It’s been another strong year for the road bike, with technology continuing to advance and incremental gains improving the performance in a number of ways, which means a more enjoyable riding experience for anyone lucky enough to be in the market for a new road bike.
In this awards list, we’ve capped the price at £3,500 which certainly covers lots of choice. One thing to note this year compared to last year is that there are some notable price increases from some brands, a result of the fluctuating market economy we currently live in.
On the plus side, Shimano has brought out two brand new groupsets: Dura-Ace R9100 and Ultegra R8000 which are both starting to trickle through on 2018 bikes, though less Dura-Ace and more Ultegra in this price range. We’re still seeing Shimano being the dominant groupset choice in this price range and on what we would describe as regular road bikes.
One interesting observation is that while road.cc might be often accused of being very positive about disc brakes, there are very few disc-equipped bikes on this list. That’s partly because the brakes are just one aspect of what we evaluate when we test a bike, we certainly don’t have anything against rim brakes, quite the opposite in fact. It could also be that disc brakes are still on an upward trajectory and mainly the preserve of endurance and sportive bikes. So there’s some way to go before disc brakes completely replace rim brakes that is for sure.
Last year the Boardman Road Pro Carbon SLR (£1,799) walked off with the award, which bike will it be this year? Read on to find out…
10. Ribble R872 Ultegra Di2 £2,089
Ribble's R872 is a really solid package for anyone wanting to ride quickly without handing over life-changing sums of money. This Shimano Ultegra Di2 build just sneaks over the £2,000 mark and for that you're getting a very responsive frame and fork, excellent groupset, decent finishing kit and some okay wheels. The R872 handles really well and it's easy to get on with, save for a slightly harsh front end. For the money, it's easy to recommend.
The R872 feels very solid from the get-go, and the massive press-fit bottom bracket shell and beefy chainstays transmit all your leg power to wheel rotation without any mucking about. Even properly stamping on the pedals doesn't elicit any flex. It's the same story at the front, with the fork tracking extremely well. The steering feels precise and predictable, it's not a nervy bike at all.
One of the downsides of all that stiffness is that it very efficiently transmits road shock through the bike. It's most noticeable at the front: the bike doesn't glide over rougher surfaces and you get a thorough commentary on what's going on at the contact patch through your hands. Our test bike had a standard Deda Zero 2 alloy cockpit and cork bar tape; the R872 is fully customisable through the advanced bike builder on the Ribble website and you can spec a more expensive bar and better bar tape when you order it. I'd certainly recommend fitting the nicest bar tape that Ribble offers (Fizik Performance Soft Touch would be my pick); whether spending more on a posher carbon bar is worth the extra £120+ is a bit more of a marginal decision.
The spec for the money is about as good as you'll find, and the Ribble Advanced Bike Builder gives you a huge range of options if you want to customise your bike. If you're looking for a bike to ride fast, and value for money is high on your list, then this Ribble should be high on your list too.
Why it's here: Sporty and well-specced fast bike that's just the ticket for budget-conscious racers
9. Merida Scultura 6000 Disc £2,700
The Merida Scultura Disc 6000 is a reactive road bike with plenty of frame stiffness to turn your effort into speed, and it offers way more comfort than you might expect.
The Reacto is the full-on aero road bike in Merida's range but the Scultura boasts aerodynamic features of its own. The down tube, seat tube and seatstays have cross sections that are based on the NACA0028 aerofoil wing profile with a fastback trailing edge. Rather than trailing off, the back of the aerofoil profile has been chopped off square, which is a design feature employed by many other bike brands. The idea is to retain most of the aerodynamic performance while saving weight and improving handling.
The Scultura feels planted when you head downhill, without any of that skittish behaviour that you sometimes get. Bikes occasionally get knocked off line by small lumps and bumps and leave you fighting for control, but things are remarkably serene here, even when your bike computer tells you you're going far faster than might be sensible. Whether you're weaving around using just your bodyweight or turning hard into a bend, the bike behaves impeccably. Tracking superbly, it's a lot of fun through the twists and turns and, as mentioned, you always have the hydraulic disc brakes to help you out if you've overcooked it.
