The 7 Best Road Bikes of Summer 2012

AC1 (Courtesy of Blue Competition Cycles)
AC1

Blue AC1

TT-reminiscent shaping. Color-matched wheels. Swaths of carbon fiber that shimmer like sapphires in direct sun. The AC1 makes you feel fast before you even saddle up—and the ride is just as beautiful as the bike. This is Blue’s second iteration of the AC1, and you can see the experience in the smart internal cable routing, slick seatpost clamp, and modern livery (tapered headtube, BB30 bottom bracket). While the bike holds speed like a runaway train (“Fastest steed in the bunch,” declared one tester), it also took the edge off bumps that knocked our retinas loose on other aero bikes. And then there’s the Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting, which won over even the Luddites in the test, who admitted that it’s appreciably quicker and more accurate than mechanical. “You can be a total boob and still not miss a shift,” one exclaimed. “It’s silly good.” That goes for the entire bike. 16.1 lbs

HANDLING: 4
RESPONSIVENESS: 4.5 (OUT OF 5)

Bianchi Impulso/Ultegra

Impulso/Ultegra
Impulso/Ultegra (Courtesy of Bianchi)

BEST FOR: Budget-conscious riders who don’t want to look like it. THE TEST: Show up at a group ride on this pretty entry-level racer and you’ll likely raise eyebrows along with the pace. The Impulso is emblematic of a new breed of hydroformed aluminum bikes—the tubes have been rigorously shaped to fine-tune the ride, including a flattened and tapered top tube to add compliance—with the kind of blazing acceleration and hard-edge kick you just can’t get with carbon fiber. With choice bits of Shimano Ultegra where it counts (shifters, rear derailleur), the Impulso packs a lot of value. Unfortunately, it also packs on the weight, especially in those shiny but stout wheels. THE VERDICT: Only Italians could make a Fiat-priced bike that looks and performs like a Ferrari. 20.7 lbs

HANDLING: 4
RESPONSIVENESS: 3

Aluminum bikes are getting lighter and more comfortable through hydroforming, a process that uses injected hydraulic fluid to make thinner tubing that is as stiff and compliant as traditionally formed, thicker tubes.

Pinarello FP Due

FP Due
FP Due (Courtesy of Pinarello)

BEST FOR: Gran Fondo aficionados and all-day specialists. THE TEST: With a carbon layup that all but negates the roughest roads and a position you can cruise in for hours, the Due is easily the most comfortable bike we rode this year. (The only caveat is the saddle, which testers likened to “an anvil,” but that’s an easy switch.) The Barcalounger ride comes from the undulations in the fork and seat stays, which act like built-in shocks. But this is no gutless, comfort-performance bike. The geometry is the same as Pinarello’s race-ready Paris. While we loved the Shimano Ultegra components, testers were less enthused with the ho-hum wheels. THE VERDICT: Said one tester, “You can’t get this much bike for that little, can you?” 17 lbs

HANDLING: 4
RESPONSIVENESS: 4

Giant TCR Advanced

TCR Advanced
TCR Advanced (Courtesy of Giant)

BEST FOR: Crit racers. THE TEST: It may not look like it, but Giant completely redesigned the TCR from the ground up, including trimming a bit of weight from the frame while simultaneously incorporating a new oversize headtube and fork that supposedly increase steering stiffness by 30 percent. And it’s not just the handling that’s firm. “Responsive verging on brutal,” reported one tester, who felt the stiff layup and huge carbon down tube made for a bracing ride. Giant’s in-house wheels were a hit, spinning up fast on out-of-the-saddle bursts and carving true when pushed deep in the corners. All in all, it’s a bike made for short, hard racing. THE VERDICT: Gives more snap than a good chiropractor, which you might need if you spend too long in this saddle. 15.8 lbs

HANDLING: 3.5
RESPONSIVENESS: 5

Cervelo S5 VWD

S5 VWD
S5 VWD (Courtesy of Cervelo)

BEST FOR: Gripping it and ripping it. THE TEST: The S5’s distinctive looks were polarizing: about half the testers pined for one while the other half were repulsed. But all agreed that this was the fastest aero bike we tested. It’s easy to see why. The tubes are as delicate as well-honed blades, and sleek internal cable routing further reduces drag (though fishing in new cables will turn your mechanic gray). The VWD version we tested is extra-light thanks to an enhanced carbon layup technique—hence the premium price tag. And though the Shimano Dura Ace electronic shifters worked flawlessly, they didn’t feel totally worth the extra money since they worked no better (and are only somewhat lighter) than Ultegra Di2. THE VERDICT: The fastest bike on the block. 16 lbs

HANDLING: 4
RESPONSIVENESS: 4.5

What's the deal with electronic shifting, the kind you see here on the Cervelo and the Gear of the Year-winning Blue? Unlike mechanical shifters, these work under heavy loads, for zero hesitation or lost energy when you're attacking a hill or sprinting.

Cannondale SuperSix Evo 1 Dura Ace

SuperSix Evo 1 Dura Ace
SuperSix Evo 1 Dura Ace (Courtesy of Cannondale Bicycles)

BEST FOR: The weight-obsessed. THE TEST: Bucking the aero trend—at least for now—Cannondale pushes the light-to-stiff equation of standard tubing to the limits with the two-pound frame of the Evo. How light is that? This fourth-tier model, with middle-of-the-road Mavic Ksyrium SL wheels and impressive but not superlight Dura Ace components, was still the lightest bike we rode this year. Yet it never felt flimsy or whippy, even on technical mountain descents. And climbing was laughably easy, though a couple bigger testers felt a slight bottom-bracket flex when they really torqued. The most common remark: “I’d buy this bike.” THE VERDICT: They should have called it the Helium—try not to chuckle when you float away from your buddies. 13.9 lbs

HANDLING: 5
RESPONSIVENESS: 5

Wilier Triestina Zero7

Triestina Zero7
Triestina Zero7 (Courtesy of Wilier)

BEST FOR: Racing connoisseurs. THE TEST: It’s the supermodel of bikes, lithe yet curvy, and it draws longing gazes everywhere it goes. But the defining characteristic is one you can’t see. Embedded in the layers of carbon is an elastic film that Wilier says adds impact resistance and damping. We’re not sure about that first claim, but the bike definitely offers a muted ride that sets it apart from the brassy harshness of many superbikes. “It’s a race bike you could ride all day,” said one tester. Others gushed over the precision of Campagnolo’s Super Record shifting and the airy Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels on our test bike. Our only niggle: the riot of logos and symbols on the bike’s frame detract from the otherwise clean aesthetic. THE VERDICT: Boom shakalaka! 14.4 lbs

HANDLING: 5
RESPONSIVENESS: 5

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