The joys of mountain biking are well known – riding along a dedicated mountain bike trail with blue skies above your head, a cool breeze gently blowing in your face, no traffic or exhaust fumes to distract or cause damage to your health, and the certain knowledge that there’s nothing coming the other way! Bliss.
Mountain bikes give a solid reassurance that they can handle anything that’s thrown at them, mud, rocks, tight corners, jumps – the list is endless. However, they’re not built for roads and it can be hard work trying to do more than 50 road miles on a MTB.
Over the past few months, I’ve completed two road events (both 80 miles) and found myself to be the only cyclist on a mountain bike. The strange and puzzled looks have been quite entertaining but after four hours, I’ve found myself alone on the route.
I enjoy organised events, they give me a focus for my training and in recent years, I’ve enjoyed riding alongside fellow cyclists. However, looking back, these have been sub-50m rides and I was keeping pace with other cyclists throughout the 3-4 hours.
This year, I felt confident to tackle events that were more challenging, so I signed up for the Cheshire Cat and the Lancashire Lanes rides. I knew that riding over that distance and with the numerous hills, I’d find myself completing the ride in 6-7 hours, which I was fine with.
However, the reality was that they were hard work and for around half of the ride, I was riding alone. Cycling is fine on your own for 2-3 hours but longer than this can be quite tedious, especially at the end of a long ride when you need a companion alongside to help motivate you to the end.
So, it’s time to switch from riding a mountain bike on these events to a road bike or to put it another way;
It’s time to move to the dark side ..
Switching to a Road Bike
So, where to start? Decide on a budget and have a quick look online, that’s it right? Sure if you want to wade through the 300 bikes Evans Cycles has to offer or the 500 on the Tredz website. Instead, let’s put some backbone into this research and start to put a shortlist together.
Which Type of Road Bike to Switch to?
There are numerous types of road bike so the first step is to narrow the choice down. Those excluded straight away include; Competitive Race Bikes, Cyclo-Cross, Triathlon, Time-Trial and Track Bikes. This leaves; Performance Bikes, Endurance Bikes, Fitness Bikes and Adventure Touring.
I’m better than a generic Fitness Bike and don’t intend to do much touring so we’re left with Performance Bikes and Endurance Bikes. According to the Trek website, Performance Race Bikes …
Conquer the highest climbs, attack off the front, fly down the steepest descents — all on the fastest, lightest machines on the road.
Hmmm, sounds a bit too adventurous for me at this stage. Let’s see what they say about Endurance Bikes …
Turn rough roads and gravel into miles of pleasure as you drop the hammer on your best ride ever. Channel your inner Cancellara on the cobbles of Roubaix, or take on your first or fiftieth solo century ride. However you pile on the miles, there’s no better way to salute a long day in the saddle than on a Trek endurance race bike.
There you go, that’s more like what I’m looking for. Whether you call them Endurance, Enduro or Sportive bikes, they are designed for long distances, comfort and pleasure, all of which are on my selection criteria. So a quick scan of the leading bike brands leads to the following long-list of Endurance Bikes.
At this stage, I’m not clear on which of the Scott bikes are race or endurance so I’ve kept them in the list. There are of course other brands but not ones that I’m familiar with, so I’ve left them off the list.
What I do have though, is an impressive list of Endurance Road Bikes to start mulling over. Whilst there are 9 models listed, there in fact 48 variants (full list of road endurance bikes).
Decision: Endurance Bike
Which Type of Bike Frame, Carbon or Aluminium?
First of all, there isn’t really a definitive answer on this and for every opinion one-way, there seems to be a credible contradictory argument. So let’s just agree to disagree and move on.
Some of the reported benefits of carbon frames are;
- Lightness – carbon frames are generally lighter than aluminium frames
- Comfort – aluminum frames are stiffer and slightly less comfortable than their carbon cousins. This is thought to be because aluminum transfers vibration directly through to the rider, whereas carbon frames dampen vibrations, thus making them slightly more comfortable.
- Stronger – carbon frames have greater strength and are more resistant to impact. Early carbon frames were delicate little things and once damaged, couldn’t be repaired. They’ve matured nowadays and are more robust than they once were.
The primary downside of carbon frames is price, they are generally more expensive to buy. Prices of carbon frame bikes are lower than they were a few years ago but they remain slightly more expensive so you’ll have to balance this with the potential of having a bike that is lighter, stronger and more comfortable.
Decision: Carbon Frame
Which Cassette Size?
As I mentioned earlier, there are 47 model variations on the long-list and to help me keep abreast of the specifications, I’ve put the details into a spreadsheet – yes, yes, I know but I know what I like, and like what I know!
The cassette sizes are evenly split between 11-28 and 11-32, although some of the Bianchi Infinito models have the Campagnolo 12-27 cassette.
My mountain bike has a 12-32 cassette and not being the best uphills, I’m tempted to stick with the 32 top tooth but cycling up hills is, of course, also about the Chainring.
