Road bikes are our bread and butter here at road.cc, and despite the continued diversification of drop bar bikes, classic road bikes still remain hugely popular. In this list, we’ve rounded up the best bikes reviewed in 2019 with the price capped at £3,500, as it has been for the past couple of years.
Road bikes with a retail price higher than that are considered in our road.cc Superbike of the Year category.
We make a distinction in our awards between race/race-inspired road bikes, which are considered here, and sportive/endurance bikes, which have their own category. Why? Because most people decide on the genre of bike they want to buy before choosing a particular model.
Performance and speed are key criteria for bikes on this list. Aerodynamics has become a key focus in this category, and this year we’ve seen aerodynamics trickle down to ever-lower price points.
This is a category of bike where rim brakes are still very much a popular choice, especially at the lower prices, but disc brakes continue to gain a real foothold with prices dropping every year. Last year the list was dominated by rim brake bikes, and a rim brake bike won; this year – as you’ll see below – it’s a little different.
Why nine bikes? Because these are the nine bikes that were awarded an overall score or at least eight out of 10 during testing. It's as simple as that.
So which bikes have made it on to the list? Last year the B’Twin Ultra 900 CF 105 topped this category. Read on to find out which bike gets the honour this year...
At the time of review, this was the cheapest Tarmac carbon fibre model with disc brakes. It offers great handling and brisk performance, but while the Shimano 105 groupset is a very good thing, some brands offer the lighter Ultegra groupset for about the same money. That aside, you're getting probably one of the best carbon race frames currently available at this price, with great upgrade potential, though if you’re quick you can grab a 2019 model with some hefty discounts.
If the S-Works Tarmac is the GTI of the range, the Tarmac Disc Sport is the humble 1.0 litre. Same fundamental design but with fewer frills. On the road, that means a very impressive performance with similar handing – no surprise given the identical geometry.
The frame and fork are stiff and responsive; it's as comfortable as you want a race bike to be, the handling making it easy to live with, being docile at slow speeds but sharp and focused when you're sailing along. The steering instils confidence to sling the bike merrily through turns at any speed. There's no hint of nervousness or twitchiness, and I wasn't able to upset the controlled ride in any situation I put it in.
The comfort of the latest generation race bikes has really improved, and despite wearing only 26mm wide tyres, the Tarmac is adept at dealing with poorly surfaced roads and isolating you from all but the biggest vibrations. The slight change to the seat tube and seatpost do mean a small loss of compliance compared with the S-Works model, but the difference is thankfully small enough that for the most part it doesn't negatively impact the quality of the ride.
The Tarmac has always been a very comprehensively capable bike, and the changes made to this sixth generation version have made it even better. The all-new frame offers improved performance and ride quality over its predecessor, which goes some way to offset the fact that the Tarmac Disc Sport just can't compete with some rivals when it comes to value for money.
Why it’s here: Race-ready performance with great handling and decent comfort, the Tarmac Disc Sport shines everywhere bar value
The Trek Emonda ALR 5 Disc is an aluminium road bike that offers a great ride and good value. Equipped with a Shimano 105 groupset, including hydraulic disc brakes, it's a lot of bike for your money.
Despite Trek wanting to talk about how light and responsive its Emonda bikes are, the standout quality of the ALR 5 Disc is the ride quality. This is one of those bikes that's never flustered. It handles rough roads without any drama – which is just as well because there are plenty of 'em round our way – and stays fully planted on sketchy corners.
You'll still get people telling you that an aluminium frame is harsh, you're going to get beaten up in the saddle, and all the rest of it. Forget all that. This bike is in no way uncomfortable, even if you're riding for several hours at a stretch.
Trek hydroforms the aluminium tubing – the process of injecting fluid into a cylindrical frame tube and stretching it to its capacity. This allows complex shapes to be formed in order to tune the ride and keep the weight low. Trek also says that hydroforming allows it to produce tubes that fit together perfectly, reducing the amount of weld material. The result is a light frame: Trek claims that the rim brake version of the Emonda ALR frame weighs 1,112g (56cm model) while the disc brake version is just 19g heavier at 1,131g.
The Emonda ALR 5 Disc is one of those bikes that manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. Check out the spec sheet and everything says that it should be solid, but the ride quality is comfortably above that. If you're expecting a harsh ride you're in for a lovely surprise here.
Why it’s here: Disc brake equipped aluminium road bike that offers a great ride at a competitive price
The Specialized Allez Sprint Comp is an aluminium alloy masterpiece. The ride quality is impressive and the stiffness is right up there with some of the most overbuilt carbon wonder bikes.
