We not only test a serious amount of bikes here at road.cc (as you'll know if you read the road.cc Bike of the Year Awards) but we get through an impressive amount of kit too. There's everything here, from seatposts to tyres and groupsets. Lots of groupsets.
In this awards article we're dishing out awards to the best components we've tested in 2018. That means these products that score an 8 or higher in the review process, so that means each product comes highly recommended from the road.cc review team.
The best groupset is not Dura-Ace. It’s not even Ultegra. Yup, it’s 105. It provides the best cost-to-performance with most of the tech from those more expensive groupsets but at a more sensible price. This latest R7000 incarnation is better than ever and really, the gaps in performance have all but disappeared.
Shimano doesn't currently have any plans to trickle Di2 down to 105 level, so if you're after electronic shifting then you'll need to go up to Ultegra. The new Shimano 105 levers are redesigned, and it'll not be a surprise to know that they're taking on some of the changes made further up the groupset hierarchy.
The rear derailleur is completely new for 105, moving over to Shimano's Shadow technology that's come over to the road from the mountain bike groupsets. The new front mech uses a cam arrangement to actuate the shift, and that allows the unit to be much more compact, providing more wide tyre clearance. There’s now an 11-34t cassette joining the existing 11-32t, and chainset stiffness is right up there with the best.
If you want high-quality hydraulic disc brakes without paying a premium, the latest 105 stoppers are a really good choice and rightly stood out from the many products road.cc tested in 2018.
The new Shimano 105 hydraulic brakes, full name R7020 lever and the R7070 calliper, provide excellent performance and 105 looks. These were a complete redesign from the previous 105 disc brakes, the shape is very much based on the mechanical lever, with the same lever design and a similar hood profile with the textured finish for better grip in the wet.
These brakes bite when you'd expect them to in the lever travel, and from there, there's masses of stopping power available as and when you need it. The reach is adjustable, but there's also a new, smaller lever (R7025) that should be ideal for those with smaller hands. The amount of effort you have to put in to control your speed on the steep, loose back road descents round here is genuinely a revelation compared to rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes.
A big step forward from the previous version, with excellent performance and 105 looks.
As it did with 11-speed a decade ago, Campagnolo became the first component manufacturer to reveal a 2x12 groupset this year. And much like last time around, it appears the company has managed to add in the extra sprocket while maintaining – and in some places improving – the performance of its flagship Record and Super Record groupsets overall. If you can afford it and prefer the idiosyncrasies of Campagnolo shifting to its Japanese and American rivals, there are few if any reasons not to get it on your next bike.
Campagnolo has used the extra sprocket to fill in the gaps on the cassette and close up the ratios. It's only offering two sizes of the new cassettes, 11-29 and 11-32, the reason being that the extra gear sandwiched within it means there's no need to reduce the size of the biggest sprocket to get super-close ratios. Campag claims the closer sprockets make the shifting faster and quieter, and they should even last longer thanks to a new surface treatment. The back six sprockets are in two triplets, and all the spacers are matching thicknesses to make mounting a little easier.
The 11-29 cassette jumps up in one-tooth increments all the way to the seventh sprocket, and from then on goes to 19, 21, 23, 26 and 29. With no jump bigger than three teeth (on the 11-32 cassette it's four, going from 28 to 32t at the back) even the pros no longer need anything closer than 11-29 according to Campag, and it has no plans to make 12-speed cassettes with closer ratios.
Shifting and braking performance is excellent. The brake levers have a lovely feel and offer fantastic power and modulation while keeping fairly quiet when the rain starts coming down. Shifting is a different beast to Shimano and SRAM, and there's definitely a good old 'clunk' when you click the paddle. For me, that's great as you can really feel the action and the gear changes are decisive, but I can appreciate some will prefer Shimano's more discreet-sounding shifts.
It's expensive but it performs flawlessly with more gears – Campagnolo has moved road groupsets to 12-speed with great success
If you really must have the best groupset money can buy, the latest Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 is the current benchmark. It’s lightweight, performs superbly across the board, and its operation is easy to customise.
