What’s the best bike to conquer the Alps? How stable, how comfortable and how light does it need to be? There’s a new generation of road bikes pushing the boundaries of what the world thought was possible – and we’ve got them on test.

Let’s conquer the Alps!
Let’s conquer the Alps!

Road Bike 2.0 – a new generation

Road bikes are dead. Aero, gravel, marathon, endurance, climbing, competition – over the past decade the concept of an all-round bike has been lost, instead they’ve evolved then diverged into true specialists.

Judging by the marketing from bike brands, classic road bikes that are capable of everything seem to have pretty much died out. Stiffer, lighter, more aero or more comfortable – superlatives dominate marketing, just as they always have done. But the world of road cycling is at a crossroads: new tire sizes and widths, new brakes, new geometry concepts and damping technologies are redefining the market and bringing new values to the table.

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Disc brakes, 1×11 drivetrains, 32 mm tires and comfort en mass – can this be a good thing?

No one is going to kid themselves anymore that an ultra lightweight bike is any good for day-to-day riding, and frankly who wants a purely aero bike or one that’s too stiff? What counts is nailing the balance between comfort, stability and ergonomics – of course, this all goes along with agility, aesthetics and performance. The latest generation of road bikes has worked this out and promises a serious case of versatility without damaging its performance. Slowly but surely, brands have realized that they’re engineering bikes not only for pros but for regular riders too.

Originally this group test was going to be known as the Endurance Bike test, but that would have be misleading. These bikes aren’t just supposed to be good for brevets and gran fondos, but also for everyday rides and unlocking your own personal season highlights. This new generation offers freedom and independence. Does it sound too good to be true?

This isn’t an appeal for you to sell your aero bike sitting in the garage. It’s more of a motivational push to give half a chance to the idea of owning an endurance bike. Let’s be honest, they’ve had a pretty poor reputation in the past, But take our word for it: they’re not only super cool but they’re also damn versatile.

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What’s the definition of freedom?

In the past road riders have had limited options but now it’s time to properly ask yourself: What kind of rider am I? What kind of riding do I love? How brilliant would it be if my bike was able to cope with more than just tarmacked road riding? How satisfying would it be if a gravel section didn’t automatically signify the end of my ride but the start of a super cool section? Seen differently, the coolest moments of life can happen in the unlikeliest of places. Those roads where others admit defeat could be the start of the coolest story, you just need the confidence to leave the very same roads that everyone else is riding. And that’s exactly what we did.

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Our testing ground: Sarntal, South Tyrol

Directly south of the Brenner Autobahn you’ll find the Sarntal, the Sarn Valley. Fairly unknown, you can reach it over the Penser Joch from Sterzing, and it’s about 50 km south in the direction of Bolzano. We picked a varied circular route around Sarnthein to ride the bikes in a direct comparison, treating each bike to steep climbs, gravel sections and quick descents with a string of hairpins weaving down to the valley floor. The route granted amazing views and the ultimate testing topography in which to trial each bike’s handling, limits and braking performances. Longer rides on the Penser Joch were also on the cards for the test field, delivering some unforgettable moments as we momentarily lost sight of the roads. During our six days of intensive testing the weather threw everything imaginable at us, from blazing sunshine to pouring rain and freezing snow.

Many thanks to Hotel Höllriegl for the amazing local support in Sarnthein.

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Ready anytime, anywhere.

“Help us conquer the Alps! For the world‘s most epic and challenging terrain we are looking for that one bike that has it all: comfort for the many hours out in the saddle, light-footedness for the long climbs, stability and security for the downhills as well as some gravel roads and speed to take part in Gran Fondos like the Maratona dles Dolomites.”

Our test invitation for brands was simple in its complexity: we left them the freedom to put forward their ultimate model. The price, we told them, was irrelevant, but, of course, would be taken into consideration when evaluating each bike.

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The test field

Surprising and impressive in equal measures, each brand took a different approach to render their bike as versatile as possible. As a result, the differences in the test fleet couldn’t have been wider – and we’re not just talking about the price spectrum, which ran from 2,800 € to 6,600 € – or the spec level, with everything from the Shimano 105 groupset to full Dura-Ace. In terms of concepts and details, some of the lower price-point bikes came up trumps with features that would be considered a luxury on a top-end model. Consequently, we knew we weren’t going to get bored with this test fleet and it flung up a host of exciting revelations and disappointments to match.

