Buying a complete bike is the most popular path to ownership, but starting with a frame and building it up yourself will get you exactly what you're after and can be more rewarding, and sometimes more cost-effective too. These are the five best framesets we reviewed in 2019.
Many manufacturers sell framesets as well as complete bikes, particularly when it comes to high-end models, and sometimes the earliest review sample we can get hold of is a frameset only.
Building your own bike can be a daunting prospect, but it can be especially satisfying if you’re prepared and willing to put in the time and gain the knowledge that lets you appreciate how all the components of a bike come together. Alternatively, most good bike shops will happily assist, advising you on things like compatibility as well as actually building it for you, if required.
Last year’s winner was the Fairlight Cycles Secan, which bike will it be this year?
The Look 795 Blade RS is all about speed, with its design focusing on stiffness and aerodynamics yet without a huge sacrifice to overall comfort. An impressive combination to achieve, and a very nice bike to ride – whether you're racing or just out for a razz.
Look has been at the forefront of the use of carbon fibre for longer than most and it's that expertise that shows through on the ride quality of the Blade RS. Using varying grades of carbon fibre and the way they are laid up means Look has created a bike that is ruthlessly stiff when you drop the hammer but with next to no road vibration or crass banging or rattling over rough surfaces.
The 795 has a beautifully smooth ride quality similar to that of a titanium frame. This means you can cover a good distance at speed without really noticing it, and even on four to five-hour rides I got off the bike feeling fresher than normal without realising where the time had gone.
The handling is precise without being twitchy, and the way it behaves on the road gives you lots of confidence to just let the bike go and see what happens. You are often rewarded with a wow! when cornering as you carve a smooth line through the apex and out the other side. Even when you are caught out by a rough line or have to tweak your road position, the Look responds with little drama.
Aerodynamics is one of the key factors when it comes to the Blade RS's design and you can certainly see that from all the varying tube shapes and the way they blend into each other. The stem is integrated into the top tube and the fork crown is also blended into the down tube, the seat tube curves around the rear wheel and all cables are internally routed.
In the UK, the 795 Blade RS is only available as a frameset – that includes the frame, fork, headset, AeroPost 2 seatpost with two post heads, the ADS stem (six sizes, 80-130mm) and 50mm worth of headset spacers – for £3,000.
If you can afford it, the Look is a very nice bike to ride in a range of circumstances, and up against the opposition it does pretty well on the price front considering all of the technology and materials used in its construction.
Why it’s here: Offers an excellent balance of stiffness and comfort at a pretty good price considering the technology and materials involved
Tifosi set out to create the lightest production frame back in 2017 with the original rim-brake Mons. This new version, the Tifosi Mons Disc, is still unbelievably light and impressively stiff for what really isn't that much of an outlay.
Although very stiff and light, the Tifosi Mons isn't an out and racer. It's very close, with its sharp handling and ability to assist when you want to get a wriggle on, but there is a softer edge to it that also allows it to be comfortable enough to tackle sportives or just long days out.
The Mons is very good at covering the miles and you can really whack up some distance without really noticing.
Handling-wise there is a lot to like here too. With a 73-degree head angle and a short 998mm wheelbase on our 56cm/large model, it's a very flickable bike, changing direction very quickly with just the slightest input through the handlebar or an adjustment of body position.
The Mons doesn't have to be ridden flat out all of the time, though. At a more sedate pace, it has impeccable manners, cruising along at a decent lick. Sitting in a bunch or dealing with traffic, the Mons never feels twitchy or nervous and is really fun to ride.
Overall, the Tifosi Mons is a great bike if you like riding fast without the full-on twitchiness and aggression of a peloton race bike. It may not have the perfect ride quality but it comes close, and you can't fault the stiffness or weight.
Why it’s here: Impressively stiff and lightweight frameset with excellent handling traits
The brand new WI.DE (Winding Detours) gravel bike from Open takes wider tyres than the company’s original UP from 2015 and is all the better for it, with supreme speed over all sorts of surfaces, infused with great handling and low weight from the original it’s based on.
If the UP was an SUV capable of dealing with road and gravel, the new WI.DE is a jeep aimed at much more rugged off-road terrain where commonly a mountain bike might be the more obvious choice.
Gravel bikes have been edging closer to the territory occupied by mountain bikes for a few years now, leading to many accusations they are nothing but glorified rigid mountain bikes with curly bars. The WI.DE has space for up to 60mm (2.3”) tyres on 650b rims, as wide as many XC mountain bikes, or 46mm (1.8”) on 700cc rims if sticking to conventional road bike wheels.
