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Are endurance bikes actually slower than road race bikes in the real world? We did a speed test to find out

Endurance bikes are the type of road bike most of us should be riding, so we're told nowadays... but aren't they a bit slow? Time for a light experiment

Nowadays, it's said that an endurance road bike is what most amateur cyclists will be happiest riding on tarmac. They're typically more comfortable, have more relaxed geometry and have space for wider tyres than a road race bike. The only real downside is that they're supposedly slower than racier road bikes, or fully-fledged aero bikes... or are they? 

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike van rysel logo

Despite what the press releases for just about every road race bike this century might tell you, we theorise that most amateur cyclists will be hard-pressed to find any real-world speed differences on an endurance bike. Other publications have suggested similar things, so we decided to conduct a test in an attempt to find out...  

The endurance bike

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike geometry side shot

You might think that to try and prove my point I’m going to be using some really fancy endurance road bike like the Pinarello Dogma X that appeared in another recent video of ours; but instead, the powers that be told me that in the name of fairness, I have to use a "more sensible" endurance bike.

How about the new Van Rysel NCR CF, a bike that currently has a price tag of £2,000 on the Decathlon website? The full review will be live on road.cc in a few weeks time, but for now, with its wide tyre clearances and "do it all" geometry it'll do as our endurance bike for this mini-experiment. 

Van Rysel says that the NCR is its "most all-round bike", and though it still has a "strong focus on performance", we're told "it'll take you anywhere".

> Best road bikes under £2,000 

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike sram apex 1x groupset

This particular model has a very blue carbon fibre frame and fork, an electronic 1x groupset (SRAM Apex to be precise), and a Mavic Aksium wheelset. It comes specced with 28mm Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance tyres, but will fit up to 35mm rubber.

The race bike

2024 Specialized Allez Sprint geometry side shot

To prove my point that endurance bikes aren’t any slower, I planned on racing this NCR against a more specialist race-orientated bike that also costs about £2000. However, my shadowy superiors said that if I really believed that it wasn’t any slower than a race bike, then I should put it up against my very own Specialized Allez Sprint.

My Allez is a bike designed for speed. To be honest, I selected both the frame and components purely for performance rather than comfort.

2024 Specialized Allez Sprint aluminium wheels

> Staff Bikes: Jamie's Specialized Allez Sprint

As we've discovered in previous road.cc features, deep wheels can make a significant difference, so to alleviate any advantage I'll be using the same set of wheels on both bikes. After all, you can fit all the same wheels to both a race or endurance bike.

What's the difference?

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike head tube

So, what actually is the difference between the two bikes? Why is one of them called a race bike and the other an endurance bike? This might be obvious to some of you, but for those newer to road cycling it's worth a brief explainer of what an endurance bike is: 

An endurance bike sits in the road bike category. It is generally considered to be something that is designed for comfort and efficiency over longer rides. For this reason, these bikes are very popular with recreational and club road riders.

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike pose shot

> Should I buy a race bike or an endurance bike? 

Compared to race bikes, endurance bikes typically have a higher front end, including a longer headtube, shorter reach (which means a shorter top tube), a longer wheelbase, and a front wheel that is further out in front of you. This makes it less agile but also less twitchy. If you’d like the full rundown of the differences between the two then click on the link above.

The NCR has a shallower seat tube angle, shorter head tube and longer chain stays than the Allez Sprint in a compatible size. Even so, it's still a machine with at least one eye on speed, which we guess you're interested in if you're reading this!

The test

2024 Jamie Specialized Allez sprint riding shot 5

The course of our test is 10 kilometres long and includes some hills, some lanes, some descents and some open flat sections. It's been selected as it replicates what most riders are likely to encounter on an average weekend ride here in the UK.

The test will be performed twice on each bike, while I try to keep my heart rate the same on each effort, so we should be able to see which one’s fastest, and by how much. Why not use a power meter? Well, I think that there's a chance I'll have to work harder to put out the same power output in the more aggressive position.

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike mavic aksium wheel

> Are expensive carbon wheels worth it? 

