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feature Sportive and Endurance Bike of the Year 2017-18

Here are the best long distance road bikes we’ve reviewed over the past 12 months; find out which one wins

The endurance market is incredibly competitive with new technology designed to improve comfort and performance coming along all the time, and here are the best bikes that we tested here on during 2017.

This category covers bikes intended to be ridden fast while providing an extra helping of comfort. Different brands describe them in different ways, usually endurance bikes, sportive bikes or gran fondo bikes.

The one thing that all these bikes share is that they're  designed to be ridden long distances without the stresses often associated with a more aggressive riding position. Rather than putting you into a low and stretched position, bike brands usually add height to the head tube and reduce the length of the top tube, although the degree to which they do this varies massively. This allows you to sit a little more upright in the saddle, putting less strain on your neck and back. 

Bike of the year 2017/18 - all the other award categories + winners

Most endurance bikes – if that's the term we're going to settle on – also feature design elements intended to smooth the ride. The reasoning is that vibrations from the road cause both discomfort and fatigue. "Smoother is faster", as Specialized is fond of telling us. Some brands includes high-tech frame and fork features to deal with imperfections in the road surface while others make the seatstays slim or use a skinny seatpost to allow a degree of give. 

Nearly all of these bikes have enough clearance for wider tyres. Whereas the most common width for road racing is 25mm, an endurance bike needs to accommodate 28mm or more so that you can run lower pressures without the risk of a pinch flat.

One huge development this year is that every single one of our top 10 endurance bikes is equipped with disc brakes. Wow! We're not on a disc brake crusade, it's just that the bikes that have impressed us most in this category are all disc-equipped.

As with all of our other categories, for a bike to feature in our top 10 it must have been reviewed by during 2017. If we didn't test it during those 12 months it doesn't go in. Simple. 

Let’s crack on with our top 10.

10. Giant Defy Advanced 3 £1,549

Buy it here

Giant Defy Advanced - riding 1.jpg

Giant's Defy Advanced 3, the most affordable Defy in the current range (£1,499 for 2018), is an endurance road bike that offers a smooth ride and the precise power of hydraulic disc brakes, and it's very good value. This isn't an especially lightweight bike, weighing in at 9.5kg (21.0lb), but the fact that it's so comfortable means you can happily keep ticking off the miles all day.

The Defy Advanced is built to a fairly relaxed geometry. You’ll not find yourself sitting bolt upright by any means, but the handlebar is positioned a little higher and a little closer to the saddle than on a standard race bike, meaning you don't need to bend your back as much, or extend your neck to the same degree for a clear view of the road ahead. If a standard race bike geometry leaves you aching, perhaps this setup, dialled back a couple of notches, will work better for you.

Even putting the geometry to one side, the Defy Advanced 3 is really comfortable. It comes with 25mm-wide tyres, although there's plenty of clearance for 28s if you want to go wider. We tried 30mm tyres too, although that left just a tiny arc of daylight between the rubber and the fork crown.

Then there's Giant's D-Fuse seatpost. As the name suggests, it's D-shaped too, the flat edge at the back. The idea is that it can flex slightly in that direction to help remove road buzz (the shape has the side benefit of ensuring you never set your saddle slightly off-centre by mistake). The Compact Road Design (with a sloping top tube, and seatstays that connect to the seat tube low) means you'll almost certainly have loads of seatpost extending out of the frame and that makes a big difference to the way the bike feels. You can occasionally feel the post bend just a touch if you really whack the bike into a pothole, for example.

The whopping great lump of a bottom bracket/chainstay area holds steady even when you crank out a power PR and the tapered head tube offers plenty of steering stiffness.

Tearing downhill is a definite positive in all conditions thanks to a well-balanced frame and the Shimano BR-RS405 hydraulic disc brakes, while the 50/34-tooth chainset matched up with an 11-32-tooth cassette suits an endurance bike where the ability to tackle a tough climb comfortably at the end of a 100-miler is more important than sprinting full-gas to the finish line. 

This bike is at its best when getting in the big miles on less than perfect roads and, with the ability to take mudguards and wider tyres, it'll happily do that year-round. Plus, with a really good frameset, Shimano Tiagra groupset and hydraulic disc brakes, it offers impressive value for money.