Even when you're riding on rough, pockmarked roads – and let's face it, that's likely to be a lot of the time – the Scultura delivers a smooth ride without the buzz often associated with bikes of this kind. If you're used to a typical hard-riding race bike, you'll be surprised at the degree to which the Scultura plasters over the cracks. The big jolts still come through, of course, but they're a little muted, and a lot of the high-frequency vibration doesn't get to you at all.
Those Shimano RS805 hydraulic disc brakes, working on 160mm rotors, put in an excellent performance. The advantage over rim brakes isn't massive in dry conditions but it's significant in the wet when it's far easier to judge exactly how they'll respond to any given pressure at the lever. Rim brakes sometimes don't do a lot for a couple of wheel revolutions. These disc brakes kick in straightaway whatever, so you can leave your braking that little bit later and occasionally do without it entirely.
We reviewed the 2017 model, the 2018 version keeps the same build, save for the latest Ultegra 8000 groupset, but the price has jumped from £2,500 to £2,750. We're seeing price increases across the industry as various economic changes make their mark. It's also a green rather than this lovely blue paint job as well. It is still possible to get the 2017 version of this bike if you shop around. And if you don't want disc brakes, the Scultura is available in a full range of rim braked options, including the Scultura 6000 with Ultegra costing £2,000, but £1,600 if you shop around.
Why it's here: An efficient and reactive road bike that offers an excellent ride quality and the reassurance of hydro disc brakes
8. Dolan l'Etape 105 £999.99
The Dolan L'Etape 105 is a full carbon fibre road bike with a full Shimano 105 groupset that offers excellent road manners and sporty handling. If you really crave a carbon fibre bike but don't want to spend a fortune, this is one of the best affordable carbon bikes you are likely to find anywhere.
Terry Dolan has pedigree. He began his own bike business a couple of decades ago and has established it as a trusted brand with many amateur racers. He's notable for making some of Chris Boardman's early race bikes. These days, Dolan produces a wide range of road bikes and the L'Etape is the most affordable carbon offering.
You won't find many cheaper carbon road bikes as well specced as this. Carbon bike prices have tumbled over the last couple of decades, going from a super-exotic Space Age material to being just about everywhere you look in the cycle industry. The L'Etape isn't really competing against other carbon bikes at £950, it's competing against aluminium bikes because they make up the majority of bikes at this price point.
There's no suggestion that the performance offered by the L'Etape isn't anything but first rate, and no feeling that you're making a big compromise in choosing carbon over the more common aluminium frames at this price. We've always said aluminium offers better value for money than carbon, simply because there's more money tied up in the carbon frame, which is more expensive to produce.
It may not be a cutting-edge carbon fibre frame but there are all the modern details you'd expect much higher up the sliding scale of price. Cables are fully internally routed, producing clean lines, and there was no rattling to detect from the cables inside the frame. Contributing to the sharp and responsive ride is the tapered head tube with a large 1 1/2in lower bearing. The fork isn't full carbon fibre – the steerer tube is aluminium – but the only real negative is the increased weight.
But is the ride any good? Oh yes. It's sprightly and energetic, with a really good turn of pace when you apply the power. Steering is well balanced with enough stability to make descending at speed a joyous experience. It's comfortable, too, it adequately irons out all but the roughest roads. Though not the lightest bike in the world, it's not going to massively hold you back on the climbs and the compact ratio chainset helps when the gradient kicks up.
Why it's here: Entry-level price, top-level performance
7. Bianchi Aria £2,250
The new Bianchi Aria is an efficient aero road bike that's more accessible than any of the brand's Oltres. It's responsive and direct and handles sharply. The first thing you notice when riding the Aria is just how punchy it is and how ready to respond to increased effort. I went back and double-checked the weight of our 57cm model – 8.25kg (18.19lb) – because in use it feels a lot lighter and more chuck-aroundable than that.
The Aria boasts many features designed to reduce drag, the most obvious being the fork legs and frame tubes that are slim and deep-section. The fork crown is integrated into the frame, the down tube is dropped with a slight cutaway around the front wheel, and the seat tube is cutaway around the rear wheel. Bianchi says that the bike 'has been heavily inspired by our extensive wind-tunnel testing and cooperation with pro riders', although it doesn't say whether the Aria itself has been subject to CFD (computational fluid dynamics) analysis or taken to the wind tunnel, and doesn't put any specific figures on the bike's aero performance.
