“Who’s this bike made for?” – we ask ourselves this question with every review. We’ve created a scale to visualise the bikes’ individual handling characteristics at the end of each review so that you can quickly see whether the bike is right for you not. To help you better understand said scale, we’ve created this guide.
It is important for us to represent the handling characteristics of a bike without giving an absolute rating in the form of a school grade like “A” or “B-“. We’re of the opinion that every reader or rider – that’s you – has different needs and preferences and should be able to see for themselves which bike fits and which not. Anything else would be misleading and, besides being unfair to the manufacturers, it would patronise our readers. Good road bikes are able to combine allegedly contradictory handling characteristics, like being playful yet composed. The higher the rating, the better the bike is in doing so. Despite the rating, it’s important to also read the review of the bike for an in-depth explanation. We rate a bike’s individual handling characteristics on a scale of 1-10.
Note: The evaluation of the handling characteristics refers exclusively to the bikes in our test field.
A brief explanation of the individual characteristics
How does the bike ride and descend? How spritely is the bike, how agile is it through corners, how much fun is it in technical sections and how quickly can it change direction?
Is the bike stable at high speeds? Is it easy to stay in control in demanding terrain? How composed is it on rough surfaces? Stability is a combination of balanced geometry and the right spec.
This is all about how balanced the bike is and particularly about how well it corners. Balanced bikes require little physical effort from the rider and are very predictable. If a bike is unbalanced, the rider has to work hard to weight the front wheel to generate enough grip. However, experienced riders can have a lot of fun even with demanding bikes.
The damping of a bike is the result of the interplay between the inherent damping of the tires, frameset and compliance of the fitted components. The overall comfort of a bike consists of two different aspects: vibration damping filters out high-frequency chatter, for example from rough asphalt or packed gravel. On the other hand, compliance determines how well smaller and larger impacts are absorbed, ensuring that they’re not passed straight on to the rider through the contact points. If a bike is tuned to be too stiff, it causes pain and quickly takes the pleasure out of every ride. On the other hand, a too soft bike doesn’t provide enough feedback, such as on surface conditions, to the rider. As such, the goal isn’t maximum compliance but a balanced degree of comfort. That given, you arrive at your destination more relaxed, stay fresher on the road and have more energy as well as more control over the bike in tricky situations. Comfort has a direct influence on your well-being, safety, control and confidence.
Fun factor planted/poppy
Playful bikes are a real pleasure for experienced riders. Of course, beginners appreciate a lively riding experience, too – just with an extra dose of confidence. Riding pleasure is, therefore, always defined as an intersection of agility, smoothness, handling and confidence. How much pop does the bike have, does it suck up the rider’s input or is it supportive, and how agile and direct is it?
Motor power weak/strong
This characteristic is about how much motor support an E-system provides. Is it subtle and gives you the feeling that you have particularly good legs today or is the motor so strong that you can ride even the steepest climbs unnaturally without any effort? Important: lots of power does not always result in a natural riding experience. For this reason, this criterion should always be considered in the context of the following point “Motor feeling”.
Motor feeling digital/natural
This criterion is about how the motor unfolds its power. Does it push jerkily forward, then reduces its support abruptly again and thus provides for a wonky riding experience or does it provide its torque homogeneously increasing? A natural motor gives the rider the feeling of having a tailwind – even when pedalling out of the saddle where the rider’s power peaks need to be taken into account. Unnatural motors, on the other hand, behave harshly and “straighten out” the rider’s performance – that means that the motor supports with equal force no matter if the rider is producing a lot or a little power himself.
Value for money terrible/very good
We don’t calculate value for money in an excel spreadsheet or based on how high-end a bike is specced. We are more concerned with how a bike performs on the road and how the bike benefits the rider. What good are the best components if the bike doesn’t perform well in real life? Expensive bikes with a lower-end spec can offer very good value for money – provided they excel where it matters. Just as supposedly cheap bikes with good components can get a bad rating if they don’t deliver during the test.
