SOME OF THE BEST 2016 ENDURANCE ROAD BIKES WITH DISC BRAKES
If you are looking to buy a new road bike in 2016 for endurance riding and events, I strongly encourage you to buy one with hydraulic controlled disc brakes rather than traditional cable controlled rim brakes. These ‘road disc bikes’ offer enthusiast level roadies superior speed, braking and versatility when compared to rim brake bikes and the range of road disc endurance bikes available this year from the leading brands gives you as much choice, and in some cases more, as those in their rim brake lines.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
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WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS
In The Know Cycling is for road cycling enthusiasts like you and me who want to know what gear we should get next and where we can get it at the best prices from good stores. I do hours of research, testing and analysis for each review because I want to make an informed decision before I buy something myself. I share what I learn with you in the same collaborative spirit we enthusiasts share when we’re out on the road. To remove any potential conflicts of interests in these reviews, I buy or demo and return all the gear I test and don’t run ads or go on company-paid product review trips. Because I’m passionate about finding the right cycling gear, I make the time to sort through the best stuff that’s out there and try to be both comprehensive and analytical in coming up with good choices.
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WHO THIS REVIEW IS INTENDED FOR
For this review of road disc brake endurance bikes, I want to define two terms – road cycling enthusiasts and endurance and endurance event riders – who this review is intended for.
I described road cycling enthusiasts in the very first review I wrote as follows:
Road cycling enthusiasts are serious, committed and regular riders who rack up between 2,000 to 5,000 miles (3,000-7,000 kilometers) a year. We ride on flat, rolling and mountainous terrain and do interval, strength and endurance training. We will generally be on our bikes 4-6 days a week outdoors in decent weather. In lousy weather, about half of us will ride on a trainer. Some will still ride outside and the rest will sleep in. We ride on our own, with regular partners, and in group rides.
During the year, we’ll normally ride for the pure love of it and for the way it energizes us (and reduces stress). Some of us will also add in a few races, club rides, centuries, gran fondos, sportives or charity events to motivate our riding and measure ourselves. As a road cycling enthusiast, we average speeds in the high teens to low twenties (mph) or 28 to 35kph over the course of a typical 35 to 50 mile or 50 to 80km ride, depending on terrain, conditions, fitness and training objectives.
About a third of us have been hit by a car and one in eight have broken a collarbone riding. (Yes and yes). And, of course, we enjoy a beer or two every now and then.
Most cycling enthusiasts will have modern composite bikes or high-end alloy or titanium ones that cost us typically between $2500/£2000/€2500 and $5000/£4000/€5000 to buy or build. Some of us spend more and some much more. We use electronics and apps that allow us to track and analyze distance, speed, cadence, heart rate, and for many, power.
Most of us are men though a growing number are women. We weigh between 150 and 200lbs (68 to 90kgs), are pretty fit and use cycling to help stay or get there. Yes, we’re probably a little vain and selfish with the clothing we wear and the time (and money) we spend on cycling.
We’re also dedicated to our cycling to the point where most of our family and friends know that riding is something we do and for some, do a lot of. When it comes to cycling and buying bike gear, many of us are analytical, often overly so and that’s part of the fun of it.
Endurance event riders are those road cycling enthusiasts who regularly do rides of 50 miles or 80 kms and longer. We enjoy doing several 50-100 mile or 80-160 kms or longer ‘century’ or gran fondo or sportive rides every season. Over those long distances we value gear that provides a combination of comfort and performance but we also like to go fast and are usually aware of weight and aerodynamics.
These endurance events aren’t races for most of us, but we’re in it more than for our health and a good time. We’ve got that competitive spirit running through us else we wouldn’t do the distance we do at the speeds we train to do it, but we are a few years from our athletic prime (and some more than a few) so we tune our passion for cycling and speed with the knowledge of what else is going on in our lives. We aren’t racers buying the gear that gives us every last advantage at the expense of comfort but we are certainly are not recreational cyclists who ride less frequently and shorter distances, mostly to build and maintain their fitness.
