For most road.cc readers this is the most eagerly anticipated awards with comfort-boasting long distance bikes hugely popular in the UK for cyclists that favour speed and great handling but not at the expense of comfort. There’s been a lot of development and innovation in this category and picking a winner of all the bikes we tested last year was no easy task.
These are bikes intended to be ridden fast yet provide comfort for long rides. They commonly feature more relaxed geometry compared to their racier cousins and more practical considerations like wider tyres and often mudguard and rack mounts for extra versatility, because some manufacturers realise that these bikes might also do service as a daily commuter as well as weekend sportives.
What they all have in common is something aimed at providing a more comfortable ride. This might just be down to providing capacity for fitting wider tyres, but it can be as extreme as adding springs and moving parts to provide isolation from bumps and shocks. The big trend in recent years has been an increasingly wider tyres, lower weight and in some cases much sportier handling than has previously been the case.
Last year the tech-laden Specialized Roubaix walked off with the top prize, thanks to its radical redesign employing a novel Future Shock (a spring-loaded cartridge inside the head tube), a lighter frame with sportier handling but above all impressive comfort for dealing with poorly surfaced roads.
Right, let’s dive into this year’s contenders…
10. Vitus Venon CR Disc 105 £1,799.99
Vitus gave its Venon endurance model a revamped frameset for 2018 to improve the balance of speed and comfort. It wasn't just a matter of oversizing this and promoting flex here or there, this CR Disc 105 model's geometry has had a massive overhaul, making it a lot less aggressive than its predecessor.
The tubing has been beefed up to improve power output and the bottom bracket area and chainstays aren't exactly shrinking violets either. This means the Venon is a very stiff bike, which goes against the thinking behind many endurance bikes, as they tend to be a little easier on the contact points than an out and out race bike.
The Venon CR is fast, too, though it doesn't have the snappy acceleration of a race bike and feels heavier than you'd expect. Moving off from a standing start quickly, you have to work quite hard and if you're on busy roads with multiple traffic lights, roundabouts and junctions it can become labouring on the legs, especially if you're trying to maintain your place in traffic. Once you're moving, though, the Venon rolls well and you can really cover some decent mileage over varying terrain.
The slightly upright position means you can use the drops to get out of the wind without having to get into too extreme a position, and if you spend most of your time on the hoods you can stay much more relaxed around the shoulders, neck and back.
The high levels of stiffness mean the Venon climbs pretty well, though it does favour those short, sharp ones where you can get out of the saddle and really go hard.
It has a neutral and slightly sedate feel as regards handling. This is fine in the non-technical stuff and actually means it is a very easy bike to ride whatever your level of ability, or when you are tired coming towards the end of an epic event. It's a sensible compromise for this style of bike.
The Venon CR Disc 105 has morphed away from its racing geometry and is now easier to live with for those who don't want all-out performance. It hasn't dropped those high-speed ambitions, though, and it's still very quick in most conditions.
Why it’s here: Well-mannered mile-muncher for those who like a stiff ride
9. Whyte Wessex One £2,199.99
The Wessex has been a previous winner of this award and this year we tested the new 1x version, which paired the same excellent carbon frame and fork with a SRAM Apex 1x groupset. So you’re getting the same excellent handling, abundant speed and decent comfort but with the simplicity of a single ring drivetain.
It’s clear the British company is a 1x fan - all its mountain bikes omit the front mech these days, and we’re seeing more of its road bikes going the same way. To quickly recap in case you've not been paying attention, 1x11 comprises a groupset with a single chainring up front and a wide-range 11-speed cassette out back. Chain retention in lieu of the front mech is taken care of by specially shaped thick/thin chainring teeth and a clutch-style rear mech.
It definitely won’t suit everyone. If you’re picky about your cadence it might not serve you well. But we liked the simplicity of shifting and found the range to suit our various test loops well, from flat-out blasts to steep hill repeats. Granted, the gaps between some of the gears are a little larger than a regular double chainset groupset, but they don't make nearly the impact you'd imagine in real-world riding. And I'm not talking about racing here, but riding regular speeds over undulating terrain.
As with the original Wessex, the ride is both fast and stable, thanks to the stiff carbon fibre frame and fork and the geometry, which is longer and slacker than a race bike. It provides fast and flighty performance when you spin the cranks up, yet there's adequate comfort from the 30mm tyres to ensure you're not going to be battered and left all achy after a couple of hours tackling ruinously potholed and cracked UK roads.
