It’s time to reveal the very best bikes we’ve ridden and reviewed in 2018.
2018 was a great year, with more new bikes than you could shake a stick at and loads of exciting developments. There are faster aero bikes, more capable gravel bikes, great value commuter bikes, and this selection awards the best bikes across a wide range of categories.
If you missed the category awards that we’ve been running all week, here’s a recap:
- Road Superbike of the Year
- Gravel and Adventure Superbike of the Year
- Gravel and Adventure Bike of the Year
- Road Bike of the Year
- Road Frameset & Gravel and Adventure Frameset of the Year
- Sportive and Endurance Bike of the Year
- £1,000 and under Cycle to Work Scheme Bike of the Year
The list of 10 bikes that we’re about to present to you consists of the standout bikes from the above categories which represent the many strands of cycling we cover here at road.cc.
It's a diverse collection that highlights the many directions in which cycling has been evolving in recent years. There are familiar trends. Disc brakes are as popular as ever, aero bikes are rapidly evolving and becoming really good all-round road race bikes, gravel and adventure bikes are clearly here to stay with lots of interesting developments in both frame and tyre design aimed at providing that ideal blend of road and off-road versatility, and while the list might mostly consist of carbon fibre bikes, there is one showing that steel is still a valid choice.
How we picked the winners
Let’s explain how we reached our conclusion for the road.cc Bike of the Year 2018-19 awards. We first rounded up all the best-reviewed bikes (that’s bikes that scored 8 out of 10 or more in reviews during 2018), then we grouped them into the categories listed above, and picked the winners from each.
The best bikes from those categories were then brought forward into the main road.cc Bike of the Year 2018-19 list and we set about arranging them into an order. Much arguing then ensued until we all reached an agreement. But how do we pick the best bike? In our view, it’s a 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.
road.cc Bike of the year - Deal of the Year
Deal of the Year acknowledges the bike in our top 10 that offers the best value. Think of it as the bang per buck award, if you prefer.
10. Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon £1,000
The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon is a quick and dynamic road bike with practical features that make it suitable for year-round riding, and it offers very good value for money.
The highlight is the new frameset, which is good news because that's the heart of any bike. The frame was developed with the use of CFD (computational fluid dynamics), the idea being to provide improved aerodynamic efficiency. You wouldn't call this a full-on aero road bike but you do get features designed to reduce drag. The down tube, seat tube and fork legs have truncated aerofoil profiles, meaning that the trailing edge is cut off square – a design technique that's widely used in the bike industry (and elsewhere).
The Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon feels lively in use, offering a high level of stiffness for its price point. Okay, you'll probably notice a bit of frame flex if you absolutely hammer it in a quad-twanging sprint for a town sign, and a little from Boardman's own alloy tubeless-ready wheels, but that's about the extent of it.
A tapered head tube gives the front end a pretty solid feel that makes carving through the bends a whole lot of fun.
The handling is quick but a way short of twitchy. You can manoeuvre yourself easily enough without any sense of skittishness. This is a bike that's simple to control and the Tektro R315 long arm brakes allow the use of mudguards and 28mm tyres.
One thing that might surprise you is the level of comfort on offer here. Boardman has dropped the seatstays on this model so that they meet the seat tube low down, while the seatpost is slim and its clamping point is low. All of this helps to make for a reasonable amount of movement at the saddle; not so much that you bounce around when laying down the power, but enough to take the edge off holes and bumps in the road and to filter out a lot of vibration.
If you want to fit mudguards, the SLR 8.9 Carbon comes with eyelets. The ones on the inside of the rear dropouts are hardly noticeable when not in use and those on the outside of the fork legs aren't a whole lot more conspicuous. Subtle, then, but invaluable for year-round riding in the UK.
Why it's here Really impressive road bike that's built around a corker of a frameset, and the price is very good too
9. Specialized Tarmac SL6 £3,500-£5,400
We reviewed two different Specialized Tarmacs in 2018, the £3,500 Women's Tarmac Expert and the Tarmac Pro at £5,400. They share the same superb Tarmac SL6 frameset so we're coupling them together for the Road Superbike of the Year 2018/19.