I haven’t reviewed bikes in this post for those super strong and flexible cyclists who want to stretch out on their bikes and focus on racing. I’ll save that for another day.
I have reviewed in this post bikes that can work both as a racing bike and endurance bike depending on how well the bike’s geometry fits yours. Most of the bikes I’ve reviewed in this post would also fit recreational riders just fine, though if you ride less often and aggressively than an enthusiast, you might find less expensive aluminum cable-disc bikes suit your purposes just fine.
WHY BUY A ROAD DISC BRAKE BIKE
In my earlier post, Why and When to buy a Road Disc Bike, I described the benefits that convinced me to recommend that road cycling enthusiasts get or build a bike with disc brake components and wheels when we buy our next bike. I’ll summarize them those benefits here.
- Better braking is perhaps the most tangible and immediate benefit of riding a road disc bike. With disc brakes, you can brake with more consistency, control, and feel (or ‘modulation’) than with rim brakes on carbon or alloy rims. A road disc bike rides equally well on both dry and wet roads and without concern for brakes fading or carbon wheel rims overheating.
- If you can brake more consistently, confidently, and reliably, you can ride more aggressively on a downhill and into corners, both keys to faster riding. This more than makes up for the slight and decreasing amount of added weight of road disc brake bikes which slow you down marginally when you accelerate or go uphill. Of course, it’s up to you to ride faster; the bike doesn’t do it by itself but the opportunity is there to do so on a road disc bike.
- Lastly, having a road disc bike adds greater versatility to what and when you ride. Beyond your typical dry, good pavement, rolling terrain rides, you can take one set of all-carbon, all-around disc brake wheels on wet roads, in the mountains, and on an off-road section or two without concerns. Most enthusiasts riding rim brake bikes will have at least two sets of wheels – one with an alloy brake track and a second with a carbon one – to cover these situations.
The concerns about road disc bikes some people have raised are being addressed with either improved designs or better understanding. Specifically:
- Performance – Road disc bikes are heavier and less aerodynamic than rim brake bikes but minimally and decreasingly so. Current disc brake models are between 450 and 800 grams or 1 to 1.75 pounds heavier than a similarly equipped rim brake model. If you add up the weight of an often unnecessary second water bottle or the amount of extra stuff you may carry in your saddle and back pockets, many people carry far more than this weight without recognizing it. And I won’t even mention the extra weight some of us carry around our midsection. (Oh sorry, just did.) Those who focus on (or even know) their bike’s weight typically are riding race, aero or climbing bikes rather than endurance ones.
That said, road disc bikes can get even closer to the weight of rim brake bikes. We are already seeing that coming through added frame stiffness and in the design and selection of components like the choice of a 140mm vs. 160mm rotor or mechanical derailleurs vs electronic ones.
One of the biggest opportunities to rethink design and improve cycling performance with the advent of road disc bikes comes in changing the structure and shape of wheel rims. Without the need for added thickness to support the braking forces on the rim, disc brake wheelsets can be lighter than rim brake ones. The best disc brake wheelsets already are coming through with lighter rims than on rim brake bikes (see here). Rims also don’t need to have parallel brake tracks and can carry the more aerodynamic toroid or rounded shape all the way to the edge of the rim that meets the tire.
Yes, road disc bikes have been shown to be less aero than rim brake bikes but not by very much. Wind tunnel tests by Specialized, which sells both types of bikes, show that the difference is about 7 seconds over 40K or 25 miles. Flat mount disc brake calipers, appearing on model 2016 bikes for the first time, tuck much more cleanly behind front forks and against rear chain stays and will likely reduce the aero difference even more. Frankly, being able to ride a road disc bike faster downhill and into corners more than makes up any time lost from having a bike that is a few seconds less aero.
