Choosing the best road bike for your requirements is not as straight forward as it once was. With huge advancements in material, design and manufacturing processes, road bikes have branched out into many different categories and specialities. Making an informed decision then, all comes down to the type of riding you enjoy and the topography involved.
A lightweight climbing bike will dance up the steepest of climbs but on fast flat or rolling terrain, noticeably more effort is required to keep up with an aero road bike. If riding long distances is your thing then the energy savings of an aero road bike might be tempting but the vibration absorption and comfortable ride of an endurance bike might be the better choice if you plan on pushing the pedals from sunrise to sunset.
As each manufacturer innovates to better the competition, they are producing bikes that go beyond what was ever thought possible. From adjustable compliance on aero road bikes, integration and built-in storage solutions to road bikes that go beyond the limits of tarmac to open up even more riding possibilities – we’ve got you covered. Componentry such as electronic shifting, power meters and disc brakes have become common on many more bikes as well, giving an even wider set of criteria to consider.
To help you choose your next bike we have a number of guides filled with information to help you choose the best possible option in each category. However, some bikes are just that little bit more exceptional than others so here, we have chosen the bikes we think stand out in each category.
Scroll down for a pick of the road bikes that we have selected as the very best of their subcategories.
Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, we have a separate guide for the best budget road bikes. Otherwise, if you like to head off the beaten path, check out our guide to the best gravel bikes, for a flat-bar bike designed for commuting, check out our roundup of the best hybrid bikes, or for a little bit of ride assistance, our guide to the best electric bikes.
Best road bikes available today
Best race bikes
Lightweight, efficient, aggressive and aero-optimised, these rulers of the road are the top of the food chain when it comes to one bike that will perform no matter the course. Whether tackling long climbs, battling windy flats or carrying as much speed as possible through corners, these race bikes are designed to be as fast as possible.
Aggressive positioning and geometry meet a carefully considered blend of aerodynamic performance, low weight and stiffness to produce the most uncompromised road riding experience possible.
Launched just ahead of the 2019 Tour de France, Cannondale’s latest SuperSix Evo comes complete with a first for the model – a sloping top tube, as well as a commitment to disc brakes (on the Hi-Mod model). But it’s not just the death of the flat top tube, Cannondale has also swapped to aero tube shapes for a claimed 30 watt saving (at 48kph) over its predecessor.
The frame also gets a flat-backed seat post and seat tube, and the dropped chainstays which are now a staple inclusion on race bikes. There’s room enough for 30mm tyres (28mm on non-Hi-Mod rim brake models), and the new frame is claimed to weigh 886g in a size 56, painted.
Cannondale has also opted for an integrated cockpit which sees the brands in-house KNOT components providing the bar, stem, as well as the seat post and wheelset. As you’d expect for a bike in this price bracket, the 45mm deep road wheels are carbon fibre and tubeless-ready, and a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset provides the gearing. At launch, the Dura-Ace-equipped SuperSix Evo came with a Power2Max NG Eco power meter installed (which you had to pay to activate). For 2021, that is no longer available, and only the SRAM eTap model comes with a power meter.
Raced by: EF Pro Cycling
Giant’s TCR has long been a no-nonsense performer, and the brand as a whole demonstrates top value for money. While the top-level models are far from ‘budget’, their performance-to-price ratio makes the TCR one of the best road bikes in this regard.
The TCR has always been known for its snappy ride quality and that’s due in large part to its compact rear end. At the front, the TCR gets Giant’s chunky Overdrive steerer which combine with the front and rear thru-axles and stiff carbon fork mean no steering input is lost to flex.
For 2021, the Giant TCR commits entirely to disc brakes, and is given a huge dose of aero-consideration, including updated tube shapes and new wheels from Cadex. At the top of the pile, there’s no Dura-Ace model available, which will put some users off, but the bike is available with eTap AXS, complete with the integrated Quarq power meter.
All models are shipped completely set up for tubeless – just add sealant – and in our time with the TCR Advanced SL 0, the Cadex tyres held air better than many tubed setups, and provided a total of zero punctures. As a whole, the bike was lightweight – at sub-7kg for a 58cm-equivalent), power transfer was excellent, but comfort is slightly lower than its competition, and the handling took a little time to build confidence.