The Whyte Wessex One is ideally suited for tackling the four-seasons of the UK, with a fast turn of speed for summer sportives and long-distance comfort for long winter training rides. Add to the mix the wide tubeless tyres, mudguards, hydraulic disc brakes, comfortable contact points and a keen price, and the Whyte Wessex One is worth adding to your shortlist.
Why it’s here: Fast and comfortable 1x11 all-season road bike at a competitive price
8. Cube Agree C:62 Pro £2,099
If you want a bit of fizz and excitement with your endurance bike the Agree C:62 Pro from Cube ticks the right boxes. Cube's brief for the Agree C:62 was to create a bike that can be ridden long and hard while responding to your every whim. And it does, it feels so exciting to ride.
The full carbon frame and fork provide good stiffness levels, which makes the Cube feel lively and it responds well to acceleration and climbing hard out of the saddle. The geometry is a little racier than some endurance bikes. If you don't want the slammed position of a race bike but still want to ride fast and far then the C:62 really manages to strike a sweet spot between the two.
Descending is also a joy, with the 72.5-degree head angle giving a precision and sharpness to the handling. But there is a real feeling of stability which comes with the 1,006mm wheelbase. It just takes the edge off what could be a twitchy ride and really helps to make this a bike that you can ride for a long time at speed.
The frame of the Agree is quite aggressive, with plenty of boxy sections rather than more traditional tube shapes, and it follows the common theme of oversized at the front end and along the bottom for handling and power transfer, while going a little skinner elsewhere for some comfort. Cube has gone for a press-fit bottom bracket, which won't appeal to everyone but this allows for a wider BB shell for added stiffness and gives more material to attach the chainstays and down tube to.
Cube generally offers good value for money, and you get a full Shimano Ultegra R8000 mechanical groupset here paired with Mavic Cosmic Elite wheels with Continental Grand Sport Race tyres and decent performing own-brand equipment. You could probably shed a bit of weight with a wheel upgrade down the line, and the tyres aren’t quite up to the level of the GP4000s if we’re being picky, but it’s all solid and reliable kit.
Why it’s here: An endurance bike with a very sporty bias, the perfect balance between speed and a less extreme riding position
7. Giant Contend SL 1 £999
The Giant Contend SL 1 is an absolutely spot-on all-day ride. It's a comfortable and versatile sportive/endurance bike with a dependable feel that encourages you to keep going and just do those extra few miles.
The Contend SL 1 is a steady, efficient climber. Sit down, hunker into the Giant own-brand short-reach bar and it carries you uphill with calm focus. This isn't a superlight, mountain-conquering race bike, urging you to whizz frantically uphill like you're chasing a Tour podium rival, but it gets the job done without fuss.
The Contend SL 1 gets its fine ride from a carefully designed aluminium frame made from the 6011 alloy that Giant calls ALUXX SL. It has the full suite of modern features: tapered head tube and fork steerer; internal cable routing; extensive use of tube shaping and butting to tune the ride and save weight; and a wide bottom bracket shell with press-fit bearings.
It’s paired with a Shimano 105 groupset with a compact 50/34 chainset and 11-32t cassette, as you’d hope to find on a bike that won’t shy away from hilly rides, or you need all the help you can get. Giant's used the cheaper, solid, five-arm RS500 crankset instead of the four-arm hollow 105 crankset. Aesthetically that's slightly disappointing, but there's no significant difference in function.
When the road surface gets crummy the Contend SL 1's Giant P-SL 1 tyres come into their own. They're fast, thanks to a smooth tread pattern, grippy on everything from smooth tarmac to packed-down soil, and confident, with plenty of cushioning and suppleness to keep the bike on track.
The Contend SL 1's only slight weakness is that its high-speed handling isn't quite as precise as that of a pure race bike. If you like to go downhill fast you might not feel quite as comfortable pushing the Contend into high-speed curves as you can on a racier bike.
Despite a couple of niggles, the Giant Contend SL 1 is a great bike for £1,000. It has a fine balance of long-ride comfort and assured sustainable pace and it refuses to be fazed by annoying trivialities like crummy road surfaces.
