Most people buy their bikes complete — built up and ready to ride — but if you have very specific requirements you might prefer to buy a frameset and then add components of your own choosing. That way you don't have to make any compromises. It's a method of getting a new bike that was extremely popular in the past and is becoming increasingly so again. These are the best framesets that we reviewed on road.cc in 2018.
Many production bikes are available as framesets. You can buy a Specialized S-Works Venge frameset (£3,700), for example, a Trek Emonda ALR Disc frameset (£800), a Bianchi Oltre XR4 frameset (£3,400), and a zillion others, but we tend to review complete bikes if possible.
However, sometimes models are available only as framesets, or the earliest review sample we can get hold of is a frameset only.
If you’re daunted by the prospect of building up your own bike, most good bike shops will happily assist, advising you on things like compatibility as well as actually putting it together.
We're dividing things into two here. First, we're covering the outstanding road framesets that we reviewed in 2018, then we're moving on to the gravel and adventure framesets.
The Allied Alfa is a lightweight carbon fibre race bike that offers an excellent ride quality, and it's made start to finish in-house in the US. It's available as a frameset or the UK distributor, The Bicycle Chain, can build it up for you, either completely custom or as a standard build.
The Alfa balances its light weight with a high level of stiffness, particularly through the centre of the frame, and it feels great throughout the longest rides. The overall offering is hugely impressive.
Jump aboard and this is clearly a bike that's built for speed, putting you into an efficient flat-backed riding position. Although Allied hasn't sought to shave off the grams at all costs, this is a light bike with a claimed frame weight of 875g and a fork weight of 325g. Our complete bike (minus pedals) came in at just 6.89kg (15lb 7oz).
One other thing you notice straightaway is the level of frame stiffness on offer. Get out of the saddle and sprint hard and the bottom bracket area doesn't budge.
Allied has gone for an external threaded bottom bracket (BSA standard) rather than any of the press-fit options that are out there, with the aim of avoiding any issues with creaking further down the line and keeping serviceability simple. It doesn't seem to have had a detrimental effect on rigidity down there.
The tapered head tube and Allied's own fork keep things in order up front. This is a bike that allows you to have some fun pushing hard into the turns, shifting your weight around with the minimum of braking. If you need to change your line, the steering is quick and responsive.
All the while, the Alfa keeps you feeling pretty comfortable without too much road buzz coming through (although, of course, a lot of that is going to come down to the components you choose). There's enough clearance for 28mm tyres (or 30mm if you go for the disc brake version of this frameset).
The Alfa is available in six sizes from 49cm to 61cm, each of them in either a standard or a + fit – the '+' indicating a head tube that's 2cm taller than normal to bring the handlebar position higher for a more relaxed setup.
Allied uses Innegra high-modulus polypropylene (HMPP) fibre in certain areas: the top tube, seatstays and fork crown. The idea is that it prevents catastrophic failure in those areas of the frameset most vulnerable to impacts. It is also said to improve damping.
The Allied Alfa is a really interesting option. It has the lively character and sharp reactions you want of a race bike and the ride quality is really impressive. If you're after something that's high end and high performance and you're looking for an alternative to the see-them-everywhere brands, this is well worth checking out.
Why it's here High-end frameset that's light and offers an excellent ride quality, 100 per cent made in the USA
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The Lightweight Urgestalt Disc frameset is extremely light and stiff with it.
Lightweight claims a frameset weight of 1,175g and our built-up Urgestalt Disc (with a Shimano Sura-Ace Di2 groupset and Lightweight's Wegweiser Disc wheels, without pedals) hit the scales at 6.7kg (14.7lb).
In use, the Lightweight Urgestalt Disc feels super-responsive when you put in extra effort, joining in energetically when you ask for a burst of speed to get away from the group or chase down someone with escape on their mind. The sharper the acceleration, the more you notice the lack of ballast.
The other time you notice it is on the steeper climbs. The Urgestalt Disc feels like it's working with you on the hills rather than reluctantly dragging itself up.
There's a massive focus on efficiency here. It feels very stiff without any wandering of the bottom bracket during hard efforts.