We’re on the SL7 issue of the Specialized Tarmac, and when the bike launched, it didn’t just spell the end of the Tarmac, it also put a nail in the coffin of the Venge aero bike. Basically the SL7 took the aerodynamics of the Venge, the low weight of the Tarmac and blended it into one bike. This was marketed as ‘no compromises’ on race day, although the compromise we felt was a lack of the old Tarmac’s ride feel and comfort. The SL7 basically became a race rocket.
Of course, Specialized then launched the Aether, which beautifully recaptures that je ne sais quoi.
Introduced a few iterations ago, the Tarmac is based around what Specialized calls Rider-First Engineering, each frame size is built with a specific geometry, layup and tube shapes, meaning gone are the days of the ultra-stiff XS and noodly XL frames. Also gone are the gender-specific geometries, the only difference between the men’s and women’s versions are the touchpoints and cranks.
It’s only available with disc brakes, which has allowed the brand to balloon the max tire clearance to 30mm. The Expert spec comes with a Shimano Dura-Ace DI2 groupset, Roval CLX 50 Disc carbon wheels finished in with S-Works Turbo 320TPI rubber in pleasing tan wall.
Raced by: Bora-Hansgrohe, Deceuninck-QuickStep, Boels Dolmans
Say what you will about Pinarello’s Dogma but it has won seven of the last 10 Tour de France’s. The latest iteration of the Italian brand’s aero racer is the Dogma F12, and it’s the first race bike from Pinarello to come with discs from the outset. It’s quite a big deal given in 2017 Fausto Pinarello famously declared he wasn’t convinced high-performance bikes needed disc brakes. The rim brake version also swaps from a single bolt to direct mount brakes.
At first glance, the F12 doesn’t look all that different from the F10; there are quite a few claimed improvements to aerodynamics and stiffness throughout the frame. The fork has been revamped to better combat twisting forces from the disc brake caliper, and the frames themselves are said to be 10 per cent lighter than the F10 (unpainted). Pinarello has also made refinements to its asymmetric frame design and changed to a higher grade carbon, said to amount to a 10 per cent increase in stiffness.
Now with the ability to take 30mm tyres (28mm for rim brake version), the F12 is designed around the Most (Pinarello’s component brand) Talon bar and stem combo, which is available in 16-stem length and bar width combinations. Pinarello is making the Dogma F12 in 13 frame sizes, however, they are so expensive, most retailers seem to only be offering framesets at the time of writing.
Raced by: Team Ineos
Best aero road bikes
The introduction of aerodynamics into road bikes has been one of the most defining advancements in cycling history. Gone are the svelte tubes of artisan frames, instead frames are now designed by computers using computational fluid dynamics to sculpt wind-cheating shapes.
The result is lightning-quick bikes that destroy high speed flat and rolling roads. The advantages of aerodynamics are so great that elements have spilt over to all high-end bikes, however, nothing will match an all-out aero road bike in terms of raw speed.
The SystemSix moniker is nothing new to Cannondale, having first appeared 12 years ago in the form of a hybrid carbon fibre/aluminium composite frame. Ahead of its time in many ways, it paved the way for future models such as the lightweight and dynamic SuperSix Evo, which has also been given the aero treatment.
The blueprint of the all-new SystemSix – Cannondale’s first dedicated aero road bike – has been touted by the American company to be the ‘fastest on the planet’. At 7.8kg it may seem a little on the portly side but Cannondale says the added grams will do little to thwart progress, even on the hills.
The SystemSix makes an endearing case for itself as far as free speed is concerned. It’s seriously fast – be it on a descent, flat or climb, and the powerful disc brakes make for controlled modulation mid-corner.
Raced by: EF Pro Cycling
You’d expect something as aero-looking and performance-orientated as the Trek Madone to possess a harsh and unforgiving ride quality but it doesn’t. Like the Domane, the Madone also utilises an IsoSpeed decoupler, but in this application, it’s located in the top tube and offers a certain degree of adjustability – something Trek claims has boosted comfort and stiffness by 17 and 21 per cent respectively.