On the subject of performance, I’ve eliminated from consideration in this review those bikes that use cables rather than hydraulic lines that run from the brake levers the disc brake calipers. I call these ‘cable-disc’ brakes; some call them ‘mechanical-disc’. Same goes for ‘hydraulic-rim’ brakesets that use hydraulic lines that run to conventional rim brakes.
For me, cable-disc and hydraulic-rim are half-a-loaf-solutions that don’t provide you the full benefits of brake modulation or added versatility of true ‘hydraulic-disc’ brakesets. You’ll typically only find cable-disc brakesets on bikes that cost less than those with hydraulic-disc systems, often on aluminum rather than carbon frame bikes.
- Quality – Initial concerns were that more service would be required with road disc brake bikes and that they’d be noisy and require more work to maintain. Yes, you should bleed the lines each year and ‘bed-in’ new rotors. I describe the steps to do both of these things in my post on disc brake components here. It is pretty straightforward to do this and once done disc brakes should actually be easier to maintain than rim brakes. Hydraulic fluid self-adjusts disc brake calipers. With rim brake calipers, you need to manually adjust the distance between you rim and brake pads from time to time as the pads wear during the season. Hydraulic lines also don’t require the cleaning, adjustment or replacement that dirty, stretching or fraying brake cables do.
- Change – UCI, the governing body of professional cycling, has not fully approved road disc bikes for racing yet. Some are concerned that until this happens, road disc bike and component designs will be in a state of flux and lacking standards. Others don’t like the aesthetics of road bikes or see them as too different from what they have become used to over many years.
As to the concerns about UCI’s pronouncements, this isn’t even a case of the chicken and the egg. Professional cycling is there to popularize the cycling industry that has been driving the move to road discs for several years. Besides, the UCI’s technical committees that put forth the recommendations are supported and some would say heavily influenced by, you guessed it, people from the companies that make bike gear.
We’re already seeing movement toward common road disc bike hub widths (100mm front, 135mm rear), rotor sizes (140mm and 160mm), and rotor attachment standards (CenterLock and 6 bolt). Bikes use either quick release or thru axle hubs and most wheel makers provide the end caps and axles that can work most any set up.
This range of ‘standards’ is not a whole lot different, and some would say far better than the bottom bracket, internal and external routing, cassette and chain, or clincher, tubeless and tubular options we already work with.
The pro circuit and racing oriented road disc bikes and components are following the lead of endurance bikes that most enthusiasts use. The pro teams are currently most concerned about how to make pit-stop-speed wheel changes, something most of us
amateurs enthusiasts will never have to worry about.
As to the look of the road disc bikes and concerns about what switching from rim to disc means for all the rim-based components and wheels you’ve invested in over the years, I get it. My garage is full of sweet looking rim brake bike stuff. Change can be expensive and can take some getting used to. Each of us has to decide whether the benefits that disc brakes bring are compelling enough to make our next bike purchase different than the last one.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2016
Last year I surveyed the field of road disc bikes and picked out 6 to consider. This was less a review of which were best and more a sampler of what was out there. I did this in part because it was the first year that nearly all of the major bikes companies were selling road disc bikes and because most didn’t have full product lines just yet.
In my early 2015 post titled Why and When to Buy a Road Disc Bike, I suggested when you should feel confident buying a road disc bike based on the amount of choice available and future changes in the pipeline for riders who fit three different profiles. At the time, I said those who ride primarily for fitness benefits should feel free buying a road disc bike then, those who like to focus on endurance riding and events should start giving it a serious look but maybe hold off until more choice is available, and those who are active racers should keep their eyes open but know there will likely be much more to pick from several years out.
Having now reviewed the model year 2016 bikes, I’m ready to update those recommendations somewhat. Now, I am confident that the second group, those enthusiasts focused on endurance riding and events should feel free to buy without worrying about missing a big shift or broader range of options. For the racers, its time to give the increasing number of racing bikes a serious look but expect there will be more options and perhaps some model changes over the next couple of years as more bike makers produce road disc racing bikes consistent with racing body approval of their use in pro and amateur sanctioned racing, likely for the 2017 season.
