It’s the autumn after a summer of coronavirus rules and regulations, and bikes are everywhere. Arguably one of the most sought-out items of 2020 (after toilet paper and hand sanitiser, of course), the bicycle is at the top of everyone’s list of must-haves. The general thinking? If we’re no longer using public transport, we should be riding a bike.
Since the lockdown began back in March, bike manufacturers and shops across the UK have reported a serious boom in demand. In the 20 weeks up to August 21, Britain’s biggest cycle retailer, Halfords, saw a 59 per cent increase in bike sales. Online retailer Wiggle says its UK sales have effectively doubled, reporting a 93 per cent increase between April-Sept versus last year. While London-based Sigma Sport saw an unprecedented increase in bicycle purchases, with female bike sales up by 147 per cent and men’s up by 151 per cent.
New bikes from major brands tend to start around the £500 mark, although many high-spec road bikes cost a lot, lot more. Some of these entry-level bikes are ideal for commuting or pottering to a cafe at the weekend. But the majority of carbon road bikes on this list are designed to be ridden long distances. They are for speedy laps around Richmond Park, participating in triathlons and events like Prudential RideLondon. They’re designed for long weekends tackling Box Hill or grinding up mountains in Europe, taking on challenges like the North Coast 500 or Land's End to John o' Groats – where weight and aerodynamics really matter, and might just save your legs from feeling like they’re going to fall off. Is that worth thousands of pounds? If you’ve got it to spare – or you have access to a cycle to work scheme through your employer – we’d say it probably is.
Where can I actually get a bike?
Of course, the only downside to the coronavirus cycling boom is that finding a good bike is now a challenge. Buy online from the likes of Halfords, Evans, Decathlon, Sigma Sports or Wiggle. Or visit a local independent bike shop to try before you buy.
Should I choose an aluminium or a carbon bike frame?
Aluminium is cheaper, but it’s also heavier. Having a lightweight bike makes both climbing treacherous hills and manoeuvring easier – so if your wallet can stretch, carbon is best. You should also look at the bike’s fork (the part that holds the front wheel) – some bikes will have an all-carbon fork while others will have an alloy steerer or aluminium crown (again, this all affects the weight of your bike). The most important thing though, when it comes to the frame, is to get the right size – after all, comfort is key. If you can, get a bike fit to ensure your saddle and handlebars are at the right height.
What is ‘Shimano gearing’?
There’s a lot of cycling jargon when it comes to gears, so you’re forgiven if it all feels a bit foreign. At a very basic level, all you need to know is if you’re going uphill you’ll want to be in a small gear, and if you’re descending you’ll want a high gear. Most road bikes have two chainrings (the rings attached to the pedal) and anywhere from seven to 12 gears (the cassette attached to the rear wheel). When hunting for a new bike, look at what groupset it has. Shimano gearing is arguably the most popular, but other options include Campagnolo and SRAM. Look for Shimano ‘Dura-Ace’, ‘Ultegra’ or ‘105’ – all of which have an 11-gear speed cassette – and tend to appear on the most high-end bikes, while 10-speed Tiagra, 9-speed Sora or 8-speed Claris are fitted on cheaper models.
Disc or rim brakes?
Disc brakes are slowly taking over on road bikes – in fact, lots of high-spec bikes only offer disc brakes, although some bikes let you choose whether you’d prefer disc or rim. The difference? Disc brakes tend to be more expensive because they give you consistent stopping power, but rim brakes are actually lighter.
Here are some of the best road bikes on the market from under £1,000 to over £10,000.
Best affordable road bikes under £1,000
Boardman SLR 8.9 Road Bike
Recently updated and renamed, Boardman has upgraded their most popular carbon road bike (and the good news is, it won’t completely break the bank). The SLR 8.9 looks slick with it’s faded design and cables neatly tucked away. The main difference between this and the old version is the high-performance Shimano 105 gears – something that you don’t always see on a carbon road bike, with carbon forks, at a £1,000 price point.
Decathlon Triban RC120
If you’re a complete newbie to cycling and you really only want a bike as a mode of transport, then this bike from Decathlon comes highly recommended. For the price – which is outrageously good value for money – you get an aluminium frame with a carbon fork, wide-range gearing and a simplistic design.
