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The 10 best bikes of the decade according to the Tech Team

These are the bikes we wish we had been able to keep

These are the best 10 bikes that the Tech Team, otherwise known as Mat Brett and David Arthur, have tested over the past 10 years.

Between them they have tested hundreds of bikes, putting the latest developments through their paces with in-depth, honest and real-world reviews that you can trust, picking apart marketing claims and getting under the skin of the bikes to find out what really matters.

Bikes have changed a lot in this decade, as this list of the 15 most innovative bikes from the start of 2010 shows.

Mat Brett

Trek Madone 9 Series

This is my standout bike; the one I added to the list without a moment's hesitation. I wish I'd called Trek at the end of the review period and asked if I could buy the Madone 9 Series instead of sending it back.

Madones have been around for many years, but the 9 Series was hugely different from anything that had gone before, Trek adding an IsoSpeed decoupler plus a big helping of aero efficiency. 

The level of integration meant that you'd be tied in to using Bontrager parts – such as the brakes – for ever more and some maintenance tasks were more complicated than normal, but the riding experience was excellent. The bike was super-fast and superbly comfortable, and that's a winning combination.

I had our test bike painted and built up through Trek's Project One custom system. I wish I'd gone for black logos on the wheels to match those on the frame, but that aside I think the bike looked amazing. It's the one that got away, as far as I'm concerned.

3T Exploro LTD frameset  

An absolute blast on gravel! This is a bike that allows you to get your head down and crank the speed up high. It's at its best when you're pinning it across rough but firm gravel roads. It flies across that stuff faster than any other gravel bike I've ridden.

The Exploro, designed by Gerard Vroomen, formerly of Cervélo, was the world's first aero gravel bike – and still the only one, I believe – coming with tubes designed to reduce drag. 

Some people might consider 'aero gravel' to be a niche too far, but the 3T Exploro is certainly an innovative bike. It's never going to have mass market appeal, especially at this price, but this would be a great bike for gravel racing, taking on a gravel/cyclo-cross/multi-surface sportive, or just getting away for a fast-paced adventure. The Exploro is agile enough for the technical stuff too, it's just that it really shines when you crank up the pace.

I went to the launch of this bike in Italy and was suddenly too ill to ride it, and then when it arrived for test back in the UK, I crashed on the photoshoot (an issue with the crank fitting) and ended up having stitches. Despite it seemingly being cursed, I have fond memories of this one.

Boardman SLR 8.9 Carbon

Huh? All of the other bikes here are super-high-end and innovation-packed; what's this £1,000 model doing here?

I remember saying (excuse me while I quote myself! It's inexcusable, but I'm going to do it anyway), "Every so often in this job you review a bike that makes you think, 'I'd happily ride this one day in, day out.' That's not entirely surprising when you're on a 10 grand superbike, but it's less common at the £1,000 mark. The Boardman SLR 8.9 is one of those bikes."

The SLR 8.9 Carbon is lively, the handling is sharp, it has a high level of frame stiffness and it's comfortable. It also comes with eyelets for mudguards which is a major boon for many.

Yes, you can spend a lot more money and get a bike that's more reactive, more aerodynamically efficient, or whatever, but you'll do well to find a better bike for the money. 

Bianchi Oltre XR4 Disc 

Whether you go for the disc brake or the rim brake model, the Oltre XR4 is a star. You'll find lighter bikes and you'll find bikes that beat it on price, but the Oltre XR4 Disc offers a sparkling ride.

The frame is stiff. Get out of the saddle and slam those pedals with everything you've got in a quad-busting sprint and the central section is solid, and the front end is equally impressive.

As well as being quick and agile, which you'd expect of a high-end road bike, the Oltre XR4 is very smooth. It's among the most buzz-free bikes of its kind.

This really is a great race bike with no real weakness.

Giant TCR Advanced SL 

I rode a TCR Advanced SL 0 fitted with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 components and Giant’s SLR 0 wheels at the launch and it hit the scales at 6.58kg (14.5lb) without pedals. I'm not one to get overexcited by whatever it says on the scales  – it's overrated as a factor determining a bike's performance – but the fact that this bike combines a light weight with a stunning level of frame stiffness is really impressive. Jump off many other lightweight race bikes and onto this one and you'll immediately notice the rigidity, especially through the centre.

The TCR Advanced SL climbs beautifully and it's equally good on the descents. You can ping through fast corners – point and shoot: it’s inch perfect – and if you want to switch lines to avoid something or someone, that’s cool too. I’ve nothing but good things to say about the Giant’s handling. 

It’s a full-on race bike and that’s how it feels out on the road: fast, efficient and very reactive.

David Arthu​r

Cannondale SuperSix Evo​

I had a tricky time choosing between Cannondale’s Synapse and SuperSix Evo here, but in the end, I have to pick the Evo. Why? Because it has simply been one of the best race bikes of the last decade.

When it first launched in 2011 as an evolution of the previous SuperSix, it represented a big step forward for the US brand with a frame weighing as little as 695g. That helped make very light complete bikes possible, sub-6kg with no special effort. But it was also the way it rode, with impressive stiffness for race efforts but a level of comfort that made it a dream to ride long distances. It wouldn’t beat you up like so many super stiff race bikes around at the time.