Why it’s here Smooth-riding endurance bike that offers hydraulic disc brakes and plenty of value

Read our review here.

9. Ribble Gran Fondo Disc £1,503

Buy it here

Ribble Gran Fondo - riding 1.jpg

Ribble’s Gran Fondo Disc is a fast, comfortable and affordable option for tapping out the miles. This is a solid all-rounder with excellent manners.

The first thing you notice about the way the Gran Fondo rides is its neutrality. These sorts of numbers bring a level of stability to the ride: you won't get any twitchiness at the front end which makes it an excellent bike if you're new to road bikes or you like covering large distances and don't want any surprises once fatigue levels can start to affect concentration levels. Whether riding uphill, down dale or tapping along on the flat this is a bike where the balance, comfort and control feel right.

The high-speed handling doesn't have the sharpness of a steeper, more compact race bike, but the neutral steering feel you get from the Gran Fondo is perfectly suited to the style of ride it's aimed at. On some of your favourite downhills you might find that you have to go into bends a little slower than on a full-on race bike and take a much smoother arc from outside to apex, as it isn’t quite as responsive should you need to change position mid-bend for a pothole or patch of gravel.

Stringing two close, opposing bends together requires a bit of extra planning too, because the Ribble takes a little bit of work to change direction. This isn’t a major criticism, though, and if the Gran Fondo is your daily ride you’ll soon adapt. 

When climbing, the Gran Fondo is one of those bikes that suits staying in the saddle no matter how steep things become. You’ll get more response from it by sitting there and tapping things out.
The frame shows a decent level of stiffness around the bottom bracket area, so if you do run out of gears and find the need to stand up, at least you know the bike won't be flexing around beneath you. It's the same if you are sprinting, even though this isn't exactly what the Gran Fondo is all about.

For an endurance machine the Ribble actually has quite a stiff ride. There isn’t as much give in the tubes as you get on some other carbon fibre machines, but it stays just the right side of comfortable. You feel the details of the road me without being vibrated and bounced to distraction, which is a pretty good balance. There are more comfortable endurance bikes out there, but there are plenty of ways to make the Ribble more compliant if you wanted – bigger tyres or a different saddle, for instance.

As far as the whole ride goes, the Ribble does exactly what it says on the tin/top tube: Gran Fondo is an Italian term that loosely translates to 'big ride' and that is exactly where this bike feels at home.

Why it’s here A worthy consideration if you want to go far, fast, without breaking the bank

Read our review here.

8. Boardman SLR Endurance Disc 9.0 £1,999.99

Buy it here

Boardman Elite SLR Endurance Disc 9.0 - riding 1.jpg

You'll need to take the Boardman SLR Endurance Disc 9.0's name with a pinch of salt as this is no slackened off race bike for those who want a comfortable and relaxed ride. Sharing virtually the same geometry as the SLR Race models, the Endurance Disc absolutely flies – although if going long is your thing you might find the frame a little punishing.

The SLR Endurance gives you a little grin when you ride it hard or string together a couple of bends on a high-speed technical descent, although because of the slightly higher front end and longer chainstays to accommodate the wider dropout width required for disc brakes (135mm over 130mm), and therefore a longer wheelbase, the Endurance is a little less direct in its handling and the speed with which it changes direction, compared to some other bikes out there.

You get a very stiff frame, especially at the bottom bracket area thanks to the oversized down tube and chunky chainstays. The tapered head tube helps resist heavy braking forces from the discs.
For comfort Boardman has slimmed down the seatstays to promote some give, taking out the worst of the road buzz. The SLR Endurance doesn't bang and crash through road imperfections, but if you want a cosseting ride you might find it a little on the harsh side.

Reviewer Stu said that with such high levels of stiffness this bike is one of the most firm and unforgiving of this style that he’s ridden. Endurance bikes are normally aimed at those who want something a little softer and less aggressive than a race bike, and the Boardman really blurs the lines.

Of course you can play about with tyre pressures, bar tape and the like to enhance the comfort should you so wish, and the SLR Endurance certainly has clearance for up to 28mm tyres.