Why it’s here: Balanced and assured aluminium endurance bike equally suited to long rides at pace and commuter pothole-bashing
6. Focus Paralane Tiagra £1,399
A really nice riding aluminium bike with dependable equipment and the added bonus of mudguards, the £1,399 Focus Paralane AL Tiagra would be a solid choice for a dedicated winter training bike, commuting, audax or any long distance ride where comfort and practicality are desirable. It's decent value for money too, ready as it is to tackle any ride from the shop floor. And the mudguards come with the bike, which is a rarity in this category.
We were impressed with the Paralane when we first tested it a couple of years ago, liking the fast and smooth ride quality, the comfortable riding position, disc brakes, and that rarest of things, mudguards fitted as standard, plus space for very wide tyres.
The aluminium frame, befit with internal cable routing, tapered head tube and external bottom bracket, delivers a ride that is firm but, critically, never harsh. Aluminium used to have a reputation for being harsh and overly stiff, but that criticism doesn't really stick any more thanks to the latest advances. Granted, it's not as compliant as the best carbon endurance bikes, but the difference isn't as big as you might imagine.
On smooth roads, it breezes along very nicely with all the comfort you could ask for. It's only when the tyres meet a crack or hole in the road that you get a reminder that you're on an aluminium bike, as it transmits quite a bit of the energy from the impact to the contact points. It's tolerable though, and in no way ruined the otherwise sparkling performance of the bike.
The bike has eyelets for mudguards which, as I've mentioned, come fitted to the bike as standard. That's right, they're not an optional extra, Focus fits them right out of the factory. Why more bike brands don't do this I don't know. It makes great sense for the UK market, especially at this time of year, whether it's raining or the roads are just really muddy. They keep the majority of puddle and mud splatter off bike and body.
Focus has really nailed it with the new Paralane. While this bike might not have the glamour of the more expensive carbon versions, it's a highly competent and remarkably enjoyable bike to ride.
Why it’s here: Highly competent aluminium endurance bike complete with mudguards
5. Cannondale Synapse Disc Sora £849.99
Cannondale’s Synapse has long been a popular endurance bike - it previously won this very award when the latest version was first launched - and in this sub-£1,000 build it offers a great ride for not a huge amount of money. It's on the heavy side, though, and the brakes really aren't the best, which is a shame.
With clearance for up to 32mm tyres, full mudguard mounts, rack mounts and being disc brake only, the Synapse has become much more than that original endurance bike. It's capable of a bit of gravel, towpath riding and even some light touring while still being a quick, performance-orientated machine.
Handling-wise the Synapse is well mannered and neutral. It's quick enough to have a bit of fun in the bends for the experienced rider, but for those who aren't the most confident descenders, there shouldn't be anything to catch you out, especially if you take a smooth approach to the corners.
One thing that Cannondale has really nailed is the comfort, which was a pleasant surprise after catching a glimpse of the diameter of some of the oversized tubing at the front end. The sloping top tube allows you to expose plenty of the narrow 25.4mm seatpost, plus the seatstays are very slim to promote a little flex, and it’s fitted with 28mm wide tyres.
At this price, you are normally getting Shimano's Claris or Sora groupset and it's the latter here. Sora is 9-speed, which Cannondale has spread out over sprockets ranging from 11-34 teeth at the cassette, paired to an FSA Vero 50/34T compact chainset.
One thing you do need to bear in mind, though, is that the brakes – Promax DSK 718R dual side pull mechanical callipers – just don't have the power to bring the 160mm rotors to a stop quickly enough. They got better as they bedded in though, but they’re not a highlight of this package.
Despite the niggles, it’s a pretty good package for the money and you’re getting a very good quality frame and fork and the majority of the excellent Shimano Sora groupset is another bonus, although there are a few bikes on the market that come with Tiagra.
Why it’s here: A quick and versatile bike based around a great frameset, though the brakes aren't the best
4. Canyon Endurace AL Disc 7.0 £1,349.99
It may well sit at the lower price point of Canyon's endurance bike range, but the Endurace AL Disc 7.0 shouldn't be considered a stepping stone to the carbon models because it's a great bike in its own right. Its aluminium alloy frame is tight and with the buzzy feedback of a sorted metal frame, it's fun to ride, whether you are chasing PBs or just enjoying the scenery. It's a great a package for the money too.
