We've entered the golden age of bicycle components. Though carbon-fiber frame designs are still improving, the advances now come in increments, rather than the leaps and bounds of recent years. (For road frames, there are now viable carbon-and-aluminum bikes and even full-carbon options in the one-to-two-grand range.) But when it comes to derailleurs, brakes, wheels, and the like, the earth has shifted. New manufacturers, better engineering, and an increasingly scientific look at the ergonomics of cycling have filled bike shops with better and cheaper parts than we could have imagined just two years ago. The biggest differences are in midrange drivetrains (shifters, cranksets, and derailleurs). SRAM's second-tier Force components, for example, are now virtually identical to the company's top group, Red. And Shimano's third-tier 105 group now differs from its pro-level Dura-Ace primarily in weight and materials only.
At some level, you can divide road bikes into two main categoriesthose built for speed, and those built for comfort. But not the carbon-fiber, race-ready Cronus. It has fender mounts. And that's essentially why the Cronus won this year. You can slap fenders on it and use it as your all-purpose, around-town-and fitness-riding bike, but it's also light and agile enough to race on. "Wow! Super-stiff front end," wrote one tester. "Really confident when cornering." Credit the tapered headtube and wider-than-average hubs, which combine to produce a beefy front end that simply doesn't get shoved off its line. Note: Our test bike was equipped with Shimano 105 components and a triple crankset, but the Cronus is also available for the same price with a compact crankset and, at a higher price, with a Tour de Francecaliber build.
17.7 lbs (56 cm); fisherbikes.com
Handling: 4.2 (out of 5)