You’ve seen the best bikes of the year in our annual awards ceremony, now it’s time to turn our attention to the very best cycling components we’ve tested in the past year.
We’re talking about the best upgrade components for your bike, from wheels to handlebars and everything else in-between. These are products we reviewed in 2016 and scored 8 or above, so they come highly commended from the road.cc review team. They are all still available to buy in the shops as well.
It’s been another busy year for bicycle components with innovation in every category. Carbon fibre wheels are still very popular and prices are really starting to come down: we’ve tested one set costing £700, a price that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. There is obviously a growing focus on disc brakes and we’re seeing more good disc brake wheel options hitting the market. Tyre technology continues to advance, with more tubeless and adventurey types becoming more readily available. It’s not all just happening at the top-end either, we’ve been impressed by the trickle down effect, best seen in Shimano’s Tiagra groupset.
SRAM’s new Red eTap is a supremely impressive groupset, providing slick and quiet gear changes, and with an intuitive shifting layout that sets a new benchmark.
The fact that it's wireless is impressive enough, but when you're riding, this is overshadowed by the ergonomics and performance of the groupset. In my opinion, it offers the easiest and most intuitive shifting layout of any groupset currently on the market. It's a joy to use.
Ease of use is its biggest appeal. SRAM had to develop an alternative to its DoubleTap (where one lever shifts both up and down the cassette) for eTap, and what it has come up with is quite simple, but hugely effective and, in my view, a bigger game-changer than the lack of wires.
Behind each brake lever is a shift paddle, as with DoubleTap, but how the new ones function is quite different. The right paddle moves the rear mech to the right (to a smaller sprocket) while the left paddle moves the rear mech to the left. Press both together to shift the front mech between the two chainrings. It sounds simple, and in use, it really is.
To sum up, SRAM's eTap groupset is deeply impressive. The company has come to the electronic groupset market late, but it has developed a superb product that offers intuitive and reliable shifting and easy installation.
Tiagra is Shimano's fourth-tier groupset. It sits beneath Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105. Shimano introduces its newest and best features first on Dura-Ace, then these advances trickle down through the ranges. Now, features first seen at the top have made their way onto this very affordable groupset.
The shifters have been updated, the cables now routed underneath the handlebar tape, providing a much cleaner look at the front of the bike. No cables to hang your clothes out to dry, though… At the front and rear, the gears shift cleanly, smoothly and quietly.
Then there is the all-new chainset. This is the biggest component in terms of visual appearance when viewing a bike from the side, and it's here that Shimano has made the biggest stride forward. It has taken the same four-arm design as first debuted on Dura-Ace, and it’s available in 50/34, 52/36 and 50/39/30 configurations.
Tiagra is a really impressive groupset. To get this level of performance, finish and attention to detail on such an affordable groupset is hugely impressive.
You can't beat a top quality bar tape to finish off a bike build and the new Hex tape from component and accessories company Fabric certainly provides that. It looks good and feels good too.
Fitting is easy as each roll has plenty of material on it; easily enough to cover the widest of road bars while still providing a decent overlap. The natural stretch in the tape means you can really follow the contours of the handlebars and shifter bodies without any unsightly bumps or creases. Because there's no adhesive on the back you can keep undoing it and re-wrapping until you're happy. As far as durability goes you can't knock the Fabric tape, and another big plus is the fact that it is easily cleanable. Oily marks from messing around with an unshipped chain just washed straight off when I got home.
The PR 1400 Dicut OXiC wheels are a brand new high-performance road wheelset from DT Swiss and feature a ceramic coated rim surface that provides reassuring braking performance in a range of conditions, making them ideal for year-round cycling in the UK.
The performance is highly impressive. They're stiff and responsive, with no give or flex when putting the power down in a sprint or steep climb. The low weight puts many carbon wheels to shame and while they are pricey for an aluminium wheelset, they are a snip compared to most carbon wheels of comparable weight and performance.
For year-round racing, training and just riding, these are excellent wheels with highly impressive braking in all conditions. The appearance, build quality and attention to detail is first class.
