Another year, another road.cc Bike of the Year awards ceremony. It’s been an even busier year with more new bikes released than we can remember in a long time. There have been some interesting and quite significant technological developments, with bikes better suited to the sort of riding most of us do these days. If you're buying a bike in 2016, you really are spoilt for choice.
Our list of 10 bikes has been whittled down from the many bikes we've reviewed over the past 12 months. It's a diverse collection that highlights the many directions in which cycling has been evolving in recent years.
Disc brakes are common and there's a trend for wider tyres with increasingly more focus on providing comfort, and on versatility too. Those trends have come together most noticeably with the rise of the adventure road bike, but disc brakes and wider tyres are becoming more common on all sorts of bikes, a trend we expect to continue this year. Meanwhile, at the performance end of the cycling spectrum, aerodynamics, low weight and stiffness still trump all other design considerations.
How we picked the winners
Let’s explain how we reached our conclusions for the road.cc Bike of the Year 2015-16 awards. We first rounded up all the best-reviewed bikes (that’s bikes that have scored higher than 8/10), and then we grouped them into the nine categories (Framesets, Commuting, Cyclocross, Adventure, Bargain Bike, Kids, Sportive Bike, Road bike and Superbike) and picked the winners from each.
Picking the best bikes in each of these sub-categories was quite a task, but the marking criteria is pretty straightforward. The bike that won Superbike of the Year did so because it offered the highest level of performance, price didn’t even come into it, and for the Best Bargain Bike value was right at the top of the requirements.
The best bikes from those categories were then brought forward into the main road.cc Bike of the Year 2015-16 list, and we set about picking the winner from the 10 bikes on this shortlist. Much arguing then ensued until we all reached agreement. The best overall bike had to offer the best balance of performance, value, price, handling and specification.
Really, the best bike of the year is the best package for the most people. You might not agree with our final order, and that’s fine. It’s not an easy job picking just 10 bikes from the past year, given how many we've tested, but we feel this list is a fair and honest assessment of the bikes we've ridden in the last 12 months. To read our original reviews simply click on the bike name in the title.
Before we get on to our top 10, this year we’re going to give a shout out to two bikes that aren’t in there for different reasons. One, the Pinnacle Dolomite 5, pitched up right at the year end and frankly in all of the Christmas confusion we missed it – a cock-up on our part. The second, the Kinesis GF_Ti, isn’t there simply because you can’t buy it as a complete bike. If you could, it would be.
Highly Commended - Pinnacle Dolomite 5 £1,000
The new Pinnacle Dolomite 5 goes where no-other (as far as we know) road bike has gone before in bringing the benefits of Shimano’s superb hydraulic disc brakes down to the £1,000 point, and to the sorts of riders who will benefit the most from them - commuters, sportivists and all weather rough road riders (okay, that last one is pretty much all of us these days, due to the state of the tarmac).
It’s not just about the spec. The Dolomite has become better over the last few years to the point where it really is a classic of the new breed of unpretentious, built for British conditions all-rounders.
It’s fair to say that it would have been in consideration for a number of the awards on offer this year. Commuter Bike, Road Bike, Sportive Bike and Bargain Bike and would have been vying for a place in our overall Top 10.
Highly Commended - Kinesis GF_Ti Disc frameset
As we said above, if the GF_Ti were available as a complete bike rather than only a frameset, it would be in our top 10. Indeed, it might well be on the podium. Just pipped for Frameset of the Year - and the judges are still arguing about that (no, really) - this is simply an awesome piece of kit. Imagine a superbike version of the Dolomite 5 but with even more versatility thanks to the size of tyres it will accommodate. What’s so impressive about the GF_Ti is that it’s not merely a jack of all trades, it actually performs masterfully in almost any situation.
In at number 10 is the fantastic Eastway Zener D1. They really threw the kitchen sink at this one when they were speccing it up for the money. £1,800 buys you a full carbon frame, Shimano Ultegra groupset and disc brakes, plus Mavic Aksium wheels.
But a good bike is more than just a nice spec and a tasty price tag. This is one of the new breed of sportive bikes with a more efficient, nay, almost racey riding position that delivers a fast ride with pleasingly direct handling. It doesn’t skimp on rider comfort either.
At 8.63kg (19.03lb), the Zener isn’t super-light but, then, neither is it super-heavy and its weight was never an issue for our tester, Stu. Indeed the Zener is a good enough frame that you might at some point consider dropping some weight by upgrading the wheels.
Aluminium is back in fashion and Trek’s brand new Emonda ALR 6 provides state-of-the-art design and a super light 1,050g frame to prove it. In fact, the ALR 6 boasts a frame that's lighter than many carbon fibre frames.
