Today we are revealing the winners in the Adventure and Cyclocross categories of our annual Bike of the Year Awards ceremony.
To even stand a chance in these awards, we set the bar high - each bike had to score at least an 8/10 to even be considered. It wasn’t simply a case of selecting the highest scoring bikes, we included other criteria depending on the category and the aim of those bikes. Without further ado, let's crack on.
Last year we split adventure and cyclocross bikes into two separate categories, a reflection of the growing popularity of adventure bikes. That trend continues this year, and in fact, we’ve tested many more adventure bikes than ever before. If you’re not clear on what constitutes an adventure bike, this handy guide will steer you right.
Essentially, these are bikes that loosely blend elements of a cyclocross and endurance bike to provide a bike that can easily transition from smooth road to rough gravel track. While the bikes have been spawned from the popular gravel racing scene in the US, the lack of miles of gravel roads hasn’t stopped the bikes from appealing to UK cyclists that favour comfort and increased capability.
They have space for really wide tyres, a geometry that is better on the road than a cyclocross bike but more suitable off-road than a road bike, with disc brakes for control and usually a full complement of rack and mudguard mounts. You can use them for road riding, gravel riding, commuting, touring and, well just about everything really. They’re highly versatile, is what we’re getting at.
British brand (owned by Evans Cycles) Pinnacle has been producing some really well-designed road bikes over the years and with the Arkose model a crossover into the world of adventure, gravel and cyclocross. The cyclocross DNA is present in the way the bike performs but they’ve added versatility with rack and mudguard mounts and the fitting of fast-rolling tyres makes them suitable for tackling a wide range of trails and roads.
The smart looking and a nicely finished aluminium frame is fitted with a full carbon fibre fork, which combines to provide a fast and lively ride. It's ever so slightly on the stiff side, but run the tyres at a lower pressure, especially if engaging in some off-road action (30-50psi), and the ride is smoothed out considerably.
You get a lot of bike for your money, a Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic discs, but the price has jumped up to £1,450 for 2017. The paint has changed colour, but more importantly Pinnacle has made a few changes that should improve the already good ride handling even more. The bottom bracket is lower, the wheelbase is lower and it now takes bigger tyres. We look forward to testing this bike.
Why it's here: A thoroughly enjoyable ride that is happy on the road or in the dirt, with hydraulic brakes and big tyre clearance
One of the newest entrants in this market comes from small British brand Mason, which rose to prominence with the superb Definition and Resolution disc-equipped endurance bikes last year. A beautifully designed aluminium frame with custom shaped tube profiles, a chunky carbon fibre fork of its own design, and space for really wide tyres and compatibility with 650b tyres, it’s a highly capable adventure bike with a supreme ride quality that surpasses many bikes in this class. It's right at home on the road, with neutral handling that lends the bike an easy grace when carving through country lanes. But it's the Bokeh's off-road capability that is the real highlight, and how easily it transfers from one surface to another. Head off into the wilderness and show the Bokeh some muddy bridleways or gravelled roads and it feels even more home than it does on the road. Its stability, from the long wheelbase and slack head angle, is a massive boon when tackling rough tracks, and it inspires confidence on loose terrain. Only the high price pushes it off the podium in this category.
Why it's here: Highly capable and feature-packed adventure bike
Norco is a brand that is better known for its hurly-burly mountain bikes, but it has produced a cracking go-anywhere bike that is a good example of an adventure bike. Norco combines a cleanly shaped aluminium frame, with internal cable routing and mudguard mounts, with a beefy carbon fibre fork with a thru-axle, which provides a very stiff front end; it goes where you point it with no twang or wander, and it's not easily deterred from finding a line, even on a fast trail descent. We also liked the value for money of this build, with a Shimano 105 groupset and TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes.
If you were going to have just one bike for everything except racing, the Search would do the job, though you might want a second set of wheels to save faffing with tyre changes for road-only rides. It'll cheerfully handle anything from tarmac to well-surfaced singletrack and from the commuting run to days out exploring lanes and dirt roads.
However, the 2017 bike at this same price gets the brand new Shimano Tiagra groupset, which while still a very good groupset, is a noticeable downgrade. Still, despite that spec change, it’s still a very good option in this crowded market.
Why it's here: A go-anywhere bike that's great for 'accidentally' getting lost in the wilds
The GT Grade is a perennial favourite with the road.cc team, one of the very first breed of new-fangled adventure and gravel bikes to hit the market when it was launched a few years ago. Last year it was the GT Grade Alloy Tiagra model that featured in the awards, this year we’ve tested the much more expensive Grade Carbon Ultegra model, and once again we’ve been highly impressed. It’s been around for a few years but it’s not really showing its age at all, particularly when it comes to performance.