One of the Aria's key attributes is easy manoeuvrability. Some aero bikes are good for straight-line speed but they're single-minded and don't much like to deviate from that. The Aria is more than happy to flick from one line to another to navigate through a group or avoid something unexpected in the road.
The Aria provides quite a firm ride, which isn't a euphemism for harsh – it's certainly not that. There's not a whole lot of up/down frame flex but the 25mm Vittoria Zaffiro Pro tyres offer a decent level of road buzz damping while the flat San Marco Quadra saddle comes with a generous amount (by race bike standards) of Biofoam padding. There's a lot of flex in the glass-fibre-reinforced shell too. Taken as a whole, though, the Aria feels more solid and sturdy than soft and yielding. I didn't feel the ride was as smooth as that of the (much more expensive) Bianchi Oltre XR4, for example.
All of the Aria's figures are the same as those of Bianchi's top-level Oltre XR4, as ridden by Team LottoNL-Jumbo in the world's biggest races, so you know what you're going to get here. This is a racing geometry aimed at riders with a need for speed. If you want a high front end for comfort, well, you can run a few spacers underneath the stem but, really, this isn't the best setup for you.
The Bianchi Aria might not have quite the glamour of the Oltres, but it's still a solid proposition. It comes equipped with tried and tested aero features, handles sharply and reacts fast. If you're after something relaxed for getting in the big miles in comfort then this isn't the best choice for you, but if you're performance-driven and you're looking for a like-minded bike, the Aria is definitely worth checking out.
Since we reviewed the Aria, the Aria Disc has been launched, so if you think the only thing missing on this bike are the disc brakes, then your tastes are catered for. The Aria Disc with Shimano 105 parts costs £2,750.
Why it's here: A fast-reacting aero road bike in a race geometry for those with a need for speed
6. Vitus Vitesse Evo Disc Ultegra £1,999
If it's a modern, carbon fibre, disc brake-equipped road bike built around a race-focused geometry that you crave, the Vitus Vitesse Evo Disc is the bike for you. It's an affordable package, backed up by superb performance.
In its current form, Vitus's history is short, but before Chain Reaction Cycles resurrected the brand, Vitus enjoyed a long and illustrious past, winning many races through the 1970s and 80 most notably thanks to the legendary Sean Kelly. Since 2010, when CRC took on Vitus, new models have been coming thick and fast.
Like the regular Vitesse Evo, the new Vitesse Evo Disc is made from T700 unidirectional high-modulus carbon fibre, with an emphasis on oversizing where possible. There's a BB386 Evo bottom bracket shell that allows the seat tube, down tube and chainstays to be similarly oversized to gain as much stiffness as possible.
It doesn't take long before the real character and potential of the Vitesse Evo are revealed. It offers visceral performance, quick steering and unexpected speed that takes a few miles to dial in to. It's a thrilling and rewarding ride, backed up by decent equipment choices, and all at a competitive price.
The geometry is race-focused. It's based on the regular Vitesse Evo, a UCI-approved frame raced by the An Post Chain Reaction professional team. I tested a 56cm (one of seven sizes) and the top tube measures 560mm with a 155mm head tube, 405mm chainstays and 990mm wheelbase; aggressive numbers by any measure. If you do stack and reach (the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube), it's 548mm and 382mm respectively.
It climbs well, despite the 8.5kg weight, with little sense that the bike is doing anything other than translating your power input into forward motion. The gearing, a compact chainset and 11-25 cassette, provided enough range for my local steep climbs, but some might prefer an 11-28 cassette for increased range. Equally, a semi-compact 52/36 chainset would better suit the performance credentials of Vitus – this is a bike I would happily race if British Cycling allowed it.
Vitus has clearly made it its objective to offer seriously capable and high-performance products, and with Chain Reaction Cycles' clout, it also manages to offer killer value for money. A full carbon race bike with a Shimano Ultegra disc groupset and decent parts at less than two grand is hard to fault. Okay, so the wheels are a bit heavy, but unless you're racing or a weight weenie, you'll be just fine.