Bike Drivetrain Weight Tire Price
Argon 18 Krypton XROAD Disc Shimano 105 52/36, 11-28 9.14 kg 32C

€ 2,990
Canyon Endurance CF SLX Shimano Dura Ace 52/36, 11-28 7.28 kg 28C

€ 4,299
Cervélo C3 SRAM Force 1X SRAM Force 1 44, 11-36 7.88 kg 28C

€ 5,999
Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 Shimano Dura Ace 50/34, 11-28 7.70 kg 25C

€ 4,200
Merida Scultura Disc 6000 Shimano Ultegra 50/34, 11-28 8.45 kg 28C

€ 2,799
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Pro Disc Race UDi2 Shimano Ultegra Di2 50/34, 11-28 7.94 kg 26C

€ 6,599
Trek Domane SLR 7 Shimano Ultegra Di2 50/34, 11-28 8.40 kg 32C

€ 5,999

Argon 18 Krypton XROAD | 9.14 kg | 2.999 €
Argon 18 Krypton XROAD | 9.14 kg | € 2,999

Canyon Endurance CF SLX | 7,28 kg | 4.299 €
Canyon Endurance CF SLX | 7.28 kg | € 4,299

Cervélo C3 SRAM Force 1X | 7,88 kg | 5.999€
Cervélo C3 SRAM Force 1X | 7.88 kg | € 5,999

Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 | 7,70 kg | 4.200 €
Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 | 7.70 kg | € 4,200

Merida Scultura Disc 6000 | 8,45 kg | 2.799 €
Merida Scultura Disc 6000 | 8.45 kg | € 2,799

Specialized Roubaix SL4 Pro Disc Race UDi2 | 7,94 kg | 6.599 €
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Pro Disc Race UDi2 | 7.94 kg | € 6,599

Trek Domane SLR 7 | 8,40 kg | 5.999 €
Trek Domane SLR 7 | 8.40 kg | € 5,999

What technology do we need – and how much of it?

This is where the test fleet splits firmly into two: brands like Trek and Specialized rely on additional technology when it comes to the frame and forks (IsoSpeed and Zertz inserts), special components, gel inserts and thick bar tape as well as wider tires (up to 32 mm) as ways to increase comfort. Others opt for a classic frame design with calculated compliance thanks to the carbon lay-up (such as Cervélo and Giant), and combine this with particular components, such as Canyon’s choice of the incredibly comfortable S15 VCLS 2.0 seatpost. It came as a surprise to see that the mechanical approach to design didn’t appear to offer any advantages over the classic designs. In short: the Trek and Specialized models were no more comfortable than the Cervélo, Giant or Canyon.

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A new essential

One feature united the whole test fleet and that was the deliberate choice of every single brand to send a disc brake-equipped bike – a feat that even led certain stoic disc brake-averse test riders to change their opinion. Their performance never faltered, not even in filthy rain nor gravel sections and most definitely not during long mountain descents when you need them most. Merida’s Disc Cooler proved to be a particular hit amongst the test riders, and their technology proved its worth on one particular hairy descent – take it from us, 160 mm rotors are a must!

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The measure of tires

Even though we tested a wide range of different width tires, we found the 28 c to be the perfect compromise. It was able to cope with gravel and offer comfort (much like a 32), while still being as responsive and snappy as the narrower 25 and 26 c tires. Here, the key is the ‘actual’ width, which depends on rim, tire pressure and/or the manufacturer.

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Take the eye for a ride too

Klassische Endurance-Bikes haben zwei Probleme: die Optik und das Image. Während einige Modelle durch ihre langen Steuerrohre und kompakten Geometrien alles andere als sportlich aussehen, schaffen es die neusten Modelle, den Spagat zwischen sportlicher Optik und angenehmer Sitzposition zu schlagen. Größtmögliche Variabilität bieten Bikes mit moderaten Steuerrohrlängen und integrierten Spacer-Lösungen, die von hoch und aufrecht bis relativ tief und aggressiv ein breites Spektrum an Sitzpositionen zulassen, ohne die Optik zu ruinieren.