Take your pick of gravel roads, bridleways, beaten up old farm tracks, potholed country lanes, old mountain bike tracks... the Grade tackles them all, and more, just fine. The geometry, with a longer wheelbase and slacker head angle than a road bike, instils a huge amount of confidence in its ability to be stable and steady, traits that mean it's very composed at high road speeds or when hurtling down a dusty tree-lined track dodging roots and rocks. The Shimano Ultegra groupset with the hydraulic disc brakes is as reliable and dependable as you want in an adventure bike, and the 32mm Clement Strada USH tyres that come on this 2017 model are ideal for tackling the smooth and rough in equal measure.
Why it's here: A versatile, fast and capable road bike that's happy in the rough
Some strong contenders in this list, but there can only be one winner, and this year it's the Specialized Diverge Carbon Comp. Specialized came to the adventure bike category early with the Diverge, a bike that has an endurance-focused geometry, space for up to 35mm tyres and disc brakes. It’s a smart looking frame, all swoopy carbon lines and thru-axles at both ends for added wheel security, and fully internally routed cables. With comfort being a factor for bikes intended to be ridden across all sorts of terrain, Specialized integrates its own Zertz elastomer inserts into the frame, fork and seatpost. The latter really does isolate your arse from a lot of road buzz and much more noticeably, gravel vibration, adding greatly to the comfort of the bike, noticeable over the course of a long day in the saddle.
On the road, thanks to its Tarmac-esque low head-tube and Roubaix angles it pretty much feels just like a normal road bike, but more comfortable. Despite being promoted as all all-day endurance bike it's not an easy-going relaxed cruiser, push and it will eagerly push back. And unlike your scrawny road bike you can happily smash the Diverge through potholes and power over crappy roads without any compulsion, or getting beaten to bits. Put some mudguards on, winter bike, done.
It's not a race bike, although with some quicker rubber on you could make a reasonable fist of it, its Roubaix and Tarmac parentage will see to that. It's not a cyclo-cross bike but you can fit cyclo-cross tyres in there and point it off-road. It's not a touring bike but, oh, you get the idea. And, whisper it, its all-day endurance tag makes it a spectacular audax bike. It's rare that a bike can be adapted to so many uses and not be compromised somewhere but somehow the Diverge manages to do it, and do it very well.
The Diverge comes in many flavours, including aluminium and carbon and prices starting from just £625 for the Diverge A1. We tested the 2016 model but aside from a different colour, the 2017 model remains pretty much the same, in price and spec - but you can still get hold of the 2016 bikes discounted if you want a bargain. It's a good build kit, we like the Shimano 105 with hydraulic disc brakes and the company’s own Roubaix Pro tyres in 28mm width on DT R460 rims. The tyres, with a folding bead and BlackBelt puncture protection, are good for anything you might want to chuck the Diverge down. And that can include everything from regular road rides but where the bike is most at home is in opening up a vast web of riding possibilities. Everything is possible on the Diverge.
Why it's here: Fast and fun bike that's good for much, much more than just sticking to tarmac
Cyclocross bikes are primarily designed for racing, but many manufacturers have added built-in versatility with extras like mudguard and rack mounts, and that’s seen them used for much more than just an hour race around a muddy field. With the growth of adventure and gravel bikes better suited for any cyclist that wants the off-road capability for long distance adventures where no route is off limits, some brands are starting to make cyclocross bikes purely aimed at racers once again, with unnecessary extras stripped away and geometry designed for cyclocross racing. But for the purposes of this award, we’ve looked at how well they perform as cyclo-cross bikes first and foremost - seems logical.
Swiss Cross is aimed squarely at the racer rather than being one of the more 'crossover' styles – Ritchey's own Outback adventure/gravel bike has that role covered. The beautiful steel frame and fork are devoid of rack and mudguard mounts, so there’s no adding any excess baggage. The only concession to practicality is a double set of water bottle mounts.
But yes on the scales it’s heavier than the aluminium and carbon cyclocross bikes available for similar money, but here’s the thing, most of the time you don’t really feel the extra weight. Unless you have your sights set on the top step of the podium, the Swiss Cross won’t hold you back. It’s an agile and pacy cyclocross bike with that spring ride that high-quality steel bikes are renowned for.
Why it's here: Puts a smile on your face that's hard to shift, whether you're winning or not
The Light Blue Robinson, like the Ritchey, features a nice steel frame and fork and it gives this bike a smooth ride with really good handling. It’s suitable for cyclocross racing, though the weight is high compared to the cheaper Giant TCX SLR 1 in this list due primarily to its aluminium frame and carbon fork. If you’re not racing for the top spot, though, the Light Blue is really good fun to ride.
The handling is assured rather than flighty, not darting or flicking about the road. It's more measured than a race bike, with a long wheelbase producing the sort of stability that makes it a very easy bike to ride along back roads and over more challenging trails. Those traits make it a good choice if you want to not only dabble in cyclocross riding and racing but want a bike that will make a good choice for commuting (using the rack and mudguard mounts) or just general road and country lane cycling. The price has increased by a £100 for 2017.
