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Bikes for on-road adventures cover a broad range of categories, from sportive to cross to fully-laden touring, we choose 10 of the best here...

We explain the three broad categories of road bikes that are available, and from which we have chosen our adventure road bikes of the year…

 

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 which the Boardman, LaPierre and Canyon attempt to solve here, each in its own way.

Even at entry level you should look for a well-finished aluminium frame, a carbon fork (full carbon if possible), 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 light touring or bikepacking. The most versatile bikes will have welded on fixing points for fitting racks and mudguards. The Cannondale, Raleigh and Focus here 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.

 

 

Cannondale_SuperX_Ultegra.jpgCannondale SuperX ULtegra Disc | £3200Mens

Best For: Disappearing off on two-wheel adventures.

If you are interested in diving in at the deep end with cyclocross and want a machine to take you deep into the race scene, the SuperX is a bike designed to take you all the way. A carbon frame and fork that have come straight from the Cannondale ‘cross racing team, it has a geometry that suits technical and fast courses – a slack head angle and long front end that should promote stability and confidence. Bolt through axles front and back promote stiffness, while an Ultegra groupset sets a high standard.

Off-road the SuperX comes alive, with the light and super-stiff carbon frame just urging the rider ever faster. Of course this could be a problem in some cases, but with that slack and long geometry the ride is nothing other than confident and assured, even when the ground gets soft and technical through bends and drops.

The Ultegra groupset is beyond criticism, shifting perfectly each and every time, with the hydraulic brakes proving to be another confidence booster, urging you to push even harder.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
A terrific race-ready machine that will out-perform on all your local training trails too. You will struggle to find a better handling bike.
+  Slack geometry that gives confidence through the off-road challenges.
  Expensive, but undeniably packed with performance

 

 

 

Specialized_AWOL_Comp.jpgSpecialized AWOL Comp | £1700  Mens

Best For: When your touring starts where the tarmac ends.

A true all-round capable machine, the AWOL Comp pairs 29in wheels with a cro-moly frame and drop bars to create a bike as at home on the daily commute as on a multi-day expedition. There is a 1x11 SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain and Rival 1 hydraulic brakes, and together with the Ground Control 1.9in tyres this bike really has been made to tackle any terrain.

It also sports every front and rear rack mountain boss you might need to load it up, so we loved the fact it came out the box expedition ready. Intelligent speccing of that weldable cro-moly frame and comfortable 29in mountain bike tyres mean you really could take it out of the box, open the map and just go.

Die hard remote-area tourists might want to replace the hydraulic brakes with mechanical discs or cantilevers. But for most folks the hydraulic SRAM Rival 1s are an excellent, powerful drop bar option.

For long days in the saddle a long wheelbase and tall headtube just makes riding easier, and it can even tackle technical terrain for a laugh – perhaps not fully loaded.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
A fully featured touring bike crossed with a capable hardtail mtb. A true adventure-ready jack of all trades straight out of the box: on or off-road.
 Those wheels and tyres simply eat up off-road miles
  If you are heading for remote areas you might want to exchange

 

 

Boardman_SLR_Endurance_9.0.jpgBoardman SLR Endurance 9.0 | £1700  Mens

Best For: Getting into sportive riding without breaking the bank.

Aimed at the sportive and endurance end of the road cycling market, the Boardman Endurance 9.0 looks like killer value on paper. Using the same C10 carbon frame as their £6000 SLR Signature model, it is easy to see how the Endurance 9.0 could be seen as ripe for upgrading as your riding progresses – in fact the same frame sells for £1200 on its own just a few pages further into the Boardman site. But for that extra few hundred pounds they have managed to hang quality kit off the 9.0, with Shimano Ultegra throughout, but for the FSA Gossamer chainset and Boardman SLR Elite Five wheelset.

Underlining Boardman's reputation for excellent value for money, amazingly this is the entry level Endurance model – entry level Ultegra!

The result is a terrific value bike with components you would struggle to upgrade unless nit-picking, and a frame that just eats miles. A tall head tube and slightly longer wheelbase than their race frame just adds that little bit of comfort and stability.

VERDICT - 10 Overall
Everything from the well finished carbon frame to the hard-working components has been well thought out and the result is a package that just works.
+  Great value with a top quality frame worth upgrading later
  Nothing

 

 

 

Trek_920_Disc.jpgTrek 920 Disc | £2300  Mens

Best For: Rough, not remote, expeditions and workhorse duties

The 920 pedals along somewhere between a road tourer and full blown off-road mountain bike.