The Specialized Women's Tarmac SL6 Expert is an excellent investment for anyone looking to buy a high-quality bike that will perform in all areas. While the groupset and wheels keep the price below Specialized's top of the range bikes, the frameset itself is absolutely outstanding. It will satisfy any budding amateur racer, avid sportive rider or those who simply value and enjoy riding a really decent bike.
The rim brake version of the Tarmac SL6 Expert Women's isn't in Specialized's 2019 range, but there is a disc brake version at £4,250.
The Specialized Tarmac Pro (£5,400.00) is a highly appealing race and fast performance bike that also puts in a stunning performance. The 2018 version we tested is still available. The closest model to it in Specialized's 2019 range is the Tarmac Expert (£4,500).
Not only is the Tarmac SL6 frame significantly lighter than before, it's claimed to be more aero and comfortable than the previous bike. The dropped seatstays are a distinguishing feature. They look great and they serve two purposes, the first being to allow a lower seat tube, which leads to greater flex of the seatpost. The second relates to aerodynamics. The lower position helps maintain uninterrupted airflow over the back of the bike.
You get a responsive and exhilarating ride with steering a highlight. The bike responds to your inputs at the handlebar really well, being neither too fast nor too slow when steering into corners and bends. It's a really easy bike to ride at pace and getting accustomed to it takes little time.
There's no lack of stiffness evident when sprinting for finish lines, and out-of-the-saddle efforts reveal a climbing ability that's on par with any other high-end race bike.
It used to be that a top-end race bike would be overly stiff and uncomfortably hard, crashing along rough roads with no ability to soak up vibrations, but the Pro isn't harsh and doesn't beat you up if the road surface suddenly deteriorates.
The new seatpost design certainly helps here. It provides a noticeable amount of saddle deflection – you can actually see and feel the saddle moving – and that really contributes to the wonderfully smooth ride. There's also space for 28mm tyres if you want an even smoother ride.
Buying a Specialized Tarmac has always been a safe choice if you wanted a very capable race bike. The latest changes push its performance and desirability up a massive step from the old bike, making it also a smart choice.
Why it's here Stunning performance across the board and great looks – if you've the money to spare, consider spending it on this
8. Storck Aernario.2 Platinum G1 £9,250
With its price tag of nearly 10 grand, you'd expect the Storck Aernario.2 Platinum G1 to be something very special indeed... and it is. Light, stiff, fast and comfortable, it delivers everything by the bucket load.
The Aernario.2 doesn't feel like a race bike to ride. It's fast, yes, but there don't seem to be any of the compromises you usually find with an out and out race machine.
The Aernario.2 is part of Storck's Allround range and it's a joy to spin along even when the surface isn't the best. It cancels out the high-frequency buzz you get from slightly rippled and broken road surfaces, and that makes a difference on rides of over four hours, especially to your contact points.
As well as being so comfortable, the Aernario.2 impresses with a huge feeling of stiffness from the frame. Stamp on the pedals and this bike surges forward. If you need to bridge a gap or beat the lights, it responds readily, and you don't even need to get out of the saddle!
If the urge to sprint does take you, no matter how hard you are laying down the power and flinging the bike from side to side, every single watt feels as though it is going straight to the tarmac. If you are out for the long haul and want to take things a little bit easier, though, this is still one quick bike.
All this stiffness and the lightweight – it sits below the UCI's minimum bike weight limit – mean it's one hell of a climber. Attacking the local hills became a joy and reviewer Stu Kerton even started riding climbs that he generally avoids just to set personal bests!
When it comes to technical sections and descending, the Aernario.2 is an absolute hoot.