Don’t let anyone tell you aluminium is inferior to carbon; when it’s done as well as this it’s a good alternative to carbon and you stand to save a decent amount of cash too. This is no afterthought by the Big S either, the company has invested in a unique manufacturing process called D'Aluisio Smartweld Technology to provide significant performance benefits.
Specialized describes the Sprint Comp as a 'crit-racing weapon', a fast bike that is going to give you plenty of thrills and excitement when you just want to get out and smash the pedals. The Sprint has an unbelievably stiff frame, acceleration and sprinting are epic against pretty much every alloy bike out there.
The front end takes everything that the dual pivot brake can throw at it as you scrub the speed into the bend, before the handling takes over to guide you through the apex with impressive accuracy. The S-Works FACT carbon fibre fork gives nothing away as it takes the load from the various directions and just does the job of keeping the tyre on your chosen line.
The Allez is still a very nice bike to ride – not plush but hardly harsh either. This isn't just an hour-long blast kind of bike, you can cover some decent mileage without feeling beaten up.
Since we reviewed this bike, the Specialized 2020 range has been released and this model no longer exists. It has been replaced by the Allez Sprint Comp Disc, which is more expensive at £1,899 and has disc brakes. The next cheapest model costs £899 and has rim brakes. However if you shop around you can still find some examples of the review bike if you’re quick.
Why it’s here: A modern classic when it comes to alloy race frames but the aesthetics of the welds won't be to everyone's taste
The Merida Scultura Disc 200 may look like it is an entry-level machine on paper but the frame and fork are absolutely top-notch and massively upgradable. It's yet another example of just how good alloy frames are right now, offering a very comfortable ride and plenty of stiffness to boot.
The Scultura Lite-BSA Disc frame has a very enjoyable ride feel; there is no harshness or irritating amounts of road buzz coming through to your contact points. It’s a shame the frame won’t accept wider than 25mm tyres for eking out a bit more comfort.
Its overall 9.96kg (21.95lb) weight is quite noticeable, and if you are out in rolling terrain or find yourself in town keeping up with the ebb and flow of urban traffic, the extra effort required can tire you prematurely.
The handling is pleasingly neutral, which is reassuring for those new to road riding – the Scultura is, after all, priced at £900, which places it nicely in that 'first proper road bike' category.
Why it’s here: An excellent frameset with a comfortable ride that could do with a few component tweaks
A lot of riders, especially those who are new to the sport, tend to judge the value of a new bike on the spec list, so it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the Van Rysel RR 900 AF has hit that £850 price point by being an average frameset draped in plenty of bling to make it a viable option. It really hasn't though. This is the full package: a proper race bike at a competitive price.
While many bikes at this price point have an endurance bias when it comes to geometry, the RR 900 AF is a proper race bike. With steep angles, a lengthy top tube and reasonably short head tube, this is a bike for getting long and low on. It's responsive, there is plenty of stiffness around the bottom bracket and the front end feels tight in the bends. It's definitely a bike that likes to be ridden hard.
The 73.5-degree seat angle puts you in a forward, aggressive position, and paired with a 73-degree head angle that offers quick handling, it's a bike that likes the technical sections. You can really point this bike into a tight bend and know you are going to come out the other side without much issue. The front end tracks nicely and is backed up by the feedback from the fork, so you know exactly what is going on with the front tyre.
The RR 900 AF uses Van Rysel's Ultra RCR frame, with butted tubes to create comfort and reduce weight. Butting is where a manufacturer draws the tubes to differing wall thicknesses, typically thicker at the ends to resist stress and thinner in the middle to promote a bit of flex and therefore comfort. It’s then finished with a full Shimano 105 11-speed groupset with Mavic Aksiums and Yksion tyres and in-house branded finishing kit.
Why it’s here: Quality frameset with an impressive spec list that also delivers in performance
If you are a fan of a rim-braked aluminium racer that is tight, nimble and just on the right side of stiff so as not to shake your fillings out, then you are in luck. New kid on the block Tresca has delivered exactly that with its first model, the TCA-1.
The highlight of the Tresca is the handling. It's quick but perfectly weighted and balanced, allowing you to really explore your limits. The TCA-1 is a fun bike to ride at a more sensible pace too.
Aluminium has come a long way in terms of finding a good balance of stiffness versus ride quality, and the Tresca is a good example of that. It doesn't have the most refined frame out there when it comes to comfort but even with the bit of buzziness from the road it isn’t harsh – far from it, in fact.