Before you tell us so in the comments section, we're well aware that this isn’t the most scientific test that’s ever been done. This is mostly for fun, so feel free to take the results with a pinch of salt. 

Endurance bike ride impressions

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike riding shot 2

My first effort was on the endurance bike, and despite it being the first time I'd ever ridden this particular bike and the fact that I was on unfamiliar roads to boot, it was easy to feel at home on. Some bikes take a bit of getting used to, but an endurance bike is usually easier to get to grips with (especially for less experienced riders) thanks to the slower handling and more controlled position.

This isn't to say that endurance bikes are just for people out of practice. Israel Premier Tech pro riders used gravel bikes at this year's Paris-Roubaix, demonstrating that more relaxed geometry can still be fast, especially when the conditions are less than ideal.

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike against wall

> How to conquer long bike rides without getting too tired

This confidence was particularly useful on the lane sections and twisty descents on the course, which often had a sprinkling of gravel and potholes.

I did feel more upright on the endurance bike compared to my race bike, which was particularly noticeable on the open flat section along an A-road. Would this result in me losing a significant amount of time?

Race bike ride impressions

2024 Specialized Allez sprint jamie riding shot road.cc kit

> 8 upgrades I've made to my road bike to make it better than a new one

A quick wheel change and a gulp of energy drink and it was time for the race bike. Setting off, it certainly felt faster. The steering is more direct and everything just felt a bit more lively, even with the 1,900g wheelset fitted.

The handlebar was certainly much lower and farther away from the saddle, which resulted in me being much more stretched out. It is worth keeping in mind that dropping your bars won't immediately make your body lower... if your back doesn't want to arch more then it won't! Could I simply be reaching for the bars more resulting in a higher frontal area and more drag?

Results

After switching back over and completing the test once more on each bike, it was time to review the results.

2024 endurance bike vs race bike speed test graph

Unsurprisingly the race bike was indeed faster, by around 8 seconds on average over our 10km course. 

This might seem less than you were expecting. When we talked to Ribble on this subject, they told us that an "out-and-out aero race bike could save you up to around 4.5 seconds per mile", with Trek and Specialized providing similar figures to us in the past. On our course then, you would expect the endurance bike to be more like 27 seconds slower rather than 8.

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike top tube logo

> How much faster could an aero bike make you?

Personally, I think the discrepancy lies in the fact that our course, designed to simulate real-life riding, contains plenty of sections like gravelly descents where there was no real advantage to being on a race bike. In fact, the endurance bike was likely faster in these areas. 

Conclusions

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike rear

So, is the endurance bike slower? Well, on a 10km route it was fractionally slower, but perhaps by less than you might think. It’s worth remembering that over a longer distance when comfort and fatigue start to play a part, the endurance bike is probably the quicker option for the vast majority of riders.

This is particularly true if you’re not super flexible. It’s very easy to want to copy the pros who ride super aggressive race bikes, but most of them probably spend more hours in a week stretching than a lot of us do riding.

Of course, you could try to get a more relaxed position on a race bike. You could fit a short stem and leave a load of spacers under it, but really the more sensible option would be to buy a bike that’s designed for the position you should be in.

2023 canyon endurace cfr vs giant defy vs lauf uthald endurance bikes2

> Giant Defy vs Canyon Endurace vs Lauf Uthald: Which of these endurance road bikes is the fastest?

Luckily endurance bikes are no longer the ugly ducklings of the bike industry. There are now plenty of choices of cracking-looking machines, all available with the same spec as you would get on a race bike. They’re not usually any heavier either.

It’s also worth pointing out that I was solo on all my timed runs, so I was facing the full force of the wind. If you ride in a group then the difference between a race bike and an endurance bike is probably even less.

2023 Canyon Endurace CFR jamie road.cc kit

Some of us may have been suckered into thinking that race bikes are loads quicker, possibly because the press releases for the latest and greatest speed machines always say "20 seconds faster at 40kph", and then another "1 minute faster at 40kph" for the next generation. While that might be true in a wind tunnel, in the real world, where gravel, corners, back pain and confidence exist, I don’t think so. For the vast majority of riders, the endurance bike is the way to go whether you’re interested in speed or not.