The Yokozuna Shifter Cable Set will get your bike's gears snapping into place like new. Possibly better than new. Yes, 25 quid is a fair amount to spend on some gear cables (plus £5 p&p), but think about it: how often do you change gears during a ride? A hundred times? Two hundred? How many rides before you need a refresh? The set on test here are now four months old and they feel as nice as they did on day one. With die-drawn stainless inner cables, the only room for friction to creep in is through contamination of the grease with particles of dirt. As the outer is filled end-to-end with grease and the cable movement is so small, I imagine that's going to take a long time to happen.
The Parcours Grimpeur wheels are stiff and light with subtle decals. They pick up speed quickly and remain calm in crosswinds, but could do with better skewers.
When buying aftermarket wheels, if you know that £2000 for a carbon set will result in disharmony at home, you might want to consider these new wheels from Parcours. The British-based company is aiming to bring high-performance hoops to the everyday cyclist. The range spans from £700 to £800, with depths of 38, 56 and 86mm to suit climbers, sprinters and time triallists.
The braking is similar to many other carbon wheels. There is a slight inconsistency in the power around the rim, with small slips. The majority of this problem can be solved with a higher quality brake pad; the supplied pads aren't soft enough, resulting in a ‘wooden’ feel at the lever. The remainder of the problem is simply inconsistencies in the rim surface. The good thing here is that the basalt surface really helped in the wet.
Rivet doesn't divide its saddles into male/female categories, it's all about the saddle that suits you best, regardless of how your undercarriage is arranged. Head Riveter Debra Banks is a serious long distance biker and she favours the long and narrow Independence.
First impressions were that the Imogene was very firm with a slightly more rounded profile than the Pearl. After an hour we were still friends, although it was clear this was a relationship that would mature over time rather than being love at first sight. The second ride, a 70-miler, was fine too, as were a brace of centuries. I did wonder if the shorter/wider dimensions would be a problem or force me into a more upright position, but it was fine. I don't tend to ride in a very aggressive position anyway but I had no problem spending time on the drops and no numbness.
The Power Competition is the successor to the Pro 4 Service Course, a tyre that road.cc rated very highly a few years ago. This year Michelin revamped its entire range and the new range-topping tyre uses a brand new carcass and compound with a thinner Aramid Protek puncture resistant belt sandwiched between the two, and it comes with some heady performance claims.
The new rubber compound, called Power Race and derived from the French company's MotoGP division, gives the tyre a very sure-footed feel on a wide range of road surfaces. It's excellent in the dry, providing a very secure feeling through the corners when leaning the bike right over. Puncture resistance is on a par with the previous Pro 4, a tyre that took a huge step forward from the older Pro 3 in terms of durability and resistance to puncturing.
Super Record is Campagnolo's flagship mechanical groupset and commands a hefty price tag, but it is ergonomically wonderful, its appearance is stunning and the performance is impeccable.
The shifting layout remains classic Campagnolo, but it has changed the indexing in the front shift lever. It now takes two clicks to downshift from the large ring, with a third click trimming the front mech when in the largest sprockets on the cassette. To upshift from the small to big chainring requires three clicks. The rear shift lever retains the previous multi-shift pattern of five downshifts and three upshifts with one throw of either lever.
The new chainset follows Shimano's lead with a four-arm crankset that allows Shimano's lead with a four-arm crankset that allows chainrings to be easily swapped, so you can run 53/39, 52/36 or 50/34. The front and rear derailleurs have also undergone some redesign work, with a focus on improving the shift speed, and the shifter levers have also received some attention.
Despite the changes, there's a familiarity with the revised Super Record. Campagnolo has been using its one-lever-behind-the-brake lever and finger-operated paddle shift layout for many, many years. It works and there's no reason to change it. I find it intuitive and easy to use: changing gear is different to Shimano and SRAM, yes, but it works wonderfully.
The changes to Campagnolo's flagship mechanical groupset might be minor, but they do provide a noticeable improvement in shifting performance, with lighter and quicker gear changes. Functionally and aesthetically it's a superb groupset and if you're a fan of the Campagnolo shifting layout, you'll be pleased.
