Best road bike 2018: serious but affordable carbon and steel bicycles

For fast commutes and even faster sportives, these are the best road bikes that don't require a re-mortgage or the body of a whippet

TODO alt text

The Tour de France is well underway, and if the site of hundreds of very fine athletes pushing themselves to the limits has made you feel a bit lazy by comparison, perhaps you might consider buying one of these, the best road bikes. They're more for mere mortals, but many of them are not far off pro spec.

Road bike technology has improved at such a rate, and cycling has become so much more popular, that previously out of reach carbon speed machines and pro-spec peloton-punishers are now available at entry-level prices.

Okay, so around £2,000 is not pocket change, but the speed and handling of these commute and sportive friendly road bikes more than justifies the cost. What we have largely gone for here, however, are bikes that real people can ride. They'll get you to work, without leaving you aching and they're fast and able to take on hills, but they're not excessively life endangering for newcomers to the road bike world.

Road bikes: what you need to know

You may have noticed the staggering increase in exceptionally tight fitting garments out on the open road, as we enter the season where folk dust off their rides and attempt to get back into some kind of cycling shape.

But for many, that old road bike just isn't going to cut it in today's world of wind tunnel-tested carbon fibre rockets and lightweight aluminium frames, so it's a great time to rummage around online for the best road bike you can find, whether that's in the sales or new for 2018.

Be warned: we have found that as frame technology has improved over the years (particularly those of the carbon fibre variety), the finishing kit that completes the bike (gears, wheels, brakes, saddles etc.) has suffered.

In short, that ultra, super-duper frame that has been tested in a wind tunnel to within an inch of its life might sound like a good idea, but the overall package may not represent good value.

With that in mind, we've collated a list of brilliant road bikes that represent excellent value across the board - from their tyres to their top tubes.

Although it's ever so T3, we admit carbon fibre isn't necessarily the be-all and end-all of bike riding for most cyclists.

Yes, you can get a full carbon road bike for under £2,000 but the material might not be the right fit for you. Cheaper carbon tends to flex under load, so if you're carrying a few excess pounds, this could prove a problem - or it could push you to lose the weight, who knows?

It can also be less comfortable in general and some carbon composites can be brittle and less dependable than their steel or aluminium-framed counterparts.

Plus, if the carbon frame is a peach, manufacturers will tend to balance the books by scrimping on things like the groupset (gears and brakes), wheels and finishing kit (saddle, bar tape and cabling).

For example, an entry-level groupset, such as Shimano's Tiagra or Comapagnolo's Veloce, could reveal its flaws during a long sportive or timed weekend ride, when competitors require razor sharp cog swaps and bulletproof reliability.

But for those simply looking to rack up the miles on gentler rides or take it easy during a friendly competition, this may not be such an issue.

The same can be said for wheelsets. Ideally, the lighter and stiffer the wheel, the better for speed and handling but don't forget this will typically mean a compromise in comfort and budget.

Similarly, the geometry of a frame and its construction will greatly affect the way it performs and handles. A racy geometry - the angles of the tubes that make up the frame - can be a pain on longer rides, despite performance gains. A fact that's well worth considering if you're simply looking to add a little swag to your daily commute.

Ultimately, it pays to do some research. That said, our countdown of the best bikes for less than £2,000 is the ideal starting point, if we say so ourselves.

The best road bikes in order of preference

Specialized Roubaix Elite

1. Specialized Roubaix Elite

The most comfortable race bike and hence, for many riders, the best

Specifications
Frame: Fact10r Carbon
Groupset: Shimano 105 11 Speed
Wheels: DT R470 Disc
Finishing Kit: Specialized
Reasons to buy
+Suspension-enabled frame +Durable components +Disk brakes
Reasons to avoid
-Spec is a bit stingy for the price

Named after the infamously gruelling Paris to Roubaix Challenge, this intelligent road bike features the marque's new Future Shock cartridge, which gives a staggering 20mm of vertical stem and bar movement to soak up bumps.

The frame and headset are chunky but it doesn't feel like a particularly heavy bike and those oversized elements are only put in place to house the clever suspension system.

Although discreet, there's a noticeable difference in the way the handlebars and stem miraculously iron over imperfections in the road, while the squishy seatpost makes arduously long sportives slightly less painful.

The addition of tried-and-tested DT R470 wheels means it remains a fast ride and that Fact10r frame is stiff and pointy, nicely transferring power through the wheels.

Of course, those with bicycle Spider senses will likely argue that the additional damping effects power transfer and handling but we struggled to find those flaws.

Plus, the Shimano 105 gearing and brakes is a bit stingy for a bike at this price point, but you're really paying for that brilliantly clever frame.

In our humble opinion, it's a race bike that doesn't punish the spine, wrists and arse like its ballistic carbon fibre brethren. And that's a Very Good Thing.