The wheels come from the off-road side, with the 29x2.0 Bontrager Dusters lapping up gravel roads and tracks – while the drop bars and alloy frame owe more to the road. Hydraulic disc brakes, front and rear racks and bar-end shifters complete the package.

This mish-mash of direction might make you hesitate but don't – it works. Yes the fat tyres are slow on tarmac, but as soon as they hit the gravel they come into their own, skimming over softer ground and stones. If you are looking for a versatile road bike with light off-road capabilities, this is it.

The alloy frame and hydraulic discs aren't the best for far-flung repairability, but if your adventures are closer to home they both give the 920 a real edge day-to-day. The brakes are superb, all-weather performers, while that OCLV alloy frame makes for sprightly acceleration and a lively, rewarding ride.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
For long days in the saddle that may – or may not – include some off-road excursions, the 920 is a real winner.
+  The light and nimble alloy frame is a joy to ride 
  Alloy frame and hydraulic brakes mean closer-to-home expeditions

 

 

Raleigh_RX_Elite.jpgRaleigh RX Elite | £800  MensWomens

Best For: Entry level 'cross and everyday workhorse duties.

If you are considering an entrance to the cyclocross scene, or simply want a road bike more capable of tackling rough roads and a potholed daily commute, this entry level, alloy-framed versatile machine from Raleigh might be just the ticket.

Cyclocross machines dedicated and designed for racing tend to be very low on bolt-on options such as bottle cages or mudguard eyes – they just aren’t useful on a one hour, eyeballs out race. That is where the RX Elite wins for the everyday punter: sporting two sets of bottle bosses, mudguard and rack mounts, this is a bike you could buy to cover all your bases. Screw on the racks and go light touring, drop everything and wheel it up to a ‘cross start line.

We'd have liked to see disc brake mounts on the fork and frame for possible future upgrading but something has to give at £800. A nice touch is the bar-top levers for a confidence boost both off-road and in traffic.

Although cheap, the Sora groupset is definitely cheerful, with a robust reputation and decent performance.

VERDICT - 8
An excellent all round bike, suited to cyclocross competition, weekly commuting and training rides.
+  A great value entry level unisex ‘crosser
–  Would have liked to see disc brake mounts for future upgrade

 

 

 

Lapierre_Pulsium_600_FDJ.jpgLapierre Pulsium 600 FDJ | £2500  Womens

Best For: Hitting the cobbles through Spring Classic races.

Originally designed with the cobble-ridden spring classic races in mind, the Pulsium 600’s carbon frame has prioritised rider comfort with a whole new approach. Their SAT (Shock Absorption Technology) design has placed an elastomer at the junction between the top and seat tubes, isolating – to a degree – road buzz and small impacts. Shimano Ultegra components keep everything moving, while Zipp deliver the cockpit and Mavic the Aksium wheels.

Although quite an unnerving concept, the top tube is split into two as it reaches the seat tube. The top is a flat carbon piece, while the bottom is split with an elastomer bridge. The theory is the top part will flex while the bottom will provide the spring and damping motion.

It's not mountain bike suspension but does remove the impact of small stones and imperfections in the road.

Stepping on the pedals it is quickly clear that power transfer hasn’t been adversely affected – helped greatly by the top notch Ultegra groupset quietly getting on with the job.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
An excellent, innovative road bike that delivers the best of both worlds – performance and comfort for big rides.
+  Innovative and effective shock absorption
–  Initially unnerving concept

 

 

 

Sonder_Camino_Al.jpgSonder Camino Al SRAM Apex1 Mechanical | £800  Mens

Best For: Off-road adventures, with or without luggage.

Floating somewhere in limbo between the worlds of mountain and road biking, the Sonder is pitched squarely at the road-trip adventurer. Compatible with both 700c and 650c wheel sizes it can handle a huge variety of tyre and wheel combinations and little touches like mechanical disc brakes and multiple rack mounts all add to its touring credentials.

Our SRAM Apex 1 model comes with 40mm WTB Nano tyres, more than capable when the going gets rough or soft, and it is a pleasure to see simple zip-tie routing along the outside of the frame for full outer cable routing – always best when there is a bit of mud and water around.