For 2018 The Vitesse Evo Disc switches to the latest Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset and the Vision wheels are traded in for Mavic Ksyrium Elites, with the price staying the same. There's also a new paint job as well. You can still get your hands on the 2017 bike reviewed for as little as £1,619.
Why it's here: Fast and responsive race bike that excels on descents and is no slouch on climbs
5. Cannondale SuperSix Evo 105 £1,799
Cannondale's SuperSix Evo is its flagship race bike, and has evolved quite a bit since it was first launched in 2011. The price of owning an Evo has gradually dropped, and this new Shimano 105 model costing £1,799 offers a great frameset with Shimano's super reliable workhorse groupset. It's a great first race bike.
The good news is, while not dripping in lightweight carbon fibre components, it still offers a thoroughly enjoyable ride that is right at home on a long sportive or a demanding road race. It's a well-thought-out package with reliable components and comfortable finishing kit.
The tried-and-tested geometry ensures a familiarity in the handling department. It works a treat in all manner of scenarios, from race pace efforts to chain gangs, leisurely Sunday rides and hill repeat training sessions. Though born as a race bike, the handling won't scare you too much if you're not actually racing, as there's a welcome level of predictability when out on the open road.
Its DNA is racing, and the Evo excels when being ridden fast. Get low in the drops and give it the beans and the Evo responds willingly. But its great trick is how versatile it is. It's right at home away from the race circuit, and on long rides, sportives and more leisurely paced outings it puts in a superb performance. It really is a platform for enabling you to excel at any sort of riding you want to do with it. If you want a more upright position and even more comfort, you should probably be looking at the Synapse.
The SuperSix Evo has long been a road.cc favourite because, regardless of the level of equipment, it offers a highly engaging and rewarding ride. Thankfully, none of the magic of the original has been lost with the update, and instead it improves on a winning formula. It's now lighter, more compliant and, for the first time, has been finessed with the aerodynamic brush. But the great handling – balanced, stable and predictable – is still evident. Visually the SuperSix Evo doesn't appear to have changed one bit since it was first launched in 2011, but look closer and there are some subtle clues as to how Cannondale has made the new frameset just that little bit better.
The Shimano 105 groupset is every bit as good as Shimano's more expensive offerings when it comes to braking and changing gears, and only if you're being super-picky could you say the shifting isn't quite as light and sharp as Dura-Ace. The Cannondale Si crankset meshes with the Shimano drivetrain well and I really liked the 52/36 semi-compact gearing, which with the 11-28t cassette, offers all the ratios you really need, whether road racing or doing a hilly sportive.
The SuperSix Evo has long been one of the very best carbon fibre road bikes on the market, as at home in the peloton as it is in a local sportive, and the updated version with all its improvements serves to future-proof this classic.
If you shop around, you can pick up the 2017 bike for £1,349 and there are no significant changes between the two model years. The SuperSix Evo is now available with disc brakes, but you're looking at £2,699 for the Ultegra-equipped model.
Why it's here: A classic race bike just got better
4. Merlin Nitro SL £1,999
Merlin Cycles has been offering its own brand of bikes for a while, and the Nitro SL is an excellent addition thanks to its balance of speed, light weight and comfort. A lot of companies get slated for rebadging off-the-shelf carbon fibre models but Merlin has chosen well with this Belgian beauty.
It's no secret that Merlin has opted for Ridley's Helium SL frameset as its base for the Nitro SL. With the Helium SL being upgraded to the SLX, the Nitro SL could be considered outdated tech, but it is far from it. The frameset holds its head up high and delivers across the board against the competition.
The ride is sublime, that balance of stiffness and the way it deals with the bumps in the road is a masterclass in carbon fibre layup and tube design. The Nitro SL just seems to take everything in its stride with regard to road surface imperfections.
With a claimed frame weight of just 750g, the Nitro SL frame is up there with the lightest, and just shows how far you could go with the build; full Di2 and some super duper lightweight carbon rims, for instance, wouldn't embarrass this frame in feel or looks. Manufactured from 24/30 ton carbon fibre, a figure related to the tensile strength of the fibres, the various tube profiles make for a very stiff frame. As I mentioned earlier, you get a tapered head tube for stiffness plus the down tube has a square section, oversized profile to tame the forces at both ends.
