So here it is, the road.cc Bike of the Year 2017-18 awards. These are the ten best bikes we reviewed in 2017.
It’s been another good year for road bikes, with more new bikes introducing new ideas and updates to existing models bringing notable improvements. Bikes are getting faster, more comfortable, versatile, adaptable, and the choice if you’re in the market for a new bike can seem overwhelming - that’s why this award matters; we’ve done all the hard miles of testing to present the best of the best.
Our list of 10 bikes has been whittled down from the many bikes we've reviewed over the past 12 months. It's a diverse collection that highlights the many directions in which cycling has been evolving in recent years
Trends like disc brakes and wide tyres are firmly established now and feature on a lot more bikes we’ve tested than ever before. We’ve seen some interesting developments on endurance bikes with wider tyre clearance and mudguard mounts increasing their suitability for UK cyclists and roads. Adventure and gravel bikes continue to mature and the versatility of these bikes are seeing lots of cyclists adopt them for everything from gravel racing to bikepacking, and even commuting.
One thing that is clear is the impact of the world economy, and more to the point Brexit, on the price of bikes. Some of the bikes we’ve tested are 2017 models and the 2018 versions are dearer, and where there are price changes we’ve mentioned that. Some retailers still (at the time of writing) have stock of 2017 bikes too if there’s one that catches your eye here, it’s worth shopping around. Some 2018 models get improved specs, with Shimano’s new Ultegra R8000 the big change on many bikes going forward. Which brings us on to an extra little wrinkle we've added to this year's awards…
road.cc Bike of the year - Deal of the year
Despite what you might think bike companies don't normally want to make their bikes more expensive - it makes them harder to sell for starters, but they are as much subject the vagaries of the world economy as everyone else. So given that to some degree less (or at least the same) – for the time being at least – is going to cost more we thought it was worth picking out the bike that offers the best deal to the most people from amongst this top 10 of the best bikes we've reviewed this year. Think of it as the bang per buck award, although we're going for the slightly more prosaic road.cc Bike of the Year - Deal of the Year because it sounds classier. Maybe. Anyway look out for that below.
How we picked the winners
Let’s explain how we reached our conclusion for the road.cc Bike of the Year 2016-17 awards. We first rounded up all the best-reviewed bikes (that’s bikes that have scored higher than 8/10), and then we grouped them into the nine categories (Commuting, Adventure and Cyclo-cross, Framesets, Best sub-£1,000 Road Bike, Endurance and Sportive Bike, Road bike and Superbike) and picked the winners from each.
Picking the best bikes in each of these sub-categories was quite a task, but the marking criteria is pretty straightforward. The bike that won Superbike of the Year did so because it offered the highest level of performance, price didn’t even come into it, and for the Best Bargain Bike value was right at the top of the requirements.
The best bikes from those categories were then brought forward into the main road.cc Bike of the Year 2016-17 list and we set about picking the winner from the 10 bikes on this shortlist. Much arguing then ensued until we all reached an agreement. But how do we pick the best bike? In our view, it’s bike that offers the best balance of performance, value, price, handling and specification.
You might not agree with our final order, and that’s fine. The best bike for you might depend on the sort of rider you are, the style of riding you do, your budget and many other factors, but there is something for all tastes in this list. It’s not an easy job picking just 10 bikes from the past year, given how many we've tested, but we feel this list is a fair and honest assessment of the bikes we've ridden in the last 12 months.
10. Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod Dura-Ace Di2 £7,799
Let's kick off the awards top ten with one of the best endurance bikes we've tested in 2017. And a bike that has previously won the Bike of the Year Award of course. Compared with the previous version, the new Synapse is smoother, more comfortable, lighter and stiffer – and one of the best endurance bikes on the market right now. That's why it makes this top ten.
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 very 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 lovely predictable handling together with impressive all-day comfort, but the new design is a noticeable improvement in every key aspect that defines how a bike performs. The changes that make it lighter, stiffer and more compliant help return the new Synapse to the front of the endurance bike pack.
