Outside 2016 Bike Test: Our Top Road Bike Picks So Far
Three of the season’s most promising rides
Though Sedona is mostly known in bike circles for its trails, it turns out there’s pretty good—and little-known—road riding, too. And our road range on hand for the 2016 Bike Test, from aero road bikes as comfortable as cobbles machines to gravel bikes with geometry that accommodates everything from 25-millimeter slicks through 2.1-inch knobbies, is just as compelling as the trail bikes.
That intersection of comfort and aero is one of the most interesting trends. In the past, bikes that were built for aerodynamics were often stiff, harsh, and not that fun to ride because of the extreme tube shapes. But manufacturers are increasingly figuring out ways to eke out a softer, more compliant ride while still maintaining gains in the wind. The Specialized Venge ViAS and new Scott Foil both claim to be more slippery and also far more comfortable.
At the nexus of this development is the fully revised Trek Madone, which uses huge Kamm tail tube shapes, specially designed components, and tricky cable routings to hide wires and cut down on drag. The chunky, integrated stem and bars are thin and flat from the top but knife-like head on, and the integrated front brake is completely covered and even has carbon wings that pop out to deflect the air as the handlebars move through their range. What really sets this bike apart from the others, however, is the use of Trek’s IsoSpeed Decoupler, which allows the seat tube to move independently from the top tube-seat stay junction, adding more than twice the vertical deflection and compliance of a standard setup. Taken from the company’s highly successful Domane, the decoupler is proven for its comfort and, according to early test rides, makes this bike the most comfortable aero road bike we’ve tried.
Following limited testing at the Pro Tour level last year and the UCI’s expansion of their use for the coming season, disc brakes seem set to become the standard on road bikes. That’s fine by us as the power, modulation, and control of discs far exceeds any rim brake design, and over half of the bikes we’re testing are equipped with them. It’s not just middle-of-the-road and budget models that are getting the new braking systems either. Like Specialized did with its highest-end race bike last year, the Tarmac, many companies are now putting discs on lightweight, expensive, race-ready machines. The Focus Izalco Max Disc and BH G7 Disc are revisions of existing models that support disc brakes, and Cervélo’s brand new C5 (and C3) have no rim-brake model options. With a tall head tube, low bottom bracket, 28 millimeter tires (with clearance for up to 32), this new model is built for more comfort and stability on rough roads, so the discs just make sense. But the high-end spec, including Di2 and HED Ardennes+ carbon wheels, as well as the 16.5-pound bike weight (size 56) make it clear that this bike is built for going fast as well.
Discs are also pervasive on adventure road and gravel bikes, a segment that continues to expand. We have half a dozen in the test this year, and they continue to become lighter and more refined over previous year’s iterations. The most promising of the fleet is the Open Unbeaten Path with geometry that makes it plenty comfortable on the pavement but optimized for very large tires. The bike can be run with 700cc wheels and 25 millimeter tires, as pictured here, as well as with 650B wheels and 2.1-inch rubber. That makes this possibly the most versatile road bike out there as it can move seamlessly from group rides in a peloton to proper singletrack. There’s no consensus from testers yet about which wheel size they prefer.