Best road bike 2021: the best carbon and steel frame road bicycles for every budget

Commute or race fast with the best road bike without having to a remortgage the house

best road bike
(Image credit: Ribble Cycles)

The tech in the best road bikes 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 prices that are not cheap, but are also not punishingly expensive.

The handling of these commute-to-sportive road bicycles more than justifies their cost. We've picked bikes that'll get you to work without leaving you aching, and that'll go at speed and take on hills, without endangering newcomers to the road bike world.

This year that's been happening less, but lockdown is loosening and road bikes also make great commute vehicles for those keen to dodge public transport and congestion charges. A great road bike could also be the best bike for 'the new normal'.

If you have flirted with the idea of road cycling and want to give it a go, now is the time, especially with the Cycle to Work scheme making these bikes much more affordable. Even if you don't want to venture out, you can still keep in training with the best turbo trainers and the likes of Zwift. They're a great way to stay in shape and avoid weight gain at home

To get yourself off to the best possible start, you'll want to think about investing in a high-quality machine. We're here to help you find the best road bike for you, so whilst you may not have spotted all of these on previous Tour de France outings they're the best road bikes that offer close to pro spec, at a price that's affordable.

On a budget? Browse the best road bikes under £1000  and if you have even less dosh to spend on your next bike, the best road bike under £500 – they're really not too bad. For those who prefer to be assisted when riding uphill, we have the list of the best electric bikes

Best road bike

(Image credit: Rapha)

How to choose the best road bike for your needs

Road cycling can be pretty daunting if your usual jaunt is a pedal along a flat cycle path to the local pub. The terrain can make the ride uncomfortable, and quite frankly the old road bike in the back of your shed isn't going to cut it in today's world of wind tunnel-tested carbon fibre rockets and lightweight aluminium frames. 

Having a decent road bike will help make the ride easier and more comfortable, and as we mentioned, now is a great time to pick up a pretty good road bike for £2,000 or less. 

The frame material is the main reason for this, but 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.

You need to look at the whole package.  If you opt for a more expensive carbon, be sure to check out the wheels, groupset (gears and brakes) and finishing kit (saddle, bar tape and cabling), as often manufacturers will balance the books by scrimping on these fittings.  

For example, an entry-level groupset such as Shimano's Tiagra or Comapagnolo's Veloce may not endure the punishment of a long sportive or timed weekend ride as well as other brands, 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.

In short, that ultra, super-lightweight 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.

You also need to think about whether a carbon frame road bike is even the best for you. Most cheaper road bikes use carbon fibre, but do note that cheaper carbon tends to flex under load and can also be less comfortable and more brittle than their steel or aluminium-framed counterparts.

With all this 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. Ultimately, it pays to do some research, and our countdown of the best bikes for around the £2,000 mark (some may be slightly more) is the ideal starting point. If we say so ourselves.

For those serious cyclist who like to dress properly for their cycling sessions, we recommend getting a cycling helmet, a pair of cycling sunglasses, a cycling jersey, cycling shorts, a pair of cycling shoes and you'll definitely need bike front light and bike rear lights, not to mention a bike lock. Only the essential stuff, ya'know.

Best road bikes, in order of preference

Best road bikes: Specialized Tarmac SL7T3 Awards 2021 winner badge

(Image credit: Specialized)

1. Specialized Tarmac SL7

The best road bike for the more serious enthusiast

Frame: Fact10r Carbon (Fact12R also available)
Groupset: Shimano Di2 (SRAM also available)
Wheels: Roval Rapide CLX
Finishing Kit: Specialized
Reasons to buy
+Fast, light and incredibly fun to ride +Surprisingly comfortable for a performance-focussed bike  +True unisex design
Reasons to avoid
-Hard to attach lights to those bars-Wheels aren’t tubeless tyre compatible

Another year, and another Specialized ride scoops the Best Road Bike gong at the T3 Awards 2021. This might give you a sense déja-vu, as the more affordable Roubaix Sport – the very next entry on this list, as it happens – won last year. Clearly, this is not a bike built for pottering around on. Sure, you could use it to commute – if you like to commute at very high speed – but really this is a serious road bike for serious weekend high-jinks. 

For those who want to push themselves and take on everything the roads can throw at them, the SL7 is as good as it gets, without paying an absolutely profane amount of money. It's incredibly rigid, aerodynamically more akin to an eel than a lump of metal and carbon, and yet surprisingly forgiving on rougher terrain. Almost, dare we say it, comfortable to ride – so long as you don't mind the very aggressive on-bike position that it demands.

• Read our Specialized Tarmac SL7 review in full

best road bike: Specialized Roubaix Sport

(Image credit: Specialized)

2. Specialized Roubaix Sport

The best road bike for performance without pain

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

• Read our full Specialized Roubaix review

Named after the infamously gruelling Paris to Roubaix Challenge, this intelligent road bike features the marque's new Future Shock 1.5 cartridge, which gives a staggering 20mm of vertical stem and bar movement to soak up bumps. It's also now better integrated into the seat post for a smarter look.