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike out the saddle

> How much slower is a gravel bike on the road? 

Oh, and the other thing I like about endurance bikes... they’re much easier to trackstand on, because your toes are less likely to get caught on the tyre!

2024 Van Rysel NCR endurance bike trackstand

Let us know your thoughts on endurance road bikes down below as well as whether the results of our test surprised you.

Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...

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30 comments

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TROOPER74 | 1 month ago
0 likes

Which bike is faster ....

Depends on which one has a professional rider on it ..or me .... your can compare motorbikes ... let's see ... my Honda CBR 600F ... 160mph missile ... my Suzuki V-Strom 650 ... 140mph HGV ....

There is no such thing as a faster bicycle .... just faster riders .... I'm sure Robert Millar ( hi there Pippa ) could beat my best under the hour TT time on a Raleigh Twenty ...

 

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marmotte27 replied to TROOPER74 | 1 month ago
3 likes

Different factors at play:
- comfort = speed i.e. which bike lets you go fastest with the least fatigue or other physical discomforts for your kind of riding (commuting, sport, traveling...)
- effective speed (Ivan Illich) i.e. how long do you have to work to afford such and such a means of transport/bike to travel at such and such a speed afterwards
- all other sorts of other costs and externalities factored, or not, into the equation...

Personally I find that a randonneur bike answers most of these questions for me. On mine I commute every day, I travel, I do shopping or trips to the recycling centre, I go passhunting in the mountains and I can if the occasion arises (or at least did arise a few years back) ride at 40km/h to match a friend on his race bike...

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andystow | 1 month ago
5 likes

So really nothing in it for anyone not racing professionally, and barely even then.

I've fixed the bar chart for you.

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EddyBerckx | 1 month ago
1 like

In my limited experience endurance bikes (ok bike, a decent specced, expensive Trek Domane from a few years back) was slow / dull as hell compared to a cheaper race bike which was FUNFUNFUN!!!

You ride what's fun if we're talking about leisure cycling, and for many people that will be endurance bikes with fat tyres at a slower speed. Absolutely fine. But not for me at the moment.

The speed difference btw will probably be more apparent when you're properly pushing it rather than cruising about I would've thought

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tubasti replied to EddyBerckx | 1 month ago
0 likes

Arguably, the Trek Domane with Isospeed decoupling at both ends, and the Specialized Roubaix, with various iterations of Zertz, doglegged blades and stays, and Futureshock, are the plushest endurance rides currently available. Demo'ing an early Domane, I was underwhelmed by the sluggishness of the Domane's handling, and I was workingfor Trek dealers. We also had a customer who chose a Domane because he felt the Roubaix was even worse. I believe Trek and Specialized missed the mark when they tried to soften the ride up front---too much flexibility where the handlebar meets the fork, and too little head angle coupled with too much trail. In my opinion, more conservative approaches such as Giant's Defy, BMC's Roadmachine, and Scott's Addict, and this Van Rysel hit the mark better and with less over-thinking.

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Surreyrider | 1 month ago
2 likes

So Road CC has done a test over 10km that completely ignores the main beneift of endurance bikes for many (the clue's in the name) and uses a 1X and presumably a 2X for comparison. I know the writer said take this with a pinch of salt but it's more like a bucket full.

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Jamie Williams replied to Surreyrider | 1 month ago
1 like

Both bikes are both 1x

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don simon fbpe | 1 month ago
3 likes

I have several bikes, I ride them.

I know not whether they are road bikes, endurance bikes or any other name provided by marketing teams.

At the end of a 4 hour ride, I don't really care.

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john_smith replied to don simon fbpe | 1 month ago
2 likes

Did you pay through the nose for a "professional bike fit"? Apparently that's very important these days too.

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don simon fbpe replied to john_smith | 1 month ago
1 like

I did, back in the day, buy a custom frame, as they were advertised in the magazines of the time. Then I worked out the "con".

