1. Sportive bikes
Light and responsive, yet capable of long, fast, all-day endurance riding in reasonable comfort, sportive bikes have stiff, efficient aluminium or carbon frames, carbon forks and mid to high-end lightweight mechanicals matched to light, laterally stiff wheels, including a double front chainring (two sprockets) for taller, faster gears.
The playoff with sportive bikes is always efficiency (lateral stiffness) versus comfort (vertical compliance), a conundrum that the Boardman, LaPierre and Canyon featured on our list attempt to solve each in their own way. Even at entry level, look for a well-finished aluminium frame, a carbon fork (full carbon if possible) and a ‘named’ groupset, such as entry-level Shimano Sora for drop-bar bikes and Claris for flatbar bikes. Wheels will be heavy but can be upgraded later.
2. ‘Cross bikes
Although ostensibly designed for the off-road racing format of cyclo-cross racing, ‘cross bikes are excellent all-rounders: tough drop-bar bikes capable of rough-stuff riding, gravel paths, and light touring.
Expect big clearances between frame and tyres for mud (mudguards will fit too) and fatter, more comfortably rolling tyres. Drivetrains are versatile, compact doubles and brakes are mostly cable discs. Wheelsets are tough too – good news for the extra weight and wear of touring or bikepacking. The most versatile bikes will have welded-on fixing points for fitting racks and mudguards. The Cannondale, Raleigh and Focus are our adventure ‘cross bikes of the year.
3. Touring bikes
Broadly speaking, touring bikes encompass anything which is built to carry you and your luggage over long distance, day after day. For round-the-world, rough road-ready tours and expeditions there are bullet-proof, load hucking machines like the rough-road expedition-ready Ridgeback Expedition, the Sonder Camino and Specialized AWOL tested here – all with easily weldable steel frames. For adventures closer to home the sprightly alloy frame and hydraulic discs of the Trek 920 Disc wouldn’t be an indulgence too far.
Bombtrack Beyond 1 | £1,650
BEST FOR Heading off around the world on rough and tough adventures without a worry.
Hailed on their own website as the bike world’s answer to the Landrover Defender, there is no doubt that the Bombtrack Beyond 1 is a superbly specified, hardcore touring bike.
Straight out the gate the frame and rigid fork are made from Columbus Cromor, a durable and much more field repairable material than either carbon or aluminium once you are off the beaten track. It is also liberally covered with bosses for racks front and back, mudguards and no less than five bottle holders. A real multi-tool of a frame will take anything you care to lash onto it. Details even extend to long-distance-friendly dynamo wire routing in the frame and fork - an attention to detail that really suggests that seasoned tourists have designed this beast.
The Beyond 1 comes with flared drop bars which are simultaneously road friendly for plenty of position options, but have enough width to take on rough roads, and there is a clever mix of both on and off-road components from the SRAM range to provide the drive. Mechanical disc brakes round off a cracking, clearly well thought out touring bike that is ready for huge adventures right off the shelf.
VERDICT: The bombproof Bombtrack is an excellent buy for challenging touring.
GT Grade Carbon Expert | £2,200
BEST FOR Long rides over bumpy terrain, where a bit of off-road might sneak in.
Sporting their signature triple triangle frame, there's no mistaking that the Grade Carbon Expert is GT-made - this is a design the company have stuck with in both their off-road and road ranges. The Grade is their take on the adventure bike model: a slack head angle and long wheelbased frame that is as comfortable on the road as off.
Tyre clearances should be possible up to around the 35mm range for that extra grip and be cushioning off-road too. This is a bike for the long ride, and if a few bumps crop up it will happily soak up a change in terrain and keep on trucking. The carbon frame has skinny seatstays designed to flex under load, keeping the rider further from rough terrain, but the tapered head tube and oversized down tube both aim to reduce flex.
This should give the best of both worlds, with a comfortable ‘suspension’ for the seated rider along with accurate steering and power transfer, helped again by the chunky bottom bracket area. The build on this Expert level is Shimano 105, an excellent value and fully dependable bit of kit. Braking is taken care of by Shimano hydraulic BR-M365s - a smooth and powerful experience.