Before you start calling me Granma for choosing the Granny Gear – the 32T is commonly called this – please note that I’m going to be 50 years old this year and I need to accept that 80 is closer than 18 and I’ve only one choice in this matter!
I searched online a bit on this topic and the common answer seems to be that a 11-28 won’t be a problem as the road bike will be significantly lighter than my mountain bike. I’ve therefore decided that a 11-28 will be ok but it’s not going to be a dealbreaker if my chosen bike comes with a slighter larger cassette.
Which Size of Chainring?
All of the bikes in the list are Compact and as such have just two chainrings. Each one of the bikes listed comes with 50/34 Chainrings, so this makes the decision straight forward, right? Well, yes but I’m a little hesitant, and not just because my mountain bike is a Triple.
My Trek MTB chainrings are 44/32/22 so as you can see, the top chainring on the road bike has six more teeth, which is awesome for flat-out pedaling, more power leading to more speed. However, whilst the middle chainring on the MTB (32T) and the smaller chainring on the road bike (34T) are comparable, I lose the baby 22T currently available to nurture me up the steeper hills.
Whilst this is playing on my mind, the road bike is lighter – my mountain bike is about 12kg vs 8kg for the road bike – and as such, I may not need the baby chainring. So unless I want to seek out a Triple Chainring bike, or change what the bike comes with, I just need to get on with it!
Which Groupset, Front & Rear Derailleurs?
As we all know, front derailleurs move the chain from one chainring to the other and the rear chainring does something similar up and down the cassette.
Rear derailleurs are available in different cage lengths, roughly speaking, a longer cage means that the derailleur can accommodate a larger range of gears. It’s able to do this because the longer cage enables the derailleur to take up the slack in the chain when you are using the smaller cogs within a drivetrain.
My mountain bike has quite a long cage as it needs to accommodate the triple chainrings and the larger sized cassette. This is common on MTB bikes and road bikes with triple chainrings. Compact road bikes tend to have small or medium sized derailleurs.
Given that I have no intention of switching out any of the bikes’ groupset, I’m going to trust that the vast experience of the bike brands, will have chosen the right type of derailleur for that particular bike. Thus, all is left for me to do, is narrow the selection.
The following table shows the current range of Groupsets from the leading manufacturers, namely; Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. The numbers in brackets are the number of Endurance Bikes on our list (see below) that use each of these derailleur groupsets.
|Dura-Ace Di2 (3)||Super Record EPS (1)||SRAM Red (2)|
|Dura-Ace (4)||Super Record (1)||Force 1 (0)|
|Ultegra Di2 (6)||Record EPS (0)||Force CX 1 (0)|
|Ultegra (18)||Record (0)||Force (0)|
|105 (8)||Chorus EPS (0)||Rival 1 (0)|
|Tiagra (0)||Chorus (1)||Rival (1)|
|Sora (2)||Athena (1)||Apex (0)|
|Claris (0)||Veloce (0)||S-Series (0)|
As you can see, Shimano is by far the most popular with 41/48 bike manufacturers selecting this groupset. Bianchi is the only brand to have selected Campagnolo and SRAM is chosen for just 3/48 bikes.
Whilst Dura-Ace is the top of the selection list for Shimano, Ultegra features in more bikes at a ratio of 7:24 (inc Di2), with the well-rated Shimano 105 on a further 8 bikes.
A quick search online will reveal that pretty much every review you can find on Shimano derailleurs, results in a near perfect top score, for example;
|Bike Radar||Road.cc||Cycling Weekly|
|Shimano Dura-Ace Di2||4.5||4.5||10.0|
|Shimano Ultegra Di2||4.5||4.5||10.0|
Note: max score: bike radar 5, road.cc 5, cycling weekly 10
So whilst this identifies Shimano Groupsets as an excellent choice, it doesn’t help us to narrow the choice. I looked for reviews on the current range of derailleurs from Campagnolo and SRAM on the same websites in order to offer a comparison but unfortunately, there weren’t any.
Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
This video is courtesy of BikeRadar and it features Shimano Road Product Manager, Dave Lawrence, explaining the features of the Shimano Dure-Ace Di2 9070. It’s less than 3 mins and gives a good overview of this simply superb groupset.
In their online review, BikeRadar summarised their thoughts as follows;
- Pros: Fast, flawless shifting; four satellite shifter options; programmable shift speed and configurations; excellent braking power and modulation
- Cons: Software required to program system is PC only; not entirely backwards compatible; faint tactile sensation when shifting
- Bottom Line: A luxury group that underscores the limitations of mechanical systems, adding a plethora of shifting options, from button location to shifting under full power
This isn’t a product review, it’s a journey through my selection process for a new road bike, and as such, we’ll leave you to research the Dura-Ace Di2 but it’s safe to say that if price was no barrier, this would be on many cyclists’ shopping list.