Why it's here: Smooth and versatile steel frame with wonderful handling on and off-road
The Merida earns its place here because if you're racing cyclocross, you want a frame that provides direct and responsive handling, so you can have full control through fast terrain and over loose surfaces and for sudden changes of direction. The Cyclo Cross 5000 fulfils that requirement, with a stiff carbon fibre frame and fork, thru-axles and a tapered head tube.
Merida has put its big buying power to good use, this bike offers a thoroughly modern carbon frame and fork with disc brakes and thru-axles and a decent equipment package. Additionally, to help the frame survive the knocks of a 'cross race, the frame incorporates the company's Nano Matrix Carbon which aims to provide increased impact resistance, a useful trait in a bike designed for riding and racing off-road. Chuck on a set of mudguards and some fat slick tyres and you can transform it into a winter steed, but really it's the bike's racing credentials that shine the most brightly here.
It’s a good bike then, and if you get hold of a 2016 model do that. For 2017 the price jumps massively to £2,100 as Merida has completely revamped the build kit, replacing the Shimano groupset with a SRAM Apex 1x11 groupset, which is arguably better suited to cyclocross racing. You get a serious brake upgrade, with hydraulic discs replacing the mechanical stoppers on our test bike.
Why it's here: Rapid and stiff cyclocross bike well suited to racing
Giant has pedigree when it comes to cyclocross race bikes, and that comes through clearly in the way the TCX SLR 1 rides and handles. It might be a little on the heavy side but the fine handling, fast and stable, make it right at home around a muddy cyclocross race circuit. You get a really clean looking aluminium frame benefitting from the company’s vast experience in frame design, with disc brakes and a carbon fibre thru-axle fork providing a stiff and direct front-end.
The geometry is similar to the popular Specialized Crux, but the Giant is a bit longer and that small difference lends it a bit more stability at higher speed, and it’s a bit easier to handle tricky mud-covered descents, or alternatively, road and gravel rides. Yes, it might be born for racing, but the TCX SLR 1 doubles up as a good versatile choice for a bit of road and gravel riding. That likely won’t be the foremost reason for buying the Giant, but like most of the cyclocross bikes here, it reinforces their adaptability.
You can still get this 2016 model, and if you shop around it’s currently being discounted, making it a bit of a bargain. Giant has introduced a more expensive model the TCX SLR range, and the bike we tested is now called the TCX SLR 2 for 2017. You get the same frame and fork but instead of Shimano 105 parts it’s not equipped with Tiagra components, but you do get the superior RS405 hydraulic disc brakes, a sizeable upgrade over the mechanical brakes we tested.
Why it's here: A highly competent aluminium disc brake cyclo-cross bike with a lot going for it – aside, maybe, from the paint job
And the winner of the Cyclocross Bike of the Year 2016-17 is... The Vitus Energie. “Vitus have nailed this one,” summed up Dave Atkinson in his review of the company’s Energie cyclocross bike. For just under a grand you get a really well-designed aluminium frame with a geometry that is aggressive but not twitchy, and SRAM’s impressive Apex 1 HRD groupset, comprising a 1x drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes, all combining to great effect.
There have been some inspired equipment choices. We like the tubeless-ready wheels and the Kevlar-bead WTB Cross Wolf tyres are a good weight and decent all-rounders and cope well in the gloop. The simplicity of the single chainring is apparent when riding in the mud too, with no front derailleur to get clogged or refuse to change gear when you most need it. The 11-36T cassette and 40t chainring provide a usable spread of gears for racing and adventuring.
Geometry-wise it's reasonably aggressive but certainly not twitchy. The general trend with 'cross bikes over the past few years has been towards a slacker steering angle and slightly longer wheelbase, which makes them much better as general purpose bikes. This Vitus is a good example of that: the 71-degree head angle gives the 58cm test bike a 106.3cm wheelbase, so it's longer and slacker than a fully race-oriented bike that would use a 72-72.5-degree head angle. A bike like that would be a bit faster in the turn and shorter too; that can be an advantage in a tight section of a cyclo-cross course but also makes the bike a bit nervous for general riding.
The Vitus is a good middle ground geometry. It rarely feels compromised in a race and when you're just out riding it's well behaved and easy to ride. The stiff front end (1 1/2in crown race, full carbon fork, thru-axle) gives it a plenty of predictability and the steering response is precise. If you're a podium-botherer then you'll be looking for something a bit lighter and flightier for maximum race response, but if 'cross is something you do for a laugh and to keep fit in the winter, it's more or less perfect.
While the Vitus excels as a dedicated cyclocross race bike if you want to really get into the vibrant race scene spread across the UK, the geometry (slacker head angle and longer wheelbase) means it is suited to general riding, whether that’s riding to the office or blasting around the woods on a muddy Sunday morning. That, with the excellent value for money, makes this the best cyclocross bike we’ve reviewed in the past 12 months.
Why it's here: Excellent entry-level cyclo-cross race bike that's versatile enough for commuting, adventure riding and more
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.