Why have I stepped up my recommendation for endurance and event riders? What has changed from last year?
I see the following:
- Prices have come down on similar or the same models from last year to this year. The declines are modest (<10% in most cases) but are headed in the right direction. My comparison is based on full retail prices that bike companies suggest stores charge or require per their distribution requirements. I have no way of knowing whether the stores are discounting these bikes any more or less than last year.
- Models have been introduced that fill out the ‘lower end’ of the carbon frame, hydraulic-disc brakeset endurance product lines. A good number of last year’s models were ‘higher end’ or equipped with tier one and electronic groupsets – Dura Ace and Ultegra Di2, Dura Ace mechanical and Red 22. There are fewer of those this year and more with tier 2 Ultegra level mechanical groupsets. Also, most of the major bike brands are offering the same frames with that have the tier 1 and tier 2 groupsets now with the tier 3 Shimano 105 hydraulic-disc brakesets introduced for 2016. So there’s something for most every budget and taste in the endurance range.
- Flat mount is here. This is the road bike brake mounting standard that Shimano introduced, that SRAM has adopted and that will be there for years to come. Not every new bike frame is designed to accept flat mount brakes but there’s more than enough to make a good choice. You can read more about flat mount in my updated post The Best Disc Brake Components for Road Bikes.
- Race bikes are still limited. There were a handful last year and some very hot ones indeed. Because the pros are allowed to race them this year on the UCI Pro Tour circuit on a trial basis, a few more of the bike brands that sponsor the racers now have race bikes to choose from. But, many still don’t. If you favor one of the brands that has road disc race bikes, there is a race bike waiting for you though you won’t be able to race it in a UCI sanctioned race this year other than on the Pro Tour.
- Increase in the number of frames designed for thru-axle rather than quick-release hubs. Some will argue that thru-axle or TA is a safer and stiffer solution for road disc bikes. Mountain bikes, suspension fork bikes, perhaps even cross and gravel bikes, yes. But the research I’ve done hasn’t convinced me that the forces on a road bike frame and hubs demand a TA versus a QR (quick release) solution. The pros and cons of each don’t appear to the sway the argument in a big way toward either side. If you want to get into this more, take a look at the best piece I’ve read on the topic here from Cycling Tips .
With that, here’s my summary of the hydraulic-disc brake road bike models available from each of the major brands in 2016 and the key changes from what they offered last year.
Here’s another chart that shows the carbon frame disc and rim brake endurance bike lines of the same roster of bike companies plus a couple more. You can see the relative positions of the two, often the same model having both disc and rim bikes but many with distinct disc lines and some with no rim lines at all. While there are usually more rim builds or versions of a given model than disc ones and still more rim bikes of these models likely being sold, we’re getting close to equivalence and the future is heading to more disc and less rim brake bikes at this carbon/enthusiast endurance bike level.
Aluminum frame bikes are not included here since they almost always use cable-disc brakes and third or lower tier groupsets and components on both disc and rim brake bikes. These are more normally for recreational than enthusiast riders. Definitions are in the next section.
START WITH THE FIT
As I’ve written, this post reviews some of the best road disc endurance bikes available today. Endurance and race bikes have different geometries. By geometries, I mean the lengths, shapes, and relative angles of the bike frame tubes pictured above.
What’s the main difference between race and endurance bike geometry? Race bikes typically have long top tubes and short head tubes that enable the rider to get into a low, stretched out, more aerodynamic position, as shown in the right drawing below. Endurance bikes have shorter top tubes and taller head tubes that bring riders more upright and into a more comfortable position over a long ride, as in the left drawing.
There’s a lot more about and beyond the bike’s geometry that separates race and endurance – weight, stiffness, compliance, materials, components, and cost to name a few – but geometry is as good a place to start as any.