Why it’s here This is an impressive bike that blurs the lines between endurance and race

Read our review here. 

7. Vitus Zenium SL Disc £1,250

Buy it here

Vitus Zenium SL DIsc - riding 1.jpg

Vitus Bikes has kicked another goal with the Zenium SL, an endurance bike with the superior stopping power of disc brakes, a fast and fun frame and an excellent-value spec.

The Zenium's ride will make you smile too. It's quick without being harsh or hairy, and rolls beautifully on its Michelin Pro 4 Service Course tyres. Until they were replaced by the Power Competition model, these were Michelin's top high-performance tyres. They provide excellent grip and roll quickly and smoothly thanks to their supple casing. 

In every other respect the Zenium is a bundle of fun that's quick on the flat, grin-inducingly swoopy on twisty descents, and civilised on climbs. You don't expect an almost-9kg bike to fly up hills, but the Zenium doesn't feel sluggish climbing, just calm and measured, and it's plenty stiff too.

On the Zenium you felt like you can keep riding all day, whizzing through the turns, stomping up the hills and using the easy control of the disc brakes when it’s too risky to go flat-out downhill.  It's racy but without being a hectic handful, its behaviour owing more to European stage race bikes than to super-quick-turning criterium bikes.

The Zenium SL's frame is made from butted 6066-T6 aluminium alloy tubes. This has a slightly higher fatigue strength than the more common 6061-T6 aluminium, so less of it is needed to make a frame. Vitus uses 6066 for bikes designated SL – others are made from 6061. Up front is an all-carbon fork with a tapered steerer.

Both front and rear dropouts take thru-axles and there's clearance for 30mm tyres, though going that fat won't leave much space under the fork crown; the back end is roomier. If you could fit standard mudguards to it, it'd be a near-perfect all-weather all-rounder.

Why it’s here It’s a fast and fun endurance bike with the stopping reassurance of disc brakes

Read our review here.

6. Genesis Datum 10 £1,900

Buy it here

Genesis Datum 10 - riding 1.jpg

The Genesis Datum 10 will take pretty much whatever you can throw at it, on or off-road. The spec represents excellent value and the ability to jump between town and country use positions it as a sound contender for an 'only bike' that you won't be sheepish about getting muddy on, while being worthy of a shine-up for the Sunday morning group ride.

You get loads of clearance, both frame and fork taking 36mm gravel-orientated tyres with no problems, along with mudguard mounts are the same, and three sets of bottle cage mounts for those considering a bit of bikepacking or ultra-long-distance riding.

The Datum 10 is a very enjoyable ride. The frame and fork combine to offer an engaging ride at any speed, the wide tyres and hydraulic brakes giving you the confidence to bomb rough-tarmac descents without fear. Reviewer Mike said that on a 100km outing around the South Downs Way and associated to/from tarmac stretches, the Datum 10 was both fast and comfortable.

It's off-road, long-distance where the Datum 10 reveals its hidden side – one that, like 95% of urban 4x4s staying clean and dry, may never see the light for many riders. But if you want to, it's comforting to know that the capability is there. 

The Tiagra groupset never missed a beat – even when left in small-small hammering over Belgian pavé-esque surfaces. The Tiagra-shaped hoods might not be everyone's cup of tea, but they do the job. 

The Datum 10 is an absolute hoot on twisty-turny rolling trails. While 'snappy acceleration' isn't a term often used alongside 'gravel', the overall experience is grin-inducing.

The Genesis Datum 10 is clearly far more capable than most riders will ever need, it's light-ish, fast and fun on the road and confidence-inspiring off. 

Why it’s here A very comfortable, forgiving yet engaging bike for adventures on and off the road, with a great value spec

Read our review here. 

5. Canyon Endurace Wmn CF SL Disc 8.0 £2,199
Buy it here

Canyon Endurace WMN CF SL Disc 8.0 - riding 4.jpg

Canyon's Endurace WMN CF SL Disc 8.0 (now £2,349) is a really tempting option if you want to travel fair distances in comfort at a decent speed. It's a tiny bit heavier overall – 490g – than the same size and similarly specced non-disc unisex version, losing a very slight degree of that excellent bike's 'twitchiness', but that could be seen as a bonus as much as a drawback, depending on how you like your ride.

