NOT sure where to start in your search for a road bike? To the uninitiated, it can seem like a confusing world, where all the bikes look vaguely the same but each claims to do something different.
Fortunately, our guide is at hand to not only help you understand the different types you can buy, but also the best road bikes available in each category.
Broadly speaking, all road bikes have large, 700c wheels and dropped (curved downwards at the ends) handlebars. From here, they are then broken into four sub-categories – aero, lightweight, endurance, adventure – where the biggest difference is the angles of the frame.
Aero bikes are generally all straight lines and harsh angles, and the focus is on cutting through the air as efficiently as possible (and not on comfort).
Adventure bikes meanwhile sit at the other end of the scale, and share more similarities with mountain bikes (thick, chunky tyres, a relaxed frame angle) than their Tour de France-racing cousins.
In between you'll find lightweight and endurance models, which kind of do what they say on the tin – the former made for going uphill that bit easier, the latter ideal for long days in the saddle or a spot of touring.
Price is also obviously a factor and will determine the frame material and quality of components. Anything under £1,500 will most probably have an aluminium frame and carbon fibre fork. Beyond this, carbon fibre is the frame material choice for most bikes, and your budget will determine the spec of the supporting cast, such as wheels, groupset and finishing kit (handlebars, saddle and stem). All the bikes featured include disc brakes, although it is still possible to buy road bikes with rim brakes, and they're usually slightly cheaper.
1. Best cheap road bike
- Triban RC 520 Disc Road Bike, £749.99 from Decathlon – buy here
The words road bike and cheap don’t always go together, but the Triban RC 520 by Decathlon’s in-house brand B’Twin is the perfect low-cost introduction to the world of road cycling.
The lightweight aluminium frame has a slightly relaxed geometry that will make it a bit more comfortable on longer rides, and includes pannier and mudguard mounts that are ideal for commuting.
It’s the inclusion of Shimano’s third-tier 105 groupset, regarded by most road cyclists as the best pound-for-pound set around, and hydro disc brakes that make the Triban stand out from the pack though.
Looking for even cheaper road bikes? Models start at £380 in our round-up of the best on the market.
2. Best road bike under £1,000
- Scott Speedster 20 Disc road bike, £998.99 from Rutland Cycling – buy here
If you like the look of the Triban offering above but want something for a big name brand, then the Speedster 20 Disc from Swiss manufacturer Scott is well worth your attention.
The aluminium frame and carbon fork are the same used on the range-topping (and £400 more expensive) Speedster 10, and the only difference between the two are the level of components used.
Here, the use of Shimano's 20-speed Tiagra (rather than the 105 used on the Triban RC 520) helps keep the cost below that magic £1,000 barrier, but only an expert would really be able to tell the difference between the two.
Like most modern road bikes, the Speedster 20 features disc brakes, which leaves some room around the frame and fork for a set chunky, comfort-boosting 32c Schwalbe Lugano tyres.
The rest of the bike is finished up with a solid set of components from Scott's sister brand Syncros.
3. Best aluminium road bike
- Cannondale CAAD13 105 Disc, £1,900 from Evans Cycles – buy here
Although many think a serious road bike has to have a carbon fibre frame, high-end aluminium road bikes can easily hold their own against a carbon bike and for a fraction of the cost.
The CAAD13 Ultegra by American brand Cannondale is such a bike. The aero-focused model has been refined and improved over the years, and the 2020 edition is easily the fastest (and lightest at 9.04kg) yet.
Like the B’Twin offering, Shimano’s 105 22-speed drivetrain is included, but the disc brakes are a step up from those featured on the Triban.
Other highlights include a carbon fibre fork and some slick road bike tyres courtesy of Italian brand Vittoria.
Plus, if you’re happy with rim brakes, you can upgrade to Shimano’s Ultegra groupset for the same price.
4. Best carbon road bike
- Specialized Tarmac SL6 Sport Disc Road Bike, £2,348.99 from Rutland Cycling – buy here
If you’re looking to upgrade to your first serious road bike, and have deep pockets to match, then you’re most probably looking for something with a carbon fibre frame.