This Shimano 105 build comes in at 8.03kg (17.7lb), which is a pretty decent weight, and it feels it out on the road. Acceleration and climbing are achieved with little fuss, and it was a joy to take the Tresca into the hills.
Why it’s here: A vibrant, quick-handling and stiff race machine that responds brilliantly in the bends
When it comes to going fast on a budget, there are few bikes as compelling as the Canyon Aeroad CF SL 7.0 with a Shimano 105 groupset and deep section Reynolds carbon fibre wheels. It sure as heck looks fast, and unleash your power and it absolutely flies along the road.
The aero frame might not be the most cutting-edge, but it’s still a modern-looking carbon frame with all the necessary aero features to cut drag to a minimum. A regular handlebar and stem might not be as sleek as the latest integrated cockpits, but it’s easy to change/upgrade and works just fine.
Strava segment PRs come easily with this bike. I've ridden various Aeroads over the years and it's a bike that has always impressed with how fast it is. It's not the way it accelerates, but the way it makes holding high speeds easier than conventional road bikes.
Handing is a strong trait with the Aeroad. It corners brilliantly with plenty of stability, instilling confidence to push fast and hard, backed up by the solid hydraulic disc brakes. You can get the Aeroad with rim brakes so you’re not being forced to adopt disc brakes.
Canyon has nailed the specification. Shimano 105 is flawless and the Reynolds AR58 carbon wheels enhance the bling factor and speed potential, but we wish they were tubeless-ready for upgrade potential. The Fizik saddle is comfy and the Continental tyres are grippy, and there’s space for up to 28mm wide tyres if comfort is important.
Why it’s here: Great speed with a great price
Carbon might be the obvious choice for a race bike, but the J.Guillem Major proved if it were ever needed, that a good titanium frame can still provide all the performance that a speed-obsessed cyclist needs.
The Major has been designed by the small company for the “road-riding enthusiast that loves the sensation of riding fast” and that is very much the case with this lovely bike. It offers the performance and stiffness of a carbon fibre race bike but with the subtle hints of a titanium ride quality.
It’s very stiff, which is excellent for power transfer and handling but on the rough and often poorly maintained roads of the UK, it can be a little testing, especially on that broken top layer, washboard kind of tarmac.
With a short 978mm wheelbase (54cm model) the bike is nimble; paired with a 73-degree head angle the handling is precise and just on that beautiful, fun edge of being neutral without being twitchy.
The bike is nicely specced for the money. A Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes and wide range 11-30t cassette gives a helping hand on steep climbs, but not at the expense of top-end speed.
Considering you can spend this sort of money on a titanium frame alone, to get a well-specced bike is a very good deal if you are really hankering after a classy titanium bike. Add the excellent performance and you have a clear favourite.
Why it's here: A firm ride but that's cancelled out by the excellent performance and handling
The CAAD13 represents far more than a quick update for Cannondale's aluminium race bike – drag has been reduced, versatility has increased and the ride is more comfortable than ever. This is a really impressive revamp and an excellent alternative to carbon. You can even fit mudguards, which is a boon for UK cyclists.
The belief that aluminium bikes are always harsh is among the more pervasive myths out there, but one ride on the new CAAD13 demonstrates that's really not the case. This bike offers a superbly smooth ride.
The tube shapes and frame silhouette have been altered from those of the CAAD12 and bear no resemblance whatsoever to those of the early CAAD bikes Cipollini rode back in the day. The result is a bike that feels more comfortable and chatter-free than ever before over poorly surfaced roads. The CAAD13 Disc still feels nimble in use and the geometry is fairly aggressive, although slightly different from that of the CAAD12 Disc, having been brought into line with the SuperSix Evo Disc.
The CAAD13 is in no way an aero road bike in the same vein as Cannondale's SystemSix, but the designers have added several features designed to reduce drag, as they have with the SuperSix Evo on which it is broadly based. The down tube is a truncated aerofoil profile – so it has a rounded leading edge, flattish sides and a squared-off rear. The idea, as ever with a design like this, is that the air acts almost as if there were a long, tapered tail, but without the weight penalty or an adverse effect on handling
With less money tied up in a carbon frame, there’s more left over for the components. This model is well specced with a Shimano 105 groupset, FSA 52/36t chainset, Formula wheels with Speed Release thru-axles and smart finishing kit.
Cannondale has developed a new model that keeps all the best bits from before and added aero features, extra comfort, and versatility. Added together, this results in one of the very best aluminium bikes out there.
Why it wins: Aero-tuned aluminium road bike that proves carbon isn't the only option for a smooth ride
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.