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 a race bike, and through a combination of its SAVE technology – as I said above, 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 enhanced by tube shaping and carbon fibre layup 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 road.cc, and it's knocking on the door of some race bikes. It's lighter, for example than the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc I tested back in March, though there are some spec differences that will account for some of that.
I had my 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 roads, blasting around blind bends, with erratic local drivers testing your commitment, it instilled great confidence. On more familiar descents around the Cotswolds, 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 worked its engineering know-how not only to create a frame that is lighter than the one it replaces but also one that is stiffer. It's noticeable too: 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 for me 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 is very impressive. 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. I was as at home on fast-paced group rides as I 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). It's only the high price that keeps this new Synapse out of the top three in this awards category.
Why it’s here: Fast, smooth and fun, the new Synapse is an exceedingly good endurance bike
9. Fairlight Cycles Strael £2,439
Bucking the carbon trend of the awards list this year is the steel framed Strael from new British brand Fairlight Cycles. This bike earnt its place in the top ten because, quite simply, it blew us away with its stunning performance and four-season adaptability and durability. The designer behind the bike, Dom Thomas (previously of Genesis Bikes) has really paid attention to the details, and the result is a bike worthy of being included in the top ten.
The Strael uses Reynolds tubing throughout, with the front triangle being made up of its 853 grade – the head tube, top tube, seat tube and down tube. Fairlight has gone with a traditional threaded bottom bracket shell which, as you'll often find me writing, is a great thing to see especially on a four-season bike that is intended to get wet and muddy a fair bit. Press fit bottom bracket cups can let water and grit in between them and the frame if the tolerances between the two aren't perfect, which can lead to creaking very early on and can increase wear and tear. Threaded bottom bracket bearing cups that can be screwed into the frame have no such issues, plus with the right tool are cheap and easy to fit.
It's quick – way quicker than you might expect considering its weight and intended use, but changes in pace are dealt with instantly, 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 there can be a little bit of lag from the rear end. It disappears quickly, though, as you continue to increase speed.
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.
Small brands like Fairlight Cycles are never going to be seen as such good value as the big brands on paper, purely because the manufacturing is on a much smaller scale, plus the buying power for components and finishing kit is tiny. In fact, if you are good with a spanner and a search engine you can probably build the Strael for a little bit less than the rrp. It's worth adding that there's a new Strael 2.0 on the way soon which brings some small changes, namely thru-axles and a new fork.
Why it’s here: This is a truly stunning four-season machine with an infectious grin factor and amazing handling
8. Bianchi Oltre XR3 Potenza £3,300
One of our fave road bikes of the year is the super classy Oltre XR3 from Italian brand Bianchi, the company's flagship race bike but, thanks to the Campagnolo Potenza groupset, is slightly more affordable than previous Bianchi models we've tested.
The Oltre XR3 won us over 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, a vibration cancelling vibration aimed at increasing your control, reducing muscle fatigue, and keeping you comfortable. 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
7. Ribble CGR £1,046.49
Our winning commuting bike of the year and a contender in the adventure bike awards, the Ribble CGR really impressed the road.cc testers. This bike earned its place because it has all the credentials to make a great commuting bike, whatever the road or trail you might have to ride along to get to work. A disc brake-equipped, mudguard-shod 'do a bit of everything' machine that makes a lot of sense for the rider who doesn't always want to stick to the tarmac.
The Ribble is a versatile bike, but it's aimed primarily at the road, where it is very adept, and if you were never to show it a muddy trail you wouldn't be disappointed – it makes an excellent winter trainer. The added value comes from just how good it is off road. It hasn't just had a few tweaks to make it fit with current trends, the CGR really does work across the board.