The Madone however, has always been a proponent of aerodynamic trickery and, as such, employs a compendium of clever go-faster techniques such as an integrated two-piece carbon bar and stem (SLR models), Kammtail Virtual Foil tubing and disc-equipped aero wheels that will accommodate tyres of up to 28mm.
A lighter rim brake version is also available with repositioned front brakes behind the fork for improved aero proficiency. As the range-topper in the Trek road bike range, all Madones feature carbon frames and high-end SRAM or Shimano groupsets.
Raced by: Trek-Segafredo
The latest edition of the Canyon Aeroad takes the former Aeroad and brings it into the 21st century, with wider tyre clearances, integrated cockpits and, umm, a quill stem.
The quill stem might not be modern, but Canyon’s take on the antiquated system very much is. By using a quill, the integrated cockpit can be lowered without having to cut the steerer tube, meaning it can be raised once again if necessary. The handlebars split at the tops (so that Canyon can ship it to you in a normal-sized bike box), but they’re also designed to offer up to 40mm width adjustment.
There’s also an increase in speed – to the apparent tune of seven watts over the former model, a 14-per cent stiffness increase, and a weight loss of 168 grams. That all combines to offer a ride that is really fast, yet far from uncomfortable. It considers itself an aero all rounder, but for all its merits on the scales, there are still aero-optimised bikes that weight less, so we’ve kept it in the aero bikes category, because its flat-land speed is what’s most impressive.
Raced by: Movistar, Alpecin-Fenix, Arkea-Samsic
Best lightweight road bikes
While bike design has splintered road bikes into specialist performers by making gains through truncated this and compliance that, when the road starts pointing up and gradients become severe lightweight is still king. It’s a simple fact that the less weight needing to be powered up a climb will result in a faster climbing speed.
The UCI limits the bike weight to 6.8kg for racing and while many brands seem to use this as a stopping point, for the everyday road rider, weight weenism can easily take a bike well below the racing limitation for even greater performance.
Despite their illustrious histories, Italian manufacturers are generally not renowned for being on the cutting edge of bicycle design. We tend to think of Italian racing bikes as beautiful, classic, perhaps even old fashioned – but the reality is that, with Wilier at least, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Zero SLR Disc is the latest lightweight bike from Wilier. Borrowing design cues from the Cento10 Pro aero bike, it’s a thoroughly modern lightweight bike. It ticks all the boxes; a super lightweight carbon frame with truncated aerofoil tube shapes, integrated handlebars with fully hidden cables, hydraulic disc brakes, carbon wheels and clearance for 28mm tyres.
Its tried and tested geometry, and stiff frame and fork mean handling is great, and its clean lines and complete cable integration make it a real looker. Wilier is kind enough to offer some very nice paint jobs as well – matte black with white detailing, matte velvet red and a glossy admiral blue. The matte black frameset is slightly lighter, but go for the red or blue for that essential touch of Italian flair.
There’s no denying that this is a pretty expensive bike – Wilier retains that classic Italian bike characteristic – but you’re buying into a European brand with over 100 years of experience in making bikes, and all of the racing heritage that comes with that.
As of yet, there doesn’t appear to be any women’s specific versions available, but, hopefully, that’s something Wilier will offer in the near future.
Raced by: Astana Pro Team
Once a pure climbing machine, built to give Alberto Contador an ideal platform on which to unleash his infamous out of the saddle attacks, the addition of hydraulic disc brakes, clearance for up to 28mm tyres, and aerodynamically optimised tubing widens its potential remit considerably.
With Bontrager’s new RSL 37 wheels and integrated cockpit, the OCLV 800 carbon layup and aero tube shapes, the new Emonda is said to halve the aero gap between Emonda-old and Madone SLR, whilst retaining much of the low weight of the former Emonda.