The aluminium frame follows a similar theme to how most carbon frames have developed: larger sections used at the bottom half of the frame and at the front, head tube, start of the top tube, that type of thing, with everything narrowing down towards the seat tube and seatstays to promote flex. Canyon claims a 1,350g weight for this medium frame and 400g for the fork, which for a disc brake model is pretty good.
Good equipment for the money has always been Canyon’s trump card, and the full Shimano 105 groupset is a very good thing indeed. Since we tested this bike it’s been upgraded from the older R5800 to the newer R7000 version of the 105 groupset, with no change in price. Good work Canyon! The biggest benefit this brings is the much-improved ergonomics of the shifter hoods.
On the road, the frame is stiff and feels tight, and it's fun to ride. It's engaging in a way that you really feel part of the bike if you want to get a move on. The aluminium Endurace still offers a comfortable ride, helped by the carbon fibre fork up front and the amount of carbon seatpost exposed thanks to the compact, sloping top tube frame design.
Being an endurance bike, the geometry is a little slacker than that of Canyon's Aeroad race bike, with the most noticeable change being the height of the head tube, 167mm in length on this medium with a similar sized Aeroad measuring just 146mm. It doesn't feel like an upright position, though, and you have a few spacers to play around with and adjust the height of the bars.
For a bike that is designed to cover the miles and provide a position that is less extreme than a race bike, the Endurace AL still has that performance edge. It's fun to ride no matter what your goals.
It’s perhaps not the outright bargain it used to be though, with other brands nipping at their heels, but it still represents decent value for money.
Why it’s here: A well-specced endurance-based bike with the excitement and performance of a race machine
3. Mason Definition Ultegra Hydro, £3,130.00
The Mason Definition2 is simply a superb machine, crafted with attention-to-detail to give a ride sensation that almost defies logic. It's lively yet relaxed, delicate yet you'd take it anywhere, and is just really fun to ride.
The Definition2 has seen some subtle alterations that bring it up to date with the latest and most popular disc brake standards: it now takes flat-mount and thru-axles. This meant a change to the rear dropouts. All Definitions now come with the Aperture2 thru-axle carbon fork and 30mm Schwalbe G-One tyres.
The frame geometry is the same as that of the first Definition, allowing you to get into a racy position on the drops, and the tube shapes are unchanged except for a more ovalised down tube. The frameset has mudguard mounts as standard.
The acceleration and power transfer of the Definition2 are almost other-worldly — easily comparable or even better than a lot of the carbon frames out there. You really feel that none of your effort is wasted and everything just works in unison. It's a bike that's exciting to ride, just making you want to go fast.
We tested the comfort offered by the front end through many potholes, and the Definition2 passed with aplomb. No buzz or vibrations, it glides over them with ease. The wider tyres and plush Deda RHM 02 handlebar with the comfy new Ultegra brake hoods undoubtedly help here.
Descending and cornering are equally as impressive, and the Definition has a great ability to hold its line.
The Mason x Hunt wheelset is perfect for four season use. It's tubeless-ready, pretty light, and the freehub even makes a sexy noise. We gave them a battering over the test period and they were still running true when we returned the bike so we've no doubt that they'll last.
The Definition2 is a real triumph. You get a massively responsive ride, the latest disc brake standards, and plenty of tyre clearance. Reviewer Jack Sexty said that if he could have one very good multi-purpose bike for commutes, occasional forays on gravel/mixed terrain and training rides, this would be it.
Why it's here A fantastically speedy and versatile do-everything bike that's an absolute joy to ride, whatever the weather
2. Triban RC 520 Disc £729
The new Triban RC 520 really impressed us with its fantastic value for money, competent and easygoing handling and practical considerations that make it ideal for everything from commuting to challenging rides and sportives.
The geometry thing is a really important point here because it forms the basis of your entire ride experience. With the Triban 520, it's all about a functional position aimed right at tourers and regular commuters at one end of the spectrum, and endurance roadies at the other. With a super-tall head tube and compact top tube, the bike sits you upright relative to your general entry-level race bike or even a fair chunk of the endurance-specific market too.
