If 2020 is the year of social distancing, then it’s also the year of outdoor recreation. For though much of the world is still stuck in lockdown — at least to some extent — ventures outside remain one of the safest ways to stave off cabin fever and see friends and family. As a result, activities of all kinds have experienced unprecedented growth in their participation over the course of the year. Among the most popular of those pursuits is cycling, a sport that gives you the freedom of the open road under the power of your own two legs.
While other hobbies undoubtedly have their barriers to entry, cycling is one in which this proves especially true (and all the more so if you’re just getting started). With the sheer number of options available on the market — not to mention the grip of groupsets, components, and other accessories the sport requires — it can be an intimidating task to pick the bike that works best for you. Moreover, as bike manufacturers have sought to distance themselves from their competition, they have become increasingly specialized in their product offerings. So what was once broadly considered a road bicycle is now divided into three distinct categories: climbing, endurance, and aero. To the uninitiated, it may seem like hairsplitting, but there are a number of key differences in each bike type that makes them optimized for their respective roles. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for the best road bike for your needs, it’s worth considering how and when you’ll be using it. Read on to see our picks for the best road bikes, broken down by type.
Taking You To New Heights
Climbing bikes are characterized by their thin tubing and extreme weight-saving measures. Above all else, these steeds are about getting you to the top in the least amount of time possible. If racking up Strava KOM’s happens to be your thing, it’s in your best interest to get a climbing bike.
Weight: There’s no way around it — if you want to tackle climbs faster, a lighter bike is going to be your best upgrade (after more training, of course). Simply put, a lighter bike means less weight for you to haul uphill. While most of the bikes recommended here are already pretty svelte rides, it’s possible to shave off still further grams with the addition of carbon components.
Stiffness: After weight, stiffness is one of the biggest deciding factors of a bike’s climbing efficiency. Although more compliant bikes make for great all-day performers, they’ll cost you precious watts come time to really lay down the hammer. The better your ride is at transferring your pedal strokes into position up the road, the easier a given climb will be. While this might not make much of a difference at your local hill, if you find yourself in the mountains doing thousands of feet of vertical, you’d be surprised at just how much time you can save.
Brake Type: Rim brakes have long reigned supreme when it comes to maximal weight-saving ability. That being said, disc brakes are quickly closing the gap, becoming both cleaner in their integration and lighter in their construction. Like anything, it ultimately comes down to a value proposition — if you want the lightest bike possible, go rim brake; if you want the utmost control on tricky descents, grab yourself a bike with disc brakes.
First introduced in 1997, the venerable CAAD line has long been a mainstay of Cannondale’s lineup. Offering premium performance at an affordable price point, these are some of the best aluminum frames in the biz bar none. Extremely stiff and responsive, the Optimo makes for a great climbing bike because it efficiently translates each pedal stroke into power on the road. Paired with a lightweight full carbon fork, it also offers excellent dampening to get rid of arm-numbing road chatter. What’s more, it’s specced with a robust Shimano Tiagra 2×10 groupset, providing dependable shifting performance for miles to come. Fitted with a set of Promax RC-476 rim brakes, you get a bike that’s not only lighter than disc options but also one that’s easier to service too.
Giant TCR Advanced Pro
Made of Giant’s ultra-light Advanced-Grade Composite, the TCR Advanced Pro is a purpose-built race bike that’s more than a one-trick-climbing-pony. Every tube has been carefully analyzed and re-engineered to ensure it’s optimized for aero efficiency. On the road, this means that you’ll climb steep grades faster and cut through the wind more efficiently through the flats. But that’s not all — the TCR also incorporates Giant’s OverDrive steerer system and MegaDrive downtube for improved torsional rigidity, ensuring precise handling performance and rail-like cornering through turns. And with a carbon fiber seat tube, frame, and fork, this bike will soak up bumps over rough pavement — a gamechanger for long days in the saddle. Finally, the Shimano 105 2×11 groupset comes with a 52/36 crankset and an 11×30 cassette, giving you tons of range to get you over even the steepest of cols.
Focus Izalco Max Disc 8.6
Before they changed sponsors, French Pro Tour team AG2R La Mondiale swore by the Focus Izalco Max. Offering the perfect combination of aerodynamics, low weight, and comfort, it’s truly a climbing bike that can do it all. With Focus’s Cockpit Integration Solution, you get a clever internal cable routing system optimized for mechanical groupsets, meaning no messy shift cables and no unwanted drag. The Izalco also features MAX Carbon Technology, a blend of high modulus carbon fibers that provide an unrivaled strength to weight ratio. To put it another way — this ride is not only lightweight but also responsive. And unlike the previous two options, the Izalco Max comes with hydraulic disc brakes, a crucial upgrade if you aim to make the most out of your ride in wetter weather. And thanks to Rapid Axle Technology, it’s quick and easy to remove a wheel come time to fix a flat. Riding on Novatec 30 CL disc wheels with Vittoria Zaffiro tires, it’s a no brainer at this price point.
