How we tested Bike of the Year 2020 | The inside story from our test team

Which bikes will win overall and top our categories on the road and trails?

Bike of the Year 2020 testing in the mountains of Gran Canaria

Since it was first launched in 2009, our annual Bike of the Year test has become the road and mountain biker’s go-to guide to the latest and greatest bikes on the market.

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This year is no different – once again we’ve put together our most comprehensive test of the year, with more than 60 bikes put through their paces to bring you our winners.

Bike of the Year is a six-month project for the teams behind BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and MBUKOur expert team of testers have put in countless miles – and countless hours – to cast aside manufacturer claims and tell you exactly what bikes are worth your hard-earned cash.

Bike of the Year 2020
Our annual Bike of the Year test takes place over the course of six months.
Dan Milner / Immediate Media

Now we’ve revealed the road, trail and enduro winners for the 2020 Bike of the Year awards, we can also bring you the inside story behind the 2020 test.

Otherwise, head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of categories, contenders and the latest reviews.

Road Bike of the Year | From Salisbury Plain to Gran Canaria

Over the many years that we’ve been putting together Bike of the Year, the machines we’ve featured have consistently improved. Back in the beginning, the idea of disc brakes and big tyres on a road bike would have been considered madness, never mind inner-tube-free tyres and gravel bikes!

What are we looking forward to in 2020 and beyond? Well, the maturing of aerodynamics is the main focus, and not just on aero bikes. We’ve seen aerodynamics influence everything from race to endurance – even gravel bikes are getting glossed with the aerodynamic brush.

Meet the tester

Warren Rossiter – senior technical editor

Road and gravel guru Warren has led testing for every Bike of the Year test since the awards’ inception. “The 2020 Bike of the Year test has been the toughest yet,” says Warren. “Standards are higher across the board, making the margins of victory tighter than ever before.”

Warren Rossiter testing a bike in Gran Canaria for Bike of the Year 2020

Then it’s tyres and tyre width: 28mm is fast becoming the norm across the board on performance race machines; endurance bikes are going even bigger, with Trek’s brilliant Domane gaining huge 32c rubber. Bigger tyres equal more comfort and modern technology means they’re light so they roll fast, too. 

After several rounds of lively meetings between BikeRadar and Cycling Plus staff, we decided to concentrate our efforts for 2020 on four main categories: endurance, aero, performance and gravel.

We’ll be naming an individual winner in each sub-category and, of course, one overall winner – the one machine that above all others makes riding heaps more fun.

When we started Bike of the Year there were race bikes and road bikes, and little else. More recently the divisions have grown wider, with endurance, race, and aero road being very distinct from one another, before gravel bikes broadened the spectrum even further.

In recent years, however, we’ve seen those margins close up, with the latest road bikes as aerodynamic (or more so) than the original aero road bikes, and endurance bikes becoming more racy and more versatile.

That’s not forgetting bikes that approach the one-bike-for-all philosophy personified by last year’s winner, the Rondo HVRT CF0 – an aggressive race bike, relaxed endurance machine and gravel bike all in one. 

This year’s Bike of the Year contenders are priced between £2,500 and £4,000 – a price range that our reader survey and industry research tells us hits the sweetspot for most of you.

However, for cyclists just starting out on their journey, or for riders with a more generous budget, we also have separate £1,000 and superbike categories.

Riding each bike on a multitude of surfaces and terrain means we can better judge how a machine works in all conditions, and what it will be like to live with as your next bike

Testing for Bike of the Year started in October 2019 on our home testing roads in the west of England, on three routes between 50 miles (80km) and 75 miles (120km). Each took in over 1,000m/3,300ft of elevation on a range of surfaces, from fresh smooth black top, to rough scarred surfaces and even a smattering of light gravel, though the gravel bikes were ridden mostly on the gravel roads and singletrack of Salisbury Plain (highly recommended as a destination). 

Riding each bike on a multitude of surfaces and terrain means we can better judge how a machine works in all conditions, and what it will be like to live with as your next bike.