The overall feel is firm but the Urgestalt Disc manages to stay the right side of harsh. Lightweight's 27.2mm Leistungstrager seatpost offers some flexibility and comfort but the main thing is that our review bike came fitted with 28mm tyres and they turn up the comfort dial a couple of clicks compared to 25s.
In terms of geometry, the Urgestalt Disc is a race bike all the way. You're going to be riding in quite an aggressive position here. You might not necessarily race this bike but it's definitely coming from that direction.
The Urgestalt Disc is sold as a frameset – the frame, fork, headset, carbon headset spacers, thru-axles, clamp for the seatpost and rear derailleur hanger.
The Lightweight Urgestalt Disc offers a bright and sparky ride. You're not getting aero features thrown into the mix here, but if you're after disc brakes and you value light weight above all else, give this one some serious thought.
Why it's here Superlight disc brake-equipped road bike with a high level of stiffness, but it doesn't come cheap
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The new Colnago C64 is every bit as sublime as its predecessor but with a raft of refinements that bring enhanced stiffness, comfort and clearance for wider tyres. It's the best C series yet, and one of a tiny handful of bikes still made in Italy.
The C64 is a bike that offers the right balance of stiffness, handling and comfort. There's really no area where it feels at all compromised. It's a really well-engineered bike with outstanding handling and ride characteristics.
There's nothing groundbreaking or radical about the redesign of the C64, but incremental changes combine to create a bike that is more responsive, alert and direct than the outgoing C60. An already very good bike just got a tiny bit better.
There's more immediacy in the way it translates your inputs into movements on the road. The increased stiffness manifests itself when jumping on the pedals to cover an attack, sprinting for the finish line or surging up a steep gradient. It's sharper and more focused, and feels faster as a result.
The handling is as delightful as ever, if a touch less nimble than a Specialized Tarmac or Trek Emonda because of the slighter longer wheelbase and more relaxed head angle. Instead, the C64 has a calm and measured feel that makes it easy to ride fast, arguably more so than the aforementioned race bikes. It never feels skittish or nervous, no matter how fast you're travelling or how rough the road surface.
The C64 has an uncanny ability to balance its low weight and high stiffness with unswerving composure on rough roads. It feels like it floats over poor surfaces and dispenses with cracks and holes as if it was an endurance bike on fat tyres. The ability to fit 28mm tyres – up from 25 for the previous model – is a huge bonus if you want the ride as smooth as possible.
The C64 perhaps doesn't have the outright power transfer stiffness and it definitely doesn't have the aerodynamics of some other bikes, but it still feels fast and responsive but with the smoothness to deal with rubbish roads.
Quality and attention to detail mark out the new C64. It's handmade carbon at its best. The tube and lug construction produces a wonderful ride that is a match for any other top-end carbon bikes on the market.
It's undeniably expensive, but you are paying for a frame that is handmade in Italy, from a company with a deep and prestigious history in the sport, and for many people that counts for a lot.
Why it's here Superb handling with improved stiffness and comfort, the new C64 continues the legacy in fine form
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The Genesis Volare Disc 853 frameset blends classic steel looks and ride quality with modern disc brakes and a whole lot of fun. If you've never considered steel for an all-round road bike before — it's made from a Reynolds 853 tubeset — here's a reason to.
The front end is carbon-race-bike sharp and informative when things get quick on the drops, yet if you sit up and spin on the tops, it transforms into a softer long-distance cruiser thanks to the comfort the carbon fork offers.
Cornering is direct, with subtle inputs responded to in a composed manner, while the rest of the bike is stiff enough to follow suit. The rear end feels very well sorted: planted, efficient, direct, yet supremely easy to handle.
It gathers speed with surprising efficiency and really excels at maintaining it on long drags. The bottom bracket zone is stiff enough without being super-stiff, offering just a little flex to calm the experience down. That helps create a bike that really excels over long distances, making short work of typically pimpled British roads and damping vibrations excellently.
Despite that composure, the short wheelbase means it's sharp to respond when thrown around, out of the saddle, even with tired legs.
The disc brakes are flat mount-fitted on both the carbon fork and chainstay (albeit with dedicated bolt holes machined onto the inside of the stay that the calliper fits to) while the bike accepts 12mm thru-axles.
The brake hoses run internally as do the cables if you go for electronic shifting, although they're external should you opt for a mechanical groupset. You don't get mounts for mudguards or a rack.