VERDICT: A well kitted out bike that should see you through everything from your daily commute to a full-blown fire road experience.
Orange RX9 S | £1,250
BEST FOR Getting you off the tarmac and onto the gravel without breaking the bank.
Gravel bikes (suitable for, you guessed it, gravel and rock but also great multi-terrain bikes) are hitting an all time high for popularity at the moment and this offering from UK-based bike company Orange is an excellent way ito get into the discipline for those who still need to keep one eye on budget.
A 6061-T6 aluminium frame provides the stiffness you need to really push power through and onto the ground, while a carbon fork keeps the weight down and should manage the worst of the trail buzz, which can cause fatigue over time.
To further stiffen up the power delivery and maneuverability Orange have specced a 12x142 bolt through the back end and a 15mm bolt through on the fork, both of which should boost the liveliness and accuracy of the bike whether you're take yours out on the road or on trails.
While the Pro version of the RX9 offers 1x11 SRAM Rival and Easton bars, stem and seatpost for £1,700, this cheaper version comes kited out with the - still reliable - Shimano Tiagra for the bulk of the drivetrain, while the excellent TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes are in charge of bringing everything to a halt. The rest of the parts are all Strange.
VERDICT: A really versatile all-rounder, the RX9 comes with all the fittings you need yet has clearance for up to a 42mm tyre.
Ridgeback Ramble 2.0 | £1,350
BEST FOR Taking off on a world tour without breaking the bank.
With a gloriously retro paint job and graphics, a steel frame and that ‘Ramble’ name you could be forgiven for assuming this Ridgeback was a blast from the past. You couldn’t be any further from the truth. Firmly in the front of the off-road all-rounder bandwagon, the Ramble 2.0 takes the traditional tourer and toughens it up with rough road capabilities.
The straight bladed carbon forks are nothing if not bang up to date, and sport mudguard eyes if that's your bag. The Cro-Moly frame is right up the traditionalist's alley - this most repairable of frame materials is perfect for a trip into the backwoods. You'll only have to find a guy with a welder if anything goes wrong.
The drivetrain is a dependable and functional Shimano Tiagra with a flexible 2x10 setup - the 50-34 chainset giving a nice combination of long legs for the downs and a suitably small ring to inch up punishing climbs when the bike is fully loaded.
The TRP brakes aren’t mechanical, but neither are they hydraulic - they are a hybrid of both. Reports are that they are very powerful, but with easy setup and standard cable brake levers they're easy to repair or replace off the beaten track.
VERDICT: A great combination of retro styling and functional, repairable touring potential.
Kinesis Tripster AT (SRAM Rival 1x Build) | £1,700
BEST FOR Pretty much any riding, from commuting to bikepacking.
Kinesis have a wonderful way of describing the Tripster AT: the ‘Two-Wheeled Swiss Army Knife.’ We'd agree. An aluminium frame and carbon fork render it light and responsive, yet with spacing for up to a massive 45mm tyre (or even 52mm if you use 650b wheels) it is more than happy on off-road adventures too. A relatively relaxed 70 or 70.5 degree head angle (depending on your frame size) and long wheelbase give that added boost of confidence off-road, making the bike more stable at speed over rougher ground.
Normally sold as frame only for £700, you can also spec an excellent SRAM Rival 1x build for an extra £1,000 and ride off a complete bike with a single ring and impressive spread of cogs at the back, ideal for tackling punchy offroad scenarios. Ritchey finishing kit such as bar, stem and seatpost are dependable and light, while the Kinesis own-brand Crosslight Disc V5 wheelset proves lightweight and functional.
When speccing the build kit you can also choose between a ‘standard’ do-it-all kit with 33mm tyres and regular Ritchey drop bars or a ‘gravel’ setup with gnarlier 38mm tyres and a Ritchey Flare drop bar with wider drops for more control.
VERDICT: The Kinesis really is a Swiss army knife bike, as at home on a social road ride as on multi-day off-road adventures.