BMC Roadmachine 03 One 2018

2. BMC Roadmachine 03 One 2018

Best value road bike you can get

Specifications
Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano 105 22 Speed
Wheels: Mavic Aksium Allroad Disc
Finishing Kit: BMC, Selle Royal, Shimano
Reasons to buy
+It's sexy, cheap and fast as feck
Reasons to avoid
-Comparatively "heavy"

It is very difficult to categorise BMC's latest Roadmachine, as it's not quite an all-out Tour de France racer, nor is it a properly comfortable long distance cruiser.

However, it manages to sit somewhere in the middle of those two camps, which is typically where most amateur riders (particularly tubby ones like us) want to be. It means riders get just enough speed, but with a hint of comfort for lengthier rides.

Jump off a high-end carbon racer and straight into the saddle of BMC's affordable Roadmachine and its additional mass is tangible, especially on the climbs, but it's ludicrously comfortable and the internal cabling, powerful disc brakes and solid Shimano 105 groupset means it can compete in terms of all-out luxury with more expensive bicycles.

Canyon Roadlite CF 8.0

3. Canyon Roadlite CF 8.0

Best road bike/urban commute bike hybrid

Specifications
Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra 11 speed
Wheels: DT Swiss E 1800 Spline DB
Finishing Kit: Canyon, Tektro, Shimano
Reasons to buy
+Great riding position for city traffic+Feels comfortable and sturdy+...But also nimble and quick

Canyon is the German meister of packing as much bike as possible into as small a price and box as possible – their mail-order packaging is a masterclass in ruthless German efficiency when it comes to use of space, allied to speed and ease of setup.

Now, the more astute among you will have noted that there's something rather odd about this 'road bike' and that's because technically it isn't one; it's what is called a 'fitness bike'. However, that is a very stupid and un-catchy name for what is essentially a road bike with flat pedals (by default; obviously you can fit it with whatever you like) and flat bars. And it is fantastiche, as the Germans say.

• Buy Canyon Roadlite CF 8.0 direct from Canyon

For riding in town, I literally can't think of anything better than this bike. The riding position, forgiving frame and Fizik saddle give you great awareness and comfort but when you need to put the hammer down, it will accelerate in a way that is not unlike a road bike. To put it in technical language, it's nippy AF.

You get so much stuff here for your piffling, £1,799 outlay (and that's currently discounted to £1,619!). As well as very well-judged geometry, you get a carbon frame, Shimano Ultegra components, disk brakes and a DT Swiss E 1800 wheelset that's built to be speedy yet highly durable. Shipping is also included in the price, and takes under a week. Canyon has ridiculously exacting standards for the component sourcing and manufacture of its bikes, and even employs Bluetooth torque wrenches in its factory in Koblenz. Oh, those Germans.

(NB: Duncan Bell wrote this entry. Leon Poultney compiled the remainder of the list) 

Felt AR3 Aero

4. Felt AR3 Aero

This is more of a 'proper' road bike, with all that entails…

Specifications
Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8000 11 speed
Wheels: Devox 55 carbon
Finishing Kit: Felt, Easton, Fizik
Reasons to buy
+Slippery as a greased eel+Accurate shifting+Carbon rims
Reasons to avoid
-By no means comfortable-Too fast for most

If you love carbon fibre, you've come to the right place because this wind tunnel tested beauty is absolutely dripping in the stuff.

The result is a featherweight speed machine that tips the scales at just 7.7kg and packs a groupset that wouldn't look out of place amongst a professional pack of elite riders.

You'll pay for the privilege but this high-end stunner represents great value considering the tech that has been invested in the frame, carbon rims and Shimano's superior Ultegra groupset.

5. Specialized Tarmac SL4 Elite

Not cheap, but is this the best road bike pound for pound?

Specifications
Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra 8000 11 Speed
Wheels: DTR460
Finishing Kit: Shimano & Specialized
Reasons to buy
+Excellent frame+Durable components
Reasons to avoid
-Basic wheels

Okay, so you don't get much change from £2,000 (you don't get any) but that smart investment buys some of the best frame technology found in the cycling game.

Specialized's FACT 9r carbon fibre construction is light and stiff, for improved straight line speed and inspiring greater downhill confidence, yet it manages to remain comfortable enough for longer rides.

The overall package is pretty good for the price too, with ultra-durable (if not the quickest) DT R460 rims, Shimano's mid-to-top range Ultegra 8000 gearing components and hardy Espoir Elite Kevlar-beaded tyres thrown into the mix.

Straight out of the box, this bike is built for lengthy sportives and heavy training usage but with a little more tweaking and outlay, it can easily transform into a race-ready piece of kit.

6. Vitus Bikes ZX1 Aero Disc 105

Another carbon corker

Specifications
Frame: Carbon **Groupset** Shimano 105 11 Speed **Wheels** TBC **Kit** Vitus
Reasons to buy
+Seriously aero frame+Super stiff
Reasons to avoid
-Finishing kit isn't the best

If you're after a ride that screams professionalism by incorporating an almost unhealthy amount of carbon fibre, this seriously slippery customer could well be the steed for you.

Vitus launched its original ZX1 models back in 1991, when it wasn't owned by Wiggle, and wowed the world with the first one-piece carbon moncoque frame to hit the market.