The Volare Disc 853 a bike that's hard to pigeon-hole. It manages to be fun-yet-calm, racy-yet-relaxed, sharp-yet-composed, stiff-yet-compliant. It's one of the most capable all-round performance road frames around.
Why it wins A smooth and compliant yet fun and stiff ride – a real rival to carbon
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The flat-bar Snowdon Paradox 38 gravel bike is a blast on everything from city streets to gravel trails, offering great control, a high level of comfort and an impressive turn of speed.
A central part of the Paradox 38's character is its flat handlebar and geometry that's designed with that in mind. This isn't just a standard gravel frame with a flat bar slapped on the front – that really wouldn't work all that well.
Even long-time drop bar users are likely to find control in technical situations a little better with a flat bar. The extra width helps keep things steady, manoeuvrability is a touch simpler and the brakes and gears are just a smidge easier to operate, particularly when you're riding out of the saddle – at least, that's what we found with the Paradox.
Head onto pox-marked gravel roads and the Paradox easily maintains its line so you don't find yourself constantly battling to keep it straight. You also get lots of comfort here. First and foremost, that comes from the tyres. The Paradox 38 officially has clearance for 38mm if you go for 700c wheels, and 50mm if you opt for 650b.
Overall, the Snowdon Paradox 38 is a quick, strong and comfortable gravel bike that's equally at home zipping through urban streets. A flat handlebar isn't right for everyone, but it makes a lot of sense for a lot of people and the riding they do. You get a beautifully made frame here and the option of altering the geometry and choosing between disc brakes and rim brakes will appeal to those who know exactly what they're after.
Why it’s here You want a quick, comfortable and customisable flat-bar option for everything from city streets to gravel tracks
The second-generation Kinesis Tripster ATR is a brilliant multi-purpose frameset that's been updated since its first incarnation to follow the trends in gravel bikes as they've evolved. As such, it's a bit more towards the bikepacking end of the drop-bar spectrum than the first bike was, with a stronger frame, bigger capacity for wide tyres and a slightly tweaked geometry. None of the changes have really affected its prowess as a road bike, though, and it's still a superb basis for a mile-eating tarmac-based bike too.
ATR stands for 'adventure, tour and race', and we reviewed the original ATR back in 2014. The original bike was one of the early breed of gravel bikes coming on the scene, and it did really well: it was our Frameset of the Year that year, and Dave Arthur liked it so much that he bought our test frame.
The frame features disc brakes, internal cable routing and braze-ones for rack and mudguards, and ups the bottle boss count to three, with a third pair under the down tube. That's a spot commonly used by bikepackers for stowing tools in a tool bottle, or fuel for a stove. The bottom bracket has been raised on the new bike by 5mm, so you get a bit more clearance over the rough stuff.
The ATR V2 is a sweet ride, and perfect as the basis for a long-distance, gravel or bikepacking build. The frame is responsive, taut and springy, and it's a lovely thing to be aboard. If you want a bike that's ready for the Transcontinental and quick enough for the chaingang, there aren't many options. This is one, and it's a beauty.
Why it’s here You want a capable and classy titanium adventure bike
From one of the most legendary names in mountain biking comes the lovely Outback, a steel frame/carbon fork gravel frameset that offers a stable and smooth ride on all terrain. It lacks the mudguard and rack mounts required of a true all-rounder, but if you want something that sits at the sportier end of the market it's a slick offering.
The Outback shares a lot of its DNA with Ritchey's Swiss Cross Disc cyclo-cross bike, but the geometry has been tweaked and tyre clearances have been increased. The frame is made in Taiwan from Ritchey Logic heat-treated, triple-butted steel tubing. The tubes are skinny compared with those of most carbon and aluminium bikes, and you get a 68mm English threaded bottom bracket
A long wheelbase means the Outback isn't the most dexterous bike through super-tight, super-slow turns – walking pace stuff – but it's happy to mix it up with the best of 'em over all other types of technical terrain. Head down slopes as steep as you dare, for example, and there's no judder from the carbon fork, and the rear tyre will keep biting on any ridiculously sharp off-road climbs you fancy tackling as long as you stay seated.