Just in case you needed anymore proof that this is a top component, the Dura-Ace Di2 9070 has recently been fitted to Fabian Cancellara’s Trek Domane. He’s been a traditionalist for a long time and has up until now favoured the Dura-Ace, so it’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with the Di2. [Edit: latest reports suggest that Cancellara is sticking with his mechanical Dura-Ace on his favoured Trek Domane].
An utterly refined, utterly awesome road group – BikeRadar
BikeRadar summarise their review of the Shimano Dura-Ace 9000-Series Groupset review by saying; “It works better, it feels better, it’s quieter, it’s faster, and it’s smoother – it’s just plain fantastic.”
One aspect of their review that caught my eye was; “.. the shifter action has taken a page out of the XTR playbook.” Being a MTBer, the comparison with the XTR made me realise just how good the Dura-Ace must be.
Shimano Ultegra Di2
Cycling Weekly gave the Shimano Ultegra Di2 10/10, as they did for each of the Shimano Groupsets listed above. They summarised the Ultegra Di2 6870 as follows;
- Pros: Looks great, well priced, great battery life, pretty much maintenance free
- Cons: Gear change buttons close together
One of the criticisms levelled at Di2 components is that they lack the finesse of mechanical shifters. I suspect that these are also the type of people that prefer sending letters rather than texts or emails.
I’ll leave the final word on the Ultegra Di2 to the Cycling Weekly journalist;
I think you’d need a seriously good reason to justify spending twice the price on 9070 Dura Ace
Road.cc gave the Shimano Ultegra front derailleur 10/10 and the rear derailleur 9/10.
Hot Damn. Shimano’s 11-speed Ultegra 6800 groupset is really, really, really good
The Ultegra has the highest proportion of bikes using this groupset, 18/48 bikes, probably as a combination of it’s outstanding ability and it’s pricing, being around half the Dura-Ace.
Whilst this review marks the rear mechanism at 9/10, they don’t say why and they don’t give any criticism so I’m left wondering if there is anything to object to.
Road.cc rated the Shimano 105 at 4.5/5, slightly higher than BikeRadar’s 4/5. The 105 is known for it’s excellent performance, value-for-money and overall durability.
The Shimano 105 is without doubt a good choice but I’m looking for outstanding rather than good.
Decision: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Dura-Ace or Ultegra Di2
Switching to a Road Bike – The Shortlist
So we’re now at the point of knowing some of the elements we are looking for in a new road bike. This has so far been a very left-side of the brain analysis, we’ll bring the right-side of the brain into play later. A summary of the selection criteria is;
- Road Bike: Endurance
- Frame: Carbon
- Cassette: 11-28 or 11-32
- Chainring: 50/34
- Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Dura-Ace or Ultegra Di2
Based on this criteria, there is a shortlist of 33 bikes out of the initial 60, perhaps that should be a shorter list rather than shortlist. However, as promised, it’s time for the right-sided brain’s creativity and sense of design appeal to jump into the selection process – and get rid of the ugly bikes!
Read more on Choosing a Road Endurance Bike here.
Best Road Endurance Bikes
This is the absolute long-list used in this analysis, presented in brand alphabetic order, with no judgement on which is the best endurance bike, you can make your own judgement on that from the information above, or not.
Bianchi Infinito CV Campagnolo Super Record EPS
Bianchi Infinito CV Campagnolo Super Record
Bianchi Infinito CV Campagnolo Chorus
Bianchi Infinito CV Campagnolo Athena
Bianchi Infinito CV Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Bianchi Infinito CV Shimano Dura-Ace
Bianchi Infinito CV Shimano Ultegra Di2
Bianchi Infinito CV Shimano Ultegra
Bianchi Infinito CV Disc SRAM Red
Bianchi Infinito CV Disc Shimano Ultegra Di2
Bianchi Infinito CV Disc Shimano Ultegra
BMC Granfondo GF01 Disc
BMC Granfondo GF02 Disc
Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod SRAM Red Disc
Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod Black Inc Disc
Cannondale Synapse Hi-Mod Ultegra Disc
Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra Di2 Disc
Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra Disc
Cannondale Synapse Carbon Ultegra
Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105 5
Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105 6
Scott Foil 10
Scott Solace 10
Scott Solace 20
Scott Solace 30
Scott Solace 15 Disc
Scott CR1 10
Specialized Roubaix S-Works SL4 Disc Di2
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Pro Disc Race Di2
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Pro Disc Race
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Expert
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Di2
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Elite
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Elite Disc
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Sport
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Double
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Triple
Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon
Trek Domane 6.9
Trek Domane 6.2 Disc
Trek Domane 5.9 Dura-Ace
Trek Domane 5.9
Trek Domane 5.2
Trek Domane 4.5 Disc
Trek Domane 4.5
Trek Domane 4.3 Disc
Trek Domane 4.3