The best performance carbon road bikes for 2016
Stepping up from a hefty steel-framed steed to a lithe carbon fibre racer is the two-wheeled equivalent of hopping out of a Kia Picanto and nailing the throttle in a mate's Porsche 911.
You are either going to seriously up your cycling game and go for maximum attack on every ride with these lightweight wonder-bikes… Or you're going to squander a lot of money and hate yourself for ever.
Carbon is used in world of auto exotica because it is ultra-light, extremely strong and (relatively) easy to mould into weird and wonderful shapes, which also makes it absolutely brilliant for bike design.
But just like purchasing your dream sports car, the bike-buying process can be a minefield of jargon, technical information and groupset decisions - the brakes, gears and mechanical gubbins, to put it very simply - that can make or break your new ride.
So what makes a good carbon racer? First off, you need to consider the type of riding you'll be doing. Marketing bods will tell you that the stiffer the frame, the faster it is - and also the more expensive - but it's also worth considering comfort.
The downside of a rigid speed machine is that road imperfections are transmitted to the rider and this often leads to a bum-numbingly firm ride, so a test spin is always highly recommended, especially if you are looking to rack up the miles.
Secondly, the length, angles and design of the tubes that make up a frame (otherwise known as geometry) will have an adverse effect on the way the bike handles and responds to inputs, plus it will determine a good fit. Speak to your local bike shop or online bike builder if you're unsure. Those in the know can usually do a great job from a few simple body measurements.
Finally, a carbon bike may be light, strong and aerodynamically superior to most other materials but it's also pricey, so it's worth doing the research to see what wheels, gears, brakes and finishing kit have been applied to the particular model that takes your fancy.
A bargain is always welcome but scrimping on poor quality carbon, adding cheap and heavy wheels and a sub-par groupset can mean the benefits of that featherweight frame are quickly compromised.
With that in mind, take a look at our pick of the top performing carbon road racers on sale today, which range from just over £1,000 and rocket to nearly £10k, before slapping a deposit down on your weapon of choice.
Lycra warriors: prepare to charge!
We've listed our favourite carbon steeds in cost order, from 'most insanely expensive' to 'verging on reasonable'. Enjoy…
Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS Di2
There are not enough superlatives in the English dictionary to do this bike justice; it is quite simply one of the fastest, most beautiful and technically astonishing cycles currently on sale.
It costs the same as a brand new Skoda Citigo but that money secures a class-leading FACT 11r carbon frame that has been thoroughly tested in a wind tunnel and draws upon exotic auto manufacturer McLaren's lightweight knowledge to ensure it is among the fastest in the world.
Then there is Shimano’s electrically shifting Dura-Ace Di2 gears, specially-developed 'hidden' brakes and full internal cable routing for the ultimate in slippery gains.
Specialized claims this bike is two minutes faster than rivals over a flat 40km course and we aren't going to argue with them.
T3 verdict 5
A truly sensational piece of engineering. Face it, though: most mere mortals won't ever do it justice.
£9,000 | Specialized.com
Trek Madone 9.9
Trek's drool-inducing Madone has been designed solely with speed in mind and as such, features the sort of engineering over-speccing that champion racers demand. Yes, it costs £8.5k but Shimano's electronically shifting Dura-Ace Di2 gears, Bontrager's Aeolus 5 D3 wheels and a painstakingly precise 600 Series OCLV carbon frame do not come cheap.
This is basically the same aero bike that the Trek Factory Racing team hop on when they are out smashing records and therefore requires both a skilled rider and mechanic to do it justice. Consider it the Pagani Zonda of the bicycle world.
T3 verdict 5
Formula 1 technology distilled into a pedal-powered package. Unfortunately, you'll need Ecclestone's wages to afford one
£8,500 | Trekbikes.com
Scott Foil Team Issue 2016
From the Garmin bike computer mounting points to the carefully conceived internal battery storage for Shimano's electric gearing systems, the Scott Foil has been adapted and tweaked for 2016 to ensure it slices through the air like no other.
Wind tunnel tests have proved that the latest bike is faster on the flats, while the in-house HMX carbon frame has been adapted to avoid 'air stagnation' and bulked up in key areas to increase stiffness across.
The result is a rapido ride and a bike that just loves climbing, which is complimented further by the brilliant Shimano Dura-Ace groupset and speedy Zipp 60 wheels that just so happen to make a brilliant noise as they slash through the air.
At 6.96kg, it's one of the lightest bikes here and the Team Issue paint job is further proof that this monster isn't too far off the package that's dispensed to the professionals.
T3 verdict 5
A superb all-round speed machine that's surprisingly comfortable given its hardcore aero status. Those Zipp wheels and Shimano groupset are genius additions.
£5,999 | Scott-sports.com
Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0
It looks as if the Canyon chaps turned to stealth bombers when seeking inspiration for the all-black Ultimate CF SLX because the end result is nothing short of military grade.
Yes, it is starting to tickle the 'oh-gosh-that's-expensive' mark but the turn of pace and razor sharp handling are simply stunning. This thing can make even the weakest legs look competitive.
The test model we rode came with Campagnolo's monstrous Record 11-speed mechanical groupset and the Canyon's own fantastic Aero Cockpit bars, which disguise most of the cabling for one of the slipperiest rides in town.
Despite its performance prowess, it remains a pretty comfortable ride, with the general body positioning catering for longer trips, as well as the time trial enthusiast. Yes, it's as stiff as a mother lover but you'll be going so fast, you'll positively sail over those potholes.
T3 verdict 5
Canyon could actually charge a few grand more and get away with it. This is a truly professional piece of kit that goads the rider into pushing harder.