The speccing of mechanical disc brakes not only boosts braking performance over the more usual cantilever brakes, but will be more roadside-repairable than their hydraulic cousins abroad.

The ride is relaxed, with a long wheelbase for stability and long days in the saddle, and while the flared bars take a bit of getting used to they do add confidence when taking  the Camino off-road.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
An excellent option for all round adventuring, with a slight preference to off-road.
A genuine off-the-shelf option for adventure tourists and day trippers.
+  Great value, rugged, tour-ready
  Not too sprightly on tarmac

 

 

Ridgeback_Explorer.jpgRidgeback Expedition | £850  Mens

Best For: Disappearing off on two-wheel adventures.

With a roadside-repairable Reynolds cro-moly frame, 26in wheels and a plethora of rack mounting options, the Ridgeback Expedition does exactly as it says on the tin – it is specced for any expedition. As standard it comes with proven Shimano Deore drivetrain, Shimano hydraulic brakes and chunky 1.75in Schwalbe tyres with Greenguard puncture guard.

We still love the 26in wheel option for remote touring as there is a great availability of chunky tyres around the world. The smaller wheel size has also proven itself to be more robust than larger options.

The frame is designed expedition ready, with three bottle cage mounts, together with front low-rider and rear rack bosses. Flat bars are now standard spec too.

Expedition touring purists may not approve of the decision in 2017 to spec the Expedition with hydraulic brakes. The Shimano BR-M315s are better stoppers than mechanical discs or plain old cantilevers but these latter types are always easy to get repaired by any bike shop or mechanic around the world.

VERDICT - 8 Overall
Overall this is a superb base bike to invest in for any expedition – long or short, remote or civilised – which will soldier on loaded down through thick and thin.
+  Out of the box adventure-ready machine
–  Hydraulic brakes perhaps not favoured by expedition purists

 

 

 

Canyon_Endurace_CF8.0.jpgCanyon Endurace CF 8.0 | £1500  Mens

Best For: Sportives and long, epic days in the mountains.

Online-only Canyon's Endurace – as its name might suggest – is intended as the combination of an endurance, sportive bike for all-day riding with an out and out race machine. This means blending all-out stiffness for power transfer with some compliance for long term comfort in the saddle. A Shimano 105 groupset handles braking and shifting while quality DT Swiss wheels keep things turning when you are out there.

By developing frames using their VCLS (Vertical Compliance, Lateral Stiffness) system Canyon have created a bike that cuts out the tiring fine bumps and rattles while still feeling perky and responsive. It also has a slightly more upright, less tiring riding position than your average racer.

The advantages of buying direct from the manufacturer shine through on the spec sheet of the Endurace 8.0 though, with Shimano 105 specced throughout. No corners have been cut here, even with the excellent DT wheelset, and that – hanging off this quality of carbon frame – is remarkable at the price.

VERDICT - 9 Overall
The Endurace CF 8.0 is a genuine steal of a road bike, perfect for everyday use and if you are lining up for some sportives in the future.
+  Amazing value, capable and good looking endurance machine
  Online only means it is tough to try it out for size

 

 

 

Focus_Mares_105_-1.jpgFocus Mares 105 | £2300  Mens

Best For: Taking the edge off lumpy, rough-stuff riding.

With a superbly finished carbon frame and fork, intelligently selected Shimano 105 components and some natty features thrown into the mix, the Focus Mares is a solid performing, mid-level cyclocross bike, sold as an ‘out of the box’ racer.

With refreshingly round tubes throughout, Focus has instead varied the amount and direction of the carbon on the frame to tune the ride into less of an all out stiffness monster, blending in more comfort. Make no mistake, stiffness in cyclocross is a benefit, but an hour of battering takes its toll on speed and stamina, so it seems manufacturers of top-end machinery like this are taking note.

The 105 groupset, one step below Ultegra, is sprinkled liberally throughout the Mares – a good economical choice. The brakes are nothing short of superb, with minimal maintenance requirements married to maximum stopping power and ‘feel’ for feathering the brakes on long descents or with cold hands. Shifting is excellent too.

VERDICT - 8 Overall
An excellent race bike at an excellent price, with components that can easily handle plenty of rough riding abuse.
+  Amazing value, capable and good looking endurance machine
  Online only means it is tough to try it out for size