As you'd expect for such a performance bike, the handling is on the quick side, so you need to be relaxed and smooth to really exploit the brilliance. The short head tube allows you to get into a perfect tuck to lower your centre of gravity and once in the drops, slight shifts of position and bodyweight mean you can pick your line through the bends with absolute precision.
Storck's Platinum bikes use a higher grade of carbon fibres than the cheaper Pro and Comp models, giving the Aernario.2 an impressive claimed weight of 790g for the frame in the smallest size and a fork weight of just 270g.
The frame is designed in such a way that the tubes and their junctions offer as little resistance to the wind as possible while still functioning in other roles like stiffness. It also takes into account the entire aerodynamic package including the rider and other components. Short 399mm chainstays mean that the rear wheel is tucked into a recess in the seat tube for improved airflow too.
Overall, this is among the very finest all-round race bikes available.
Why it's here One of the best all-round race bikes out there, and also one of the most expensive
7. Triban RC 520 Disc road bike £729
Presenting the Triban RC 520 Disc road bike, winner of the Cycle Work Scheme Bike of the Year and also our Deal of the Year. It’s here because it offers awesome value, easygoing handling, and plenty of practicality.
With a super-tall head tube and compact top tube, the Triban bike sits you more upright than an entry-level race bike or even a fair chunk of the endurance-specific market too. It fully justifies its do-it-all tag.
For first time bike buyers after a good build at a reasonable price, or experienced riders after a great value winter bike or commuter, it's hard to look past the Triban RC 520.
What'll surprise you most about this bike is just how easy it is to pedal at moderate speeds with the feeling that you're just cruising along. Whether you're commuting into town or going for a spin in the country, it's a supremely easy bike to get on with.
If you want sharp and direct responses above all else, this aluminium-framed bike isn't the one for you, but the easygoing manner lends itself to almost any other kind of road rider.
Cornering in any situation is confidence-inspiring, and it rolls incredibly smoothly too. It takes poor road surfaces in its stride, with a good amount of all-round compliance keeping things comfortable. Try to climb or ride out of the saddle and the frame's weight begins to pendulum around a little, while the finishing kit isn't exactly geared towards lightweight performance, but it climbs moderately well when you remain seated.
What goes up inevitably must come down, and the steady handling allows you to have a lot of fun on descents. The Triban is able to make technical and sometimes fast descents feel absolutely fine.
You get a plethora of eyelets and mounts for mudguards and pannier racks, and there's clearance here for 36mm tyres if you choose not to fit guards.
Shimano 105 R7000 derailleurs are at the heart of the drivetrain, while the disc brakes are TRP's HY/RD open hydraulic system with 160mm rotors. You're working a hydraulic brakeset, but through mechanical actuation.
The Triban 520 is a value-packed endurance bike that has bags of reliable quality and flexibility. You can use it as a very decently specced entry-level road bike, an everyday commuter and general workhorse, and it'll get on with the job with minimal fuss.
The Triban 520 wins the award for road.cc Bike of the Year - Deal of the Year
Why it's here A superb value, fully competent workhorse road bike with plenty of practicality thrown in
6. Giant Propel Advanced Disc £2,999
The Giant Propel Advanced Disc is an efficient, firm-feeling road bike with aerodynamics designed specifically with disc brakes in mind. It's not the lightest bike available for this kind of money but it's fast whether you're soloing off the front or sprinting for the line.
The Propel Advanced Disc is designed with efficiency in mind, both in terms of aerodynamics and stiffness. A new truncated ellipse aerofoil profile is used for the fork legs, most of the frame elements and the seatpost. Giant uses other features that we've come to expect of aero road bikes over the years, such as a hidden seatpost clamp, a seat tube that's cut away around the leading edge of the rear wheel, and a horizontal top tube.
One other key feature is Giant's own aero handlebar and stem system that leaves no exposed hydraulic brake hose and just 5cm of gear cable showing on either side (between exiting the handlebar and entering the stem).
The other important fact regarding aerodynamics is that the new Propel framesets are disc brake only. Giant says it found that with proper integration a disc brake design can be more aerodynamically efficient than a rim brake bike.