The LCV is the latest high-performance tyre from Clement and with a price tag of nearly 50 quid it's gunning for the big boys like Schwalbe and Continental. The LCV provides unbelievable levels of confidence. The Clement deals with everything in the dry, and that performance drops very little in the wet; you can't take quite the same risks, but in the rain the LCV never becomes sketchy.
Fizik's Antares R5 Kium Road Saddle is surprisingly comfortable for speed-orientated road riding, and the build quality is top-notch.
The Antares R5 sits in Fizik's Chameleon family of contact points. This is the mid-point of a three-category range created according to different levels of rider flexibility, which also includes handlebars (the other two are Snake/flexible and Bull/rigid). When all's said and done, contact points are incredibly personal, so comfort is always subjective. The Antares isn't outlandishly expensive given the specifications, and I'd recommend taking a closer look if you were seeking to shave a few grams from a race/TT bike
The Pro Vibe 7S Compact Bar is very stiff, well made and comfortable for day-long rides. It isn't as light as some, but this doesn't take away from what is a very good unit.
The first thing you notice about the bar is that it is wonderfully stiff. When combined with the Pro Vibe 7S Stem there is practically no movement at all. Maybe this is why Froomey spends so long looking at his stem – is he trying to see if there is any microscopic deflection? I used this setup while sprinting hard and wrenching on it on tough climbs and found barely any movement whatsoever. It seems Pro made a good choice with the 7075 aluminium material.
If you like riding your disc ready road bike wherever the wind blows, rather than where the smooth tarmac goes, then the Mavic Ksyrium Pro Disc All Road wheels should be on your radar.
Using Mavic's trusted range of alloy technologies, the Ksyrium Pro Disc All Road wheelset blends the best of the French firm's road racing wheel heritage with its undoubted pedigree in making world beating mountain bike wheels. We've ridden these wheels extensively, bashed them up and down the worst of the West Country's back lanes and got properly off-road on local mountain bike singletrack and they're exceeding expectations with every passing mile.
We really enjoyed riding the Ksyrium Pro Disc All Road. If you own a rough road style disc-ready road bike with room for fat rubber, we're happy to point you towards this wheelset. It might look bronze, but the ride is definitely gold.
SRAM's Force 1 puts in a really solid performance and it's easy to recommend. It's silent running, low maintenance and pretty hard wearing. There are options now for everything from cyclo-cross to crit racing.
The shifting is excellent. Compared to something like Shimano Ultegra it's a more tactile experience. There's a bit more effort required per shift but the click to the next gear is very positive and the shifting between sprockets generally faultless. It's a bit noisier than a road groupset but that's mostly down to the bigger gaps in the cassette. I was running an 11-36 cassette, but now you can have as wide as 10-42 from SRAM if you have wheels with an XD freehub, and 11-40 cassettes are available from Shimano and SunRace that will be compatible.
Braking from the hydraulic levers and callipers is very good. You get bags of power and it's easy to modulate. We have the are-discs-better debate, if you want. For me, for everyday riding, they're clearly superior to rim brakes. Better and easier application of braking force, better all-conditions performance, less mess, minimal maintenance.
If you can fit the Schwalbe G-One tyres in your frame, you should get some. As genuine all-rounders they're impossible to beat right now: fast rolling on tarmac and properly capable off-road. They're really, really good.
And they're fast. Not just fast for a big tyre, fast full stop. If you're battering around on well-surfaced A and B roads then you'd expect them to be a fair bit slower. In reality, they're not: my best time on this 50km/h smashfest of a segment (link is external) on a proper road bike on 25mm tyres is just under four and half minutes. My best time on the G-Ones was only 15 seconds off that. And that's on a gravel bike with a more upright position – you could argue that the extra drag from the rider is easily worth the difference.
You can take them off road too, and they're great for unsurfaced fire roads and farm tracks, blasting along with aplomb. The more technical things get, the more you're thinking that a bigger air chamber might give you a bit more margin for error, but even crashing into rocks with enough force to ding a rim didn't manage to flat them, and on most off-road surfaces they still offer fantastic levels of grip. Once things start to get really claggy the tread fills up and you'd be better off with a proper off-road tyre, but you can get away with most conditions.