The intended use of the bike
Important: we’re convinced that modern road bikes can’t be categorised according to tire width, aerodynamics weight or geometry. We define the intended use of a bike based on established categories, to provide a better and more honest orientation, which show’s what kind of riding the bikes are best at. They don’t necessarily have to excel in all areas – a bike that specialises in one area is often the best choice for many riders. Having said that, a lot of the best bikes are also the most versatile. For example, they climb efficiently but are still very capable on the descents.
No, it’s not about perfect race tracks, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along high-speed passages need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret “Smooth tarmac” bikes as follows: Hard efforts at high speeds with a maximum efficient bike on a consistently well-paved road. Effort-joy ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)
… also known as bike riding. Broken-up roads in the hinterland, deadlocked gravel roads, loose surfaces – sometimes muddy, sometimes bone-dry. For this, it takes bikes with super all-round, handling and wearing qualities uphill and downhill. Effort-joy ratio: 50:50
If you want to use your bike almost every day, you usually do not need an extremely tuned racing machine. Solid components, which are able to cope with the rigours of continuous usage in any kind of weather, are part of the basic equipment. At the same time, the bike should have practicable details: integrated fenders/assembly options, luggage racks/attachment points and a light system or at least the option of installing bike lights. The position on the bike should be rather relaxed, the overall comfort high, so that the Afterwork Ride becomes a cure and not a curse. Effort-joy ratio: 30:70
Flat and undulating terrain
This is where you eat up the miles, setting a quick pace for a long time. Anything that is pan flat or includes short punchy climbs or slightly longer ones, albeit with limited elevation gain, falls into this category. If you want to be fast here, you need a bike that offers excellent aerodynamics and maximum efficiency – from 15 km/h on level ground, air resistance is the greatest force a cyclist needs to overcome. On the other hand, weight is comparatively insignificant, with no need to constantly change speed or fight earth’s gravity. However, the most aerodynamic package is no use if the rider ruins everything – after all, they are responsible for 75 % of the total drag on a bike. To blossom fully in this terrain, a bike needs to do well when it comes to ergonomics and comfort so that the rider can maintain a low and aerodynamic riding position for a long time. On top of aerodynamics, rolling resistance, comfort and smoothness play a key role. Thus, tire dimensions and pressure should be adjusted to suit the surface for maximum speed. A nervous bike will tire you out faster, because it requires constant work to hold your line.
The steeper the hill, the more significant weight becomes. That’s because as your speed drops on ever steeper climbs, air resistance decreases too, meaning that gravity becomes an ever-larger proportion of the force acting against your progress. Stiffness in the right places, together with a sensibly chosen gear ratio, ensure maximum climbing efficiency. A good climbing bike delivers low weight and gearing that lets you maintain a smooth and comfortable cadence. However, it also takes aerodynamics into account, given that there’s usually a descent after every mountain – what good is the best time on the mountain if your whole advantage is wiped out by poor aerodynamics on the downhill?
Descending a mountain quickly is possibly the most demanding task for both rider and bike. The steeper and more winding the descent, the greater the handling skills of the rider need to be and the larger the demands on the bike itself. A good downhill bike combines aerodynamics with balanced handling. It should be agile and yet offer sufficient security to master fast changes of direction and stay safely on track at high speeds. It needs to deliver the highest precision to hit your chosen line exactly and steer quickly without excessive input required. If you ride fast, you need good anchors too: powerful brakes that are easy to modulate are fundamental on every good downhill bike. To put that braking power on the ground, tires with good grip are needed and they’re just as indispensable for fast cornering. In addition to the tires, the frame itself helps generate grip through corners. If it’s stiff as a board, it can’t build up much grip before being shaken up by the smallest bumps. An appropriate amount of flex ensures optimum grip in bends, but it’s a narrow margin before the bike simply becomes spongy and imprecise.
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Words: Photos: Valentin Rühl, Robin Schmitt, Benjamin Topf, Klaus Kneist