The Tarmac range from American brand Specialized is an amazing family of lightweight bikes that is focused on being nimble and going fast.
The range goes up to the £6,000 SL6 Disc Pro with electronic shifting, but the SL6 Disc Sport model is a perfect buy if looking to take your sportives and long weekend rides up a gear.
The main talking points are that carbon fibre and fork combination, Shimano’s 105 groupset and hydraulic disc brakes, and some solid wheels from the renowned Swiss brand DT Swiss.
5. Best endurance road bike
- Canyon Endurance CF SL Disc 7.0 Road Bike, £1,849.00 from Canyon – buy here
For those wanting to get a road bike without suffering from a stiff back, an endurance bike is the way to go.
The frame has a slightly more relaxed geometry, meaning you’ll have a more upright position, and the manufacturer has focused on comfort rather than speed at all costs.
The Endurance CF SL Disc 7.0 by German brand Canyon might not have the catchiest name, but it is one of the most comfortable rides out there and is nimble enough for when you want to put the power down too.
A specially designed carbon fibre seatpost will also absorb chatter from the worst of the UK's rough B-roads and country lanes, while the same Shimano groupset and hydraulic disc brakes found on the Specialized Tarmac will help you keep up with the pack.
6. Best aero road bike
- Trek Madone SL 6 Disc road bike, £3,900 from Evans Cycles – buy here
For those who want to squeeze the maximum performance out of their bikes, aero is the way to go. Designed using windtunnels to have the minimum amount of drag, aerodynamic road bikes will help shave time off of your biggest efforts.
The Madone from Trek is the American brand's aero platform, and the SL6 offers up an extremely fast ride for a fraction of the price of the range-topping (and £11,050) SLR 9 Disc eTap.
For your money, you get a fully carbon frame and fork that is stiff in all the right places but is still able to provide some vibration dampening when out on the road.
Shimano's second-tier Ultegra groupset takes care of the 22-speed drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes, while Bontrager is in charge of the finishing kit.
One thing to note is the 50mm deep wheels. While perfect for cutting through the air straight line, they can act like ship's sail if there's a strong wind, so it might be better of looking at an endurance-focused bike if you're planning on using it in all conditions.
7. Best adventure bike
- Ribble CGR SL GRX Adventure Road Bike, £1,899 from Ribble – buy here
Adventure and gravel bikes are the biggest growing trend in road cycling right now, and it’s easy to see why. Relaxed geometry, wide tyres and the ability to take on heavy loads make them the ideal bikes for going on a bikepacking adventure with, and as their name suggests, they can handle a bit of off-road riding too.
The CGR SL from British brand Ribble is one of the most adaptable rides on the market and is perfect whether you’re commuting or tackling the grittiest bridleway. The carbon fibre frame and fork can take tyres as wide as 47c, while its tubeless-ready wheels mean that tyre pressures can be taken low, boosting comfort even more.
Unlike the other bikes on the list, Shimano’s 1x 11-speed gravel-specific GRX is the groupset of choice (although it comes in a range of builds, including a slightly cheaper 105 set-up), while Mavic’s Aksium Disc wheels are a robust-yet-lightweight set that will get you where you want to go quick, whatever the terrain.
What's the best road bike for beginners?
If you're just starting out your cycling journey and you don't want to break the bank buying a new bike, we've also rounded up the best cheap road bikes you can buy.
Models in that list start from £220, but that doesn't mean they skimp on quality.
What's the best bike brand?
It's a tricky question to answer because customer satisfaction varies from model to model.
However, bikes from Cannondale, Canyon and Specialized often come out top of the ratings on retailers such as Evans Cycles and Tredz.
What is the best road bike money can buy?
If money is truly no issue, then it’s possible to get exactly the same bike as those used in the professional peloton. The Pinarello Dogma F12 is the bike of choice for Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) and its riders Geriant Thomas and Chris Froome, and as you can expect is fully carbon, has completely internalised cabling for those all-important marginal gains and weighs in at the UCI’s minimum limit of 6.8kg. It also has an eye-watering price tag of £10,000-plus – best get saving…
Is it time your bike got a tyre upgrade? Check out our selection of the best road bike tyres of 2020, right here.
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