With a long wheelbase, mounts for mudguards and racks plus being designed for disc brakes, the Ribble is likely to see a lot of use in the wet and cold of winter where the road surface is often less than ideal. A bike that's dependable and trustworthy when it comes to the handling. It is stiff, though, so when you do really need to get a shift on you aren't going to be disappointed about a lack of power transfer. It's comfortable, too, which makes it a welcome companion for those long, steady, endurance-building rides through the off-season.
And thanks to Ribble's online Bikebuilder, you can pick and choose how you want to specify your machine. The cheapest available Shimano Sora model comes in at just £799. The model we've got here is specced with Shimano's excellent new Tiagra 4700, a groupset that is a near replica of its mid-range 105 group but without the extra gear; Tiagra is 10-speed rather than 11. Shifting is pretty much identical, with a crisp selection even under load with the Tiagra gear levers.
Why it's here: Versatile winter trainer or commuter bike that'll easily take on the rough stuff as well as the road
6. Bowman Cycles Palace:R frameset £695
Our frameset of the year winner sneaks in at 6 on this top ten overall award list. British brand Bowman Cycles is on a bit of a roll, it previously won frameset of the year, and the updated Palace:R thoroughly deserves its place here.
Why? Because it delivers astounding levels of performance and excellent handling, 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
5. Specialized S-Works Diverge £8,500
One of the most interesting new bikes in 2017 was the all-new Diverge, a dedicated adventure and gravel bike with a host of tech, most notably the FutureShock borrowed from the Roubaix endurance bike. Yes this S-Works model is insanely expensive and dripping in top-end kit, but you can get the same basic frame and technology in a package costing £2,000 with a carbon frame or £1,500 with an aluminium frame, so those are definitely worth a closer look if you like the look of the new Diverge, but not the scary price tag.
The new Diverge has a redesigned frame with space for 42mm tyres, disc brakes, 1x11 Shimano Di2 gearing, Future Shock suspension and a dropper seatpost signal a lot of changes for Specialized's Diverge, but they add up to create one of the best adventure bikes I've ridden. It's a sophisticated ride with buckets of capability for going fast and tackling big journeys over varied and challenging terrain.
The original Diverge was launched back in 2014 at a time when the hype for the gravel and adventure category was still in its infancy. Specialized was one of the first mainstream brands to take aim at this growing trend and really nailed it.
Specialized has packed a lot of new technology into the Diverge. The key change is a move from the elastomer Zertz inserts to the Future Shock borrowed from its Roubaix endurance bike, along with the dropped rear stays, wider tyre clearance and, on this range-topping S-Works model, a height adjustable seatpost. All these changes have combined to create a highly capable bike that is right at home on the road – fast and comfortable – and adept on loose surfaces and technical trails. The handling leans towards surefooted stability, a bonus when travelling along gravel tracks at speed, yet with enough agility to ensure it's still engaging on road rides.
Specialized has also refined the Diverge's geometry, and it's this that ensures the new model is so highly capable. Specialized calls it Open Road Geometry, and what it amounts to is a lower bottom bracket, slacker head tube angle and shorter wheelbase than the old bike. The stack is higher and the reach is now shorter. The higher front end won't be to everyone's taste, and it's exaggerated by the Hover handlebar, but it does make the drops much more accessible which serves to increase control in the technical sections.
The lower bottom bracket ensures you sit lower on the bike in relation to the handlebar and this contributes to its great road bike manners because it feels akin to an endurance bike. Cyclo-cross-inspired adventure bikes can leave you feeling a bit high and precarious and don't inspire the same relaxed manners as a road-biased setup.
Tyre clearance is another big upgrade on the new Diverge. There's now space for up to 42mm rubber, with the 38mm Specialized Trigger Pro tyres sitting comfortably in the frame and fork with plenty of daylight around them. You could fit even wider tyres if you swapped the wheels for 650B units. The Trigger Pros (you can read a review here) provide a nice blend of road speed and off-road grip. They favour drier trail conditions than mud and gloop, but it's surprising what you can persuade them to crawl up with a bit of careful weight distribution and gentle application of power.