The handling and ride quality feels very similar to the UP, which is no surprise considering they share more than just a brand name. The new WI.DE shares the same key numbers but has a slightly taller head tube. This is a good thing, it pushes your weight back compared to the UP and is handling benefit on steep descents. It also made it more comfortable on long hauls because it's a little less aggressive on your hip rotation and back angle.
The geometry ensures the WI.DE is nimble at low speed when swerving around trees on singletrack, whilst being stable at higher speeds on loose gravel tracks. The steering is calm at high speeds making it a relaxing bike to ride on long distances because it’s not twitchy.
If you think the big tyres will mean a sluggish ride, think again. The WI.DE is stupendously quick over all terrain, whether it’s a road where it manages to not give out much speed to a pure road bike, or along rough gravel roads or forest tracks. The speed of the Open was its defining feature. The high stiffness of the frame delivers a sprightly uptake of speed and the low weight - 8.75kg for the pictured size medium test bike - ensures there’s no hill too steep or tough for the WI.DE to conquer.
Why it’s here: Stunning performance along with a stunning price
Thanks to some tubing changes and other tweaks, Bowman's latest edition of its Pilgrims Disc offers an even smoother ride than the original while still maintaining all of the versatility that makes for a great endurance steed, winter trainer and byway basher, amongst other things.
The endurance-based geometry of the Pilgrims sees slacker angles than the Palace:R race bike and a longer wheelbase, to bring a little more stability to the handling for the type of riding it is designed for. It still has a setup that promotes direct and snappy handling, though, especially on high-speed bends.
There is a positivity to it that gives you the confidence to stay off the brakes a little longer, to carry that extra little bit of speed through the apex and out the other side.
Bowman's own full carbon fork offers plenty of stiffness and works well with the front end of the bike to keep you on whichever line you desire. It's a firm ride at the bar, but the fork does a good job of muting the really high-frequency road buzz without detracting much from the overall feel of what the front tyre is doing on the surface below.
When it comes to climbing or tapping out a hard effort on the flat, the stiffness of the frame again works. Bowman has changed the press-fit bottom bracket of the original to a standard BSA threaded option, and there is plenty of tightness around the shell, down tube and chainstay junctions for out-of-the-saddle efforts.
The slender seatstays allow some flex under load and it is really noticeable. On tracks or stretches of broken tarmac the Pilgrims really takes the sting out of the rear end, which over the course of a four or five-hour ride really makes a difference to comfort and fatigue.
It's a very impressive blend of stiffness and comfort that Bowman has achieved.
Why it’s here: A quick, direct-handling, all-season road bike with the versatility to take you off the beaten track
With its clean, smooth looks and some aero touches going on you'd easily think the new Argon 18 Krypton Pro is a full-on race bike. It certainly delivers on performance thanks to a low weight and plenty of stiffness, but factor in its immense comfort and slightly relaxed geometry and you'll find this is probably one of the fastest endurance machines on the market.
When you are really giving it the beans, the Argon 18 behaves like a race bike helped along by that none-too-shabby weight of 7.66kg (16.9lb) for our Campagnolo Chorus build. Hard acceleration or when climbing out of the saddle sees the Krypton Pro deliver, too. The oversized bottom bracket area and chunky chainstays get the power through to the rear tyre and off you go. Again the weight, or lack of it, plays its hand here and the Argon 18 is a very confident performer in the hills.
If you look at the Krypton Pro from the side, you can see that the front end is much more overbuilt than the slender rear and this gives plenty of precision to the handling and it can cope with the high loads of heavy braking on descents. The angular looking fork offers plenty of stiffness, too, without the slightest hint of understeer when turning hard into a tight bend, and should you have to haul on the brakes to scrub a lot of speed there is no 'dive' or chatter from flex.
The Krypton Pro is pitched as an endurance bike, although it does sit slightly closer to the race bike end of the spectrum than many others in the marketplace. The steering is spot on delivering a non-twitchy yet involving directness whether blasting along the flat or taking on a technical descent in the lanes.
£3,500 is a fair old chunk of money, but what you are getting is a frameset that is exceptionally built and delivers a superb ride. The Krypton Pro is a fantastic frameset for all but the most committed of racers. That blend of forgiveness without sacrificing stiffness in the planes it's needed is a masterstroke and not something I've come across to this level before. I'd never get bored of riding it.
Why it wins: One of the most comfortable frames on the market that doesn't sacrifice speed or performance
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.