How We Tested Them
Over the course of nine days in Tucson, Arizona, our 23-person test crew hammered more than 40 bikesfrom $10,000 pro-level Tour de France machines to $900 starter bikes, from 29-inch-wheel trail bikes to hardtail racers. Each one was ridden by several testers, then scored in a variety of categories, including pedaling performance, handling, comfort, components, and aesthetics.
We tested 20 road bikes this year, and none scored a perfect 10 in any categoryexcept the full-carbon Madone. It earned four, for pedaling responsiveness, handling, descending, and component selection. Shimano gets a lot of credit for that last one. The company's futuristic electronic Di2 shifters and derailleurs add about $2,000 to the priceTrek's Project 1 custom paint job added another $400but every tester raved about their silky smooth performance. In place of pulleys, springs, cables, and missed shifts, Shimano's Dura-Ace Di2 have customizable buttons, batteries, wires, and total, overwhelming precision. They're expensive, but testers agreed they're also the most precise shifters they're ever used. And while this pure racer isn't quite as forgiving as previous versions, it's noticeably stiffer in the front end and bottom bracket for uncompromising handling and power transfer. 15 lbs (56 cm); trekbikes.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 5 HANDLING: 5 (ALL SCORES ARE OUT OF FIVE)
Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL3 Super Light
Pro: Hill Climber; $9,200.
With defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador and runner-up Andy Schleck both riding Specialized bikes this year, don't be surprised to see a rider in yellow atop an SL3. But it won't be this one. Spec'd with Zipp's ultralight 202 tubular wheels, Specialized's all-carbon Super Light model weighs just 13.8 poundsmore than a pound under the minimum for pro racing. (Our tester had traditional "clincher" wheels, which are more practical than tubulars but also a bit heavier.) The weight savings don't compromise performance. Specialized's superbly stiff S-Works cranks transfer every blink to the oversize bottom bracket, making for a bike that loves to sprint as much as it does to climb. "Felt like I actually had help in the climbs," said one tester. "Very fast, stable bike, and confidence-inspiring in the corners." 14.8 lbs as tested (56 cm); specialized.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 4.9 HANDLING: 4.9
Wilier Triestina Imperiale Ultegra
Race: Sprinter's Dream; $3,899.
It's tough to merge fun shapes with true performance, but Wilier has done it hereand at a price that won't break the bank. While the aerodynamic Imperiale was rated most comfortable in our test, it also earned top scores for pedaling, climbing, sprinting, and componentsif you exclude the two pro bikes on the previous pages. "Perfectly balanced between neutral and aggressive handling," wrote one tester. The carbon frame's oversize bottom bracket provides superb pedaling stiffness, and Shimano's second-tier Ultegra components are responsive and ergonomic enough for pro-level racing. 17.1 lbs (56 cm); wilier-usa.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 4.3 HANDLING: 4.3
Litespeed Archon C3
Race: Wind Breaker; $3,000.
Traditionally, aerodynamic frames (like those on triathlon bikes) haven't been laterally stiff enough to safely handle the quick turns, sudden sprints, and climbs of road racing. As materials and designs have advanced, however, engineers have begun figuring out how to work some aero properties into road frames, like they have here on the Litespeed.
Integrating aerodynamic shapes into regular road bikes is nothing new, but Litespeed's brand-new carbon line takes it to a new level. Everything from the massive profile of the C3's head-tube junction to the bottle-shrouding down tube was designed with the wind in mind. You can tell: The C3 holds its speed like a rocket. The downside is that getting it up to speed takes a little work. Crafting these shapes takes loads of carbon, which means the C3 is also a bit heavy and unforgiving. Still, with Shimano Ultegra components and hill-gobbling compact cranks, the C3 is a solid race choice for the budget-minded. 18 lbs (56 cm); litespeed.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 4.1 HANDLING: 3.9
Eddy Merckx EMX-1105
Enthusiast: Carbon Comfort; $2,700.