Specialized Diverge Comp | £2,600
BEST FOR Hitting the gravel at speed without having to feel the bumps.
We would classify the Diverge as a ‘Performance Adventure’ machine - its 38mm tyres are capable of tackling some pretty tough terrain, yet it retains the long legs of a road bike with a 48 tooth big ring. The frame is Specialized’s FACT9 carbon, as is the straight bladed fork, which keeps things light and rigid.
It also sports some innovative features such as the 20mm travel suspension at the head tube, enough to take the buzz out of lumpy fire trails while helping retain control when it gets rough, plus front and rear thru-axles.
Specialized have lengthened the wheelbase and lowered the bottom bracket height, both moves designed to make the bike more stable over rough ground at speed. Combined with 20mm travel at the front end this is a gravel bike that should eat up the offroad sections quicker than most.
Even the tyres are built for speed, with the supplied Specialized Trigger Pros coming with a fast-rolling centre tread for speedy road progress while chunky side knobs bite into softer ground when required. The capable Shimano 105 drives the whole show with an 2x11 drivetrain, while Shimano RS505 hydraulic brakes bring it all to a stop just as reliably.
VERDICT: This rough, tough and ruthlessly efficient frame and spec should make off-road adventures fast and fun.
Islabikes Beinn 20 Small | £390
BEST FOR Getting mini cyclists confidently out riding with you on roads and tracks.
The Islabikes Beinn 20 is designed for kids aged from five as their first 'proper' bike. It comes equipped with a seven-speed SRAM cassette, SRAM gripshift and a lightweight aluminium frame. After sizing our tester, six-year-old Sam, up using an Islabikes chart it looked like he was going to find the Beinn 20 a tad large but Isla's advice proved correct - with the saddle almost at its lowest point Sam can still reach the handlebars and sits in a good position which allows for plenty of control and decent balance (when his skills allow!).
The SRAM gripshift is intuitive and easy for children to use, and Sam loved the novelty of shifting the smooth seven-speed wide ratio cassette for the first time. The tyres provided with the bike are a good middle ground for on and off-road riding and the aluminium mini V-brakes are easy to operate, with well-designed levers in the right places for little hands to use.
The Beinn offers a light and nimble touch. Steering is responsive but not too twitchy and the bike is light enough to easily be manoeuvred around at low speed as well as picked up and transported. Overall, the Beinn 20 is comfortable, well designed and superbly built.
VERDICT: If you want your child to enjoy cycling from the off then you would do well to invest in a quality bike, and this offering from Islabikes is easily one of the best out there.
Sonder Colibri Force22 | £2,200
BEST FOR Long-distance endurance racing.
Sonder’s first foray into road bikes is the Colibri Force22, a bike suitable for huge days in the saddle. Comfort is high on the agenda, with a relatively relaxed seating position, compliant tubes for a modicum of flexing where appropriate and clearance for up to 28mm tyres, plus SRAM Force 22 with hydraulic brakes and 2x11 gearing - all you need for the mountains.
VERDICT: A comfortable, light and capable road bike, specced to head for some big days out.
Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105 | £1,600
BEST FOR Long days in the saddle.
If you're in the market for something with more comfort than a brick-hard race machine that still performs, look no further. Cannondale deliberately build some ‘give’ into their Synapse frame and fork, aiming to reduce trail buzz and fatigue. The result is a bike aimed squarely at the endurance market. The ability to accommodate up to 32mm tyres helps with comfort, too.
VERDICT: A great all-rounder that soaks up road buzz but retains enough stiffness for sprinting.
Genesis Equilibrium 20 Disc | £2,000
BEST FOR Knocking out sportives.
The Equilibrium 20 Disc is designed as a mile-munching sportive machine, with its compliant Reynolds 725 steel tubing taking out a deal of the road buzz without sacrificing efficiency. The tapered carbon fork gives a great point-and-shoot stiffness and provides a beefy enough interface to deal with added forces from the disc brakes. It all adds up to a classy and retro looking bike.
VERDICT: A spritely machine that's happy to plug away at the miles, ideal for getting into sportives.