Trek Émonda SL6
The Émonda SL 6 hits the sweet spot when it comes to price for performance. With a 500 Series OCLV Carbon frame and fork, a full Shimano Ultegra 2×11 groupset, and a set of Bontrager Paradigm Disc tubeless-ready wheels, you get a premium climbing bike that’s a cut above the previous options. What’s more, the Émonda is easily one of the most engineered lightweight road bikes out there, with tech trickling over from Trek’s Aero and Endurance models all the time. For instance, it comes with a Ride-Tuned topper seatpost, ensuring a ride quality that’s good enough for all-day bouts while also being extremely svelte. It also features Trek’s Bontrager Blendr system stem technology and DuoTrap S compatibility, allowing you to integrate your riding accessories directly into the bike without the need for unsightly mounts or zip ties. Updated for the 2021 model year, the Émonda gains aero tubing for the first time ever — a marked difference from previous designs.
Canyon Ultimate CF SL Disc 8.0
Weighing just a hair over 16lbs, the Canyon Ultimate CF SL Disc tackles ascents with ease. It comes built with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic groupset, ensuring seamless shifting performance with programmed precision. Up front, steering is taken care of with Canyon’s integrated stem and handlebar, a unit that drastically reduces drag and provides for confident control on tricky descents. Complimented by its proven Sport Pro geometry, the Ultimate CF SL is race-ready and also quite stable. And when it’s furnished with a Fizik Antares R5 saddle and some Canyon Ergospeed Gel bar tape, it even makes for a comfortable ride.
Going The Distance
Endurance bikes are in it with you to the very end. Designed to provide a comfortable, complete ride experience, they typically feature excellent vibration dampening in order to avoid the dreaded road buzz. While they’re not the lightest or the fastest bikes out there, they make for great all-around performers. If you can only have one bike in your stable, it’s worth considering one with endurance geometry.
Comfort: If you’re looking for a bike to take you on extensive 100-mile-plus rides, comfort is a key part of the equation. From clever in-built dampening technologies to simple ergonomic touchpoint upgrades, there’s a lot you can do to optimize your bike for all-day performance. That being said, endurance bikes are generally well-rounded, meaning they can be tuned to ride quite competitively as an ad hoc aero or climbing bike.
Geometry: A more upright geometry is key to keeping you fresh on the bike. While it’s not quite as aerodynamically efficient as a low-slung racer tuck, it’s a much more reasonable position to hold over the long haul. Generally, endurance bikes put less pressure on your neck and arms in order to keep you riding longer with less fatigue.
Tire Size: With the introduction of disc brakes, endurance road bikes have become more versatile than ever before. Their improved tire clearance means that you can fit considerably more rubber at the front and rear, making for a ride as plush as it is fast. What’s more, with bigger tires comes better off-road capability — many endurance bikes can toe the line between road and gravel quite convincingly.
Fuji Sportif 1.3 Disc
At this price point, it doesn’t get much better than the Fuji Sportif. Designed for versatile, all-day performance, the Sportif shares the same capable endurance geometry of higher-specced models — including a longer wheelbase and a taller headtube — reducing arm fatigue and back strain during extended efforts. And in order to make the ride even more comfortable, Fuji has fitted the Sportif with its Wave seatstays in order to build in vertical flex and increase on-the-bike vibration dampening. What’s more, the frame and fork include mounts to accept aftermarket fenders, thereby turning your bike into an all-weather performer. Finished with a Shimano Tiagra 2×10 groupset and some powerful TRP Spyre-C flat-mount mechanical disc brakes, the Sportif punches well above its weight.
For only $1,500, you get one of the best aluminum race bikes Felt has ever created: the extremely competitive VR40. Specced far better than any other bike in its class, the VR40 is your entry into the world of hydraulic braking power. To put it another way — while mechanical disc brakes are a cut above rim brakes, they don’t provide nearly the same modulation and power as that of their hydraulic counterparts. And as an added benefit — hydraulic disc brakes are self-adjusting, ensuring that you always have reliable stopping power at the pull of a lever. With a frame made from SuperLite aluminum and a fork made from UHC Advanced carbon fiber, this endurance road bike is lightweight and also extremely robust. And in order to give you the potential for flat-free all-road performance, it comes with tubless compatible rims and burly 700x30c Vittoria Zaffiro Pro V tires. So while the competition might max out at 700x28c and below, you’ll have ample clearance for the plushest of rubber.