It helps to know a bike’s stack to reach ratio to determine whether it has a race or endurance geometry. And it also helps to know what stack and and reach lengths best suit your body size and flexibility to come up with a list of endurance or race bikes that will best fit you. Bike companies and fitters use these numbers as the primary way to focus in on the right bikes for you to consider and the right size in the model that you are interested in.
So what are stack and reach? Stack and reach are vertical and horizontal lengths, respectively, between the middle of the bottom bracket and top of the head tube. You can see the stack and reach numbers on the vertical and horizontal lines in the drawings above.
Generally speaking, bikes with a stack to reach ratio or ‘StR’ less than 1.45 are considered racing bikes while endurance bikes have a ratio greater than 1.50. Those bikes that fall in between or within a few hundredths of those ratios can be claimed by either camp and some by both at the same time as in “an endurance bike that you can also race” or “a racing bike that you can comfortably ride all day.”
The same bike models in different sizes often have different stack to reach ratios but generally stay within the same race or endurance ranges mentioned above. Several companies will change some of the geometry in smaller or larger sizes of the same model (or at each size) to maintain the same StR with the intent of providing the same ride characteristics regardless of your size.
Knowing a bike’s StR is just a start. You need to know what stack and reach are best for you to know whether you will love the feel of the bike that you love the look of. (Busted: I come up with a list of bikes first by what they look like too.) You may love the look and want a race bike or one that claims to do it all but if your most effective stack to reach ratio doesn’t match up with that of the bike, it’s not going to fit you. And if it doesn’t fit you well, your power, performance and comfort will all suffer over whatever distance, course profile and speed you ride.
To get the right fit, you want a bike that has actual stack and reach numbers in your frame size that are within a few millimeters of the stack and reach best for you. To get a bike that is close to dead-on, you can add spacers that go between your top tube and handle bars to adjust the stack, get a stem length and angle or handle bars that alter your reach one way or the other, move the seat more forward or back, etc. Doing too much of this to fit a bike that’s not close to start with may affect not only the look of the bike you love but make it much harder to get the comfort, handling and efficient power delivery you want from the bike. It may also take you adrift of the various performance characteristics the bike designer had in mind for the rider when they designed the bike in the first place.
So how do you figure out your own stack to reach numbers? Frankly, the only accurate way to do it I’m aware of is to get yourself measured by a trained bike fitter on a tool designed specifically for the purpose of measuring your ideal fit like the one shown above. These ‘fit bikes’ are adjusted to get find the right positions and angles of your arms, legs, torso, hips , etc., on a bike. It can cost you a $100-200 but it will be crucial to you choosing among a short list of bikes and fitting you for max performance and comfort once you do.
WHAT MATTERS IN PICKING BETWEEN ROAD DISC BRAKE ENDURANCE BIKES
For all In The Know Cycling reviews, I consider four groups of criteria when rating gear – performance, design, quality and cost. Within those groups, these are the criteria that helped me select some of the best road disc brake endurance bikes out there for road cycling enthusiasts.
- Performance – Comfort and other performance factors: stiffness, steering, handling, braking, power transfer
- Design – Weight, features, appeal
- Quality – Components, fit and finish
- Cost – Price, warranty
Some of these criteria are qualitative (e.g., handling), others are quantitative (weight) and still others are a combination of both (e.g. comfort or stiffness).
Since it’s impossible for me to ride every one of the bikes in this post, I’ve drawn on reviews from multiple sources I trust for each bike I’ve evaluated. I value a range of opinions and am not so full of myself to think mine is the definitive view. Where I didn’t feel there was enough of a cross section of input for a given bike, I did not include it in this post. There are also some notable bikes just coming out this season that really need to be ridden for a while to get a good take on them rather than passing on the press release information or ‘first ride’ reactions from a hundred mile/kilometer or so of riding by cycling media members at a bike company sponsored retreat. That’s why I titled this post Some of the Best rather than The Best Road Disc Brake Endurance Bikes of 2016.