Vitus Razor Claris
This entry-level aluminium bicycle has pretty much everything you’d want from your first ever road bike, plus, it’s ideal for commuting. Equipped with Shimano Claris gears and Tektro dual-pivot brakes it offers quality specs at a wallet-friendly price.
Specialized Allez Road Bike
At £800, this versatile entry-level bike, featuring an aluminium frame and a carbon fork, is a real all-rounder. So popular, in fact, Sigma Sports has completely sold out of the 2020 model but do have the new 2021 model in stock. The weight means you won’t quite be dancing up any hills, but looks-wise the clean internal cable makes it seem more expensive than it actually is.
Best road bikes under £2,500
Canyon Endurace AL 7.0
It’s not carbon, but Canyon’s aluminium endurance bike comes kitted out with Shimano 105 and quality Fulcrum wheels. Canyon’s own lightweight carbon seatpost provides a quality ride, showing that the lower price point doesn’t mean a compromise in value or enjoyment. For an extra £400, the Endurace AL Disc 7.0, offers you the option to upgrade to hydraulic disc brakes and DT Swiss wheels.
Liv Langma Advanced 1
With the tagline “for women, by women, with women”, Liv Cycling – the female version of Giant – aims to put female riders at the front of everything it does. The Langma range is Liv’s lightweight racing bikes (a step up from the Avail, but not quite as bold as the EnviLiv), and built to fly up steep ascends and long climbs. Perfect for cyclists wanting a bike made specifically for the female form.
Giant TCR Advanced 2 Disc
Make no mistake, this is a racing bike. And it’s fair to say it’s been built more for speed than comfort. Giant have fine-tuned their TCR range – and this Shimano 105-equipped version combines disc brakes and a lightweight frame with tubeless tires. The Advanced, Advanced Pro and Advanced SL bikes are all available in rim and disc brake versions, and although it’s hard to tell some models apart, the prices do differ considerably.
Ribble Endurance SL
One of the best things about buying a bike from Ribble is that you can choose your own spec and colour combinations via the online bike builder. So while we seriously love the bold teal colour of this Endurance SL, if you don’t, you can easily change it to suit your taste. This is a classy-looking bike with a performance to match – with Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon wheels and Shimano’s 105 groupset.
Best road bikes for splashing the cash
Trek Emonda SL 6 Disc
Trek have re-imaged the shape of the Emonda – the brand’s lightweight climbing bike with race-ready handling. With Shimano’s Ultegra 11-speed groupset and tubeless tires, there’s lots to like about this bike. But at 8.25kg it does feel a little on the heavy side for a 'climbing' bike.
Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra Di2
This aero bike looks like it’s something from the future. Aggressive yet explosive, seamless yet exaggerated. The aerodynamic shape means it’s fast, while the disc brakes and big volume tyres both get big ticks. The only thing worth questioning here, similar to the Trek, is the weight – at 7.6kg it’s not quite as light as other high-end bikes on the market. But if you don’t mind it being ‘a bit heavy’ then you can enjoy the aero features.
Canyon Ultimate CFR Disc EPS
Cheap this bike is not. But at 6.29kg this really is the ultimate lightweight road race bike. CFR stands for ‘Canyon Factory Racing’ and consists of Canyon’s very best bikes – similar to how Specialized uses S-Works for its pro-level machines. The Ultimate CFR has disc brakes and electronic Campagnolo Super Record EPS Disc shifting. We particularly like the skinwall tyres.
S-Works Tarmac SL7 Shimano Dura Ace Di2
We really loved Specialized’s S-Works Venge – it was the type of aero bike that just knew how good it looked and marvelled in it. The S-Works Tarmac SL7 is like the Venge, but better. It’s super light and fast, without compromising on stability. It’s stiffer and more aero. The only thing to dislike is the price tag.
If money was no object – and you want to turn heads – the S-Works Tarmac really is the best in class when it comes to speed, weight and aerodynamics. But for those of us not seeking to remortgage our homes, the Boardman SLR 8.9, at £1,000, is our favourite – an amazing carbon frame set at a brilliant price.