This season marks the return of Eddy Merckx bikes to elite racing, with the company's sponsorship of Belgium's top team, Quick Step. But we wanted to see what Merckx delivered in its entry-level racer. The full-carbon EMX-1 comes with Shimano's price-conscious 105 componentsincluding a compact double cranksetand is designed with a slightly upright, back-friendly "comfort-performance" geometry. Our verdict: A little heavy on the climbs, but all in all it's a fantastic bike for the price. "It's sturdy and stable," said one tester, "but it handles like a race bike." 18.4 lbs (48 cm, though effectively a 55 cm); eddymerckx.be
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 3 HANDLING: 4
Enthusiast: Smooth Operator; $2,000.
Focus is better known for building high-end carbon frames, but as the Culebro demonstrates, they know their way around aluminum, too. The welds are as nice as we've seen on an aluminum frame, the carbon fork takes the edge off the vibrations that come with aluminum, and the Ultegra build is a great get at this price. And while nearly every tester raved about the aggressive handling and cornering ability, they were less impressed with the shifting performance of the FSA triple crankset and the somewhat muted feel to the bike as a whole. But these are relatively minor gripes for what everyone agreed is a remarkably smooth aluminum bike. 20.1 lbs (56 cm); focus-bikes.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 3.6 HANDLING: 3.7
Raleigh Record Ace
Enthusiast: Trad Traveler; $1,900.
Brooks leather saddles have been around since 1866 and are still made in England. The longevity is a testament to their high quality. Heavier? Sure, but you won't find a cooler-looking classic saddle, and the leather eventually takes on the shape of your rear end, resulting in a comfortable, custom perch.
Sure, chromoly road bikes are heavier, but when it comes to long distances, steel really shines. No other material delivers such a smooth, nuanced ride, which is why it is so integral to cycling's long, artisanal history and is enjoying a renaissance. The elegant Record Ace's lugged construction and leather Brooks Swallow saddle are decades-proven, while the Shimano Ultegra components provide modern performance. As one tester put it, "it's an awesome bike for anyone looking for a classic ride." The characteristic flex and weight of steel means it's not as nimble a climber as other bikes here, but it descends beautifully. A note about leather saddles: They eventually feel as good as they look, but almost all require a long break-in period. 26.8 lbs (56 cm); raleighusa.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 3.5 HANDLING: 3.9
Scott CR1 Comp
Entry Level: Century Cruiser; $1,700.
Don't be fooled by the price tag. The carbon-fiber CR1's (relatively) affordable price belies its race-worthy performance. This isn't surprising, considering the bike's heritage. Five years ago, it was Scott's top race model and utilized a then-revolutionary construction method that delivered a category-leading stiffness-to-weight ratio. The design has withstood the test of time: The slightly upright geometry is gentler on the spine, and the pliant rear triangle makes for a noticeably smooth ride. Scott keeps the price down with a mix of mostly Shimano Tiagra components, which lack the snap of even mid-tier groups. Still, as a bike for a first century or long fitness miles, the CR1 is tough to beat. 18 lbs (56 cm); scottusa.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 4.1 HANDLING: 4
Novara Buzz Road
Entry Level: Bully Rider; $999.
The Buzz has just as much in common with the utility bikes we reviewed as with the other road bikes reviewed here. While it's perfectly good for club outings and exploratory rambles, it's also just a fun, hardy bike that can handle lousy city roads, curbs, and dirt-path shortcuts. Its flared bars, Avid disc brakes, fatter (28 mm) tires, and thick aluminum frame all add up to a road bike able to handle urban abuse, fast work commutes, and crummy weather. Just be wary of monster hills: The Buzz is geared more for urban than fitness riding (there's no triple chainring), so it isn't exactly an elevator when the pavement tilts. 25.6 lbs (large); rei.com
PEDALING RESPONSIVENESS: 3.1 HANDLING: 3.2