R9150 might not represent the most radical groupset overhaul ever, but it certainly moves Dura-Ace forward and brings it up to date in recognising the growing importance of wider tyres, larger sprockets and disc brakes in the road bike world. You might or might not be attracted by the Synchro Shift and semi-Synchro Shift options, but the ability to alter your Di2 setup via a consumer-focused phone app is certainly the sort of thing we've grown to expect these days. Oh, and it's very slightly lighter than before too.
You're certainly welcome to disagree – variety is the spice of life, right? – but to my mind, Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 is the best road groupset out there right now. You might prefer the shift system of Campagnolo or SRAM (or FSA, come to that), and that's likely to influence your preference, but my view is that this is the one the others have to beat.
Dura-Ace too expensive for you? Look no further than the latest Ultegra R8000 groupset. The latest iteration of the Shimano Ultegra groupset, R8000, offers a huge leap in performance and aesthetics over the previous 6800 version which makes it an absolute joy to use. It's hard to see any reason to spend more on a groupset – the only question is whether it does enough to justify its price against its cheaper sibling, 105.
Overall, it just does everything a little bit better than the previous version. The shifting is faster and lighter, the braking a little bit sharper. It's an absolutely cracking groupset. The biggest difference of R8000 over R6800 is the shape of the brake lever. The curve for your index finger is more pronounced and if you like to wrap your finger around the bar when on the hoods then you'll find it very comfortable.
The cranks are wider than on 6800, so the whole component looks a little bulkier, and it is certainly stiff. Stamp on the pedals to get your bike to the top of a climb and you aren't going to be finding any flex here. The new more compact front mech provides better clearance for wide tyres.
Shimano has incorporated its Shadow technology, brought over from the mountain bike side of the business, into the new Ultegra rear mech. Its design means that its profile is much narrower when you look at the bike from the rear, sitting 12mm closer to the bike when in the bottom sprocket of the cassette. This means that should you crash or the bike gets blown over there is less chance of damage to the bike or wrecking your gear hanger.
All the changes add up to make this latest R8000 the best Ultegra yet. It's no lighter than the outgoing edition, but overall it works just a little bit better – more an exercise in refinement than a major overhaul, but very welcome nonetheless. It's an absolutely excellent groupset that is more refined than its predecessor in both gear shifting and braking.
Adventure and gravel bikes have become really popular and this has caused many brands and cyclists to reconfigure groupsets to suit the demands of mixed terrain riding, with 1x and mountain bike clutch-style mechs really popular. Shimano has combined its existing Ultegra rear mech with the clutch mechanism from its mountain bike stable to provide a setup that works well for minimising chain slap on really rough roads and dirt/gravel tracks.
Shimano has simply implemented its Shadow Plus technology from its mountain bike groupsets into the new Ultegra RX rear mech. Shadow Plus comprises a clutch-style mechanism housed inside the slightly bulkier body of the derailleur and it's intended to increase the tension on the cage to prevent unwanted chain movement (by preventing the cage moving forwards) to stop the chain flapping about when riding over rough ground or cobbles and slapping the chainstay (noisy) and, in the worst case scenario, dropping off the chainring.
The Ultegra RX rear derailleurs are compatible with Shimano's existing road dual control levers and will work with cassettes with the largest sprocket between 28-tooth and 34-tooth, and with chainsets from 46-36t up to 50-34t, with a 16-tooth maximum chainring capacity (the difference in teeth numbers between large and small chainring).
They are really intended to be used with a 2x setup, but we configured it with a 1x setup and wider range cassettes with no issues.
All we need now is the rest of the RX groupset…
The new Energy Modular chainset from FSA is a sturdy chainset that provides a very useful gear reduction for gravel bikes and other unhurried applications
In its 46/30 chainring configuration, FSA's Energy Modular BB386EVO crankset provides a very useful drop in overall gearing for gravel bikes, touring, and unhurried riding in general. It's solidly constructed, very nicely finished, straightforward to install and flat-out just works.
What the FSA brings to the party that Shimano doesn't is simple: lower gears. Instead of the usual 50/34 chainrings, this Energy chainset has a 46/30 pairing for a roughly 10 per cent reduction in all the gears. Even with the common 11-32 cassette you find on gravel bikes, that provides some useful extra climbing gears.
