Bike of the Year: The contenders

37 bikes, 10 testers, 35 days of intensive riding, one bike of the year

Take a host of road machines, a group of 10 testers and combine the two over the course of weeks. Follow this with a week-long period of even more intense testing and expletive-filled arguments about which bike is best and what have you got? The Cycling Plus 2009 Bike of the Year test.

In all, 36 bikes were tested, ranging from Argon 18’s Krypton 36 to Wilier’s Mortirolo. The aim was to compare bikes costing between £1,200 and £1,700, but mid-test price increases meant some models came in over budget.

Carbon fibre was the order of the day, although more than a few companies were fighting a rearguard action on behalf of aluminium, including Canadian purveyors of speed Cervélo, Dutch outfit Koga-Miyata, US titans Trek, the classic marque Colnago and their fellow Italian company Viner. And let’s not forget we had a couple of shiny titanium numbers in. Metal? We haven’t seen the end of it yet in the cycling world.

As for colour, red and black are the dominant paint schemes favoured by bike makers nearly a decade into the 21st century. Green was represented by Kona, GT and Trek tried out various shades of blue, and bTwin have unleashed a not universally popular confection with yellow. One brave company even provided a bike in pink, which caused quite a few raised eyebrows in the Cycling Plus office.

When it comes to bar tape and saddles, white is the new black. This looks great. Actually, we’ll qualify that – it looks the business when the bike’s brand new. After a few months of use, saddles lose their brilliance and bar tape starts to become distinctly grubby.

So, just what do you get when you go into your local bike shop and let yourself part with around 1,500 of your hard-earned pounds? Well, you’re looking at a bike that tips the scales at well under 20lb (9.07kg), typically somewhere around 18lb (8.16kg). Our lightest entrant in the Bike of the Year competition was Planet X’s Pro Carbon at a waif-like 15.29lb (6.94kg), barely over the UCI’s minimum weight limit of 6.8kg.

In terms of groupsets, both Shimano and Campagnolo were inevitably well represented, with comparative new boys into the road gruppo market SRAM making just a single appearance in the company of Boardman. Shimano’s 105 and Ultegra ranges make numerous appearances, with some bikes speccing bits from both groupsets, while the most common Campag gruppo is the Veloce 10-speed. Two of the bikes tested come fitted with 2009’s 11-speed Chorus setup.

The scene for wheels is rather less set in its ways, though, with the Italian company Fulcrum challenging even Mavic for dominance with its various Racing wheels. Shimano, Campag and Mavic provide most of the rest, with Mavic’s Aksiums proving especially popular. There are also alternative wheel offerings from Bontrager, Miche and Xero-Lite.

Finally we come to saddles, where Fizik’s efforts – specced on a dozen bikes – are king. Selle Italia provides seven, ProLogo three and Selle San Marco saddles are fitted on a couple. Own-brands adorn the Giant, Specialized and Scott, while the two Treks use in-house Bontrager seats.

Contenders... ready

Argon 18 Krypton KR 36

  • £849.99 frame and fork/c£1,500 complete 
  • Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 5 Evolution
  • Groupset: Campagnolo Ergo Veloce 10-speed new shape
  • Weight: 8.17kg/18.01lb
  • www.argon18bike.com
  • http://i-ride.co.uk

Highlights: Non-sloping square frame design. Chorus 27.2 carbon seatpost

The Canadian-designed Krypton might have been a surprise entry at the top table, but its understated looks proved extremely popular, as did its smooth and comfortable ride that convinced everyone who rode it.

Basso Laguna

Highlights: Italian manufacturing and design flair. Sweet handling

A great-looking Italian bike that falls at the racier end of the race/sportive spectrum. Cycling Plus's resident racers Paul Vincent and George Ramelkamp loved its directness and fast handling, but the Laguna won’t be ideal for those looking for long distance comfort.