At 7.7kg, a smidge under 17lb if you're that way inclined, the Merlin is light and very responsive. It climbs way better than you'd expect and acceleration is very impressive thanks to that very stiff bottom bracket area.
The biggest highlight for me was the way that the Merlin just got on with the job. There doesn't seem to be a compromise with its performance: you get on it, pedal like a madman, and it delivers. You'll be amazed by how much ground you'll cover with relatively little in the way of effort.
The Nitro SL comes with a full Shimano Ultegra 6800 groupset, which is about right for this price point, but it is good to see Merlin hasn't scrimped anywhere by subbing out the crankset or brakes to another manufacturer. Ultegra's shifting is top notch, being only slightly less precise than Dura-Ace for a fraction of the price, and the braking power from the callipers is massively efficient in all but the wettest of conditions. The Ultegra slate finish also matches the frameset's paint job too. Nice.
There are a lot of Ultegra-equipped carbon fibre bikes out there for less than the two grand rrp of the Nitro SL, but this one has pedigree. It's pro-level peloton-proven, and while the badge snobs may struggle to agree, it's one hell of an accomplished frameset.
There's no news from Merlin on the 2108 version of this bike yet, but you can still pick up the 2017 bike at the time of writing.
Why it's here: The Nitro SL uses a race-proven formula, offering speed and long-distance comfort
3. Bianchi Oltre XR3 Potenza £3,299
And into the top three, and round out the podium is... the Bianchi Oltre XR3 makes the podium because it offers nimble and sharp handling, and a ride that's smooth by aero road bike standards.
One of Bianchi's key selling points for the Oltre XR3 is the use of Countervail technology, so let's deal with that up top. According to Materials Sciences Corporation(link is external), the company behind it, 'Countervail is an innovative composite material system that combines traditional vibration damping layer concepts and a patented fibre preform. Unparalleled vibration damping is derived from the fibre preform itself, where the fibre pattern maximises the vibrational energy dissipation by a viscoelastic damping layer.'
The Countervail does have a positive influence on the way the bike feels, but don't expect miracles here. You're going to get a little less buzz than you'd otherwise get, not a totally different ride experience. Don't expect the Countervail to do anything to soften the blow if you rattle through a pothole or hit a big bump in the road. It might dissipate vibration but it can't smooth over major irregularities.
The Oltre XR3 feels super-stiff when you dish out the watts. There's little flex either through the centre or the front end of the frame, and that's always a good start for a performance-focused bike. You get the feeling that your effort is getting turned efficiently into forward movement rather than flexing the various parts of the frameset around.
Bianchi took the Oltre XR2 as its starting point for the XR3's design and then altered many of the tubes and features, resulting in a very different bike. Although the downtube and chainstays are the same, pretty much everything else has been tweaked or completely changed. The head tube is new, for example, the aero design fairly similar to that of the XR4, and the seat tube is new too, although it is still cut away around the leading edge of the rear wheel.
If I'd not ridden the Bianchi Oltre XR4 Super Record last year, I'd probably be raving more about the XR3... but that's not fair because this bike, in this build, is a third of the price! Just about anything is going to be overshadowed by that XR4 which was, after all, the road.cc Superbike of the Year 2016-17. The XR3 isn't quite as light or as sparky, naturally enough, but it's still a very able performance-orientated bike. It's lively, quick to react and the ride is unusually good for a bike of this kind.
Why it's here: Fast-reacting aero road bike with a very good ride quality
2. Trek Emonda SL 5 £1,800
And in second place is the Emonda from Trek. The Trek Emonda SL 5 is a lively and agile road bike with an excellent frameset and a solid component spec. It provides very good value for money.
Most bikes at this price are good but some aren't – what's the word? – sparky. They put in a solid, dependable performance, and you might be hard pushed to point out a weakness, but they don't necessarily fire you up and get adrenaline coursing through your veins. The Emonda SL 5 does. When you're riding this bike there's no sense that 'this is good but if only...'. You just think, 'This is a great bike,' and you crack on with smashing up the next climb. It doesn't look or feel like a mid-range bike, it does a first-rate impression of a far dearer model.