Named after the Paris-Roubaix spring classic, a race infamous for its nightmarish cobbled streets, the Specialized Roubaix is truly a game-changing endurance road bike. (If you need further proof, it’s won the Paris-Roubaix seven times since its debut.) It features Specialized’s proprietary Future Shock 1.5 technology, a micro damper in the headtube that decreases fatigue over the course of the day and gives you more control over rough roads. But that’s not all — the Roubaix now comes with an all-new Pavé seatpost, an upgrade that makes the bike more balanced in weight and vibration control than ever before. And just because it’s an endurance bike doesn’t mean it isn’t fast. Rather, with aerodynamics equal to the Specialized’s Tarmac superbike and a nimble Rider-First Engineered frame, the Roubaix is also incredibly quick on the flats. Rolling on Specialized’s Turbo Sport tires, it can balance training and racing with ease. If there’s one takeaway from the Roubaix’s success, it’s that smoother is faster.
Wilier Cento1NDR Disc
The Wilier Cento1NDR shares the same mold, geometry, and carbon layup as its Tour de France-competing sibling, the Cento10NDR. What this means is that it’s capable of tackling even the longest of days in the saddle, all the while providing for race-ready performance. For instance, the rear triangle was sized for maximum stress absorption, allowing you to glide over rough road surfaces with ease. And with a torsional stiffness comparable to watt-monster aero bikes, you also get maximum pedal transfer efficiency, meaning no ounce of effort is ever wasted on your part. As one of the first road bikes compatible with disc brakes or traditional rim brakes, the Cento1NDR is optimized for any configuration. In other words, it’s always ready for an upgrade. Built with a Shimano Ultegra hydraulic groupset, it ticks all the right boxes necessary for a premium shifting experience.
One bike that can do it all, the Cérvelo R-Series is great for everything from Tuesday night sprint finishes to epic mountain climbs to lengthy all-day weekend rides. Optimized for race day using special carbon layup and construction techniques, the frame has been made stiffer at crucial load-bearing points for improved weight-saving. Built with Cérvelo’s Squoval Max tubing, it has all the strength properties of a square, but with a more aerodynamic oval leading edge shape. What results is a lively ride that corners like it’s on rails. Cérvelo has also designed the R-Series with Elite Road Fit geometry — taking extensive measurements from amateur entrance riders all the way up to Pro Tour racers — in order to offer a ride capable of a range of positions without compromise. Featuring SRAM’s all-new Force AXS completely wireless 12-speed groupset, it delivers some of the most range of any bike along with unrivaled precision. And with a set of premium 1AER D3 38mm Disc wheels, you get maximum wind-cutting ability with the added comfort of vibration-dampening carbon fiber.
Cheating The Wind
Aero bikes are made for one thing only: aerodynamic efficiency. Engineered to cut through the wind like a knife through butter, these bikes often carry a hefty price tag. But with the premium comes unrivaled performance — over any given distance, an aero bike will save you both time and watts. If you’re looking to go fast, grab yourself an aero bike.
Tube Shape: There’s a reason most aero bikes on the market today share a number of visual similarities: the design works. While thin, round tubing dominated the scene 20 years ago, flatter, cone shapes are proving superior in their wind-slicing abilities. It’s worth noting that as fast as this profile is over the flats, it makes for a comparatively unforgiving ride.
Cable Integration: After the rider, the cockpit is one area on the bike responsible for an enormous amount of drag. Although it was once only offered on top-of-the-line, tour-competing bikes, cable integration is becoming an increasingly common feature. Most bikes with this technology require proprietary components, so it’s worth checking on before you go swapping out for aftermarket options.
Rim Depth: Your aero gains will be for naught without a set of deep rims. It’s important to think of a bike as a complete system, wherein the frame and fork interact with each of the components. Sure, they can be decently aerodynamic on their own, but a set of dish wheels ensures that no performance gains go unchecked.