Bianchi 928 Mono-Q

  • £1,775
  • Wheels: Campagnolo Khamsin G3
  • Groupset: Campagnolo Ergo Veloce 10-speed, new shape levers
  • Weight: 8.44kg/18.60lb
  • www.bianchi.com

Highlights: Advanced carbon frame with unrivalled Italian racing heritage

The Italians know a thing or two about how to make a stylish bike, and this comfortable, beautifully balanced bike would make a great statement on an all-day ride.

Boardman Pro Carbon

Highlights: Light weight and SRAM groupset with its carbon cranks

One of the lightest bikes here, and the only one with SRAM, the Boardman’s ride quality split our opinions – but this frame was good enough for Nicole Cooke.

b'Twin FC 700

  • £1,500
  • Wheels: b’Twin Aero pre-built by Rigida
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 STI
  • Weight: 8.42kg/18.56lb
  • www.btwincycle.com

Highlights: Futuristic frame design, distinctive wheelset     

Decathlon's 105-equipped model with carbon fibre frame and forks is a good value offering at the higher end of the market, though it had the least popular paintjob of any of the bikes here.

Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105

  • £1,599
  • Wheels: Shimano WH-RS10
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 Black STI
  • Weight: 8.55kg/18.84lb
  • www.cannondale.com

Highlights: Pioneering Cannondale Scalpel-influenced design, with flexi-stay rear triangle all-carbon frame

Carbon frame, curved seatstays and Cannondale’s oversized bottom bracket combine for a bike that’s stiff in the crucial bottom bracket area but plush in the saddle. Not a machine for the all-out speed merchant but a great choice for long riders where comfort is paramount.

Cervelo S1

  • Frameset £884/c£2,300 complete (After price increases it came in over budget)
  • Wheels: Shimano Ultegra
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra STI
  • Weight: 8.12kg/17.90lb
  • www.cervelo.com
  • www.madison.co.uk

Highlights: Full Ultegra groupset including wheelset.  Extensive aero frame design

Cervelo's S1 proves that aluminium still has a place in the peloton. Certainly fast – as professional riders can confirm – but didn’t make the final cut because it’s too much of a specialist race machine. Surprisingly it’s lighter than a lot of its carbon competitors.

Cinelli Willin'

Highlights: Lively all-Italian effort with exposed structural carbon finish.

Recommended by its UK distributors for amateur racing, this stylish Campag Veloce-equipped compact would prove equally adept for weekend warriors and sportive riders. Another bike that proves you don’t have to spend a fortune for a fast and comfortable machine. It’s available in a number of different build options depending on your pocket and groupset preference.

Colnago Arte

Highlights: Sweeping alloy main frame with flexi carbon seat stays, signed by “The Master” himself

The Italian style-meisters demonstrate that aluminium isn’t a forgotten material. The triple butted 6000 series frame may look underspecced against some of its competitors, but it’s got Ultegra kit, Mavic Aksium wheels and our racers loved its responsiveness, stiffness and speed. Great style, too.

Condor Baracchi

  • £1,699.99
  • Wheels: Mavic Aksium Race
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 Black STI
  • Weight: 8.87kg/19.55lb
  • www.condorcycles.com

Highlights: Top spec complete 105 Black groupset. T-section top tube and unique "lobster bisque" paint.

The designers at London-based bikeshop Condor have come up with a neat and elegant bike designed for Etape-type events. A pleasure to ride but it was one of the heavier all-carbon bikes on test. It’s available in numerous Campag and Shimano build options.

Corratec CCT-Team

Highlights: Top spec groupset. Carbon aero wheels. Offset fork design

Stylish German-designed race machine. Smooth on the road with a glide-like quality, but braking was a bit erratic because of the rear wheel’s carbon braking surface.

Cube Agree GTC Race

  • £1,998.99
  • Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 5
  • Groupset: Campagnolo Ergo Chorus 11-speed carbon
  • Weight: 7.95kg/17.52lb
  • www.cube.eu

Highlights: Burly no-nonsense frameset with top level groupset  

Another bike that offered high-end finishing kit, but sadly while extremely popular with some of the testers, others weren’t so positive. But with Fulcrum wheels, Syntace kit and 2009 11-speed Chorus this lightweight racer represents fantastic value and is sure to have widespread appeal.