Available in a wide range of sizes, all of Trek’s bikes can be customised through their Project One programme. The options are extensive – from paint jobs through to practically every major component on the bike (though naturally, any upgrades will increase the overall cost) – so if the stock paint job isn’t to your taste, for example, you should still be able to find something to suit.
Raced by: Trek-Segafredo, Trek-Segafredo Women
With Canyon’s direct-to-consumer approach, it’s hard to argue the value for money aspect of the German behemoth’s range. While this particular model is still a significant investment, this is competing against superbikes that are breaking the £10K without a sweat.
Canyon claims its Ultimate CF Evo is the lightest carbon disc brake frame on the market which is paired with a feathery 285g fork. Canyon state that this frameset, including handlebar, stem and seatpost, weighs 1.51kg. Not only is the frameset light, but Canyon confidently back up the stiffness of the frame which they say has been achieved using their most advanced carbon layup. The pursuit of weight-saving extends to the finishing touches like a titanium internal seatpost clamp to assure every gram possible has been saved.
Canyon hasn’t looked to have scrimped on components either, your money gets you some serious kit. Canyon provides an impressive selection of SRAM’s RED eTap AXS groupset including a RED D1 power meter, DT Swiss 25th Anniversary disc carbon clinchers, and the CP20 EVO Evocockpit. Finishing touches come from the German lightweight carbon specialists Schmolke’s 87g seatpost and a 69g Selle Italia SLR C59 saddle.
Raced by: Movistar Team
Best endurance road bikes
For those who seek long days on the road, an endurance road bike with relaxed geometry, larger tyre clearances and built-in comfort features make a huge difference when the miles start racking up. Many of the best endurance road bikes feature compliance zones, optimised tube shapes or suspension systems to isolate the rider from poor road surfaces and fatigue-inducing vibrations. Relaxed geometry, larger tyres and disk brakes make these bikes steady and predictable, ready to tackle any long-distance ride no matter the terrain.
The Specialized Roubaix was the first commercially available endurance road bike when it was launched back in 2004. With a slightly more relaxed geometry and taller head tube, early versions of the Roubaix featured Zertz inserts, said to absorb road buzz — their effectiveness is still up for debate.
The Roubaix has come quite a long way since then, now featuring the Future Shock. Designed in collaboration with McLaren, the Future Shock is now in its 2.0 version and features a hydraulic piston inside the head tube which provides 20mm of travel, now with a dial to adjust the compression and rebound damping.
It’s not as snappy as the Tarmac when you push on the pedals, but it does an excellent job of smoothing out square edges on the road. Specialized are firm believers that ‘Smoother is Faster’ but so is aero. The Roubaix has had the ‘Win tunnel’ treatment and according to Specialized, the new Roubaix is more Aero than the Tarmac SL6 yet lighter than a Venge. Like the Tarmac, it only comes with disc brakes and a unisex geometry, with the only difference between the men’s and women’s bikes being the touchpoints.
Raced by: Bora-Hansgrohe, Deceuninck-QuickStep, Boels Dolmans
The third generation of the Trek Domane carries the dual front and rear IsoSpeed technology. The rear IsoSpeed uses a top-tube mounted adjustable pivot that with just a couple of tools and 5 minutes will allow the amount of compliance to be adjusted to suit your next ride whether its road, pavé or light gravel.
Trek says the new Domane is more aero than its predecessor, with Trek claiming it’s a full minute per hour faster than the previous version – although at what power output, we cannot be sure.
Trek has fully committed the Domane to disc brakes and the result is that it can accept up to 38mm tyres, or 35mm with a fender. At the front, there is a nifty cable guide mounted under the stem; it’s not quite as clean as the internally routed options, but not having to run cables and housing through handlebars and stem make maintenance and changes to bike fit considerably easier.
The Domane also features a clever down tube storage box that allows for tools and a spare tube to be stored in the frame inside a plush tool roll. While the standard Domane range is built around Trek’s H2 Endurance Fit, if you spring for the Project One SLR, the slightly more aggressive H1.5 ‘Pro Endurance’ geometry is available. Trek has also ditched the gender-specific geometries, with the only difference between the gendered bikes being the touchpoints and paint jobs.
