The 9 Best Road Bikes of Spring 2012
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Best For: The budget conscious.
The Test: It’s easy to get sucked into the hype of sub-650-gram-frame-this and SRAM-Shimano-or-Campy-that and spend more than you need to. But if you just want a good, reliable ride, pick up a Zaphire, which arguably performs as well as top-shelf race bikes of a decade ago. The aluminum frame felt a bit jarring at first, but lowering the tire pressure to 90 psi produced a more forgiving ride. The longish wheelbase and tall headtube made for a more upright riding position, which testers said kept their necks and backs pain-free.
The Verdict: A lot of a bike for the money. 21.6 lbs
Trek Madone 4.5
Best For: Thrifty riders who won’t compromise performance.
The Test: Compared with Trek’s fancier Madones (the pros ride the 6 series), the 4.5 is slightly taller and slacker, for a more upright position—a good thing, since few of us have the flexibility and conditioning of pro racers. But testers still found the handling quick and the pedaling responsive. “When you attack, it jumps like Jordan,” one tester wrote. And for such an affordable bike, there are lots of niceties, such as the full Shimano 105 groupset (our hands-down favorite option for the money) and the optional DuoTrap Sensor, a nifty fitness-tracking ANT+ speed-and-cadence module that can be inserted straight into the frame.
The Verdict: It lacks personality, but at this price the superior ride is what counts. 18.7 lbs
Volagi Liscio Rival
Best For: Century specialists and early adopters.
The Test: It’s only a matter of time before disc brakes—which have top-notch modulation and present no risks to carbon rims—are standard on road bikes. Volagi, the NorCal startup notoriously created by two former Specialized employees, dives in first with this disc-equipped endurance machine. Riding in a group, we liked the slight speed adjustments that could be made by feathering the brakes, though a few testers complained of a shimmy in the rotors when stopping hard. The bike’s unique design—the longbow-style seatstays meld straight into the top tube—soaked up road chatter like Charmin, and the laid-back geometry and low center of gravity made for a remarkably stable ride.
The Verdict: Perfect for long days or your next cobbled adventure. 18.7 lbs
Best For: Triathletes, TTers, Tron geeks.
The Test: Our speed-freak testers drooled over the teardrop shaping of the seat tube, wind-scrubbing ribs along the leading edge of each tube, and massive (read: powerful) bottom bracket and aero crankarms. They also appreciated the four saddle-mounting positions, which allowed almost everyone to achieve their preferred aero stance. The only major complaint was with the rear V-brakes, which are poorly designed, with little adjustment built in, so fixing a rub turned into an all-morning affair. And though the R501 wheels were fine, our most discerning testers agreed that, budget allowing, an upgrade to lighter, higher-profile hoops was in order.
The Verdict: Faster than Usain Bolt; more aggressive than Mike Tyson. 19.4 lbs
Scott Foil 20
Best For: Skeptics seeking an aero baptism.
The Test: Because shaped tubes reduce drag, many companies are jumping on the aero-bike trend. But shaped tubes are also usually heavier than round ones and can make for a backbreaking ride. Enter the Foil, which uses a truncated airfoil tube shape (tail lopped off) to both cheat the wind and remain compliant and feathery. That sounded like a tall order to us, but on the road the Foil railed the flats and was as agile and quick on steep climbs as any bike in the test. The Foil comes in seven models, but the 20’s full Ultegra components and workhorse Mavic Cosmic Elite wheels pack the highest performance-per-dollar punch.
The Verdict: The one bike that practically every tester said they’d buy. 17.4 lbs
Want to Know More?
Read the full review of the Scott Foil before our editors got their hands on it.
Though it doesn’t necessarily look the part, this was the sleeper aero bike of the review. It’s no secret that properly shaped tubes can reduce drag (hence your effort), which is why so many companies are jumping on the aero bike trend. But shaped tubes are also usually heavier than round ones and can make for a backbreaking ride. Enter the Foil, our Editor’s Pick road bike in the May edition. It uses a truncated airfoil tube shape (rounded on the front; tail lopped off) to both cheat the wind and remain compliant and feathery. Frame weight is just 840 grams (1.85lbs.)—that’s staggeringly light for an aero frame—and based on wind tunnel tests, the company claims the Foil has 20 percent less drag than a traditional round-tubed frame. Scott was so confident of this bike that they completely did away with their flagship road bike, the much-loved Addict, to make room for the Foil.