The low weight and high stiffness ensure the ALR 6 provides really snappy acceleration when you put the power down, and with an aluminium frame commanding less money than a carbon equivalent, there’s more cash to spend on equipment. As such, the ALR 6 is well-equipped with a full Shimano Ultegra groupset and Bontrager wheels, tyres and finishing kit. The geometry and ride position strike a nice balance between a race bike and endurance bike, this is definitely a performance-orientated bike - no surprise that it figured at the business end of our Road Bike of The Year awards.
Why it’s here: Super light performance-orientated aluminium frame with good equipment
The Tarmac has been an integral part of the Specialized range for years now and has conquered the world’s toughest races. The £2,000 Comp model with its SL4 frame blew us away with a fast and composed performance that doesn’t put a foot wrong, whether it’s road racing, tackling a sportive or tagging along with the chain gang. Despite launching some four years ago, this version of the Tarmac isn’t showing its age at all. Although it’s out-gunned on paper by the direct-sales brands, it’s a good package for the money - particularly the 2015 version.
Why it’s here: Race pedigree carbon race bike for those who like to ride fast
There’s no hotter price point than a grand in the cycling market, and few choices as hot as B’Twin’s stunning Mach 720. You won't find many carbon road bikes at this price, let alone one as well specced as this, with an 11-speed Shimano 105 parts package - especially now that Decathlon has discounted it too.
Lots of bang for your buck, then. More importantly, it rides brilliantly too. The Mach 720 really doesn’t disappoint, providing a crisp and alert performance with plenty of stiffness. It's also got bags of upgrade potential. It’ll suit racers, but also anyone simply wanting a fast bike for charging around country lanes on a Sunday morning. Lots of fun.
Why it’s here: Aggressive looking carbon frameset wrapped up with Shimano 105 kit at an aggressive price that seriously delivers when you get it out on the road
And so to the first disc braked bike in our top 10, the Mason Definition. Mason is a new bike company, although Dom Mason has a track record of producing exceptional bikes from his time as the bike designer for Kinesis UK.
Dom's new marque specialises in disc braked bikes and has already received a lot of plaudits this year for for its first range, with a choice of aluminium or, as featured here, steel frames with a carbon fibre fork.
The ride performance is stable and poised, the hydraulic disc brakes provide control, and there’s space for up to 28mm tyres for maximum comfort. Mudguards can be fitted for vital weather protection in the winter. This is a bike that's all about the application of performance over long distances and it showcases the full potential of what a modern steel bike can be. It's a very special machine indeed.
It's no surprise that the Mason has already bagged a prize at this year's awards as Frameset of The Year - beating the Kinesis GF_Ti by the narrowest of margins. It makes this list in part because Mason also offers it in a number of complete bike builds.
Why it’s here: Superb disc braked steel bike that demonstrates the material's full potential to produce a performance bike built for distance
5. B'Twin Triban 520 £450
(Bargain Bike of the Year)
When it comes to delivering performance, versatility, and value on a budget, B’Twin’s Triban is the bike to beat. Last year, the Triban 500 rode off with the gongs for Commuting Bike of the Year and Budget Bike of the Year. This year, its big brother, the Triban 520, repeats the trick once again, keeping the Commuter prize in the Triban stable and doubling up with the Bargain Bike award (which replaces the Budget Bike category this time out).
The updated 520 features an all-new aluminium frame and carbon fibre fork. The geometry, which defines the way the bike rides and the rider position, has been relaxed to make it more suitable for sportives and long distances, and better suited to new cyclists and commuters.
The ride is assured and engaging and puts a smile on your face, it’s a very easy bike to ride. Mudguard eyelets and rear rack mounts add further to its commuter-friendliness and all-round versatility. And, boy, is it's versatile! With some minimal changes you can do everything on the Triban 520 from touring to racing - and yes, we did race it when we had it in on test.
B’Twin’s buying power (it’s the in-house brand of the mighty Decathlon) means the frame and fork are well made and well finished. You get decent finishing kit too, and a sprinkling of Shimano Sora where it counts. Yes, the wheels are a bit heavy, but they will cope with the rigours of commuting or touring, and the brakes aren’t the best ever (a change of pad would sharpen things up, though) but, as we said in our original review, at £450 the Triban 520 is a steal. It's not just a good bike for the money, it's a good bike full stop.
Why it’s here: The benchmark sub-£500 bike gets even better
Trek completely overhauled its iconic Madone this year and packed in lots of aerodynamic features (aero tube profiles and integrated brakes) and also incorporated the IsoSpeed decoupler from the Domane to provide plenty of seated comfort. Few bikes combine aerodynamics, comfort, and speed as brilliantly as the new Madone. We were blown away by how stunningly good the ride was.
There's a lot going on here with some real cutting edge detailing - we particularly like the 'Control Center' on the down tube that allows you to make on-the-fly gear adjustments and which houses the control unit and battery on Di2 equipped models. And, of course, the Vector Wings that flip out to allow the integrated front brake to turn will be the talk of the tea stop… if you have tea stops when you're riding a bike like this.