Reviewer Tass felt immediately at home on the CF SL Disc – not in a boring way, but an easy-to-live-with, ride-all-day, into the sunset, forever, kind of way. A ride with no surprises – with that being very definitely a good thing.

Compared with the non-disc model, the handling feels more solid and planted, more 'endu' than 'race'. It's still a fast bike with loads of zip, and still light enough to move around when you need it to, it just feels slightly less 'flickable', less twitchy.

You can feel the difference on climbs too – it's not as nimble feeling as the non-disc model – but on descents, in the wet, and going fast on the flat, the disc brakes inspire huge amounts of confidence.

This is a bike that’s comfortable enough to ride all day. The new CF SL Disc has a curved seat tube to add comfort at the rear end, with a shorter seat tube meaning more exposed seatpost to add a degree of flex and help dull road buzz or bumps. The seatpost itself is also curved with more setback, creating a 'bow-like' shape. It certainly felt good.

The new frame has more clearance for tyres up to 33mm-wide so if you wanted to add more comfort through bigger volume rubber that you can run at lower pressures, there's a world of choice out there.

The CF SL Disc has a shorter top tube and shorter head tube than the regular unisex model. The stack and reach (the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube) are shorter, to better suit the average woman's anatomy, but it's all marginal. You don't have to stretch as far forward for the bar, but you're not put in a more upright position, so things stay racy rather than sedate.

The CF SL Disc offers a lovely ride, the disc brakes are excellent, and the comfort is right up there. If the unisex Endurace sounds a bit too much race and not enough endurance for you, the disc brake version could be just the right mix.

It's a fast, light, comfortable bike with the twitchiness toned down and the ability to stop improved dramatically. It could just be the perfect long-distance ride.

Why it’s here This is an excellent option for long rides, at speed, in comfort and safety

Read our review. 

4. Focus Paralane Ultegra £3,000

Buy it here

Focus Paralane Ultegra - riding 1.jpg

The new Paralane offers a fast and comfortable ride with a healthy dose of practicality and versatility. This Shimano Ultegra equipped model should definitely be on your shortlist.

The Paralane is crammed with all the latest technology and a host of interesting details, but what really matters here is that they all come together to form a cohesive package that provides near class-leading performance. The Paralane isn’t a gravel bike, but with space for up to 35mm tyres it can still handle a bit of the rough stuff.

On the road, the lightweight frame with its comfort-enhancing carbon layup and tube profiles, along with the skinny seatpost and 28mm tyres, provides a smooth ride that is up there with the best in this category. It isolates you from the worst road buzz but without completely detaching you from the road surface passing beneath the tyres. It's a really nice balance and rewards the cyclist that wants some involvement in the ride but without being shaken to pieces.

Paralane can handle rough and potholed country lanes as well as it can handle smooth A-roads and even the odd farm track and woodland path didn't faze it, as long as conditions were dry. You could easily fit a lightly treaded tyre and go even further afield, there's ample space.

While the Paralane's inherent smoothness clearly owes a lot to the frame design, the Concept CPX Plus (a Focus in-house accessories brand) seatpost with its unusual cutout head design and 25.4mm post diameter does a very noticeable job of providing deflection at the saddle. Wide tyres help too, provided you make use of a pressure gauge and run them low enough to benefit from the extra width. The bike will take wider tyres – up to 35mm tyres – but I never felt the need for more comfort than that provided by the 28mm rubber.

If we’re being critical, the front-end of the Paralane isn't quite as smooth as rear – the Trek Domane SLR and Specialized Roubaix beat it for front-end smoothness – but it does retain balance and directness. It's a communicative ride, the sort you'll appreciate if you like to feel the road surface but not be battered by it. 

The Paralane’s endurance geometry gives the bike a composure that’s ideal for challenging, long distance rides when encountering lots of different surfaces, demanding descents and fatigue. The handling balance is measured without being lazy, but there's enough fizz and pop when you want to push on and increase the pace through the bends and up the climbs.