It sounded like a pretty stiff sales pitch to us, but after months of pushing this bike hard on the road, we have to admit that we’re sold. Simply put, the Foil looks and feels like a traditional bike while still ripping along on the flats like an aero frame. We didn’t have a wind tunnel to verify the 20-percent drag claim, but we do know that on the rolling terrain south and east of Santa Fe, we were able to regularly drop friends on standard-shaped bikes whom we normally can’t shake. Yet at 15.3 pounds, the Foil 10 packed sprightly climbing power on the 16-mile, 3,500-foot Ski Santa Fe hill climb, even with Mavic’s 52mm-deep Cosmic Carbone SL wheels. It’s not a total mountain goat like, say, the Cannondale SuperSix EVO, but it holds it’s own just fine in the hills and drops like an anchor on twisty, turning descents. Even better, unlike some aero frames that beat us up as badly as a round with Mike Tyson, the Foil was comfy enough to ride hard for hours at a time. “It’s the surprise all-arounder,” one reviewer noted. “Unexpectedly fast uphill, stable on fast descents and even in the wind, and like a bullet train in the flats. This bike can do no wrong.”
Beyond the killer frame, our Foil 10 was hung with Shimano Dura Ace components, the smoothest, quietest mechanical option out there. As always, the Ritchey WCS carbon cockpit bits felt downright luxurious, and the flush seat post clamp bolt was not only one of the most elegant designs we saw, but it also worked better than many. Finally, testers raved about the clean, classy internal cable routing. “This is how a bike is supposed to look,” said one.
The Foil 10 is an absolute dream to ride, and it proved itself again when Simon Gerrans powered one to the win at 2012’s first classic, Milan-San Remo. But if you don’t have that much coin, take a look at the Foil 20. With full Ultegra components and workhorse Mavic Cosmic Elite wheels, it weighs a pound or so more than the 10 but rode just as well and costs a much more manageable $3,400. Need more convincing? That’s the bike that several of our testers said they were saving up for after riding the 30-some bikes in the review this year. 17.4 lbs; scott-sports.com
Jamis Xenith Pro
Best For: Comfort-minded racers.
The Test: Jamis might not make the sexiest bikes around, but there’s no denying that they are some of finest, most underrated rides on the market. Even our old-school testers had to admit that Ultegra Di2, Shimano’s newly launched second-tier electronic component set, provided the fastest, most accurate shifting currently available—better, even, than first-gen Dura-Ace Di2, which costs twice as much. We pulled away from the group on the flats, danced up the steepest ramps with ease, and were incredibly comfortable doing it. “I never knew a race bike could be this cushy,” a tester marveled.
The Verdict: If you’ve been dying to go electric, this is your bike. With a better paint job and faster wheels, it would contend for best in show. 17.8 lbs
Best For: Aesthetes and those who know.
The Test: If you’re one of those snobs who will only pilot wispy carbon frames, you’re missing out. Because the lugged-steel SF2 is one of the smoothest, classiest rides we’ve had in a long time. “Feels like a Caddy,” according to one tester. We love that this bike, which looks vintage but rides fully modern, is completely built in Italy. Our tester came equipped with Campagnolo Athena components, which shift fine but are a little wobbly under load and don’t quite fit the aesthetic of the bike. A few minor gripes (the shiny green Tiso skewers are gorgeous but lack bite) aside, this bike is an absolute treat.
The Verdict: Great century ride, even better conversation piece; put on fat tires and take it randonneuring. 20.2 lbs
Specialized Venge Pro Mid-Compact
Best For: Going very, very fast.
The Test: While we assumed this fully aero ride would be equal parts fast and harsh, we were pleasantly surprised that it fulfilled only the first half of our expectations. “Blazing,” said one tester, “but an amazingly good multitasker.” The Venge has a brighter, harder edge than comparable aero bikes, making it ideal for racing. This is due, at least partly, to the deep-dish 45-mm Roval wheels, which were speedy on the flats but also blew around a bit in the wind. What most surprised us, however, was just how nimble this bike was going up—not a featherweight climber, but perfectly acceptable nonetheless.
The Verdict: With some aero bars, it would even double as a good TT bike. 16.3 lbs
Best For: Fashion-forward racers; Italophiles.
The Test: The Strato turns heads without trying. The frame is pure Italian panache, with a chunky carbon weave offset by brash 3-D-inspired logos. Even the ridiculously stiff BB30 bottom bracket is beautiful, with a deep, multicolored cutaway underneath for the super-convenient internal cable routing (which keeps the overall look of the bike even cleaner). Uphill, the Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels felt like rolling on helium. The Campagnolo Super Record gruppo has the best shifting and ergonomics of anything that’s not electric. Our only quibble: the split seatpost design might be alluring, but it makes it tough to adjust the perch. Then again, if you can afford this bike, you can probably afford someone to do that for you.
The Verdict: Totally unnecessary—and totally worth it. 15 lbs