Climb aboard the SL 5 and it immediately feels alive, responding keenly as soon as you turn the pedals. Put a serious amount of power through the cranks and it springs forward as if it was just waiting for the flag to drop. Both the head tube and the down tube are enormous, holding the frame firmly in shape when you're recruiting every muscle fibre on an out-of-the saddle sprint or climb.
One aspect of the Emonda SL 5's ride that surprised me is the level of comfort on offer here, particularly for a performance bike with 25mm-wide tyres. Okay, you don't get a clever IsoSpeed decoupler like you'll find on a Madone or a Domane to cushion the ride, but there's a decent amount of give in the seatmast and cap that Trek provides instead of a more traditional seatpost, and in the flattened, ultra-skinny seatstays.
The Emonda SL 5 is fitted with a Shimano 105 compact chainset (50/34-tooth chainrings) which, matched to an 11-28 11-speed cassette, provides enough low gears to get you up the steep stuff in relative comfort. When you do need to slow down the Shimano 105 brakes work on the alloy rims to provide plenty of predictable power. These are of the direct mount variety and they can be relied upon to hold tight when you need them. If you prefer discs, the Emonda SL 6 (£2,650) comes with Shimano Ultegra and hydraulic disc brakes.
You can certainly get complete bikes with carbon fibre frames and Shimano 105 components considerably cheaper than the Emonda SL. I would say that you're getting an extraordinarily good frame with the Trek Emonda SL 5 – one that'll handle considerable upgrading if you fancy doing that gradually as and when individual components wear out. It's that which makes this bike such impressive value for money.Overall, the Trek Emonda SL 5 is excellent.
Why it's here: A fast and nimble road bike that puts in an exceptional performance for its price
1. Boardman Road Team Carbon £900
And so to our winner, and it's another Road Bike of the Year award for Boardman. Last year the £1,799 Road Pro Carbon SLR nabbed the award, this time it's the £900 Road Team Carbon. Boardman is on a roll.
The Road Team Carbon continues the theme of fun and exhilarating bikes delivered by Boardman that also manage to offer excellent value for money. You can't argue with the performance or kit from this entry-level racer, and the frame is so good it'll be well worth upgrading the parts as and when you can.
The Team shares the same geometry as the SLR Endurance, which means the handling is quick but never feels twitchy, so should your tyres break traction slightly front or rear it's really easy to keep control. It's very reassuring, especially if you aren't the most confident of bike handlers and find yourself in a bit of trouble. The frame and fork are made from carbon, not a common material at this £1,000 price point; usually, bikes in this price range use the cheaper aluminium frame material paired with a carbon fork. If you really want a carbon bike at this price, this if one of the few very good options.
The Team isn't quite as racy as its big brother in Boardman's performance range, the Pro Carbon SLR, which was our bike of the year a couple of years back. But consider the Team as a stepping stone, something to hone your skills on before you maybe consider racing.
The Tiagra and FSA Gossamer groupset works well, delivering smooth gear changes. We did find the Tektro brakes a little on the spongey side if we're being critical, however. The finishing kit is all Boardman branded and it's simple and effective stuff, and alloy throughout. The bar has a compact drop allowing plenty of hand options, and when paired with the reasonably tall 160m head tube gives even the least flexible of riders the chance to get into the drops.
The frame uses a press-fit bottom bracket, which means the frame can be wider at this point because the bearing cups, as you have no doubt guessed, are pressed into the frame rather than screwed in with the bearings left externally. This makes for a stiff bottom half of the frame to resist pedalling forces when really going for it, either on the flat or when climbing.
A thousand pounds is a very competitive price point, seeing frames of varying materials. I'm a big metal fan and normally at this price point I'd take an aluminium alloy frame over cheap carbon, but Boardman has shown here that a good carbon frame can be delivered at this price point. Obvious cost savings have been made with the wheels, brakes and that saddle, but they are all things you can tweak and upgrade for minimal outlay.
The Boardman Road Team Carbon is currently discounted to £900, making it an ever better buy than when we reviewed it at £1,000. You could use the saving to upgrade the brakes.
Why it wins: A decently specced semi-race bike with a very good frameset at its heart
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.