Since I’ve already done a full review and set of recommendation on disc brake components (the shifter/brake levers aka STIs and the brakes themselves), I’ve not commented further on their performance as part of the bike reviews. The big performance difference, of course, is between disc brakes and rim brakes and the superior speed, braking and versatility that a road disc bike can bring.
Further, I’ve evaluated each of the road disc bikes with as similar a groupset build as I can find from every company. Specifically, I’ve picked the Ultegra mechanical level bikes. This is the groupset I recommend. Yes I love an Ultegra Di2 electronic groupsets and a Dura Ace mechanical or electronic sets my heart aflutter. (Did I really just use that word?) I don’t see however that going up to a Dura Ace (or SRAM Red) level groupset adds any performance benefit on an endurance bike and the price of going to that level or even to an Ultegra Di2 is more than the proportionate increase in the added cost of the components. Smoke ’em if you got ’em but if you don’t, you can’t blame falling off the back of the pace on your groupset.
The Ultegra builds have some combination of Shimano 685 STIs with 785 or 685 post mount or 805 or 505 flat mount brakes. Along with these disc brakesets the bikes are built with Ultegra 6800 derailleurs and often the same Ultegra family cranksets, cassettes, and chains. I specify the bike’s discset and remaining drivetrain components in each of the reviews below. Most also have compact cranksets (50/34 ratio) and climbing cassettes (11-32).
The cockpit components – stem, handlebar, seatpost, seat – vary from bike to bike. The wheels do as well, though many of them are the same and most of them you’ll want to upgrade soon after you buy the bike. Because the wheels are where bike companies try to save money to keep the price point down, most aren’t worthy of the bike they are attached to.
I am essentially trying to focus the reviews on the performance of the frame and cockpit components themselves. The groupsets are essentially the same and I hope you’ll be moving on from the wheels soon though most perform pretty similarly with only a couple of exceptions I’ve noted. Here’s a link to my review of the best wheels for road bikes with disc brakes to consider as upgrades to the stock wheels on the bikes reviewed in this post.
Doing what I’ve described above also has the benefit of allowing you to compare the prices of similarly built bikes. Where possible, I encourage you to buy the frame and build or at least specify it with everything else you want. If you shop right you can build it more cost effectively that way and you will certainly not be wasting good money on anything you’ll soon want to upgrade. I’ve noted which bikes you can buy as a frame and which stores will allow you to configure a bike to your liking.
This is an evergreen post; I’ll add reviews on some of the bikes not covered here when I’ve learned enough about them to say something meaningful.
THREE ROAD DISC BRAKE ENDURANCE BIKES I RECOMMEND
Below, you’ll see reviews of the bikes I’ve recommended. While they are all endurance bikes, I’ve placed them along a spectrum that indicates what kind of ride you can expect from them along with others I’ve reviewed later in the post.
With that as an introduction, here are the reviews of the three bikes I recommend.
Bianchi Infinito CV Ultegra Disc – An endurance bike that can perform like a racer
The Infinito CV Disc accelerates and handles like a race bike but is dampened in a way and has the geometry that makes it feel as comfortable as an endurance one. The frame is only 40g heavier than its rim brake sibling and its top and head tubes are only 10mm longer and 20mm taller, respectively, than Bianchi’s top of the line Oltre racing frame. The rim version Infinito CV is the bike that the pro team races over the cobbles and rough roads of the Paris-Roubaix.
This bike combines the characteristics that should thrill most any endurance and event riding enthusiast looks for. Comfortable when you are on a long ride, confident on uneven roads, agile when you are riding in a group, and ready to respond when you want to want to turn up the speed. The challenge is whether you can justify the significant price premium for the unique combination of endurance comfort, near racing performance, low weight and Italian styling you can’t get on any other bike in this category I’ve seen. If you can, this one’s a winner. If you can’t, look at the reviews of some of the others placed near it in the chart above.