The result of all those changes makes for a bike that is comfortable, long-distance cruising bike on the road, with fantastic poise and cornering ability. Off the smooth stuff and the combination of the big tyres and Future Shock let you attack any rough paths, gravel tracks and technical descents with relish. It's a very accomplished bike and more than most manages to be master of all terrain.
There's a lot of tech packed into this S-Works model but it all comes together to form a very cohesive package. I'd say it's the most forward-thinking and progressive adventure bike currently available and shifts the category a step further away from the cyclo-cross roots of early generation adventure bikes.
The adventure bike category is awash with choice and the bikes are evolving in a really exciting way. If you're into riding mixed terrain, the evolution of these bikes makes them even more appealing than a few years ago.
Why it's here: A phenomenally capable, tech-laden adventure bike – but it's mightily expensive
4. Kinesis Tripster AT frameset £699
We've tested more adventure bikes in 2017 than ever before, a sign of their increasing popularity and availability, and the new Kinesis Tripster AT bagged the Adventure and Cyclocross award with its smart design and low price. You can get the frame for £699 and build it up with your own parts, or get a complete bike for £1,699 with SRAM Rival 1.
AT stands for All Terrain and that sums up the ambition and capability of the Tripster AT perfectly. Apart from very rough mountain bike trails where any adventure bike would be out of its depth, there's really not much that fazes it. You can bimble along the road quite happily and keep up with road riding friends at sociable speeds, yet turn off the road and explore trails and paths to your heart's content.
Much of its appeal comes down to the large tyre clearance, plus the added bonus of compatibility with 650B wheels, allowing you to spec any tyre that delivers the performance and capability you want. Fit a general purpose tyre like the supplied VeeTire Rail or Panaracer GravelKing SK and you have a bike that lets you easily ride roads at a decent pace and have enough grip to tackle dirt tracks and gravel roads. The tyre you pick comes down to what you want from the bike and the level of capability you need, but I found a 40mm gravel tyre provided the best all-round balance of low rolling resistance on the road, and traction and ruggedness for off-road exploits. It's a tyre size that delivers a good balance of low weight and road speed yet plenty of capacity for off-road excursions – depending on the tread pattern of course.
The tried-and-tested geometry, borrowed directly from the Tripster ATR, works well. It's not the most aggressive setup, it definitely leans towards comfort and off-road stability, thanks to the long wheelbase, tall head tube and relaxed head angle. The frame is made from the Kinesis' own Kinesium tubeset and all the tubes, their shapes and profiles, have been selected to provide a frame that delivers a high level of stiffness. It's reassuringly oversized in all the key places. The down tube is taken from a mountain bike – indeed the frame passes the mountain bike CEN safety testing standard, such is the level of stiffness in the frame.
It's a disc brake-only frameset with 12mm thru-axles at both ends and flat mount disc brakes (though the supplied demo bike was built with post mount brakes using adapters). The frame was designed with input from the late Mike Hall, the legendary British ultracyclist who was killed while taking part in the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race earlier this year, and as such there are some nice bikepacking details, extending to the graphics being designed to conceal bag straps, a very smart detail. There are three bottle cage mounts, with a third on the bottom of the down tube, while the down tube cage has two possible positions, standard and lower to free up space for a frame pack. There are also mudguard eyelets.
Steer the bike onto a gravel road or woodland trail and its off-road credentials come to the fore. That is ultimately what you want from an adventure bike – a design that is able to ha le the expected and the unexpected, and ensures you're smiling through it all. The geometry provides really good stability at a wide range of speeds. It's docile at high speed and the steering relaxed enough to make handling steep descents or tricky corners enjoyable rather than frightening.
Kinesis has designed a really nice bike in the Tripster AT. It's taken the best bits from the more expensive Tripster ATR and reimagined it in aluminium, and added some useful features along the way. It's a frameset that offers a multitude of build options from a fast road commuter to a large-tyred bikepacking setup for bigger adventures. Add in the great value and it's easy to see why the Kinesis walked off with the award this year.