Felt F4 SL

  • £1,900
  • Wheels: Mavic Aksium Race
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra SL STI
  • Weight: 8.14kg/17.94lb
  • www.feltracing.com

Highlights: High-efficiency carbon frame design featuring 27.2mm Felt carbon seatpost

Two of the testers are still shocked that this didn’t make the top seven. It’s light, fast, sporty and comfortable, and you could easily ride sportives on this but it really demands to be ridden fast. One for the weekend warrior who doesn’t want to hang around.

Felt Z35

  • £1,600
  • Wheels: Mavic CXP 22, DT stainless spokes, Felt hubs
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 STI
  • Weight: 8.54kg/18.82lb
  • www.feltracing.com

Highlights: Felt 27.2 carbon seatpost. Felt hubs. Classic handbuilt wheels

Like the F4, this was incredibly close to making the magnificent seven. Not quite as all-out fast as the F4, this high modulus carbon beauty is a very high level, very comfortable sportive machine. It’s light, has top-notch components and you could ride 100 miles on this without complaint.

Focus Cayo Ultegra

  • £1,599
  • Wheels: Mavic Aksium Race
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra SL STI
  • Weight: 8.51kg/18.76lb
  • www.wiggle.co.uk

Highlights: Unfussy frame design and complete Ultegra SL goupset

Focus somehow manage to hang a lot of expensive high quality kit on a carbon fibre monocoque frame and still keep the price wallet-friendly. Easily good enough to race on, this was another bike that caused heated arguments late into the night.

Giant Defy Advanced 4

  • £1,500
  • Wheels: Mavic CXP 22 rims handbuilt with Sapim stainless spokes
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 STI
  • Weight: 8.68kg/19.13lb
  • www.giant-bicycles.com

Highlights: Highly engineered carbon frame featuring integrated bottom bracket 

Very similar to the TCR (below), the only reason that this didn’t progress is that the TCR is itself so comfortable that it virtually negates the need for an equivalent sportive bike from one of the world’s largest bike manufacturers.

Giant TCR Advanced 3

Highlights: The frame – complete with massively oversized head-tube

Quite modestly equipped – Shimano 105, Mavic CXP 22 rims, Formula hubs – and decently priced, this was a huge hit with everybody. Manages to combine impressive front-end stiffness, fast handling and long-distance comfort. And it’s eminently upgradable too.

GT GTR Carbon Sport

  • £1,999
  • Wheels: Mavic CXP22, stainless spokes with 105 hubs
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 Black STI
  • Weight: 8.34kg/18.38lb
  • www.gtbicycles.com

Highlights: Rakish carbon frame and fork with 1 1/8in-1 1/4in headset, featuring pierced head tube cable routing  

High performance semi-compact bike with carbon frame and full carbon fork, Mavic rims and Shimano 105 hubs. Ritchey and Fizik components add to a very attractive package you could race or ride sportives on, but the price is a little on the high side for the spec. GT tell us their 2010 models will be more competitively priced.

Hewitt

Highlights: Distinctive aero wheelset, FSA Omega Compact super shallow bars    

He may be better known for his touring bikes, but Paul Hewitt put together a top-notch  race- or sportive-ready machine here, based around a carbon fibre frame, while the Xero-Lite wheels are several steps above Mavic’s Aksiums.

Koga Miyata Team Edition

Highlights: Finely detailed smooth-welded alloy frame with all Shimano specsheet

Cycling Plus's Warren Rossiter loved this when he tested it a few months ago, and George Ramelkamp in particular concurred with him during the Bike of the Year test. Classy, quick and comfortable – like the other aluminium offerings here, this shows that high-end alu still has a place. But it’s going to be hard for an aluminium bike to beat lighter weight carbon for the top positions.

