A drop in price, but you still drop the pack.
Canyon Ultimate CF SL Disc 8.0 ($2,800 as tested)
Improvements in road bikes can seem incremental, but most of the 2018 models are profoundly different from what was on the market just five years ago. The all-road craze, with frames that have clearance for fatter tires, has influenced almost every pavement machine: Larger 28c has replaced 23c as the norm. Geometries are becoming slacker and taller as manufacturers craft bikes to fit average riders, not just racers. Disc brakes have made rim models nearly obsolete. Best of all, after years of price hikes, costs are finally stabilizing as value increases, with technologies such as carbon wheels and electric shifters going for half of what they did a decade ago. We love the Canyon Ultimate CF SL Disc 8.0 not only for its neat road manners and impeccable build, but also for the value it represents. The 20-year-old German manufacturer, which arrived in the United States late last year, skips the retail middleman and allows customers to buy online for prices up to 45 percent less than the competition. The bikes aren’t cheap knockoffs, either. Nairo Quintana and Movistar Team have been winning World Tour events aboard the Ultimate for years. Ours wasn’t the same full-bling model, but with a complete Shimano Ultegra group set (with reliable hydraulic disc brakes) and quick DT Swiss PR 1600 Spline wheels, it weighs just 16.6 pounds. Sure, there are fleeter bikes for going uphill and more slippery ones in wind, but none performed as well across every category, especially when you factor in the price.
Wilier Triestina Cento10Air Disc ($11,270)
Best for hammering
No bike better typifies today’s road design than the Cento10Air Disc. It marries wind-cheating Kammtail tubes with disc brakes and 28c tires—features that were once thought to be paradoxical but now, through simulated wind-tunnel trials, have proven to be quicker. On flats and rollers, this bike dropped the competition faster than Usain Bolt in a warm-up heat. At 17.1 pounds, it’s light but not feathery, though it turns over more quickly than expected when you’re climbing out of the saddle, and it never felt like a drag, even on long ascents. Internal cable routing helps with aerodynamics, though we liked it just as much for the clean aesthetic. That’s one of the things we love about Wilier, and something that sets the company apart: its bikes look as fast as they ride, with perfectly selected components (including Ultegra Di2) and color-matched bits and pieces.
Liv Langma Advanced Pro 1 Disc ($3,315)
Best for women
Even our male testers lusted after this women’s race bike, which pairs a lightweight carbon frame with Ultegra disc brakes and a candy-apple red finish. Parent company Giant handles its own manufacturing rather than outsourcing it to a factory, and that allows it to outfit the Langma with high-end parts, including SLR1 carbon wheels and a full Ultegra group set, at a surprisingly low price. More than the value, women lauded the dialed-in fit, with stack and reach numbers that made for quick steering and settled road-readiness without the usual stem and post changes. Other notable details included narrow handlebars and a saddle that didn’t chafe. A few women wanted something lighter. (Our test model weighed in at 16.8 pounds, with discs and a mid-grade build.) That’s achievable—for significantly more cash.
Trek Domane SLR 6 Gravel ($7,800)
Best for versatility
This carbon machine is the plushest, most technologically advanced mixed-surface road bike on the market. The secret is in the two IsoSpeed Decouplers—one placed at the seatpost, the other at the headtube—which allow the saddle and handlebars to move vertically and absorb road vibrations instead of passing them on to your body. Only adding to the comfort are the seat-mast-cap design, which increases vertical compliance, and the shallow-drop IsoCore handlebars, which have rubber built in to dampen vibration. On washboard roads, the difference was like brushing your teeth with an electric toothbrush instead of a jackhammer. Between the 50/34 Ultegra crankset and 11–32 cassette, gearing was ample for even the hairiest steeps, and with a lighter set of skinnies this bike doubled as a full-time asphalt destroyer.
Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod Disc Dura-Ace ($6,500)
Best for endurance racing
The new Synapse proves definitively that you don’t have to concede comfort for speed. Yes, like most endurance rides, the bike has a taller headtube and shorter reach than standard racers, which affords a more relaxed position. And Cannondale has piled on the comfort with flattened seat- and chainstays and flexing seatpost design, all of which help take the edge off road chatter. It also whittled down the frame to race weight with the split seat tube. Fast bikes aren’t supposed to feel this good, and after putting in mile after mile aboard the Synapse, we wondered why you’d ever ride an aggressive racer again. The geometry makes it a touch hesitant on technical descents, but the confidence of Dura-Ace disc brakes compensated. Bonus: the Fabric Scoop saddle is one of the most comfortable we’ve sat on.