The other challenge for riders – us included – is weather. Our Bike of the Year testing always takes place through the winter months, so the reviews are ready for you for when the weather starts to get better. That means these bikes have been put through their paces in truly filthy conditions (it’s been the wettest UK winter on record).

After the first rounds of testing were completed, we assembled a team of trusted riders and headed to Gran Canaria for the final week shootout between the five best bikes on test. You can read about the shootout week exclusively in the latest issue of Cycling Plus magazine, on sale now.

Here we swapped the wet UK winter for amazing climbs, daredevil descents and warm sun to decide on the best of the best for 2020.

So what bikes can you expect to see? We’ve got debuts, such as Cannondale’s radical reinvention of the legendary SuperSix EVO, along with the company’s Topstone gravel machine. Meanwhile, Cube has reinvented the Litening as an aerodynamic speedster, Cervélo’s S3 hits the aero high notes too, and don’t forget Bianchi’s new endurance machine, the Infinito XE. 

There are also updates of old favourites, such as Giant’s Defy (our Endurance Bike of the Year in 2019), Specialized’s Roubaix (2017 Bike of the Year winner) and Canyon’s value-loaded Ultimate and Endurace. 

What unifies all of the bikes is they are getting quicker thanks to aerodynamics, smoother due to improved carbon design, better controlled as a result of superior handling and grip, and more comfortable because of wider tyres and clever frame features. 

Whatever you’re looking for with your next bike, we think you’ll find it in our 2020 Bike of the Year test.

With thanks to…

BikeRadar would like to thank 100%, Q36.5, Lazer, Garmin and Facom for their support during our Road Bike of the Year test.

Trail and Enduro Bikes of the Year | Forest of Dean, Bike Park Wales and a ferry to Spain

Bike of the Year 2020
After countless laps of the Forest of Dean, BikePark Wales and our local trails, we loaded up the MBUK van with this year’s leading contenders and headed to Spain.
Dan Milner / Immediate Media

This year we’ve been busier than ever, putting together our most comprehensive test to date (which explains why Rob and Tom look so knackered!).

We’ve spent months researching, planning, riding, deliberating, riding again, writing and – in the case of a few hard-to-pin-down bikes – doing yet more riding, all in a bid to establish not one, but two winners.

Why two? Well, this year, we’ve split our mountain bike test into two categories, so we can cover what we think are the most exciting and potentially popular bikes currently on the market.

Meet the tester

Tom Marvin – technical editor

The brains – and brawn – behind our Trail Bike of the Year test. “With 120mm to 140mm of travel and a serious capable speed, a decent trail bike will be able to tackle everything from ripping around in the woods to epic, all-day missions in the hills,” says Tom.

Bike of the Year 2020 preview

For 2020, we’ve focused on trail and enduro bikes, with a different price bracket for each – £3,000 to £3,500 for trail (although currency fluctuations did nudge the price of one bike over that limit after testing had begun) and £3,500 to £4,500 for enduro. 

Yes, we realise that’s a lot of money, but we really wanted to ensure that we could include the most relevant bikes.

As a result, this test has been our closest-fought, toughest-to-judge yet, which goes to show just how good bikes are right now. Seriously, no bike included is bad by any means and working out a winner has caused no end of sleepless nights and headaches. 

We’ve spent months researching, planning, riding, deliberating, riding again and writing, all in a bid to establish not one, but two winners

What this means for you, though, is that there are loads of great bikes to choose from, and we hope this test offers plenty of useful insight into what to spend your money on.

If the pricing is a sticking point, don’t fret, because many of the brands featured here sell cheaper models of the same bike, which are also well worth considering.

Defining the categories wasn’t exactly easy because bikes are so capable these days. While we were able to be a little more prescriptive when it came to enduro bikes (we looked for machines boasting 145mm or more of rear bounce, designed for winching up and bombing back down), trail bikes come in a wide variety of flavours.

We ended up with everything from bikes capable of tackling epic all-dayers, through to machines that can take on the odd enduro event here and there, all with between 120mm and 140mm of rear wheel travel.