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Steve K replied to don simon fbpe | 1 month ago
0 likes

don simon fbpe wrote:

I have several bikes, I ride them.

I know not whether they are road bikes, endurance bikes or any other name provided by marketing teams.

At the end of a 4 hour ride, I don't really care.

But surely you care a bit, otherwise why have four different bikes?

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john_smith replied to Steve K | 1 month ago
1 like

A knackered old steel one with seven gears and tubs, a slightly less knackered less old one with early Ergopower and wired-on tyres, and decent aluminium one, and a super duper modern carbon one?

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Steve K replied to john_smith | 1 month ago
0 likes

john_smith wrote:

A knackered old steel one with seven gears and tubs, a slightly less knackered less old one with early Ergopower and wired-on tyres, and decent aluminium one, and a super duper modern carbon one?

Definitely better marketing names.

My point was simply you must have a reason for which one you choose for any ride, or else you'd just manage with one bike.

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john_smith replied to Steve K | 1 month ago
0 likes

Having an old one you're not too bothered about for foul weather seems a good reason, as does having a decent spare bike so that if your good bike breaks you don't end up having to ride the filthy, knackered winter bike when you don't want to.

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don simon fbpe replied to Steve K | 1 month ago
0 likes

I suspect that the road bike is going to be less than capable off road.

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Steve K replied to don simon fbpe | 1 month ago
1 like

don simon fbpe wrote:

I suspect that the road bike is going to be less than capable off road.

Which is kind of my point - some bikes are more suitable for some types of riding than others. 

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don simon fbpe replied to Steve K | 1 month ago
1 like

But endurance vs race? That's fag paper thin differentiating marketing spiel.

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Steve K replied to don simon fbpe | 1 month ago
2 likes

don simon fbpe wrote:

But endurance vs race? That's fag paper thin differentiating marketing spiel.

Yeah, I'll give you that  1

I suspect in many case there's as much difference between individual "race" or "endurance" bikes as there is been some individual race and endurance bikes.

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don simon fbpe replied to Steve K | 1 month ago
0 likes

Now, if we're talking gravel bikes, that's a whole different story. Gimme, gimme, gimme! Apologies for the Facebook link.

https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/1824427574669925/?ref=search&r...

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Steve K | 1 month ago
1 like

Given the article quotes Ribble, I am (entirely selfishly - as I own one) disappointed you didn't use a Ribble Endurance bike for the test.  Though the road.cc review did describe its geometry as more aggressive than a typical endurance bike.

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marcof11 | 1 month ago
0 likes

If you need the endurance geometry, but like fiddle with speed,you can go up the range, have better wheels, that would make a difference. Also these Ribble quoted difference are for smooth roads, fast speed above 20mph,that way above the average speed of the average club rider

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davebrads | 1 month ago
2 likes

I ride a race bike not because I think it will be faster, but because it feels faster. The handling is sharper and I like that feeling . I'm also lucky to be able to hold a fairly low position so that isn't an issue. I chose my bike on that basis, it isn't an aero bike for the same reason, to me an aero bike just doesn't feel nice to ride.

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timtak | 1 month ago
1 like

Is it really about "flexibility" and "stretching"? I think endurance, and now gravel bikes, with thick tyres and tall head tubes, are popular these days because there has been an obesity explosion, and our gut gets in the way. Trouble is endurance bikes are sold to thin young cyclists too. The other problem is that race geometry bikes tend to be more expensive. I recommend second hand race bikes from about 20 years ago if you don't have a gut, otherwise if you buy an endurance bike, like a baggy shirt, you may fill it out.

Furthermore most people ride forward with a wide hip angle on race bikes too, but if you want to ride a old school glute-using, narrow hip angle style (like Eddy Merx and Jacques Anquetil) you need the race bike geometry to get behind the BB. Using your glutes is not quite as fast as sprinting all the time in a time trial like "modern" position, but if you don't use your glutes lots you can become lame by 50. Race bikes and the narrow hip angle style, pedalling from the back, help promote longevity. Race bikes for the long-term win.

