We've reviewed a lot of bikes this year; more than ever in our third year as we also endeavour to maintain a level of quality that we're building a reputation for. Certainly enough road tests that at the end of 2011 we can look back and pick out the cream of the crop for a very first road.cc Bikes of the Year Top 10.
Picking the ten from the opinions of five bike reviewers and an editor was easy enough - we had the scoring system to start with and each of our ten had rated at least a 9/10. Forming a consensus on a Top 10 though was never going to be easy especially when comparing the least expensive at £259 with the priciest for £8,568. Even as you read this the discussion is rolling on and as you'll see when the comments start coming in, it's not going to stop any time soon.
As you will notice though when you read the individual reviews - click on the title for each one - the text is often just a starting point to an interesting discussion and this Top 10 will surely be no different. After all, each review is just the feeling of one cyclist with a particular set of requirements, however experienced they are.
This Top 10 will hopefully get you asking some of the right questions when the time comes to choose a new bike and in the meantime we hope you feel free to dive into the comments and ask more questions. There is a growing tradition of intelligent and respectful debate on road.cc that we're keen to encourage not least because it's incredibly useful for us as well as the readers to read the opinions and experiences of as wide a cross section of road cyclists as possible.
So in timeless poptastic tradition and featuring the comments of Technical Editor Mat Brett plus Dave Atkinson and Tony Farrelly, we have a countdown to number one, starting with, in at 10…
10. Vitus Vee-1 £259
Bit of a leftfield entry this one, but the Vee-1 is everything a great urban knockaround bike should be. It's fun to ride, built to last and cheap. Essentially a singlespeed rigid mountainbike, the Vee-1 is one of the cheapest bikes we've ever tested but it punches way above its weight in terms of enjoyment. There's not a single penny wasted on stuff you don't need and the geometry and gearing make it a cracking ride on the tarmac and off - you can happily rant the Vee-1 round your local trails too. Okay you won't want to ride too far on it and the short gear means top speed is limited, but it's not always about what's fastest. Enjoy.
If you’re looking for a sub-£2000 all-round road bike, you’d be nuts not to consider the CAAD10. Some people will doubtless be put off by the fact that the frame is aluminium at a price where carbon is certainly an option; don’t be. This is a high-quality frame that’s stiff and responsive, and it doesn’t leave you aching as you rack up the miles. It’s a good climber and descending is a joy thanks to the accurate steering. Shimano’s second tier Ultegra groupset provides a high performance and Mavic’s Aksium wheels both very capable and reliable. This is an excellent bike for the money, outperforming many more expensive carbon rivals.
Surprisingly the only steel bike in our top 10 the Dawes Audax Century SE proved a worthy representative of the ferrous breed, indeed so impressed was our tester Rob Simmonds that he went out and bought one. As its name suggests this is a bike built for distance so comfort is high in its mixt of attributes. It's also versatile; the basic but well thought out spec package majors on Shimano Tiagra 9-spd, mudguards come as standard and there are braze-ons to fit a rack making it ideal for commuting or a spot of light touring – the 50-39-30 triple makes it extremely hill capable. At 10.5Kg it's not the lightest bike ever, but it demonstrates that clever speccing and a corking frame play a much greater part in how a bike rides than overall heft. It's a looker too which can't hurt; better still shop around and you can find it for some real bargain prices way below the £1,099 SRP.
It ain’t cheap – in fact, it’s far from cheap – but Trek’s top-level time trial/triathlon bike boasts more technology than a whole series of Tomorrow’s World (RIP) and it’s insanely fast. The tubes are made with an innovative (Kammtail Virtual Foil) profile, the front brake is integrated into the fork and the back one is hidden away behind the bottom bracket, the seatpost clamp is recessed out of the wind… Oh, there are so many features designed to improve the aerodynamics that we can barely scratch the surface here. Plus, there’s a ton of adjustability so you can get the setup just right. Thankfully, not all the models in the Speed Concept lineup are as pricey as this SRAM Red-equipped version.