Raced by: Trek-Segafredo, Trek-Segafredo Women
At first glance, the BMC Roadmachine looks identical to the Teammachine racer, but closer inspection reveals a higher stack, shorter reach, softer ride and room for fat tyres. Even with the more relaxed geometry the Roadmachine still retains much of is racier cousin’s efficiency and snap when pressure is applied to the pedals, but with slightly more forgiving steering characteristics.
The frame is made using the TCC (Tuned Compliance Concept) Endurance lay-up, which BMC says is designed to take the edge off rough roads. BMC has also employed what it calls Angle Compliance technology, which is marketing-speak for flex built into the fork, seat stays and seat post. The Roadmachine is where BMC first employed its integrated cockpit design, so it’s no surprise to see it here and we love the addition of mounts for a top tube food/storage box so your pre-knock Haribo can be at hand at all times.
There is enough room in the frame for 33mm tyres so even though ‘road’ is in the name, nothing is stopping you from taking the Roadmachine past where the pavement ends. At the front, the new asymmetric fork is said to be ten per cent stiffer, while the back features the brand’s dropped seat stays. The trouble, however, is the BMC sized price tag.
Raced by: NTT Pro Cycling
Since it was introduced in 2009, Giant’s Defy has consistently been the brand’s top-selling bike — it was also the first road bike to be offered exclusively in disc brakes. With only minor refinements to the geometry over the years, every other aspect of the bike has been improved from the D-Fuse seat post and handlebar to the oversized and tapered OverDrive 2 steerer tube.
The Defy Advanced sees an updated rear end with a slight curve in the seat stays to promote deflection. To balance out the plush rear end, Giant has adapted the D-Fuse technology for the front of the bike. The tops are now D-shaped like the seat post and Giant says the amount of flex can be customised by rotating the bar in the stem.
With these comfort features the remainder of the front triangle is robust with Giant employing its beefy Megadrive down tube and PowerCore bottom bracket shell, similar to what’s seen on its race bikes. For a period in time, the Defy was the lightest frameset in Giant’s range, but now made from the brand’s second-tier carbon, it has gained a bit of weight.
Raced by: CCC Team, CCC-Liv
Best aluminium road bikes
While all the top-tier bikes are made from carbon that’s not to say that bikes fabricated from metal are now obsolete. Aluminium is still a fantastic material for building light and stiff bike frames and with advanced manufacturing methods, they are lighter and more comfortable than ever.
Cannondale’s CAAD frames have long been considered the gold standard in aluminium race bikes, and the latest iteration the CAAD13 builds on that legacy.
The geometry matches the new SuperSix Evo, and the CAAD13 retains the light steering and crisp response to pedal input. Dropped chainstays and a D-shaped seat-post greatly improve comfort, and Cannondale has used hydroforming to incorporated truncated aerofoils to help the frame slice through the wind.
The American outfit is offering the new CAAD13 in both rim and disc versions, with the latter featuring Mavic’s Speed Release thru-axle dropouts. Shod with a Force eTap AXS drivetrain the bike also comes with a full carbon fork, Knot HollowGram45 carbon and wheels fender mounts galore.
Cannondale CAAD13 First Look
The Specialized Allez Sprint is a high-speed cornering, criterium racing weapon. With aerodynamic D’Alusio Smartweld tubing, the sprint is supremely stiff in every way, and no watt or steering input is sacrificed to flex. This also means you can articulate granular details about the road surface based solely on the vibrations coming up through the saddle.
The frame stack is 10mm lower than the Tarmac, putting plenty of weight on the front wheel and creating steering characteristics akin to a laser-guided missile. Using D’Aluisio Smartweld tech throughout the frame, weld points are moved away from high-stress areas like the bottom bracket, requiring less material for the same amount of rigidity and strength.
Specialized offers different specs and colours depending on the region you live but for the most part, complete options are based around a Shimano 105 groupset. Should you want to choose your own spec, Specialized offers the frameset in disc- or rim-brake options.
Raced by: Bora-Hansgrohe, Deceuninck-QuickStep, Boels Dolmans