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.

Also, 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 carbon fibre brethren. And that's a very good thing. Little wonder this high-tech ride has now won the T3 Award for best road bike two years running…

best affordable road bike: Ribble Endurance AL DiscT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Ribble)

3. Ribble Endurance AL Disc

The best road bike for most people

Frame: Aluminium
Groupset: Shimano Tiagra 10-Speed
Wheels: Mavic Aksium
Finishing Kit: Level 1 & Prologo
Reasons to buy
+Great frame+Smooth wheels+Looks fast
Reasons to avoid
-Tiagra not great gearing-Heavier than carbon frames

• Buy the Ribble Endurance AL Disc direct from Ribble

Ribble really is the final word in value for money and its Endurance AL Disc machine is arguably the best example of this yet. A sturdy but surprisingly lightweight aluminium frame is made even better by the addition of Mavic Aksium wheels and a lovely finishing kit from Level 1.

Granted, to keep things below the £1,000 threshold, you will have to put up with Shimano Tiagra gearing, which can be a little wayward and doesn't feel like the sharpest set-up around, but an extra £300 upgrades to Shimano 105.

It looks great too, wearing a neat gloss white and vibrant red paint-job, this feels like a bike that has been designed to last but one that offers a fast and comfortable ride that belies its affordable price tag. 

Best cheap road bike: Boardman SLR 8.8T3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Halfords)

4. Boardman SLR 8.8 Disc

Best cheap road bike

Frame: Alloy
Groupset: Shimano Tiagra
Wheels: Boardman
Finishing Kit: Boardman, Tektro
Reasons to buy
+Cheap to buy+Durable frame+Disc brakes
Reasons to avoid
-Basic finishing kit and wheels-UK only

The Boardman range at Halfords isn't as deep nor as high end as it used to be, as founder Mr Boardman has started to push the more expensive models through his own website.

That said, much of the frame technology and expertise can still be found on the few remaining road bikes that can be picked up from any Halfords store or online. The SLR 8.8 is the pick of the bunch for us, simply because it is dirt cheap and its aluminium frame is light, strong and very durable.

At £750, the gearing is limited to Shimano Tiagra, which certainly isn't the worst option out there but it is likely to frustrate more experienced riders. The wheelset also lets the side down a bit here, but otherwise the bike is beautifully designed, rides well and offers a full carbon fork and disc brakes where others in this price bracket certainly do not.  

• Read our full Boardman SLR 8.8 review

• Buy the Boardman SLR 8.8 from Halfords (UK exclusive, sadly).

best road bike: Canyon Aeroad CF SL Disc 8.0T3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Canyon)

5. Canyon Aeroad CF SL Disc 8.0

Staggeringly fast and completely focussed

Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8000
Wheels: Reynolds AR58 DB
Finishing kit: Canyon, Selle Italia
Reasons to buy
+Sharp as a tack+Great power transfer+Cruises like a missile
Reasons to avoid
-Firm ride-Aero cockpit not to all tastes

Buy the Canyon Aeroad CF SL Disc 8.0 direct from Canyon

 Read our Canyon Aeroad CF SL Disc 8.0 review

Canyon's updated Aeroad CF SL is one of the raciest, sharpest and fastest machines on this list - fusing the latest aero-tested frame geometry with a full carbon integrated cockpit for fighter jet levels of on-road performance.

New for this year is Shimano's laser sharp Ultegra R8000 drivetrain, which pinches learnings from the top spec Dura-Ace collection and filters it down into something mere mortals can (sort of) afford.

That also means Ultegra RT800 disc brake rotors are present, as well as some of the most tactile levers on the planet. Feathering those powerful brakes is enough to scrub speed off at an impressive rate, while minor adjustments are made possible by the high levels of control and feedback. 

The front and rear rim profiles have also been cleverly devised for aerodynamically efficient high speed cycling, with a 58mmx19mm at the front and a wider 62mmx21mm Reynolds AR58 carbon unit at the back funnelling air across the frame's sharp profile for a direct, effortless ride. Side winds can be a pain, mind.

Canyon's H36 integrated cockpit is now famous in cycling circles, as its 400g mass helps to keep overall bike heft down to just 7.83kg and it's just as slippery as the rest of the set-up. But its shape means there are only a couple of grip positions, forcing the rider to adopt a full-on tucked up riding style. On top of this, bike computer users will have to buy a special "out front" mount in order to use them. 

Alas, these are minor gripes and issues that hardcore riders (let's face it, this bike is aimed at them) won't even consider. Canyon Aeroad CF SL 8.0 is an absolute weapon.  

best road bike: Ridley Noah Ultegra MixT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Ridley)

6. Ridley Noah Ultegra

Best carbon fibre road bike under £3,000 – now nearly sold out

Frame: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra 11 speed
Wheels: Forza RC31
Finishing Kit: Forza, FSA, Vittoria
Reasons to buy
+Beautifully styled+Mix use bike+Fast enough for racing
Reasons to avoid
-Heavier than other carbon bikes-It's called Noah

• Buy Ridley Noah Ultegra from £4,350

You've probably noticed that a couple of Tour de France podium finishers have been riding Ridley last year, not least Thomas de Gendt and his awesome Ridley Helium SLX. 

