very nearly clinched the top spot, only the high price holding it back from taking top honours. It'll just have to make do with winning the Superbike award instead...
The new 3T Strada has blown me away. It's a truly stunning bike with breathtaking speed, impressive smoothness and fine handling balance. If this is the future, as some people have speculated, I'm sold. Take my money 3T. As for the issues about clearance and gearing – the two key talking points since the bike launched – well, they simply fade away once you ride the bike. I was left with the overwhelming impression that this is one of the most exciting road bikes available right now.
Could I find a flaw? Nope. There was no 'nice bike, but...' moment during my four weeks riding the bike. 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 not some crazy niche bike that works well some of the time but is flawed in other situations. This thing works everywhere. It replaced my regular race bike and fulfilled my daily training needs perfectly. 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 new 3T Strada might have the most radical appearance of any road bike on the market right now, but there's nothing outlandishly crazy about its performance. The issues about clearance and 1x11 gearing fade away as soon as you start riding this bike. The speed and the way it picks it up is the most notable aspect of the Strada.
As well as the spectacular speed, there are other benefits to the unique design, namely comfort and smoothness. Obviously wide tyres – and these 28mm Continentals measure 31mm on the Enve SES 5.6 rims – contribute to extra cushioning on rough roads, but the Strada has an uncanny ability to smooth out the worst that I encountered during my testing. After some experimenting, I settled on 65-70psi for my 67kg body weight.
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 was a real benefit testing this bike in autumn 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 and stamp on the pedals and hold on as the Strada surges forward.
The Strada, then, is fast and comfortable. I've not ridden an aero race bike that offers such a high level of comfort. I've not ridden a comfortable endurance bike that is this fast.
Why it's here: Radical looks but the Strada is a fast, comfortable and exciting aero race bike that works brilliantly
1. Bowman Palace:R £695.00
Please be upstanding for your frameset of the year... Bowman Cycles won the Frameset of the Year 2014 award with its stunning Palace aluminium road race frameset, and it's only gone and scooped the award with its updated Palace:R frameset.
Delivering astounding levels of performance and excellent handling, the Bowman Palace:R is an exceptional race machine just perfect for pushing you up the points table in your local race league or smashing that pb on your favourite loop. It's better in pretty much every single way.
The Palace:R also feels just that little bit more settled on the road than the previous Palace, bringing a slightly more planted feel over rough road surfaces and, with that, even more confidence to push things right to the edge.
With a frame weight of 1,145g and a 355g fork, the Bowman is responsive, especially when it's wearing a pair of lightweight carbon fibre wheels. The Boyd deep-section wheels are very fast indeed, and the Palace:R's stiffness levels made full use of them when it came to massive acceleration and sprinting.
The way the Bowman responds to your effort is phenomenal and something you never tire of as you sprint to the next group or just drop the hammer for that village sign sprint. This translates to a decent climbing machine too. Whether you're out of the saddle or seated, the Palace:R stands firm, that new profiled seat tube obviously doing its job at the bottom bracket junction.
Another thing that has been refined is the comfort levels. Don't get me wrong, the Palace:R is still a firm machine and probably won't be your first choice for long jaunts out into the country, but I did a few three and four-hour rides on it and never once found it uncomfortable. The new triple-butted tubeset could possibly be just absorbing that little bit of extra road buzz. You'll be rattling through those miles at speed, too, so if you are going out for a set time you'll be covering a bit more distance than normal.
The Palace used the same grade of alloy, but for the Palace:R the 6069 triple-butted tubes have been tweaked to create profiles with thinner tube walls but maintaining the same levels of stiffness. That means obviously weight loss, as all of these small changes have seen the frame lose around 150g. Stripped down, this 54cm test model weighed a very impressive 1,145g. Well up there with the best in the business. A key feature of the new frame is the FlareSquare seat tube. It's wide and squared in profile at the bottom bracket, the idea being to resist the twisting forces during hard accelerations
If you want an alloy bike to race or just... No, scrap that. If you want a bike to race or just get out there and blast around on, then the Bowman Palace:R needs to be right up there at the top of your wishlist.
It's sensibly priced and you are going to struggle to find anything near it that offers such a punchy, thrilling and grin-inducing ride.
Why it's here: One of the best racers out there just got better and more refined – and it's a bargain too
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.