The ride is every bit as impressive as all the tech packed in to the frame, the Madone being quick and responsive as well as fast and comfortable.
We tested the top model of all the 9 Series options (and there are a few). Complete bike prices start at £4,500. Expensive, but fantastic high-end performance.
Why it’s here: Cutting edge technology mixes aero and comfort
On to the podium now, and in third place it's the fabulous new Genesis Datum - our Sportive Bike of the Year.
Last year, the Cannondale Synapse walked off with the Bike of the Year award, but the endurance bike market is evolving rapidly with the key change being a move to even wider tyres than the 28mm tyres the Synapse took. The Datum will take 33mm tyres, and still with space for proper full-length mudguards.
Those big tyres give the Datum a superb ride quality and incredible comfort while the carbon frame keeps the ride fast and involving. There’s lots of talk about one bike to do everything on, and the Datum can definitely do a lot. It’s certainly no race bike, but neither is it a slouch. Those fat tyres also mean that it's off-road capable, bringing the possibility to string a ride together that encompasses fire, roads, trails and black top. In fact, Genesis put the Datum in the Adventure section of their website (well, the Sportive section would start to look rather full if it was in there - what with all those Equilibriums).
We reckon that the Datum really excels on the road, on the long haul. It would also make a great audax bike and it has the massive benefit - thanks to those mudguards - of being a machine you'd be happy to ride year round even if you're on the top end model, like the Datum 30 we tested.
There are two other flavours of Datum in the Genesis range, the Datum 20 with Shimano 105, and the Tiagra equipped Datum 10. The Datum 30 we tested comes with oh-so-nice Shimano Ultegra Di2, which is actually a good year-round choice too.
Only the price kept our test bike from vying for a higher position in the awards
Why it’s here: Smooth carbon fibre frame with space for big tyres and mudguards - corking ride
Markus Storck is a highly regarded German bicycle designer best known for producing some of the lightest and most advanced road bikes you can lay your hands on.
The Visioner C, already crowned our 2015/15 Road Bike of The Year, is an attempt to make owning a Storck road bike a more realistic option for more of us, with the bike we tested coming in at just over £2k. That was with upgrades; the base price is £1,799.
There's no corner cutting here. It's a top pedigree carbon frame and it delivers a smooth and comfortable ride, with enough stiffness to help you in the sprint to the town sign. The Visioner C does everything you'd expect a top road bike to do in terms of handling, performance and weight and does it all without beating you up. All that and it has the potential to be made a chunk lighter than the 7.8kg at which our test model tipped the scales.
Why it’s here: Top-end German carbon fibre expertise with a more affordable price tag
Drum roll please, time to reveal the road.cc Bike of the Year...
So here it is... the winner of road.cc Bike of the Year 2015-16 is the Jamis Renegade Elite. The Renegade is an adventure bike spawned from the popular gravel scene in the US, but it's a bike that we found is right at home on UK roads and indeed trails.
It won our affections with a brilliant ride performance, great specification and value for money. What we really liked about the Renegade is just how versatile it is: good on the road and good on dirt tracks too. There are few limits to its capabilities.
The Jamis UK distributor, Evans Cycles, has just released the 2016 version (pictured below) of this bike (the review bike is no longer available - unless you ride a 54cm - in which case you can get your hands on a bargain) and the price has climbed to £2,699. The £199 price increase does come with some upgrades, most notably higher spec Shimano’s BR-785 hydraulic disc brakes. An 11-32t cassette replaces the 11-28t which answers a slight criticism we had with the previous model.
We still rate the 2016 bike highly, and while it’s perhaps not quite as good value as it was when it was first reviewed, it’s still a lot of bike for the money.
The gravel scene in the US has very rapidly informed bicycle design and the Renegade combines disc brakes with huge 35mm Clement tyres fitted as standard, but the frame and fork will take 40mm. There are rack and mudguard mounts as well so it could do service as a commuting or touring bike quite easily.
The ride and handling is relaxed and very stable and smooth over rough surfaces, exactly fulfilling the bike's design brief. This is a bike that is as happy to get its tyres dirty on gravel tracks as it is sticking to the roads. Even if you never go near dirt tracks but you do like exploring narrow country lanes, and like to ride whatever the weather, the Renegade provides bags of comfort and stability, boosting your confidence on sketchy roads.
The frame and fork are made from carbon fibre with internal cable routing, and the 58cm bike we tested, with an Ultegra mechanical groupset, weighed 8.7kg - a respectable weight for this style of bike. That's light enough to be ridden fast and to climb well. Jamis has looked to future-proof the bike with thru-axles front and rear, using RockShox’s 15mm Maxle front axle, borrowed directly from mountain bikes.
Not only does the Jamis win the coveted Bike of the Year award, it also walks off with the new Adventure Bike of the Year gong too.
Why it wins: Great ride quality, big tyre compatibility and great value, despite the 2016 price increase
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.