On the descents, the Paralane bristles with enthusiasm. The stiffness of the frame, the geometry, the hydraulic disc brakes and the wide tyres all combine to provide a hugely reassuring balance and stability that puts you in a very confident position to tackle the downhills with aplomb. It's on the downhills that good endurance bikes like the Paralane really shine.

Perhaps the best thing about the Paralane is how easy it is to ride, with none of the twitchiness that can sometimes make race bikes an intense experience. That makes the performance it offers very accessible regardless of your level of experience or fitness.

Why it’s here This is a terrific endurance bike that must be on your shortlist if you're looking for a fast, comfortable and practical ride.

Read our review here.

3. Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod Disc Dura-Ace Di2 £7,799

Buy it here

Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod Disc Dura-Ace Di2 - riding 1.jpg

The new Synapse is smoother, more comfortable, lighter and stiffer than the previous version, and one of the best endurance bikes on the market right now.

The Synapse traces its roots back to 2006, introduced at a time when demand was growing for bikes that offered more comfort than the race bikes they were loosely based on. For 2018 the Synapse has been taken back to the drawing board and the results are  impressive. The big news is that it's now only available with disc brakes. There's also space for up to 32mm tyres, mudguard mounts (the previous bike didn't support mudguards) and a lighter, stiffer and more compliant frame. 

The Synapse has always offered predictable handling together with all-day comfort, but the new design is a noticeable improvement in every key aspect that defines how a bike performs. 

Endurance bikes need to be many things to many people, but above all they need to be comfortable. Cannondale achieves that both through the geometry, which is more relaxed than that of a race bike, and through a combination of its SAVE technology, a term it uses to describe parts of the frame designed to flex under load. Cannondale hasn't resorted to any complicated moving parts, instead it relies on flex in the frame to give the Synapse the ability to soak up bumps.

The lighter frame certainly makes a noticeable difference to the overall weight; at 7.25kg (15.98lb) this 56cm bike is one of the lightest disc brake-equipped endurance bikes we've tested at, and it's knocking on the door of some race bikes. 

Reviewer Dave Arthur had his first taste of the new Synapse's descending talents at the worldwide launch on the hilly roads around Lake Como earlier this year, and even on unfamiliar ground, blasting around blind bends, it instilled great confidence. It's clear the longer wheelbase, bump-absorbing frame, grippy 28mm tyres and powerful Shimano Dura-Ace disc brakes combine to ensure descending is an area where the new bike shines.

Cannondale has used its engineering knowhow not only to create a frame that is lighter than the one it replaces but also one that is stiffer. The Synapse feels more immediate, more responsive than the previous bike. In fact, there's a hint of the SuperSix Evo about it.

That's one of the biggest highlights of the new Synapse: the way Cannondale has managed to move its endurance bike closer to a race bike in terms of handling and responsiveness while dialling in more comfort. It's a great combination and one that will appeal to those who want their endurance bike served up with a large slice of speed and engagement.

It's a very capable bike for all sorts of rides, with geometry that is more relaxed than a race bike but not as upright as some endurance bikes. Dave found the bike as at home on fast-paced group rides as it was on long-distance solo romps, and never felt handicapped in any situation. Some of that could be down to refinements of the geometry, with the head angle a shade steeper and the wheelbase a touch shorter, injecting a bit more agility into the ride.

We tested the top spec Synapse but you can get a version of this frame from just £2,199 (it keeps the same key features but doesn't use the expensive high modulus carbon fibre). 

Why it's here: Fast, smooth and fun, the new Synapse is an exceedingly good endurance bike

Read the review

2. Fairlight Cycles Strael £2,439

Buy it here

Fairlight Strael - riding 1.jpg

Fairlight Cycles' new steel Strael is an absolutely stunning machine to ride, offering four-season adaptability and durability without sacrificing high speed or a racy performance. Intelligent tube choices coupled with a long and low geometry make for a bike you can blast about on all day long and the only muscles that'll ache at the end of it will be from grinning too much.

