Riding a bicycle is fun. Always has been, always will be. We don’t care if you’re doing it to get in shape, explore some pristine back roads, or get your name on the top of as many routes in Strava as possible. The best mountain bikes have a special place in our hearts, but when it comes to speed and distance, road bikes are king. An excellent bike for the road will have you riding comfortably and efficiently. Whatever your reason for riding, we’ve put together our top picks for the best road bikes money can buy this summer 2021. And because dropping motorcycle money on pedal-powered transportation isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, we even added our pick for the best budget bike worth buying today.
If you’re shopping for the fastest road bike you can find, something from Trek’s Emonda line will always find its way onto your shortlist. The SLR trim is their top of the line, and none sit higher than the SLR 9 eTap. For 2021 the Emonda SLR gets a revised frame with some aerodynamic tweaks and top-of-the-line Bontrager Aeolus carbon components, including their RSL 37 wheels and integrated stem/aero bar combo. And of course, it’s got “eTap” in the name, so you know you’ll be getting a premium wireless electronic drivetrain (this model sports the 2×12 Sram Red version). Word to the wise, this road bike is a 100% dedicated racing machine. If you’re looking for all-day comfort, look elsewhere.
Yes, it killed the Venge. RIP. But, before you reach for your pitchforks and torches, give the new SL7 a chance. Specialized claims their new wind tunnel-tested Tarmac SL7 is a full 45 seconds faster over a 40km ride than the previous Tarmac SL6. Considering the SL6’s reputation, that’s no small feat. The latest premium road bike from the S-Works garage has revised tube shapes, the lightest frame allowed for competition by UCI, and premium Shimano Dura-Ace components all over from the R9100 crankset to the Di2 shifters and derailleurs. Roval Rapide CLX wheels wrapped in Specialized’s own Turbo Cotton tires round out an already attractive package with a classic-looking finish.
It’s won world tours. It’s won Olympic gold medals. It’s been on every racer’s radar for the past 10 years. The TeamMachine is widely known and respected in the cycling world, and the SLR01 Two is the current bike to beat from BMC. It’s dripping with race-specced goodies like a one-piece carbon cockpit, one of the burliest bottom brackets we’ve ever seen, and the kind of sleek tube shapes that could only have been born in a computer simulation and/or wind tunnel. I mean it’s got aerodynamic water bottle holders for crying out loud. From the Enve SES wheels to the Sram Red eTap AXS components, this one is a pure race machine, plain and simple.
Cervelo’s Caledonia 5 frame is built for speed and stability, and the Dura-Ace kitted model is the best of the best they have on offer. In addition to the top-notch shift gear and disc brakes, the Caledonia 5 Dura-Ace is also specced with upgraded Enve SES wheels wrapped in Vittoria Corsa Control tires. Of course, if you’re looking to get into a Caledonia 5 but not quite $11,000 committed to the idea, you can get the same frameset with a standard Shimano Ultegra groupset for less than half the price. And yes, the entire range comes with fender mounts. Rejoice.
If Giant’s superb TCR Advanced SL Disc 1 doesn’t quite meet your standards, they’ve now introduced an even more refined version of their ever-popular TCR Advanced road bike. The TCR Advanced SL Disc 0 swaps out an already fantastic set of Giant SLR1 carbon wheels for a super slick pair of Cadex Disc wheels, which are as brilliant to look at as they are to ride with their matching composite hubs and tapered spokes. Electronic shifting and braking duties are handled by Sram Red eTap components, and every other aspect of the finishing kit is as premium as you’d imagine.
By far the least expensive bike on our roundup with a full electronic shifting setup, the Orbea Orca OMR is an attractively priced full carbon endurance racer with components that punch way above its price point. For less than $5,000, you’re getting a fast yet comfortable frame, a Shimano Ultegra R8000 crank and cassette, and Shimano Di2 electronic shifting.
While the Fulcrum wheels are a reliable and reasonably lightweight set, they’re probably the least attractive part of the bike, especially when paired with the fairly basic Vittoria Rubino times. If you’re just looking for a casual road bike to take out on weekends they’ll be OK (especially if you take advantage of their tubeless compatibility), but anyone looking to race or to chase speed generally will probably be dropping the money saved on the OMR into a premium set of wheels.
Cannondale’s Synapse endurance frame has won itself a lot of fans since its debut in 2002, and Hi-Mod GRX Di2 is its lightest version ever. In addition to a featherweight carbon frame and Cannondale’s superlight HollowGram components, this Synapse comes with Shimano GRX Di2 electronic shift components as well as Shimano’s Ultegra GRX Di2 hydraulic disk brakes.
It’s got just about everything you could ask for out of a premium road bike, yet it retails for a few thousand less than most bikes on our list. Yes, it’s an endurance bike, but the Synapse is by far one of the sharpest, fastest pedaling endurance bikes on the market. If speed and comfort are both priorities for you, throw a leg over this Cannondale at your earliest opportunity.
To wrap up our roundup here, we’ve got a value-added proposition: The Trek Domane AL 2 Disk. As you’ve seen above, it’s easy to spend well over $10,000 if you want the best of the best for your next road bike. If you’re just getting into the sport, or want a bike you don’t need a full coverage insurance policy to own, take a look at Trek’s budget-friendly Domane line.
We like the AL 2 Disk because it’s a ton of bike for the money with front and rear disk brakes, a full carbon fork, reliable Shimano Claris shift gear, and RS200 cranks, and a compact 50/34 chainset that takes the sting out of tough climbs. The endurance-inspired geometry is also much more comfortable than a hardcore racing machine for long days in the saddle and makes for a bike you can ride as casually or competitively as you want.
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