Why it's here: An excellent and affordable do-it-all adventure, road and commuting bike with bags of versatility
road.cc Bike of the Year - Deal of the year
3. Boardman Road Team Carbon £900
Getting to the business end of this awards, and in third place is the Boardman Road Team, the £900 bike which also won the Road Bike of the Year award on recognition of its great performance and value for money, which also bags it our Deal of the year award too. In fact it's become even more of a deal since we reviewed at its original price of £1,000 because it is currently discounted down to £900.
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 work 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.
As mentioned above the Boardman Road Team Carbon is currently discounted to £900, making it an even better buy than when we reviewed it at £1,000. You could use the saving to upgrade the brakes.
Why it's here: A decently specced semi-race bike with a very good frameset at its heart
2. Specialized Roubaix Expert £3,300
Into second place is the tech-laden new Specialized Roubaix Expert. The Roubaix, with its comfort-focused frame design and geometry, has long been a popular bike with UK consumers, but for 2017 it was out with teh old and in with the new. The most significant change was the introduction of the FutureShock, a spring contained inside a cartridge that isolates the handlebars from the bumps, shocks and vibrations that pass through the front wheel, fork and frame. The best thing was that it worked. Really well. We were highly impressed. So much so that it won the Endurance and Sportive Bike of the Year Award.
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.
The price for the Ultegra specced Expert model we tested has jumped a bit for 2018, it costs £3,800, though you do get the latest Ultegra R8000 groupset. You can get pretty much the same frame, including the FutureShock, on a bike with Tiagra costing £1,900. If you hunt around you can still find the bike we tested here at a reduced price.
Why it’s here: Light, stiff and comfortable, the new Roubaix with its Future Shock delivers an impressive ride.
1. 3T Strada frameset £3,600
It's been a really interesting year for the road bike with some interesting new developments and updates, but there was one bike that left us absolutely stunned, and it's not often that happens. The 3T Strada takes a lot of the current trends that we like - wide tyres, disc brakes, aero, 1x11 - and combines them into a bike that is cleverly designed. And the result is a bike that offers breathtaking speed, impressive smoothness and fine handling balance. For sure, it's a bike that won't be for everyone. And that is fine. But we admire the company's desire to push the goalposts in a really interesting way.
It's designed around wide tyres because they are fast and comfortable, and the rest of the bike is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. Going with disc brakes has freed up key parts of the frame and fork to be optimised for aerodynamics. So the fork crown is really low and this has allowed the down tube to be pushed extremely close to the front tyre to improve airflow across the rim, tyre and frame. The rear stays are skinny for improved comfort and, just like on a host of aero and time trial bikes, the seat tube is curved tightly around the rear tyre.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While a 1x11 groupset replicates the range of a regular groupset well with the wide-range cassette nicked from a mountain bike, there's no escaping the fact that gaps between the gears are going to be bigger. However, what I will say is that I very quickly adapted to the bike and in four weeks of riding I very rarely found it an issue.
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.
I have never ridden a bike that combines such astounding speed wrapped up with superlative comfort. 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.
It's this combination of speed and smoothness that is the most impressive trait of the Strada. Above all the furore caused by the lack of a front mech and tight clearance, my response after riding the 3T Strada is to doff my hat to Gerard Vroomen and 3T for bravely offering open-minded cyclists another choice.
Currently, you can either buy the Strada as a frameset and build it yourself or buy a complete build kit featuring an SRAM Force groupset with 3T wheels and parts. The kit costs £3,850 on top of the price of the frameset, which retails for £3,600. Clearly, it's a very expensive bike, there's no getting around the high price really. But we're willing to overlook it in light of the radical design direction and highly impressive ride and handling. We just wish we could afford it...
Why it’s here: The Strada is a fast, comfortable and exciting aero race bike that works brilliantly
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.