For 2016, the frame has been is made for thru-axle hubs and flat mount forks. The axle change undoubtedly came as a result of some complaining that the QR front fork wasn’t stiff enough when riding out of the saddle or on the roughest roads. The retooling for flat mount brakes is likely Bianchi’s attempting to stay at the front of the line as their post mount fittings made for a very clean set-up already. Unfortunately, the Vision Metron 40 disc brake wheels that came with this bike last year are gone, probably to reduce the sticker shock reaction from a faint to a mere gulp. Bianchi also offers this bike with a mostly 105 level groupset to lower the price. Don’t do it. This frame is worth better than that.
I recommend you consider starting with the frameset and build it or have it built to with your preferred components. I don’t expect you’ll want to ride the stock Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels that come with the Ultegra mechanical and Di2 levels of this model or the Shimano RX10 disc brake wheels that come stock with the 105 build. You’ll certainly want better wheels to get the full potential out of a bike this good. If you live in the US or Canada, you can buy the frame and configure it with a better set of cockpit and wheelset choices through Competitive Cyclist.
While a bike you build or configure will end up costing you more than buying a pre-built Ultegra or 105, you’ll end up spending far less than starting with a pre-built one and upgrading wheels and components later. Bianchi-speced bikes are also available for UK and EU readers Slane and Rutland Cycling.
Focus Cayo Disc Ultegra – A race bike for competitive endurance enthusiasts
Most of the bikes in this review are designed for long, comfortable endurance riding and events on paved roads and the occasional gravel path of firm dirt ride. They are responsive and handle well but you wouldn’t pick them to head out on a group ride or endurance event with the fastest riders or best bike handlers.
That’s where the Focus Cayo Disc comes in. It is a race bike frame modified and equipped to provide the comfort an endurance rider is looking for. It accelerates immediately and efficiently when you put down the pedals to accelerate. The steering is precise moving in and out of the bunch and through corners. The bike’s tight geometry, including it’s low StR, suggests it should be this responsive and it sure feels that way on the road.
At the same time, the ride is comfortable and stable. The Cayo’s seat post and seat stays deflect more than a full-on race bike would and the wheelset and wide tires Focus combines with this frame contribute to absorb rough roads you are likely to rollover on long rides.
Focus has come up with a unique package of frame and components in this bike, much of which you can build on, some of which you’ll likely want to change out. The frame is super light – 880 grams – and the choice of thru axles shows Focus’ desire to maintain the bike’s lateral stiffness under speeds, braking and handling forces the most aggressive competitive enthusiast will challenge this bike with.
The Cayo also has a wider diameter front thru axle than most (15mm vs 12mm) and uses an axle with a tab on the end that connects with a quarter turn to a slot in the frame rather than using a threaded axle and dropout. This makes for a more integrated wheel/frame connection than one provided by a quick-release axle without losing the ease of pulling out and replacing your wheel when you need to fix a flat.
You also get a 52/36 chain ring combination and an 11-28 cassette. The ring choice gives you the potential for more power and speed as in a race bike (typically a 53/39 with and 11-25) while the cassette provides the range found on most Shimano equipped endurance bikes (typically 50/34 and 11-28 or 11-32). Smart.
Three component choices you probably will want to change out. More typical of very relaxed endurance bikes, the handle bars on the Cayo angle out where the shift/brake levers attach. Not great when you are trying to ride in an aero position or get in and out of small spaces. Focus also put non-Shimano 160mm rotors on this bike (perhaps to save a few bucks) which don’t stay quiet where 140 Shimano Ice-Tech would provide most ample and quiet braking. Finally, like most new bikes, the stock DT Swiss R24 Spline wheels and Schwalbe Durano tires that come with this bike make it heavier, harder to maintain speed and less responsive under acceleration than it would be equipped with a good carbon wheelset and higher thread count tires. Fixing theses thing will make this bike faster and even more fun to ride.
Available at Bike24 and through Focus dealers.