This bike certainly feels stiff when you stamp on the pedals, with very little flex to speak of even when you're standing up and giving it everything you have. This stiffness extends to the front end with a head tube that features Giant's Overdrive 2 design with a 1 1/4in upper bearing and a 1 1/2in lower bearing. Giant's own alloy Contact SL Aero handlebar doesn't flex much when you haul on it either, which is notable because some aero options do thanks to their slim profile.
The Propel Advanced Disc treads the middle ground in terms of manoeuvrability, flicking around ably when you want to move within a group or change your line on a fast descent, and it isn't too much of a handful in crosswinds, partly thanks to Giant speccing a shallower-section (42mm) SLR 1 Aero Disc wheel at the front than at the back (65mm).
The Propel Advanced Disc is fast and efficient with excellent disc brakes and very good wheels. It does have a firm feel and you can't switch to a different handlebar and stem combo, but if you're happy with those things then this is a bike that'll give you a boost in your pursuit of speed.
The 2019 Giant Propel Advanced 1 Disc is the same price (£2,999) as the 2018 model we reviewed.
Why it's here Aero road bike that offers speed, efficiency and a strong spec
5. Merida Silex 700 £2,100
We tested a lot of gravel bikes in the past year, but in the end, the best sub-£3,000 bike was the Merida Silex 700.
The Silex 700 wins because it’s a no-nonsense package of reliable components, parts and a geometry that brings a stable ride feel. Its geometry vaguely references mountain bikes, which makes for a really excellent ride feel, on road or off, blurring the line between road and mountain in a fast, fun bike.
You might be staring at the head tube and thinking it looks a bit tall, and you’d be right. But it’s also partly why it excels off-road. You see, Merida has taken a few ideas from mountain bikes and designed the Silex around a long top tube/short stem and wide bar concept, and the tall head tube is to eradicate the usual stack of spacers that most cyclists have on their bikes.
The very tall head tube encourages you to ride in the drops more often, where the Silex displays great comfort and stable manners. Immediately from the first clip in, the Silex 700 feels great, and more so sunk into the drops and pointing it downhill.
This planted ride feel is down to the long top tube meaning you have plenty of room to move around the bike, and move the bike around the trail. It never feels nervous or skittish, just calm and settled. It’s very different to most other road-based gravel and adventure bikes but different in a very good and enjoyable way.
We really admire Merida’s different take on geometry and the long top tube and short stem/wide bar combo works a treat if you’re aiming to do a lot of actual gravel riding and tackle steep and technical terrain and descents. It doesn’t lose any of the versatility we look for in a gravel bike though and would suit the commute just as well.
It’s also pretty good value for money as well, with this model sporting a full Shimano Ultegra groupset with Maxxis Razzo 35mm tyres and Merida branded finishing kit. Merida offers a wide range of build options, we’ve just tested the £1,200 Silex 300 if you want to rein the spending in a bit.
Why it’s here Infused with mountain bike DNA, the Silex 700 is hugely capable and bags of fun on gravel tracks and off-road trails
4. Canyon Grail CF SL 8.0 SL £2,639
The most distinctive new bike of the past year, and winner of our inaugural Super Gravel and Adventure Bike of the Year award, is the Canyon Grail CF SL.
For sure it definitely divides opinion, but the innovative handlebar is a clear sign that Canyon had put a lot of thought into developing a bike able to meet the requirements of gravel riding. And blimey what a light, nimble, fun and fast bike the Grail turned out to be.
It's responsive to any acceleration and hard effort out of the saddle for those short, sharp climbs. And if there is no way to avoid that pothole/tree root/large rock, it bunnyhops like a pro. It's the way it just deals with everything in its path that's so impressive.
Canyon's innovative handlebar is a big help when it comes to providing stability and a real feeling of confidence. When descending in the drops at warp speed, you can wrap your thumbs around the base bar to give you a good firm grip. No amount of vibration or whack from a pothole is going to see you lose contact with it, and I found it easy enough to pull the brakes on full from this position too.