New kids on the cycling block NeilPryde have a long pedigree in the windsurfing industry. We've tested both bikes in their first range; the Diablo got high praise from tester Trev Allen as a stiff and aggressive race iron but the Alize is the pick. It's an excellent aero road bike that'll turn its hand to time trialling and triathlon with the option of a 76° seatpost and Mavic Cosmic Carbone wheels for a more slippery build. The standard Dura Ace setup we tested weighs 6.9kg and will set you back over four grand but it's a bike that tester Liam Glen dubbed "a bike worthy of any privateer racer's attention" and the fact that it's multi-disciplinary means you're getting plenty of versatility for your money. If your pockets aren't that deep there's an Ultegra version for about £1,000 less.
No surprises that BMC's team level carbon race bike ticked all the boxes for being fast, stiff and light. That combination of qualities normally comes with a hefty price tag and this bike is no exception, but Evans Cycles put together a Dura-Ace equipped 2011 model towards the end of last year that, at £3,499 and bang on the UCI weight limit, was a significant saving over the other models in the range. And you can't argue with full Dura Ace. Tester Stuart Kerton called it "a true rider's bike... you get out what you put in and it'll reward you for your efforts. All the parts work well together and feel as if they've been chosen on merit rather than just looks and price". It still ain't cheap, but it definitely lives up to its name.
This is a very special bike for those who want a pro-level performance and a perfect fit. Every Maxima is made to measure and handbuilt in Italy, our test model weighing in at 6.9kg (15.2lb). It rides beautifully. It’s rock-solid through the tight turns and highly manoeuvrable when you want to change your line. It accelerates and climbs superbly… we found it hard to fault in terms of performance. The downside, of course, is that it’s way out of the price range of most of us – although essentially the same frame and fork package will be called the Mitus and will cost £3,300 for 2012. If you want the ultimate custom-made road bike and have the cash, this bike demands your attention.
The only framesets in our top 10, we couldn't split the Titanium and Scandium Aluminium versions of the geometrically identical Racelite Gran Fondo… the deal with these two babies is a winning combination of comfort, performance and handling. These are bikes for big miles that demonstrate once again that when it comes to ride and handling the angles are the biggest part of the story – whatever the frame is made of.
Essentially the GF_Ti offers the ultimate combination of those and the Gran Fondo SC is not far behind… but almost half the price. The Gran Fondo SC is also another of the current crop of aluminium bikes to nail the myth that all aluminium bikes are harsh, as our reviewer Stu noted, the ride feels more like steel while the GF_Ti delivers all the comfort you'd expect from Ti and gets your power to the back wheel sharpish too.
When we reviewed the SuperSix 105 this time last year we were stunned by its energy. “It’s sparky and full of life,” we said, “and the ride quality is high.” It really is an excellent model that can hold its own against bikes costing hundreds of pounds more. At the heart of things you get an outstanding carbon-fibre frame that emphasizes rigidity although skinny seatstays provide enough give at the back to keep you comfy as you get in the big miles. Shimano’s 105 groupset provides a solid, dependable performance and the same goes for Mavic’s Aksium wheels. We’d be hard-pressed to find a weakness here; this bike leads the way at its price point.
Now we know that £2,600 is a lot to spend on a bike but, believe us, the Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 is still fantastic value for money. You get the same carbon-fibre frame as the 2011 Omega Pharma-Lotto team and it’s incredibly rigid and efficient; even big, powerful riders (ahem..Phillippe Gilbert) won’t be able to push this one out of shape. Various builds are available but this one gets Shimano’s top-level Dura-Ace groupset which is professional-level stuff. Our test bike weighed in at 6.96kg (15.3lb) and was amazingly responsive. More surprisingly, it also managed to provide a decent level of comfort thanks to some smart engineering, particularly in the seat post and the fork. An absolute gem for the money.