While it has hollow arms, the FSA Energy is a bit heavier than a comparable Shimano crank. A 46/36 Ultegra crankset, for example, weighs 668g, 62g less than the FSA Energy, despite the FSA's smaller chainrings. That's not a huge difference and given that any sort of off-road riding carries the risk of the odd crash or whack against a rock, a bit of extra beef is no bad thing.
If you want a chainset that provides a substantial reduction in your overall gearing, it's currently your best option.
The Praxis Zayante Carbon M30 Direct Mount chainset is a decently priced carbon fibre option available in a range of lengths and chainring sizes, and thanks to its direct mount fitting system you can swap in a 1x setup for a bit of off-road action. Shifting is impressive, as is the stiffness.
What differentiates the Zayante to most other chainsets on the market is the fact that the spider – the 'legs' that the chainrings bolt onto – isn't part of the drive side crank setup. The spider – or X-Spider as Praxis calls it – attaches to the back of the crank using three T25 Torx bolts and this is where the Direct Mount part of its name comes from. It means you can also add aftermarket power meters from the likes of SRM or Powerlink to the crank, and Praxis even offers the Zayante Carbon with a 4iiii Precision power meter for £500. It also means you can swap between a 2x and 1x setup.
Carbon fibre cranksets are rarely a value for money upgrade that's worth making for anything other than looks. You don't really save a massive amount of weight and the stiffness benefits can be negligible over the very best alloy cranks. The Zayante stacks up pretty well, though, at £300 when you compare it to some of the competition after an albeit brief trawl over the internet.
On the whole, though, the Zayante is a very good chainset in all aspects, especially if you want the option of the sub-compact ring sizes.
Garmin has completely redesigned its Vector pedals, and the Vector 3 system is excellent. You get accurate power readings, they're even easier to swap between bikes, they look much neater and they're even a bit lighter. Add to that the fact that the price has dropped to £849.99 and they're an enticing proposition.
Gone are the transmitter pods, a weak link on the previous version Vector pedals. The new pedals do away with it complete, all the electronics are contained within the new pedal body.
The Vector has really come of age with this redesign. It's always been a good quality system with repeatable and accurate power measurement, but pretty much everything about the new pedals is an improvement.
The RRP of £849.99 is still a lot of money for a pair of pedals. It's worth bearing in mind, though, how much the price of power measurement has come down. The original Vectors were £1,349 a pair, so the third iteration has dropped a full £500 from the first retail price. It needed to as well, because the landscape has changed: Garmin doesn't have the place to itself any more.
The Cambium C15 Carved All Weather is an extension of Brooks' well-received saddle range that doesn't come with a leather upper. Vulcanised rubber is what you find here, with no breaking-in period needed.
Its main construction is still made from vulcanised rubber, and the saddle is very comfortable. The upper works almost like an elastomer to take any vibration out of the ride, and it'll even take out the small bumps from a gravel track too.
Its one downside is its weight: 426g is pretty massive for a performance saddle and it is noticeable, although it's a good compromise with the comfort.
But the C15 is really in its element on a quick audax machine long-range tourer/bikepacking expedition where you want the racier position but with some forgiveness.
The Astute Star Lite is a superbly made saddle that offers a high level of comfort, especially when you're in a low and aggressive riding position.
The Star Lite saddle is 270mm long and 135mm across at its widest point – nothing too unusual there. It's a round shape from side to side with quite a wave along its length – the rear is raised slightly and the nose is dipped. As we all know, saddle preference is a personal thing but the fact that the nose drops will appeal to some people because it's a little further out of the way than usual when you rock forward into a low, aero riding position.
The build quality here is exceptional. Even when viewed from underneath (granted, you're unlikely to do that often!) the Star Lite looks superb with no ragged edges, staples or stray adhesive to spoil the appearance.
Our Star Lite saddle hit the scales at 220g. That makes it light but not mega-light; the dual-shell construction and triple-layer memory foam add grams. We're not talking about much, though, and you might argue that taking a small hit in terms of weight in order to add comfort is well worth it.