Kona Zing Deluxe

  • £1,599
  • Wheels: Mavic Aksium
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 STI/Ultegra
  • Weight: 8.36kg/18.45lb
  • www.konaworld.com

Highlights: FSA Wing Compact  shallow bars. Candy apple green painted panels  

The only green bike on test stood out among the red, black and white elsewhere. High quality Deda Nero Corsa frame and forks, 105 and FSA kit and Mavic’s Aksium wheels make for a very good-looking and decent value package. With an added touch of zing, natch. A great ride, but the same frame is available more cheaply without the Kona branding.

Lapierre S-Lite 200

Highlights: Easton EC 90 Superlite fork and flexi “pencil” seatstays

Surprisingly, this turned out to be the only bike with a triple chainset on test – and it was none the worse for it. The Lapierre name may not be that well known but the French company’s S-Lite frames are good enough for the Francaise des Jeux pro team. A decent bike that doesn’t do quite enough to distinguish it from the crowd.

Merida Scultura

  • £1,699
  • Wheels: Mavic Aksium Race
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra STI
  • Weight: 8.56kg/18.87lbs
  • www2.merida-bikes.com

Highlights: Faux-lug Flex Stay carbon frame design

Merida are one of the world’s biggest bike companies but their name still isn’t that well known. As befits a product from such a company, this was a well-made and well-specced machine that may have lacked a bit of star quality but was a fast and agile ride.

Planet X Pro Carbon

Highlight: Very high-end wheels and a UCI-challenging low weight

An absolutely cracking race bike at a bargain price. Carbon frame, full Shimano Ultegra gruppo, a pair of wheels that would cost you 600 quid on their own – all this for under two grand. This is light, super fast and the best climber in the bunch – though we’d go for more traditional wheels.

Planet X Sportive Ti

Highlight: American-made titanium frame

While you’re never going to get a ‘cheap’ titanium bike, this US-built model shows you don’t need to spend a fortune on the material. A lovely, comfortable ride makes for a great long distance sportive bike more than one aimed at competitive cyclists.

Raleigh Avanti Carbon Race

  • £1,799.99
  • Wheels: Shimano WH-RS20
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra SL STI
  • Weight: 8.08kg/17.81lb
  • www.raleigh.co.uk

Highlights: Highly tuned carbon frame with all-Ultegra groupset                             

The somewhat muted looks disguise what is actually a full-on race bike with a very good pedigree. Perhaps a bit too hard-riding for anything other than competitive cycling, this was another popular choice that only just failed to make the top seven.

Ribble Sportive Racing

  • £1,999
  • Wheels: Pro-Lite deep section carbon clincher rims, alloy hubs
  • Groupset: Campagnolo Chorus Ergo 11-speed carbon
  • Weight: 7.63kg/16.82lb
  • www.ribblecycles.co.uk

Highlights: Very high spec groupset and wheels

Just about the most bang for your buck of any bike here. Deda frame, 11-speed Chorus groupest, Pro-Lite wheels. It wowed everybody who rode it and with more traditional, lower profi le wheels might have made the podium. A fantastic value offering.

Ridley Orion

  • £1,850
  • Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 5 Evolution
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra SL STI
  • Weight: 8.35kg/18.40lb
  • www.ridley-bikes.com

Highlights: Muscular T-section top tube and box-section downtube/chainstay frame design

Belgium has a great heritage when it come to producing racing cyclists, and Ridley’s Orion suggests that it deserves a pretty good reputation when it comes to producing race bikes too. Not the lightest bike on test, but it’s stylish, well made, has a good groupset, lighter wheels than many and Rob Wilmott’s description probably sums it up as well as anything: “Fast.”

Scott CR1 Team

  • £1,599
  • Wheels: Mavic Aksium Race
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 Black STI
  • Weight: 8.48kg/18.69lb
  • scottusa.com

Highlights: Full 105 groupset. Pioneering frame design

One of the groundbreaking carbon road bikes, Scott’s CR1 is still a high performance machine – but it’s now slightly overshadowed by Scott’s excellent Addict bikes and some of the newer designs it was up against here.