This build isn't quite up therewith the pro spec model but it is far more affordable and can be used for a variety of cycling styles. The hardier carbon layup makes it good for weekend racing, as well as the daily commute.

The downside is weight, as this will feel slightly heavier than some of the more performance-focussed bikes out there, but it will be barely noticeable to most regular riders.

The use of Shimano 105 and Ultegra is top notch, as it keeps cost down but ensures super smooth gear changes with the added bonus of tried-and-tested reliability.  

best road bike: Canyon Roadlite CF 8.0T3 Approved badge

7. Canyon Roadlite CF 8.0

Best road bike for urban commuting

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
Reasons to avoid
-Okay, strictly speaking it's not a road bike

• Buy Canyon Roadlite CF 8.0 direct from Canyon

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.

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. 

You get so much stuff here for £1,799 outlay (and that's currently discounted to £1,529!).

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. 

best road bike: Vitus ZX1 CRS Road BikeT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Vitus)

8. Vitus ZX1CRS Road Bike

Super stiff carbon pocket rocket

Frame: T700 Carbon
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8000
Wheels: Prime Black Edition 50 Carbon
Finishing kit: Vitus
Reasons to buy
+Borderline pro spec +Super stiff+Nice rims
Reasons to avoid
-Hopefully it's in the sale soon

• Buy the Vitus ZX1 CRS Di2 Road Bike at Wiggle

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 and this unashamedly carbon road weapon is about as slippery as things get. It's also crammed with the latest drivetrain tech. 

It looks good enough to go up against the pro peloton and sports some powerful disc brakes for an additional tech bonus, but you will have to pay the price for this. Stick with us though, because you'll often find this sort of thing sports massive reductions in a couple of months' time, putting it well within budget for most. 

Canondale SuperSix EvoT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Canondale)

9. 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.

Best road bike: Giant Defy Advanced 3 (2020)T3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Giant)

10. Giant Defy Advanced 3 (2020)

A super comfortable frame that scrimps a little on the components

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

Buy direct from Giant 

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 £1,599. These offer extra peace of mind in poor weather, even if they can be a bit of a faff to service. 

On top of this, Giant throws in some clever aero-style rims that feature bespoke tyres and do away with tubes, reducing the chances of flats and increasing enjoyment out on the open road.  

Giant's finishing kit is also solid and will last years of heavy cycling before it gives up the ghost. Only Shimano's entry-ish 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.

best road bike: Cube Attain RaceT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Cube/Wiggle)

11. Cube Attain Race

A very affordable entry into racing

Frame: Aluminium
Groupset: Shimano Tiagra
Wheels: Cube
Finishing Kit: Cube
Reasons to buy
+Racy geometry+Carbon forks+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Basic aero rims-Disc brakes could be better

• Browse the available Cube bike range at Wiggle

Cube has craftily picked accessories and kit typically found on more expensive race bikes and hung it all on a more affordable but arguably more durable lightweight aluminium frame to keep the costs down here.

That means disc brakes and a carbon front fork come as standard, while Cube's attempt at an entry-level aero rim is wrapped in Conti Ultra Sport 3 tyres. Disc brakes at this price can sometimes be troublesome but the TRP Spyre mechanical units found here are tried and tested.

Above all else, the geometry of this frame has been styled and fairly aggressive racers, so expect a speedy ride with exceptional strength and durability. 

best road bike: Eddy Merckx Strada UltegraT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Eddy Merckx/Wiggle)

12. Eddy Merckx Strada Ultegra

An old school steel frame meets modern components

Frame: Merckx Premium Steel
Groupset: Shimano Ultegra 11 speed
Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 5
Finishing Kit: Deda, Fizik
Reasons to buy
+Optimised for speed+Great kit+Stealthy looks
Reasons to avoid
-It's not cheap

• Shop the available Eddy Merckx bike range at Wiggle

We highlighted a bit of Eddy Merckx in our Tour de France bikes you can actually buy feature, purely because there are very few experts on the subject with the winning pedigree of Merckx... if anyone knows how to build a high-performance bike, its The Cannibal.

However, the slick Strada harks back to the golden years of racing with a frame that is fashioned from premium Columbus Steel, giving riders a ridiculously durable machine that features enough flex for long-ride comfort, yet a power transfer that is akin to the stiffest carbon bikes.

The components are of racing pedigree, too, with Shimano's excellent Ultegra gearing and brakes, as well as Fulcrum's free-rolling Racing wheels. It might feel slightly old school but the geometry and  kit are more than up to today's highly competitive standards. This is a really interesting and subtly cool alternative to the flashy carbon clan. 

Leon Poultney
Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. If he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing.