Revealed: Our top road bike of 2009

37 bikes, 10 testers, 35 days of intensive riding, one winner

After exhaustive testing, our colleagues at Cycling Plus magazine have revealed their road bike of the year: the Giant TCR.

The brief was simple: to find the best race or sportive bike for between £1,200 and £1,700 (£1,500 is the amount an average Cycling Plus reader is likely to spend on their next road bike).

Starting with 37 bikes – to see a full list of the contenders click here – the test team whittled down the selection until they were left with just seven:

  • Argon 18 Krypton KR 36
  • Cinelli Willin’
  • Giant TCR Advanced 3
  • Ribble Sportive Racing
  • Time Speeder Veloce
  • Trek Madone 4.5
  • Wilier Mortirolo. 

They then narrowed down the choice to a final three: the Giant, Time and Wilier. So, what secured the top podium position for the Giant? The ride.

The testers said: "The TCR’s handling is awesome. The front end is tremendously stiff, and the handling as stable as anything we’ve ever ridden, which means it goes exactly where you want it to go, all the time, climbing descending, sprinting on the flat.

"It’s also – in typically modern style – massively oversized around the crucial bottom bracket area, where you want stiffness. But does this make it uncomfortable? Far from it. No matter how long any of us spent in the saddle there was never any discomfort; it’s just such a perfectly balanced all-rounder that Cycling Plus has no hesitation in recommending it."

Giant said: “We are delighted to have been recognised for the success of the 2009 TCR Advanced. We truly believe that Giant designers and engineers have excelled themselves with the road platform, launched last August. Our aim is to offer enthusiasts, whatever their level, the complete package – with the TCR Advanced 3 we have achieved this. This exciting technology really gives something back by offering a bike that is stiff, light and lightning fast."

Time’s popular Speeder slotted into second position, while support for the Wilier was enough to get in onto the third step of the podium. But it was a close call.

How was the bike of the year chosen?

 The regular Cycling Plus testing team of Neil Pedoe, Warren Rossiter, Paul Vincent, Rob Spedding and Simon Withers spent weeks riding these bikes all around the Bath area, climbing and descending its hills – and in one particular case crashing spectacularly.

These testers were then supplemented by a special crew for the final week of intensive testing, which consisted of BikeRadar’s world champion cycling journo Jeff Jones, former Belgian-based racer and resident workshop guru George “the Ramel Hammer” Ramelkamp, road racer, cyclo-crosser and time triallist Robin Wilmott, and Tom Room and Chris Kiely, a couple of triathletes based at Bath University.

They rode local loops taking in A-roads, B-roads, country lanes with rutted and broken surfaces, hills and cobbles, in all weathers. The final seven bikes were then taken to the New Forest for a day of exhaustive testing.

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The Magnificent Seven

Giant TCR Advanced 3

  • £1,600
  • Wheels: Mavic CXP22, Formula hubs
  • Groupset: Shimano 105
  • Weight: 8.12kg/17.91lb
  • www.giant-bicycles.com

Highlights: The frame – complete with massively oversized head tube

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

The TCR handles like a dream, climbing well and descending surefootedly. While it’s fast, stiff and responsive enough for racing, it’s comfy enough for any long-distance riding. And did we mention the fun part?

“It felt like all the bike I’d ever need,” said Warren Rossiter. “It’s sharp enough to race on, comfortable enough to ride long distances on, puts a smile on your face, inspires confidence. In short, it’s sorted.”

Time Speeder

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

What Cycling Plus said: With a 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.

Rob Wilmott rated the “great frame”, Warren Rossiter called it “refined” and the veering toward New Age-y George Ramelkamp said “it assumes any character you choose to project on it”, which we think means he liked it a lot.

Jeff Jones loved the comfortable but direct feel of the Time, and found it one of the best bikes to corner on. He did a full review of it here.

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

What Cycling Plus said: 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. Technical editor Simon Withers may well buy this one – that’s how much he liked it.

Rob Wilmott said: “A well damped but responsive ride and a bike that’s easy to ride quickly. Could ride for long periods in comfort. Excellent – would buy.”

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

What Cycling Plus said: 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. Rob Wilmott said: “Supple ride, floats over rough surfaces; comfy saddle, seatpost and carbon bars; great feel.”

Cinelli Willin'

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

What Cycling Plus said: Recommended by its UK distributors for amateur racing, this stylish Campag Veloce-equipped compact would prove equally adept for weekend warriors and sportive riders. It's 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.

“The perfect mix of speed and comfort,” said Simon Withers, although he wasn’t that convinced by the wing-shaped handlebars. He was the odd one out, though, since the classy Italian bike was almost unconditionally loved by everybody else who rode it.

Ribble Racing Sportive

  • £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: High-spec groupset and wheels

What Cycling Plus said: The Ribble offers the most bang for your buck of any bike here, with a Deda frame, 11-speed Chorus groupest and Pro-Lite wheels. It wowed everybody who rode it and with more traditional, lower profile wheels might have made the podium. A fantastic value offering.

Paul Vincent summed it up: “Fast steering, racy feel, could equally be raced or ridden all day. Excellent groupset, great frame and fork, but the wheels could mean you’re not getting the best of the frame.”

Trek Madone 4.5

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

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

What Cycling Plus said: 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.

Warren Rossiter said: “Like the [aluminium Madone] 1.9 but layered with a light riding and smooth quality. Any more comfortable and it would come with a Tog rating."

Rob Wilmott said: “It accelerates very well, it’s a bike that wants to go fast. It handles and tracks confidently. All in all, a good package."

Our own Jeff Jones had a slightly different take, saying: "It's a lot less boring than I expected."

Jeff rated the Madone's smooth handling through corners and positive acceleration, but the racer in him didn't like the long head tube and shallow drop bars, which gave a very upright riding position.

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