The steering is beautifully direct too. Canyon has gone for a 72.5-degree head angle which is a good 1-1.5 degrees steeper than most gravel bikes to take some of the quickness out of the steering for riding on loose terrain. The 1,209mm wheelbase helps keep some stability and reassurance too.
As you’d expect from Canyon, it’s reasonably good value for money. The model we tested has changed a bit, instead, the price has dropped 3250 and the Reynolds wheels have been swapped fro aluminium DT wheels, which might seem a shame, but you do get some spangly tanwall tyres!
Overall, despite its novel looks the Grail is a product of great engineering, not just the frameset but the Canyon components too. It's been designed as a complete package – you can call them gimmicks if you like, but wow, they all add up to an awesome ride.
Why it’s here The fastest and most fun gravel bike I've ridden by far with an adrenaline grin factor of 10/10!
3. Fairlight Cycles Strael 2.0 £2,639
Occupying the first step on the coveted podium is the beautiful Strael from Fairlight Cycles, and also the winner in the Sportive and Endurance award. This second-generation Strael is one of the finest steel bikes we’ve ever tested and provides amazing comfort and impressive performance. Good stuff from such a young British brand too.
With its finely designed Reynolds 853 frame optimised for disc brakes and a geometry intended to suit the demands of the year-round British cyclist, the Strael offers phenomenal comfort and an incredible ride. The Strael 2.0 maintains a lot of what ensured the original reached second place in last year’s Bike of the Year award, but there’s a host of careful refinements including a move to thru-axles and flat mount brake calipers.
The handling is an absolute masterclass thanks to the mix of geometry and tube selections that create a frame in which all the constituent parts work in perfect harmony. The tubes have been selected for their profiles and wall thicknesses which when welded together provides a taut and eager characteristic with plenty of comfort where it is needed.
A Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset on our test bike delivered flawless gear changes and confident braking in all weathers, with solid Hunt wheels and decent finishing kit and 28mm wide tyres. There’s fittings for mudguards and racks as well boosting the versatility of this bike hugely.
It’s also worth mentioning the company’s Proportional Geometry. Each frame size is offered in a tall and regular stack option so you can get closer to the ideal bike fit without going down the fully bespoke route. It’s an impressive commitment from the young company and shows how much it values customers achieving the perfect bike fit.
The Fairlight Strael is simply stunning. The ride is downright amazing and really smashes all the thinking behind various genres in the road cycling marketplaces. A long wheelbase, the ability to take mudguards and even that relaxed geometry doesn't have to mean a slow or unresponsive bike that you can't have fun on.
Why it’s here Amazing comfort matched with an impressive performance from what is one of the most confident handling bikes on the market.
2. Specialized S-Works Venge £9,500
In at number two is the winner of the Superbikes of the Year award, the stunning Specialized S-Works Venge., Yes it’s jolly expensive but it’s one of the most technologically advanced aero race bikes that we’ve yet tested, and also one of the fastest bikes that tester David has ever ridden. It also gets his special Best Bike I’ve Ever Ridden award.
So why is it so good? It shows that aerodynamics doesn’t have to mean compromises anymore, so you can have leading edge aero performance but with low weight, incredible handling and easy real-world usability and adjustment. You can ride this bike everywhere without feeling like you’re ever on an unsuitable bike for the terrain.
Above all else, what really impresses is the sheer speed. It’s insanely rapid! Obviously, the speed you go mostly comes down to what you have in your legs, but it’s the way it translates all the power you've got into forward motion. The speed builds quickly and keeps on coming and doesn’t stop until you’re out of breath.
It’s lighter too, Specialized has chopped a whopping 240g out of the frame (the 56cm version weighs a claimed 960g) giving the Venge a more all-round appeal than previously. With the bike's all-in weight of 7.1kg, you're not exactly facing a massive handicap riding in the hills and mountains. It is just as good on a long, hilly route as it is flying around a flat criterium circuit.
