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

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The weather outside the window may not inspire you to slip on some tight-fitting garments, dust off the aerodynamic helmet and head out to beat some Strava Segments but it is 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.

Road bike technology has come on leaps and bounds over recent years and what was once the reserve of professional athletes can now be sitting in the corridor of any budding cyclist for a reasonable sum.

The weather outside the window may not inspire you to slip on some tight-fitting garments, dust off the aerodynamic helmet and head out to beat some Strava Segments but it is a GREAT time to rummage around online for the best road bike you can find, whether that in the sales or new for 2018.

Road bikes: what you need to know

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 around £2,000 and below is the ideal starting point, if we say so ourselves.

The best road bikes in order of preference

1. Specialized Tarmac SL4 Elite

Best road bike pound for pound

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.

2. Vitus Bikes ZX1 Aero Disc 105

Another carbon corker

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.

3. Cannondale SuperSix EVO 105

Best VFM road bike frame

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.

4. 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.

5. Giant Defy Advanced 3

Best road bike for those who value a bit of comfort

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.

6. Vitus Vitesse EVO Vri

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.

7. Canyon Ultimate CF SL Disc 8.0

Another great value road warrior

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

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 in mind.

8. Vitus Vitesse Evo

This full carbon, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) accredited frame tips the scales at a race-legal but featherweight 7.59kg thanks to its high-modulus T700 carbon fibre frame, but it also comes equipped with Shimano's excellent Ultegra 6800 groupset.

In fact, there's very little compromise here and the overall frame geometry manages to remain speedy yet surprisingly comfortable. Great news for those with miles to munch.

9. BMC Team Machine SLR02 105

This Swiss-made stunner is the result of many professional stage wins from the likes of Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen, who have been integral to the overall design and feel of the bike.

The frame and forks are pure carbon but it's slightly heavier than rivals due to a beefier finishing kit and the reliable but weighty Shimano WH-RS11 wheelset.

BMC create solid bikes that will happily pound mountainous climbs day after day and the Team Machine doesn't disappoint.

10. Eastway Emitter R1 Ultrgra Di2

This is another full carbon beauty that packs a serious amount of kit for the money. How do they do it? In short, retailer Wiggle owns the Eastway brand, so can pass on savings to the customer.

The upshot is a sharp lightweight frame, a tried-and-tested Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheelset, as well as Shimano's top spec Di2 electronic groupset. It's an understated machine that hides plenty of performance prowess up its sleeve.