The Evo was refined over the years but it stuck steadfastly to its key design, with simple round tubes and a horizontal top tube. As we neared the end of the decade the Evo increasingly stood out from its rivals, so in 2019 Cannondale took it back to the drawing board and penned an all-new design that shares nothing in common with the previous model.

It’s a shame, but that is progress, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the original SuperSix Evo.

Specialized S-Works Venge​

I’ve picked the S-Works Venge because for me it represents the rapid development of the aero road bike, which came defined the evolution of the modern road bike in the past 10 years. For me, the latest S-Works Venge is simply the best yet, a third-generation revision that combines incredible speed, handling, comfort and looks.

It’s impossible to validate aerodynamic claims without a wind tunnel, but on my regular test loops, the Venge was clearly head and shoulders above all over rival aero bikes I tested. It had speed in abundance. But more than that, it was the incredible smoothness that made it comfortable well beyond the point an aero bike would typically hammer you into a million tiny pieces. The handling was a highlight too, and the weight was impressive given the size of the tubes and the addition of disc brakes, which this new Venge is only available with.

The only compromise is that it’s only available with disc brakes and electronic gears, which is no issue for me personally as both work wonderfully. The integration design on this bike was a masterstroke too, with an aero stem and handlebar hid all the cables and hoses, but still allowed easy fit adjustment with both easily swappable for regular components. Take note other bike designers.

But above all, the Venge was the first aero bike that I could consider being my daily go-to bike replacing a regular race bike like a Tarmac or SuperSix Evo.

Open UP

I had to pick one gravel and adventure bike for this list given how they have become a huge part of the bike world in recent years, and after going through many very good options, I settled on the Open UP.  Launched in 2015, it wasn’t the first gravel and adventure bike, but it was significant in having a forward-thinking carbon frame design with space for massive  650b x 2.25” mountain bike wheels and tyres, and everything down to a 28mm slick road tyre.

The frame was cleverly manipulated to provide maximum tyre clearance, with the now commonplace dropped chainstay first appearing on the UP, which helped to keep the chainstays short and the Q-factor narrow. Elsewhere there were stiffening ribs, skinny seat stays and cable routing for 1x and 2x groupsets.

It really was a vision of the future and many of its design features have since been assimilated into the bike world. But the orange UP will remain a pivotal bike in the development of this new category of off-road capable drop bar bikes.

Factor Vis Vires

The striking Factor Vis Vires, otherwise known as the most expensive test bike I’ve ever crashed. Before Factor became just another generic carbon bike brand, the Factor 001 was unveiled in 2009 as a concept developed by some clever F1 people with an aim to develop the most advanced bicycle in the world with integrated electronics that could measure everything from power to lean angle, core body temperature to respiration rate, and display it all on a handlebar-mounted computer.

The Vis Vires launched in 2014 with few of the promised, a split down tube, dropped seat stays, the company’s own power meter and a £10k price tag. It looked futuristic and the looks caused strong opinions, but over the course of several weeks of riding the Vis Vires left a strong impression on me. It was sensationally fast and is still one of the quickest bikes I have tested (I’d love to compare it to the Venge). The handling and comfort were decent too, though I did remark in my original review that the fork did deliver a touch too much feedback in some situations.

It delivered so much and impressed so highly, and at the time I remember being excited for what else this young British bike company might develop, with some hope the integrated electronics might come to fruition. But sadly the project petered out taking those integration aspirations from the concept bike with it into the history books.

3T Strada

There are many bikes that stand out from the past 10 years of bike testing, but easily one of the most radical was the 3T Strada. It’s also a bike that probably caused more controversy than any other I tested.

The Strada was designed by the same Gerard Vroomen who also penned the Open Up and 3T Exploro in this list, and was designed to provide the most aerodynamic frame possible around wide 28mm tyres. At the time, wide tyres were only slowly being adopted, but the Strada was the ultimate expression of what happens when you design a bike from the ground up around wide tyres.

The frame pushed aerodynamics to the fore with the tubes as close as possible to the tyres, reminiscent of a time trial bike, and the result on the road was a fantastically fast bike that could easily drop mates on regular road bikes. It was disc brakes only for superior control in all conditions, the handling was fast and engaging and the comfort was pretty decent too, thanks in large part to the wide volume tyres.

But it was the decision to embrace a single ring 1x drivetrain that really put the cat among the pigeons, and was a step too far for many traditionalist roadies. With the front mech gone the frame provided improved aerodynamics around the bottom bracket area, and in my real-world testing experience the gear range and ratio steps worked fine, with a 48t chainring mated to an 11-40t cassette. Some compromises maybe, but not as bad as many of the naysayers cried about, and the positives far outweighed the negative.

With the development of 12- and 13-speed groupsets and increasing 1x options with fewer of the original compromises, the Strada will surely be remembered as ahead of its time.

Honourable mentions

This list could easily be much longer, whittling it down to a succinct number is no easy task. I'd like to also give a nod to the following bikes: ​ Parlee Z5 SL, Canyon Ultimate + Aeroad, Trek Emonda, Mason Resolution + Bokeh, Fairlight Secan, Enigma Elite, Specialized Tarmac, Alchemy Eros, Cannondale CAAD12 and Synapse Hi-Mod and a few more I've probably forgotten.


What has been your bike of the decade?

David worked on the tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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