The frame is certainly geared towards those who commute or want to use it as a winter bike and save their best machine for summer. The 6061-T6 aluminium frame weighs a claimed 1,780g in a size medium, and while those with an eye on the scales will say that that's heavy, that kind of bulk actually lends itself to a bike that's undeterred by poorly surfaced British roads. The plethora of eyelets and mounts for mudguards and pannier racks are plain to see, while there's clearance here for 36mm tyres if you choose not to fit guards.
The bike is built up with a seriously competent set of bits that, actually, you might expect to find on a bike costing much closer to the £1,000 mark. Shimano 105 R7000 parts make up the bulk of the groupset, with a non-series RS510 crankset and TRP Hy/Rd hydraulic disc brakes, and it rolls on decent aluminium clincher wheels with sealed cartridge bearing hubs and 28mm tyres.
The ride and handling are really accessible. This is an easy bike to ride, with predictable and consistent performance. Cornering in any situation is confidence-inspiring, and it rolls incredibly smoothly too. It takes poor road surfaces in its stride, with a good amount of all-round compliance keeping things comfortable.
The Triban 520 is a value-packed endurance bike that has bags of reliable quality and flexibility. You can use it as a very decently specced entry-level road bike, an everyday commuter and general workhorse, and it'll get on with the job with minimal fuss.
It leaves potential competitors from mainstream brands in the dust in terms of value for money, while packing in plenty of multi-use ability, and those are just two of the main reasons why you should consider it if it matches your budget.
Why it’s here: A superb value, fully competent workhorse road bike with plenty of practicality thrown in
1. Fairlight Cycles Strael 2.0 £2,639
Few bikes get a 10/10 review but the combination of a smartly designed steel frame and inspired handling led us to conclude that the updated Strael from British brand Fairlight Cycles was worth the rare honour. And it’s why it wins the coveted road.cc Endurance and Sportive Bike of the Year 2018-19.
The previous Strael came second last year and for the Strael 2.0, things just got even better while all the best bits were retained. The frame is largely made from Reynolds 853 with careful tube shaping and butting to provide the desired weight and performance characteristics, and bolstered by a new headtube machined from Reynolds 631 and now graced with a new carbon fork and 12mm thru-axles and flat mount brakes. The cable routing has been improved, the dropouts are smaller.
You could buy the frameset on its own for £999 or Ultegra mechanical builds start at £2,599, and there are a host of upgrade options available. Fairlight hasn't scrimped on the build. There is no mixing and matching of components here across the groupset as it's a full Ultegra R8000 setup including the hydraulic disc brakes and levers. Like a lot of brands lately, Fairlight has chosen UK brand Hunt to provide the wheels for the Strael and it proves a good decision. Pretty much all of their range has scored highly in our testing offering great quality without breaking the bank.
Some may smirk at paying over two grand for a metal bike but the engineering nous of the Fairlight team has resulted in a fantastic bike that surely takes steel towards its performance limit. All those tiny design ideas and minimal tweaks result in a steel masterpiece.
But it’s worth nothing if it doesn’t ride well. Thankfully, the Strael does. And very well too.
The handling is an absolute masterclass thanks to the mix of geometry and tube selections that create a frame in which all the constituent parts work in perfect harmony. The 72.5° head angle isn't as steep as that of a race bike but it has the really planted feel of a race machine and the fact that the Strael feels like a real extension of you means that you push the limits probably further than you normally would on other more performance orientated bikes.
Even at slow speeds carving through the city traffic the steering is neutral and easy to live with so when you go long, five or six hours for me and fatigue starts to kick in the Strael remains an easy and controllable bike to ride. This makes it a great sportive or long distance machine completely backed up by the comfort levels afforded by the various grade Reynolds tubing, especially the rear end.
Stiffness is impressive too, it's exactly where it needs to be for the performance levels of the Strael without detracting from the comfort of the ride. Under hard acceleration, the Strael gets a shift on and never feels like it's lacking anywhere plus when it comes to climbing I didn't find the Fairlight wanting either.
The Fairlight Strael is simply stunning. The ride is downright amazing and really smashes all the thinking behind various genres in the road cycling marketplaces. A long wheelbase, the ability to take mudguards and even that relaxed geometry don't have to mean a slow or unresponsive bike that you can't have fun on.
Why it wins: Amazing comfort matched with an impressive performance from what is one of the most confident handling bikes on the market
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.