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Simon E replied to timtak | 1 month ago
3 likes

timtak wrote:

I think endurance, and now gravel bikes, with thick tyres and tall head tubes, are popular these days because there has been an obesity explosion, and our gut gets in the way.

So the fat MAMIL is to blame?

I don't think so. Endurance bike geometry is not that different from race bikes that are designed for 25-year-old athletes in their prime to ride as fast as possible. Most of us don't race (or if we do the difference between them isn't really significant and the difference in stiffness etc is small) and don't really benefit from the bar drop, short wheelbase and twitchy front end.

The endurance bike, which perhaps should be called 'a normal drop-bar road bike', can usually accommodate wider tyres. It wasn't long ago that wider tyres were considered slower; thankfully that has been disproved and 28 and 32mm tyres are great with the wider rims that are now available. Also our roads are in a worse state than ever so those bigger tyres are a boon and if someone fancies a bit of doubletrack or light gravel then it is likely to be more enjoyable, so it may be more versatile than the 'pure' race bike.

That erroneous belief that narrow tyres were fastest is reminiscent of when some gullible fools thought compact chainsets were for weak people while real cyclists rode 52/39 with nothing bigger than 28T on the back. Thankfully that blinkered mindset has more or less disappeared.

If you prefer a race bike then you're spoilt for choice. Nobody is making you buy anything you don't want. But it's disingenuous to suggest that 'endurance' bikes, which are a bit more sensible yet still fast and very capable, are somehow inferior.

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john_smith replied to Simon E | 1 month ago
0 likes

Yup. If you live somewhere flat and all you ride is criteriums, then thinking you can manage without a 34x32 is utter madness.

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Simon E replied to john_smith | 1 month ago
0 likes

john_smith wrote:

Yup. If you live somewhere flat and all you ride is criteriums, then thinking you can manage without a 34x32 is utter madness.

Not sure how that's relevant, or perhaps simply a snark fail. I didn't say nobody should ever ride 52/39 and a straight block, just choose whatever is appropriate to the rider, terrain etc. It's that the condescending comments I used to see about "you don't need smaller gears, just get stronger" were really unhelpful.

It's like telling people that they don't need lights on pedestrian crossings on busy roads, just use their nouse and judgement and run in between the vehicles. I can do it so why can't your granny or that parent with a 5 year-old and a pram?

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wickedstealthy replied to timtak | 1 month ago
0 likes

Thats the whole point hop opening is benificial to allow proper power transfer. TT posistions are hard to keep unless you train a lot. Also you loose power and gain aeroness. A fine thin line.

But telling that the old style positions are good is ignoranace. Many fitters (alos pro riders) tell the superman position is very inefficient. I ride pretty forward not because I want to close down the reach. But simply because in the backward position I get serious knee issues. Got fitted twice by such old school fitters thinking as a starting cyclist that that was ok. Never ever go back to such a BS fitter Caused me several years of knee issues.

Now sitting forward ALL my knee problems are gone. My drop increased by 5cm and ride faster then ever ...

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Rendel Harris replied to timtak | 1 month ago
2 likes

timtak wrote:

I think endurance, and now gravel bikes, with thick tyres and tall head tubes, are popular these days because there has been an obesity explosion, and our gut gets in the way.

Drivel. A Canyon Aeroroad CFR size M has a top tube length of 555mm with a head tube of 144mm whilst the Endurace CFR has a top tube of 561mm and a 165mm head tube. If your gut is so large that it gets in the way on a race bike it will get in the way on an endurance bike, adding a centimetre or so either way is not going to change that. The reason gravel bikes and endurance bikes are now so popular is because people have realised that if you ride for pleasure and fitness, rather than racing, you will get fitter (because you will be able to ride for longer) and get more pleasure from a slightly more relaxed position than from choosing the most aggressive and uncomfortable bike available just to get an extra 1.5 km/h.

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jaymack | 1 month ago
3 likes

...clearly anything that better allows you to demonstrate your track stand prowess is to be appluaded. 

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ChrisA replied to jaymack | 1 month ago
0 likes

". . . that allows you to demonstrate . . . better . . .", please 😉

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