Things have changed a bit since then but the latest ZX1 aims to be equally as gob-smacking with its staggeringly pointy carbon frame, which harnesses the power of Kammtail tube profiles to enhance comfort but keep the rigidity that sprinters love.

It looks good enough to go up against the pro peloton and packs some powerful disc brakes for an additional tech bonus, yet it still costs under £2,000 at its base level spec – although you can go considerably more costly if you want more polished finishing kit and an increased bells 'n' whistles count.

7. Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105

Best VFM road bike frame

Specifications
Frame: Carbon **Groupset** Shimano 105 11 Speed **Wheels** Mavic Aksium **Finishing Kit** Selle Royal and Cannondale
Reasons to buy
+Sharpest ride around+Plenty of racing pedigree 
Reasons to avoid
-Not the sexiest to behold

The SuperSix EVO has long been the go-to brand for the UK cyclist who wants to blend serious lightweight performance with a price tag that doesn't require re-mortgaging the house.

This year's model has been tweaked ever so slightly with a new colourway and a slightly lighter and more aerodynamic frame but the same excellent riding experience is still present and very correct.

The entry-level model discussed here might not be finished with bags of aero touches and lightweight components, but the money goes towards that excellent frame, which boasts one of the best handling experiences on the market.

It's a beautifully reliable bike that will be handle a variety of levels of riding, from the occasional sportive to regular racing. It's also a template that can easily be improved upon down the line, with a few mods.

8. Specialized Tarmac Comp

Another excellent Specialized steed, with punters here receiving a full FACT9r carbon frame that shares plenty of DNA with the S-Works models ridden by the professionals. Yes, alright, there is teensy a bit of compromise to get it on budget.

First off, the Fulcrum S4 wheels will probably require upgrading if you're serious about bossing your local Strava Segments and the Shimano Ultegra groupset is offset by a slightly cheaper Praxis Works crankset.

Regardless, that frame is an absolute belter and you can bet your bottom dollar it features Specialized's racing-winning formula.

8. Giant Defy Advanced 3

Another great road bike for those who value a bit of comfort

Specifications
Frame: Composite
Groupset: Shimano Tiagra 11 Speed
Wheels: Giant SR2
Finishing Kit: Giant
Reasons to buy
+Disc brakes as standard+A handsome machine+Durable
Reasons to avoid
-Iffy Tiagra groupset

Giant is often credited with leading the way in terms of creating long lasting, comfortable and great value road bikes and its Defy range is a great entry point to the brand.

This model is built with endurance and comfort in mind, so perhaps isn't as racy as others mentioned on this list, but flattened seat stays and a specially designed seat post are added to decrease road vibrations and keep the dreaded Numb Arse syndrome at bay for longer.

Powerful disc brakes are also thrown into the mix as standard, which is particularly impressive given this bike comes in at £1,549. These offer extra peace of mind in poor weather, even if they can be a bit of a faff to service. 

Giant's finishing kit is also solid and will last years of heavy cycling before it gives up the ghost. Only Shimano's entry-level Tiagra groupset lets the package down – more discerning riders may find it can prove lazy to shift and a little unreliable, compared to more expensive offerings.

9. Vitus Vitesse EVO Vri

Electric shifting, on a budget bike that really shifts

Specifications
Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra Di2 11 Speed
Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium 25
Finishing Kit: FSA & Vitus
Reasons to buy
+Ultegra Di2 electric shifting+800g UCI approved carbon frame
Reasons to avoid
-Not the most prestigious of marques, perhaps

A few years back, online mega sports retailer Wiggle resurrected the French bicycle marque, Vitus. It's been inexorably improving its affordable but really rather good carbon racers ever since.

The Vitesse EVO Vri one of the best groupset, wheel and finishing kit packages on this list, with Shimano's utterly brilliant Ultegra Di2 electronic shifters coming as standard.

These clever cogs harness the power of an electric motor in the front and rear derailleurs, meaning gear shifts are fast and precise, while the system has been tuned to automatically keep itself true.

Ultegra brake calipers also come part and parcel, as do tried-and-tested Mavic Ksyrium 25 performance wheels and a carbon seatpost to finish off the lightweight racer.

10. Canyon Ultimate CF SL Disc 8.0

Another great value road warrior from Deutschland

Specifications
Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano 105 11 Speed
Wheels: Mavic Aksium Disc
Finishing Kit: Canyon & Fizik
Reasons to buy
+Solid all-rounder+Excellent build quality

Canyon knows very well that you can easily achieve the perfect bike if you have 10 grand to spare but Canyon also knows that not everyone has that sort of dollar to blow.

Its CF SL range is light and durable, with the updated model boasting a Mavic Aksium Disc wheelset with powerful disc brakes, as well as robust Shimano 105 groupset and disc brake.

Canyon frames are naturally fast and pointy, designed with pro pelotons in mind, but the CF SL manages to blend in a soupçon of comfort, which is great for those with longer rides to undertake.