The slim, steel-framed Outback is about as far away from being a 'me-too' gravel bike as you could wish to get. The lack of mudguard and rack mounts might be an issue for some, but if you're happy without and you're after a gravel/adventure bike that's sporty, stable and above all smooth, this would be a very good choice.
If the lack of mudguards is putting you off, the company offers the more versatile Ascent which has mudguard and rack braze-ons and can be run with either 700C or 650B wheels and flat or drop handlebars.
Why it’s here You want a steel-framed adventure bike that offers a smooth ride and plenty of stability
The Vulture frameset from Fearless Bikes is the UK company’s first frame and fork and it lands bang in the all-road/adventure market. It's designed to be a bike that can be used for almost everything— road biased, but able to handle some mountain, cross or touring, though it's most happy being ridden on mixed surfaces with a strong ‘gravel’ leaning.
And that it does all very well. But first, that steel frame. It’s Reynolds 725 with a 4130 rear end, with some lovely looking ‘Breezer’ style dropouts at the rear. It’s a shame not to see a 12mm thru-axle instead of the outdated quick release on both the steel frame and fork, given the industry has largely adopted that as its standard for disc-equipped road and gravel bikes. There’s clearance for up to 45mm tyres which is plenty for most gravel tyres we’re seeing being popular at the moment, but it’s not monster clearance.
Out riding, we put it down lanes, across fields, round the local singletrack, forest double track and all that links those surfaces, and were impressed with how well it handled it all. It's a semi-compact type so the wheelbase isn’t as long as you might expect, which gave a nimbler feeling offroad - weaving along smooth single track on it is a hoot, and you can really duck and dive into and out of corners. This all makes it a great base for a workhorse type bike, fun commuter or versatile gravel bike.
Being steel it does filter out some low-level vibrations, and although it's not the lightest on the scales, it belies the overall mass.
The steel fork felt purposeful and accurate when riding - there was the usual degree of flutter under sudden, heavy braking but nothing horrific. I’d like to have seen bolt through options here, It just makes for a way more accurate ride and steering feel. A quick-release on the back is less of an issue with the lack of steering forces and a more solid disc mount position.
The geometry is a pretty safe set of numbers, with the 71° head angle and 74° seat angle not throwing up any big surprises. It's a semi-compact type so the wheelbase isn’t as long as you might expect, which gave a nimbler feeling offroad - weaving along smooth single track on it is a hoot, and you can really duck and dive into and out of corners.
Why it’s here A very reasonably priced steel frame and fork for on and off-road riding
A small but hotly contested category, but in the end the clear winner was the Secan from Fairlight Cycles. Steel might not be the most obvious choice for a gravel and adventure frame but we were won over by the classy ride, massive versatility and lovely attention to detail. It’s that versatility that makes building your own bike around the Secan so appealing.
The frame is a beauty. And it’s packed with nice details. It’s made from Reynolds 853 with optimised profiles and internal butting to provide the extra strength required for riding off-road, with a chunk carbon fork slotting into the tapered head tube. Cable routing is external for mechanical and internal for Di2, making sure it’s easy to build. A third bottle cage, rack mounts, external cable routing, 12mm thru-axles and flat mount disc brakes and a 68mm external threaded bottom bracket are just some of the nice details.
The Strael DNA (the company’s more road-focused steel bike), from the tube profiles to the small details and the general appearance, was the starting point for the Secan, with the aim being to replicate the ride feel of the Strael but adapt it for off-road use, through the increased tyre clearance and modified geometry.
And boy do you get massive tyre clearance on both 700c and 650b wheels! We tested the Secan with a wide assortment of wheels and tyres, from 650B 2.2in Continental Mountain King and 47mm WTB Byways tyres to 700C 42mm WTB Resolutes, 40mm Panaracer GravelKings, 27mm Challenge Paris-Roubaix and 32mm Bontrager AW3s. What tyres you choose depends on the terrain you're riding, the ratio of road to off-road, the speeds you're riding at and the sort of ride you want.
The Secan won because it’s hugely versatile and endlessly adaptable. In taking a plethora of tyre widths, the new Secan can be pressed into action as a rugged off-road bikepacking bike or shod with wide slicks, mudguards and racks for the daily commute or multi-day tour.
Why it wins You want a well-designed steel adventure bike with huge adaptability and versatility
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.