The Easton EA70 stem offers a good level of stiffness while maintaining a relatively low weight. It also offers considerable bang for your buck compared with many of its competitors.
The stem is made from 3D forged EA70 aluminium, which means that, although not the lightest in its class, it weighs in at a very respectable 146g for our 110mm version. Stiffness is good and I didn't notice any movement when really hauling on the bar while in the drops. Equally, there was no kind of twisting, even when I was deliberately trying to force it, which suggests it's well made and strong.
It's hardly surprising that the Radial Forte Pro Carbon pedals look like Looks. They are Looks. Ilford's Radial Cycles has gone to the French innovator and asked it to come up with a top quality pedal that costs less than half as much as its own carbon platform. In the crowded arena of road pedals, these Look-alikes have a lot to live up to. So far, they seem to be rising to the challenge.
Good news everyone: road disc wheels are becoming more abundant, the price is coming down, and the wheels themselves are getting better. The Kinesis Racelight 700 Disc is a case in point: a sub-1600g wheelset for £400 that's well built, tubeless and thru-axle ready, and great for bigger tyres.
With 28 stainless aero-bladed spokes front and rear, these wheels are sensibly built for the stresses of disc brakes, and of general UK road riding. The rim is a disc brake-specific, 22mm-deep extrusion with no brake track, and it's 24mm wide with an internal width of about 19mm. That makes it spot on for larger road rubber up to cyclo-cross and even monster cross tyres; I ran these wheels with 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones as well as 35mm G-Ones with no issues.
This ITM X-One Carbon bar is now sitting atop the handlebar group, the one that all other race bars will be compared to, with simply awesome comfort, stiffness and looks. I only wish I could afford it. Like a lot of bars on the market, the X-One uses a compact drop, just 138mm centre to centre, and 68mm from the tops to the furthest forward part of the bend. This means to get into an aero tuck doesn't require a large level of flexibility and also makes reaching the brakes with smaller hands easier. The bar is comfortable to ride on the tops, even without bar tape (you wouldn't want to cover those graphics) and padded gloves. The flat tops make a perfect place for your hands and with the bar sweeping back towards you, your arms feel in a very relaxed position.
The Morgaw Trian is designed for comfort, and it is perhaps the most comfortable saddle I have ever used. There is a fair amount of EVA foam used in it, though not as much as I have seen in other regular road saddles, and this naturally helps, but it seems that the shock absorbers are what have really made it comfortable.
Rather than simply having the rails mounted onto the base of the saddle, they mount through shock absorbers in order to lessen the impact of bumps in the road. It is meant to protect your spine as this is naturally where the shocks radiate. The shock absorbers mean that rather than getting rid of the bite of a bump, they just take the edge off it.
The Pro One is Schwalbe's latest tubeless racing tyre, the improved version of the Schwalbe One. This one is even better – weighing less and rolling better.
As far as tubeless tyres go, though, these were very easy to fit – as long as you've got some compressed air to hand, in the form of some magic pump, a CO2 inflator or a compressor. I've been testing the biggest version at a nominal 28mm – though more like 31mm on the Reynolds wheels with an internal rim width of 17mm – and 23 and 25mm widths are also available, as well as 28-406 for 20in wheels.
Blatting around Bath's Odd Down Circuit – where the local crit races take place – these tyres go around the very tight corners confidently at any speed I can manage, again scoring better than any other tyre I've tried.
The Hunt 4Season Dura Road wheelset is an excellent all-round choice, and no mistake. These wheels are strong, not over-heavy, tubeless-ready and evenly built. As a first upgrade over heavy stock wheels, or as a good quality winter or all-round option, they're right on the money.
Braking performance from the 6000 T6 aluminium alloy rim is very good, too, remaining predictable and reasonably quiet even in some pretty horrific conditions. Over a couple of months of riding the lanes I managed to use most of a set of brake pads, but there wasn't any significant wear to the rims, which bodes well for longevity. They're great all-rounders, strong enough for winter, and light enough to use all year round.
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.