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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: koga miyata team editionwww.robertsmithphotography.co.uk
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: kona zing deluxewww.robertsmithphotography.co.uk
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.
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 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: planet x pro carbonwww.robertsmithphotography.co.uk
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: planet x sportive tiwww.robertsmithphotography.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
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: scott cr1 teamwww.robertsmithphotography.co.uk
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.
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.
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: time speeder velocewww.robertsmithphotography.co.uk
Time Speeder Veloce
Wheels: Campagnolo Khamsin G3
Groupset: Campagnolo Ergo Veloce 10-speed new shape
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.
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.
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: van nicholas euroswww.robertsmithphotography.co.uk
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.
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.
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.