In order for a bike to be optimally aerodynamic, it’s also necessary that the rider be in the most aerodynamic position possible. For no matter how fast you make a frameset, ultimately, you’re the one who will create the most drag. Keeping these tenets in mind, Bianchi designed the Aria to be both incredibly efficient at cutting through the wind and also perfectly proportioned to ensure that the rider creates the least air resistance possible. What results is a bike that’s so aerodynamic that it can balance road races and triathlons with ease. Simply slap on a set of clip-on aero bars and you’ve got a fully capable tri bike. What’s more, the Aria Full Carbon Aero seatpost has been optimized for maximum performance gains, with a bladed profile and a hidden clamp to cut down on drag and save you precious watts. Furnished with a Campagnolo Centaur 11 speed groupset, you get all the performance of the storied Italian component manufacturer at a price that won’t break the bank. And with Vision Team 35 Comp rims, it makes for a great entry into the world of deep-dish wheelsets.
Canyon Aeroad CF SL Disc 8.0
The Canyon Aeroad is one of the fastest bikes going right now. It features Canyon’s completely integrated Aerocockpit, making for a bike that looks as slick as it is aerodynamically efficient. But that’s not all — for 2021, Canyon tweaked the Aeroad’s geometry to be more balanced, allowing riders to stay in a more comfortable tuck for longer and also put down more watts. Thanks to it’s new shorter chainstays, you get handling that’s point-and-go, responsive, and rail-precise through the corners. They also lightened the bike compared to previous years, so even though it’s a straight-line sprinter, it also makes for a pretty competent climber in a pinch. Built with deep Reynolds AR 58mm front and 62mm rear rims, the Aeroad is race-ready right out of the gate. Oh, and if you needed further proof of Canyon’s execution with the Aeroad, it won a Red Dot Award for best bicycle design in 2020.
Trek Madone SL 6
As the bike that took the 2019 UCI World Champion to victory, the Trek Madone has seen success at the highest level in the sport. And it’s for good reason. It features a 500 Series OCLV Carbon frame and fork made using Kammtail Virtual Foil tubes — a combination that’s lightweight and superb through the wind. But Trek knows that a bike is only as fast as its rider is comfortable, so they’ve also engineered the Madone to be forgiving over the long haul. For instance, Trek built the Madone with front and rear ISOSpeed dampening, a technology that decouples the headtube and seatpost in order to isolate hand-numbing road vibrations. So where other aero bikes will punish you with their stiff ride, the Madone is as compliant as it is performance-focused. Moreover, Trek also designed the Madone with their H1.5 fit, a geometry developed in collaboration with the Trek-Segafredo pro team that perfectly balances position and power. Furnished with an Ultegra R8000 hydraulic disc groupset, the Madone also gives superior control in your shifting and braking.
Scott Foil 10
Having racked up Grand Tour stage wins and classics victories alike, the Scott Foil makes for one of the most versatile aero bikes on the market today. With internal brake line routing thanks to a new Syncros combo cockpit and completely wireless shifting courtesy of an SRAM Force AXS groupset, there’s not an errant cable anywhere to be found. In order to ensure optimal aero efficiency, Scott designed the Foil with its patented airfoil profile, applying the shape to the down tube, head tube, seat tube, seatpost, and seat stays. But the Foil also has plenty of range for those steep ascents with a 24-speed drivetrain made up of a 48/35 crankset and a 10-33 cassette. Finally, it clears up to 28mm tires, meaning that although it may be designed for going fast from point A to point B, it’ll get you there in comfort too.
Pinarello Dogma F12
Since the introduction of the F8 — the first in the Pinarello F-series — the model has racked up an unmatched amount of success. Riding the F8, Team Sky won more than 90 races in three years. With the F10, the team went on to win four out of six Grand Tours in just two seasons. Even amidst last year’s truncated Tour de France, Egan Bernal rode the F12 to victory, making him the third-youngest winner ever. Sure, it costs more than most used cars, but this Dogma F12 is specced exactly how the pros use it. And with such a premium comes a custom-made experience. Available in 13 different frame sizes with 16 different handlebar sizes, there’s a perfect fit for every rider. Designed with Pinarellos’s Computational Fluid Dynamics technology, it has been run through thousands of studies to simulate how the wind behaves around the bike. As a result, the Dogma F12 has been engineered so that it can out-climb, out-corner, and out-sprint the competition. Paired with Sram’s top-of-the RED AXS 12-speed groupset — a wireless unit optimized for unrivaled shifting efficiency — it’s a bike that truly cheats the wind.
The 15 Best Indoor Bike Racks
If you’re laying down some serious dough, the last thing you want to do is keep your bike outside. But leaning it against the wall makes for an unwelcome obstruction in your home. Instead, check out our guide to the best indoor bike racks for a display deserving of your steed.
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