Specialized Roubaix Elite

  • £1,468
  • Wheels: Shimano WH-RS10
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 Black STI
  • Weight: 8.50kg/18.73lb
  • www.specialized.com

Highlights: Unique flexi-stay carbon frame featuring Zertz elastomer dampers                        

One of the machines that split the testers down the middle. Cycling Plus's tech editor Simon Withers and cyclo-cross racer Rob Wilmott loved its balance of comfort and speed, while some of the others weren’t as convinced by the qualities the Zertz inserts and slim chainstays offer.

Specialized Tarmac Comp

  • £1,599
  • Wheels: Shimano WH-RS10
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 Black STI
  • Weight: 8.29kg/18.27lb
  • www.specialized.com

Highlights: Finely tuned flexi-seatstay carbon frameset with complete Shimano  groupset 

Like the Roubaix, this only just failed to make the final cut. But this is still a competitively priced, high quality, race-ready offering with 105 throughout and Specialized-branded finishing kit, though the Toupe saddle wasn’t universally popular.

Time Speeder Veloce

Highlights: Expander-wedge-free Time “Quick Set” headset. Classic looks

Stylish carbon frame, full carbon forks and a great ride quality, this fully deserved its position on the podium. And should you prefer Shimano to Campag, a Shimano 105/FSA version is available for £100 more.

Trek 1.9

  • £1,200
  • Wheels: Bontrager Race
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra STI
  • Weight: 8.84kg/19.48lb
  • www.trekbikes.com

Highlights: Smooth welded Alpha aluminium frame with colour co-ordinated  wheels

Another offering that demonstrates aluminium still has a place. This proved popular with everybody who rode it, who were surprised at just how comfortable a ride quality it offered – especially given this was the cheapest bike on test.

Trek Madone 4.5

  • £1,650
  • Wheels: Bontrager Race
  • Groupset: Shimano 105 STI/ Ultegra
  • Weight: 8.47kg/18.67lb
  • www.trekbikes.com

Highlights: Differential 1 1/8 to 1 1/5 headset. Bontrager 27.2 carbon seatpost

This might be the most modestly priced model in Trek’s extensive Madone range, but it still proved a winner for its comfort and handling and only just missed out on a podium place. The 105 kit is complemented with Bontrager kit throughout.

Van Nicholas Euros

  • £1,999.96
  • Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 5 Evolution
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra STI
  • Weight: 8.11kg/17.87lb
  • www.vannicholas.com

Highlights: Impeccably welded 3 AL/2.5V titaniumframe. Easton EC 90 SLX fork

Proving that you can still get a well-specced all titanium machine weighing less than 18lbs for under two grand, the Euros is the Van Nicholas bike designed for day-long comfort rather than all-out speed. It certainly scored in the comfort stakes but wasn’t exactly a slouch on the road either. Great value titanium sportive bike.

Viner Celer

Highlights: Miche wheels and chainset

This really is the all-Italian job. From the Deda aluminium frame to the Campag shifters, Miche kit, chainset and wheels this is Italian through and through. Even the tyres – again from Deda – are made in Italy. Slightly underspecced against the opposition but Viner does a full range of plusher custom bikes in a variety of materials.

Wilier Mortirolo

  • £1,650
  • Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 7
  • Groupset: Campagnolo Ergo Veloce 10-speed QS
  • Weight: 8.46kg/18.65lb
  • www.wilierbikes.co.uk

Highlights: Unique graphics and luxurious frame finish

The Italian company's reasonably priced Mortirolo frame scored well in a previous Cycling Plus test and the full-carbon Mortirolo excelled here too. While it has the sort of smooth, impeccable handling that’s ideal for any fast riding you could easily race or time trial on this. Tech ed Simon Withers may well buy this one – that’s how much he liked it.

Cycling Plus
Author: Cycling Plus

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