Despite their prevalence, gel and foam saddles do have their drawbacks. Foam can compress to a point where it provides almost no cushioning at all. And for all the support that gel is supposed to provide, it can sneak into places you really don't want it to cause other problems. In theory, any air-filled saddle could do the same. But Fabric's Cell Elite Radius is not some sort of seat-shaped balloon; instead, it uses collapsible pyramid air cell technology to provide impressive air-sprung comfort.
This and the excellent shape means the Cell Elite could be used for hours on end, although it's equally effective for quicker blasts without the need for padded shorts. It's not a saddle for head-down speed demons and is far more suited to leisure riders or – even better – regular commuters.
All things considered, then, the £49.99 price tag is more than fair. As long as you're happy to enjoy a relatively upright seating position, this may just be the perfect urban cycling saddle.
How wide is too wide? The 48mm Switchback Hill is the widest 650B tyre that Compass makes, and too wide it ain't. It's super-comfortable, fast-rolling, tubeless-compatible, off-road-capable and light. There's really not a lot wrong here.
The Switchback Hill is a 48mm, 650b road/gravel tyre that's available in a standard or an extralight carcass (the one that we have) that saves 65g. Compass has all its tyres made in Japan by Panaracer to its own specifications.
They really come into their own on any surface that's less than smooth; that can be gravelly back lanes or the main road with a surface in need of repair. Basically, it translates as nearly any road.
On the road they allow you to be a lot less choosy with your line, and in a group, you have to remember to point out holes and other imperfections that you can glide over on 48s but might easily pinch-flat a 25. The grip is exceptional, with the tyres deforming around imperfections and hugging the tarmac on steep climbs and tricky descents.
Compass doesn't recommend the tyre for 'truly technical terrain' and indeed I'd be wary of chucking the thin sidewalls at anything that was especially rocky, but on gravelly unsurfaced paths they're almost as quick as they are on the tarmac, floating over imperfections with aplomb, especially if you drop the pressure a bit.
Exceptional, super-light, big chamber tyres that roll fast on tarmac and gravel alike.
Challenge's Strada Pro Open Tubular is a super-supple tyre designed for racing on rough roads.
Open tubular mounting is never great fun and these are a bit of a pain to get on the rims. Once on and inflated, they form into shape making subsequent tube replacements easy.
The ride feel is fabulous and is the reason I'll always choose these supple tyres over a vulcanised tyre, such as Continental's GP4000S II, which can be harder. They simply float over rough roads.
If you're a rider who wants a beautiful tyre that can cope with UK roads, these are a brilliant option. The extra volume they provide along with an exceptional ride quality makes them near perfect in my opinion.
One of the most popular tyres for allroad and adventure riding at the moment, the Schwalbe G-One Speed tyre is brilliantly capable big-chamber tyres for fast riding on a wide range of surface. New for 2018 is the addition of a 650b option.
It uses all the same features as the 700c tyre we tested previously, from the Microskin casing to the dimpled tread pattern, but measures 40mm wide on a 650b rim.
Unscientific testing (looking at times on Strava, using the same bike with different wheelsets) concluded that the 40mm 650B tyres weren't measurably slower than the 30mm 700C ones. Obviously, there are a lot of factors I can't control there, but the take-home is that these feel like road tyres, not like balloon tyres. They're fast, but they're also comfortable.
On the road, 50psi feels comfortable without sacrificing speed. If you're heading to more varied terrain you can drop the pressure down to 30psi at which point they offer loads of grip and comfort on towpaths and the like. They're not aggressive enough to cope with proper singletrack, but for more graded gravel riding they're excellent.
The dimpled tread offers prodigious levels of grip on most surfaces without feeling like it's robbing you of much speed, even on the rare stretches of smooth tarmac round here.
If you're looking at a dynamo system for your road bike then the SONdelux hub dynamo is pretty much the best out there for low resistance and weight, and it's renowned for great build quality which is matched by the rest of the components on these excellent Hunt wheels. Considering how much the dynamo costs on its own, the price is excellent too. They might be a bit much for the odd night ride, but if you rack up the miles after dark they're an investment worth considering.
These wheels are built for a bit of abuse: there are's 32 spokes front and rear, and the asymmetric rim design offsets the spoke holes to even out the forces a bit on either side of the wheel. The rims have a generous 20mm internal width, which is perfect for a 28mm tyre or even something a bit bigger. Hunt uses good quality triple-butted Pillar spokes and dependable brass nipples for its wheels.
I've found the dynamo to be perfect for road riding, it easily puts out enough juice to power a light system at night. It generates barely any drag (SON claims it's around 0.5W when it's not drawing power), and spins for ages in the workstand; the drag from the internals is barely any more than a slightly stiff bearing when nothing's turned on.
As a dynamo wheelset, it might be overkill for your riding unless you're planning to set out on a long tour or an unsupported race, or you're going to fit them to a bike that does thousands of miles in all weathers. You can't really mark them down for that, though. That's what they're designed for, and they do it faultlessly.
Just Riding Along's (JRA) Gecko Carbon Wheelset is a very impressive set of hoops designed to take on the constant knocks and vibrations the roughest gravel tracks can throw at them, while still being so light that they won't hamper your performance on the road. With a claimed sub-1,400g weight and all the strength you could need, it's also pretty amazing that they come in at well under a grand.
The rims are, as you've no doubt guessed from the title, full carbon fibre and JRA has gone wide. An external width of 27mm and 21mm internal means that tyres tend to size up a little bigger than their sidewall suggests. It's worth thinking about if you have minimal frame clearance. Both the front and rear wheels use 24 spokes laced two-cross on both sides. They use Sapim CX-Ray J-bend spokes, although you can go for the straight pull option which builds into an even lighter set of wheels than we have here, a claimed 1,267g!
On the whole, it's a really well-thought-out build, showing that a well-chosen spec list of components can build into a very good wheelset, offering excellent durability and performance. They are brilliant lightweight wheels that'll take plenty of abuse from gravel tracks or rough roads
The new DT Swiss PRC 1400 Spline clincher wheels come with deep section 65mm rims for aerodynamic efficiency. They're well made and come with excellent internals, plus you can run them tubeless.
The carbon fibre rim, based on the existing RRC 65 Dicut rim, is a NACA shape with a fairly blunt profile, although the PRCs (as I'm going to call them from now on) are in no way bulbous like Zipps, for example. Braking in dry conditions is good – progressive without any grabbing – and braking in the wet, although not exceptional is sure and confident.
The rims are laced to DT Swiss's well-respected 240 hubs. The freehub features a ratchet system (rather than standard pawls). Springs push two 36-tooth star ratchets together to engage when you pedal, all of the teeth engaging at the same time in just 10 degrees.
This is a reliable high-performance wheelset that puts in a great performance in a variety of conditions.
For 2018 Mavic's highly dependable all-rounder, the Ksyrium Elite, has become tubeless, using the French company's UST system like much of the range. The wheels have maintained their lightweight, durable persona from previous models and are still great to ride whether you are racing or tackling the club run, with a little bit of future proofing.
At 1,532g without tyres (2,101g with tyres and valves) they are light enough to be exciting on the climbs or under acceleration, and their stiffness certainly backs that up; you won't get any flex or brake rub here.
You also get tubeless tyres included in the price. Inflation was smooth and simple, with the Yksions sitting snuggly against the rim of the wheel with just the use of a standard track pump, and there were no leaks of sealant anywhere.
If you want a set of wheels to tackle a bit of everything, then the Ksyrium Elites are hard to fault, and while you can get cheaper this is a solid package that'll give you real peace of mind.
Prime's BlackEdition 50 Carbon Wheelset vastly outperform their price-tag, with stable rims, great braking, smooth hubs and easy tubeless setup.
If you're not familiar with Prime, its a brand sold exclusively through Wiggle and CRC. Wiggle is using its buying power to produce a very capable race wheelset at a much better price than many well-known brands.
The 50mm deep rim brake option on test can be run using both clincher and tubeless tyres. Spokes are DT Swiss Aerolite (12, laced 2X non-drive) and DT Aero Comp (12, laced 2X drive side) on the rear, and DT Swiss Aerolite on the front (20 laced radially). The Aero Comps used on the rear are a little heavier but handle the extra drive-side forces well, resulting in a nice stiff wheelset.
The braking is one of the highlights of these wheels. When used with the supplied pads, the power is really good and it's consistent too.
You can easily spend more, but these are a great buy if you're looking for wide, fast and stiff wheels at a sensible price. They’re light too at 1,580g.
One of the easiest things you can do if you fancy a cheeky little upgrade is to buy a new seatpost, and if you really want to treat yourself then this Hope Carbon edition is one to go for. It looks stunning, weighs next to nothing and has one of the simplest seatclamp designs for the user going. It's a beauty.
The Hope weighs 197g for this 27.2 x 350mm post, which is pretty good but certainly not the lightest we've seen. Hope has gone for durability and strength, claiming that the Carbon post can be used for road riding plus cross-country and even downhill mountain biking. Hope also uses various layups of carbon fibre on the outer diameter to resist pressure from the seat clamp and to give the neat finish.
You don't need to remove any part of the assembly to get the saddle in place, all you do is loosen the bolt that passes through the centre, line up the rails and tighten. There is a selection of adapters to fit non-round saddle rails too.
All of this adds up to a very well designed and engineered product, which is why you are paying more for it than others on the market. For most road applications it is probably over-engineered, but with the quality you know that long-term durability shouldn't be an issue.
Selle Italia's Smootape is a solution to a problem I never really knew existed: it's a bar tape that sits flat and smooth when wrapped around the bar, as opposed to having ridges on the overlaps. This extra padded Gran Fondo version is very comfortable, though, so maybe keeping it smooth is a good thing.
The tape itself has a decent thickness and a certain amount of give to take the sting out of road buzz. It has plenty of stretch too, when you are wrapping it around the bar, so tight bends and the like won't see you struggle to keep things taut. The back is tacky enough to grip the bar but you can unwind it and reapply if needs be.
The Gran Fondo version has an rrp of £17.99 which isn't excessive for a tape of this quality. Decent performers are similar, like Fizik's Performance range at £16.99 or Fabric's Hex tape at £19.99, so the Smootape is in good company.
The Redshift Sports Shockstop stem does exactly what it says on the tin: it stops shocks. Suspension stems have never had a good reputation, but that's about to change. In the Shockstop, Redshift has engineered something that arguably should be on the list for any rider dealing with rough surfaces, natural or man-made.
If you're riding long distances over rough surfaces (that would be 'roads' here in austerity Britain) you will likely have experienced sore wrists, hands or arms because of the constant vibration. The Shockstop alleviates this by having a large sealed bearing at one end, damped by adjustable elastomers internally, which then allow the whole stem to pivot and afford up to 20mm of vertical movement in the handlebar.
The Token Ninja Thread Fit 7 In 1 Bottom Bracket exists to let you fit a variety of different cranksets to your PF30 or BB386-sized frame. It's a robust, creak-free design, and if you have issues with noise or see yourself swapping cranksets regularly, this might be for you.
The Ninja 7 In 1 kit is based around Token's TF37 bottom bracket. The design seeks to solve the eternal problem of creaking by using a proprietary mixture of plastic and fibreglass over the alloy shell that the bearings sit in. So between the bearing/alloy shell and your alloy or carbon BB shell is a layer of composite material designed to fill the gap and not be noisy.
Token sells each version of this design in specific sizes to suit BB shells and crankset spindles, priced at around the £50 point. What you get in the 7 In 1 kit are adapters, spacers and washers, wavy and flat, to allow the fitting of four different crankset designs – Shimano Hollowtech II 24mm, SRAM GPX, BB386 or BB30 – into PF30 or BB386 bottom bracket shells. The only non-starter is putting a BB30 crankset into a BB386 shell – that combo don't hunt, as the BB30 spindle is too short for the BB386 shell width.
Why you'd want to pay £40 extra at RRP for this flexibility is the crux of whether the 7 In 1 kit is for you. Maybe you've invested a fortune in a power measuring crankset, which you want to swap easily between bikes with differing BB standards. Or maybe you are planning to buy a new bike at some stage that you know will be a 46mm-diameter PF30/BB386 shell, which you might want to swap the Token into – I'm sure there are other valid use cases out there.
Choice is good, and with components like the Token Ninja 7 In 1 BB, your choices are broad indeed.
If you missed the Best Clothing of the Year Awards article you can read that here.
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.