Comfort isn't usually a word that crops up when talking about aero bikes, other than to comment on its absence. Aero bikes are designed for speed and nothing else, and those deep profiled tube shapes aren't the best for helping a bike deal with bumps and cracks.
Not so with the new Venge, it utterly impressed with its ability to remain composed on the roughest of my local roads. It's impressively smooth and tolerant of rough roads, the handling is superb and the fit is easy to adjust.
For a bike designed to win races, out-of-the-saddle climbing reveals the stiffness improvements in the new handlebar and stem, and the frame doesn't waste any of your watts at all. It’s very direct and responsive to you inputs, big or small.
As you’d hope, this bike is suitably well specced for its price and intentions. Roval CLX 64 wheels enhance the speed, Shimano’s Dura-ACe Di2 groupset is flawless and the new Specialized dual-sided power meter works accurately and consistently. The finishing kit is all top dollar, from the Power saddle to new handlebar and stem which allows easy stack and reach adjustment.
David gave the Venge his personal Best Bike I’ve Ridden award. He’s currently saving very hard so he can buy one (well the cheaper Ultegra model anyway).
Why it’s here If you're a fan of going fast and have deep pockets, you'll adore the S-Works Venge
1. B’Twin Ultra 900 CF 105 £1,399
And to the top step of the podium, drumroll please… The best bike of the year is the B’Twin Ultra 900 CF (also the winner of the Best Road Bike award) because it packs an absolute punch when it comes to sheer performance and value for money.
The Ultra CF 900 is further evidence, if any was needed, that B'Twin knows how to build awesome-riding race bikes which offer excellent stiffness, handling and speed while also managing to be unbelievably comfortable
The ride from the UCI approved carbon frame and fork is sublime, absorbing pretty much everything the road surface can chuck at it, so you just waft along at a very impressive pace, smashing mile after mile without effort.
The handling is sweet too. The head angle is 73 degrees, which isn't massively steep for this kind of bike, but it's enough to keep the front end quick and precise without instilling any form of twitchiness. The Ultra CF is a fun, quick-handling machine to ride, no matter what your level of ability; it flatters.
It’s a purposeful looking frame with chunky tube profiles where needed to ramp up the stiffness, with skinnier profiles elsewhere to introduce a bit of flex for comfort.
The bottom bracket shell is press-fit 86, which won't be everyone's cup of tea, but on race frames the benefit is obvious. Pressing the bearing cups into the frame means the shell can be wider, the same as a standard shell including outboard bearing cups, so you still keep the same Q-factor, the distance between the crank faces. This allows for a wider down tube, seat tube and huge chainstays for power delivery.
You get full internal cable routing from front to rear and it's well placed to avoid any frame rub. Other neat little details include the mounting point on the bottom bracket shell for the included chain catcher to avoid the risk of chainsuck wrecking the frame.
The Ultra CF 900 comes with a full Shimano 105 groupset throughout, which is nice to see. At this price point, it's still not unheard of to see a scrimping on the brakes or chainset. The gearing is aimed at the performance rider, as you'd expect, so B'Twin has gone for a 52/36 semi-compact chainset option up front, with an 11-28, 11-speed cassette at the rear.
A set of Mavic Aksium wheels are pretty good for the money. They are solid performers and a good entry-level set of wheels especially if you want something durable and smart looking without worrying too much about weight. All the finishing kit is the B’Twin’s own label and it’s all decent stuff.
To sum up, the Ultra CF 900 is built around what can only be described as an excellent frameset. It's a real rider's bike with loads of feedback from the frame and fork no matter whether you are just cruising along or smashing it through the technical bits.
Why it wins A beautiful frameset that excels in comfort and performance wrapped in decent components at a very competitive price
And that concludes our annual awards. We hope that 2019 offers as many interesting and exciting bikes to review.
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.