TOPS

Simple & effective: The Canyon S15 VCLS 2.0 seatpost provides plenty of comfort.
Simple & effective: The Canyon S15 VCLS 2.0 seatpost provides plenty of comfort.
Ergonomic: The new H31 Ergocockpit on the Canyon convinces with unbeatable ergonomics and level of integration.
Ergonomic: The new H31 Ergocockpit on the Canyon convinces with unbeatable ergonomics and level of integration.
Play it cool: Merida’s proprietary Disc Cooler reduces heat build-up. A very clever feature.
Play it cool: Merida’s proprietary Disc Cooler reduces heat build-up. A very clever feature.
Adjustable: The latest generation of IsoSpeed has a slider for adjustment allowing riders to fine tune compliance on the Trek Domane SLR.
Adjustable: The latest generation of IsoSpeed has a slider for adjustment allowing riders to fine tune compliance on the Trek Domane SLR.

FLOPS

Unaesthetic: The Specialized’s big Zertz inserts didn’t provide any tangible benefits in terms of comfort, but they did prompt scowls from lovers of classic frame designs.
Unaesthetic: The Specialized’s big Zertz inserts didn’t provide any tangible benefits in terms of comfort, but they did prompt scowls from lovers of classic frame designs.
Heartbreaking looks: Argon 18’s adjustable 3D System aims to provide clean looks by replacing traditional spacers. But the headtube would need to be longer to really benefit from the system’s spectrum.
Heartbreaking looks: Argon 18’s adjustable 3D System aims to provide clean looks by replacing traditional spacers. But the headtube would need to be longer to really benefit from the system’s spectrum.
Old-School: Giant and Argon18 still use out-dated standard quick-releases.
Old-School: Giant and Argon18 still use out-dated standard quick-releases.
Limited: 160 mm discs should be the standard, especially for riders weighing above 80 kg who love going downhill as much as climbing. Trek, Giant and Argon 18 should do better.
Limited: 160 mm discs should be the standard, especially for riders weighing above 80 kg who love going downhill as much as climbing. Trek, Giant and Argon 18 should do better.

What’s the best bike to conquer the mountains?

This group test saw our test riders stand united in adoring the new Canyon Endurace CF SLX, whose overall package included excellent handling, a high level of comfort, a stunning design and some brilliant design features, rendering it an ultra versatile and comfortable bike that you’d happily race. Then, of course, it’s worth mentioning that this Canyon also happened to be the most lightweight bike on test at just 7.28 kg, a feat that has come at zero cost to its performance. Then there’s the 4,299 € price tag. What can we say: our only question is whether Canyon will manage to meet the demand?

What’s the road bike of the future?

Still referred to as endurance, these road bikes are having a revamp in terms of aesthetics and performance, prompting a veritable renaissance across the whole industry. It could be argued that this new generation exploits the best aspects of all the specialist bikes, digging out the latest innovations and technologies and uniting them. The coming years will reveal the extent of what’s technologically possible. But one thing is certain: classic aero bikes and even racing bikes are going to become purely niche products for many brands, as this new road bike looks set to satisfy a broad spectrum of the market. Traditional road bikes spent too many years indulging in development purely for the pros, but the emergence of this new generation is testament to the change in the tide. Designed for everyday riders, they offer us the liberty to take on new routes without boundaries. This new generation isn’t just something we need, it’s also something we want. #reimaginetheroadbike

All bikes in test: Trek Domane SLR 7 | Specialized Roubaix SL4 Pro Disc Race UDi2 | Merida Scultura Disc 6000 | Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 | Cervélo C3 SRAM Force 1X | Canyon Endurace CF SLX | Argon 18 Krypton XROAD Disc

This article belongs to the GRAN FONDO Issue #002. For the full interactive experience we recommend reading it in our magazine app for iPhone & iPad – it’s awesome – and free!

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Words: Thomas Seidelmann, Robin Schmitt, John Baker, Markus Ybañez Photos: Klaus Kneist, Noah Haxel, Robin Schmitt, Julian Mittelstädt (Post production)