It's quick – way quicker than you might expect considering its weight and intended use, and changes pace well, especially those that see you getting out of the saddle and sprinting to close a gap. It isn't lightweight-race-bike quick, but it really does stand its ground against many other bikes out there that are aimed more at pure speed.

There is plenty of stiffness at the bottom bracket so you certainly don't feel like you are wasting any energy as you stamp on the pedals. The only time the Strael does seem to struggle a little is from a full gas standing start, when it isn't quite as quick as some. 

This stiffness makes the Strael a competent climber too, whether on the short, sharp stuff or tapping out a long and steady ascent where you just stay in the saddle and keep the pedals turning.

The Strael feels balanced through the corners, even the really high-speed twisty ones where just the slightest tweaks in body position get the required amount of response from the bike for a direction change or tightening of a line. The actual handling isn't as quick or sharp as a race bike, but because the Strael's frame is so responsive it isn't really an issue. 

The Strail is excellent on long rides because of its comfort levels. Fairlight has nailed the stiffness/comfort balance here, so when things aren't so hectic you get that beautiful smooth steel ride where the tubes flex just enough to take the sting out of bumpy road surfaces.

The Fairlight's ability to take full mudguards, racks and even a dynamo light thanks to the design of the fork means it will make a great tourer, providing plenty of comfort and performance when asked for.

Taking everything into account, the Strael is pretty hard to knock, especially for the non-racer. If you want a bike you can train on, bimble about on, credit card tour on, or just blast around the lanes on, the Fairlight ticks all of the boxes.

Why it’s here This is a truly stunning four-season machine with an infectious grin factor and amazing handling

Read our review here.

1. Specialized Roubaix Expert £3,500 

Buy it here

Specialized Roubaix Expert - riding 1.jpg

For most of the Roubaix's existence Specialized has employed small elastomer inserts called Zertz, placed in the fork blades and seatstays. With the new version the front end Zertz have been binned and replaced by the Future Shock, a small spring housed inside the head tube providing 20mm of movement, and Specialized's existing CG-R 27.2mm seatpost contained inside a wide diameter seatpost and a dropped seat clamp, to allow more deflection.

There's no doubt about it, the Future Shock works. It delivers a smoother ride than the old Roubaix SL4 and feels smoother than other endurance bikes such as the Trek Domane SLR and Canyon Endurace CF SLX. It's really good at reducing the high-frequency vibrations normally felt through the handlebar.

Because the Future Shock is positioned between the stem and frame, it's only supporting your upper body weight. That means it's not soft and bouncy but is instead quite firm, yet soft enough to react to the smallest road buzz very well.

Critically, the Future Shock isn't soggy or saggy when riding. There's no sense that the handlebar is anything but securely connected to the frame. You don't really notice the Future Shock's 20mm of travel when you are riding along: it's not like you feel the handlebar moving up and down or anything.

You certainly notice the smoothness it provides, and if you concentrate and watch the Future Shock you can see the protective rubber boot gently compressing and extending. But ignore it and focus on pedalling and enjoying the ride, and you forget it's even there.

There's also no strangeness when sprinting or climbing out of the saddle, movements that put more weight into the handlebar. When you're leaning heavily on the bar during a steep climb there is a bit more movement compared with seated pedalling, but get out of the saddle and give it the beans in a full powered sprint and there's no feeling you're losing any precious speed.

The Roubaix isn't just about the Future Shock. To combat rear-end impacts, Specialized has used its existing CG-R seatpost, a 27.2mm diameter carbon fibre post topped with a Zertz head. It has also increased the diameter of the seat tube and dropped the seat clamp well below its usual position. These measures increase the available deflection for the post, and they work: seated comfort is fantastic with no small or big impacts finding their way through to your butt. 

The new Roubaix is available only with disc brakes, it’ll take tyres up to 32mm wide and it has an externally threaded bottom bracket. Specialized has also taken inspiration from its Tarmac race bike and provided a more aggressive and racy geometry in the new Roubaix.

Overall, the new Roubaix offers a high level of performance with great handling, disc brakes and space for wider tyres. 

Why it’s here Light, stiff and comfortable, the new Roubaix with its Future Shock delivers an impressive ride.

Read our review here.

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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