£4,899 | Canyon.com
Specialized Tarmac Expert
There's not much Specialized doesn't know about winning races, as the US brand provides top spec bikes for two of the most famous names in the peloton: Omega-Pharma Quick-Step and Tinkoff Saxo.
The Tarmac Expert uses the same 10r carbon frame as the near-£5k Pro Race model, while throwing in Shimano's magnificent Ultegra 11-speed gears and brakes.
The Expert is slightly more expensive than similarly-equipped models on this list but that money is invested into a top quality frame, which is the star of the show in this package, offering great speed and responsiveness but not scrimping on comfort.
It's possible to spend hours in the saddle without feeling the strain, while clever aerodynamic touches, such as the integrated seat clamp solution, don't go unnoticed. The 2016 livery also looks superb, a real head-turner.
T3 verdict 5
The frame is worth the premium alone, being properly fast yet surprisingly comfortable. If we're quibbling, the standard Fulcrum wheels are a bit disappointing but hey, you can always buy new ones…
£3,000 | Specialized.com
B'Twin Ultra 740 CF Ultegra Di2
Our Europeans cousins have long praised Decathlon for its impressive array of sporting gear but even ardent shoppers will be surprised that it stocks race bikes of this pedigree. It's like going in to Sports Direct and finding a Porsche.
The £2.5k Ultra 740 CF from French manufacturer is an absolute stunner for the money and packs Shimano's Ultegra 6870 11-speed Di2 gearing system, which shifts cogs electronically for rapid and precise changes.
The 850g-carbon frame blends materials for added stiffness, while the addition of Mavic Cosmic C40 Elite rims ensure this bike really means business.
It only comes in B'Twin's pink and powder blue colour scheme, which may put off some, but it's a competitive machine for those who can overlook the logo.
T3 verdict 4
A surprisingly capable, if slightly quirky, package with a phenomenal groupset. Spending £2,500 in Decathlon feels odd… but what the hell?
£2,500 | Decathlon.co.uk
BMC Granfondo GF01 105 Disc
Without getting the scales out, the Swiss-designed Granfondo appears to be one of the heaviest bikes on test, likely thanks to its hydraulic disc brakes and Shimano 105 gearing, but it also feels the most solid.
The upright geometry and robust Shimano RX31 wheelset have clearly been selected for reliability over long distances and things don’t get much better than this.
There's barely any flex under hard acceleration, the disc brakes perform brilliantly in the wet and it never feels uncomfortable, even when clinging to the drop bars in full racing position.
Those looking for an outright rocket may want to look towards BMC's lightweight SLR range but for racking up the miles without destroying spines or wasting time on fiddly maintenance, this is a peach.
T3 verdict 4
The extra weight is noticeable in this company but the solid frame, integrated chain catcher and hydraulic disc brakes inspire confidence on the road.
£2,499 | Evanscycles.com
Vitus Vitesse Evo Team 2016
Online bike specialist Chain Reaction Cycles resurrected the Vitus brand a few years back and it has been producing some cracking on- and off-road models ever since.
The Vitus Vitesse Evo might not be the easiest off the tongue but it's an incredibly slick operator that sports a ludicrously enticing package for the money.
Because the middleman has been cut out, this puppy can afford to sport Shimano's laser accurate Dura Ace 9000 11-speed gearing, FSA SLK Light brakes and components, as well as Vision Trimax30 wheels.
The ultra-light carbon frame is superb, offering one of the most comfortable rides here, great acceleration and ballistic cruising speeds on the flat.
Unfortunately, those wheels let this bike down a bit and suffer from a fair amount of flex under heavy acceleration, particularly the rear. Regardless, this is one of the easiest bikes to dial into on the list, with instant, out-of-the-box performance.
T3 verdict 4
A brilliantly user-friendly experience that will instantly improve most peoples' rides, although the truly serious might want to consider a wheel upgrade.
Price £2,400 | chainreactioncycles.com
Boardman Road Pro Carbon
The Boardman brand has long been battling snooty cycling types that tend to turn their beaks up at anything sold through Halfords. But the 2016 Road Pro Carbon is further proof that great value doesn't have to mean compromise.
It packs Shimano's ultra-reliable mid-range Shimano 105 5800 groupset, as well as an excellent C7 carbon frame pinched from the more expensive SLR (Super Light Racing) model.
It stops well thanks to Shimano's RS505 hydraulic disc brakes but it is the ride that really stands out. Partly thanks to Boardman's specially developed aero profile rims, this thing cruises along the flats with minimal effort.
A stylish and surprisingly capable performer that offers plenty of comfort and a solid build quality for racking up the miles.
T3 verdict 4
The geometry and clever use of carbon ensure the ride is never overly harsh, although the disc brakes could prove a pain to maintain.
£1,499 | Halfords.com
Ribble R872 Ultegra Special Build
Online-only bike builder Ribble manages to keep the cost of its cycles down by cutting out the middleman but the spec offered on the R872 is still hugely impressive for the price.
The frame is constructed from top quality Toray T800 carbon fibre, while the headtube and bottom bracket have been bulked up with even more of the lightweight stuff to reduce flex.
The result is an ultra-stiff bullet of a bike that offers bags of speed to the discerning and ballsy rider.
Throw in Shimano's Ultegra groupset (one of the best it produces) and the Japanese brand's solid RS21 wheelset and you have a package that's impossible to ignore at this price.
T3 verdict 5
Okay, the racy geometry and super-stiff frame won't be for everyone, but this is just an incredibly fast and hugely capable bike for the money.
£1,200 | Ribblecycles.co.uk