Giant Defy Advanced Pro 2 – Does everything well at a great price
When Giant and some of the other major brands committed to road disc bikes, each with many new models in multiple configurations for the 2015 model year, there was a lot to like about the performance these new bikes with disc brakes offered cyclists. Giant, for instance, totally redesigned their entire line of Defy bikes only for disc brakes. They discontinued selling the Defy rim brake line that had been the core of their enthusiast level endurance bike business. Since Giant sells more bikes than anyone else, that was a major statement of their belief in the future of road disc bikes.
As a big believer in the superior performance road disc bikes provide, what Giant did really excited me. As a cycling gear reviewer that tries very hard to be impartial, I could care less about how big a company is, what they are doing to innovate, where they are making big technology bets, what kind of ‘statements’ they are making and such.
I just want to tell you what you can expect riding a bike or the piece of kit I’m evaluating.
The Defy line and this Ultegra level Advanced Pro 2 provides solid performance in all the ways I evaluate endurance bikes. This is a comfortable and responsive bike. It’s stiffer than the rim brake Defy bikes, handles well and and gives you great confidence while descending. The steering is predictable and the power transfer is as good as most other bikes with down tubes, bottom brackets and chain stays as stout as the ones on this one. Its weight is in the middle of the pack of other road disc endurance bikes of similar geometry. The bike’s StR and range of sizes will suit most any man or woman (Avail Advanced Pro) focused on endurance and non-competitive event riding.
It’s a solid, complete performer in every area. You can’t say that about every bike.
It doesn’t, however, standout in any one performance area. There are more comfortable and more responsive (handling, steering, acceleration, etc.) road disc bikes the enthusiast can choose from. But some of those bikes lack in other areas. The Defy is not lacking in any area.
Its price and what you get for that price does standout, however. The Defy Advanced Pro 2 is one of two bikes with the lowest retail prices of any of the full Ultegra road disc endurance bikes. Its a complete Ultegra build – derailleurs, crankset, cassette along with the RS-ST685 shifter/brake levers and RS-BR785 disc brakes. The brakes mount clean and look as natural as disc brakes can on a road bike, post or flat mount.
And here’s the thing that pushed me over the edge into the Defy’s court. The bike’s Giant SL 1 stock wheels are 30mm deep, 23mm wide and tubeless compatible. That’s not a wheelset spec that you’ll feel the need to quickly replace. It’s a new wheelset this year so I haven’t had a chance to ride it but deep, wide and tubeless ready sure sounds like a winner.
Having the complete Ultegra and this wheelset speced on a bike whose frame and components do everything well and at this price is quite an accomplishment, one that makes a statement in and of itself.
Available at Westbrook Cycles, Rutland Cycling, Cyclestore, Wheelies and at Giant stores.
Road Disc Endurance Bikes Designed for Women
In the current road disc bike endurance category, I’m aware of only two models whose frames are designed from scratch for women, the Specialized Ruby Disc line and the Liv Avail Advanced bikes made by Giant (but not branded “Giant”). Felt also makes the ZW3 road disc endurance bikes for women but the frame geometry is the same as the Z3 for two sizes of each that overlap the upper and lower size range respectively. Here’s my review of the Ruby and Avail, either of which I recommend if they fit your body and your riding personality better than the three above.
Specialized Ruby Comp Disc and Liv Avail Advanced Pro
Both of the Ruby and Avail bikes aim to accomplish ride characteristics common with the Roubaix and Defy lines respectively, and use many of the same components in both lines including wheelsets and groupsets, though crank lengths differ but not crankset (50/34) and cassette (11-32) ratios. Some of the components used in the cockpit including handlebars, stems and seatposts are also the same brands and models though sizes and designs may make an important difference (e.g., narrower and shallower drop handlebars). The saddles, paint jobs and bar tape colors are also different.
The bike frame geometry and layups used to provide a combination of comfort and stiffness are essentially what differentiates bike frames designed for women and the Specialized and Liv road disc brake bikes specifically from the others in the company’s bike lines. Merely reducing bike geometries proportionately to make the smaller sizes that many women ride would a) likely not transfer well to the different sizes and proportions of women and b) make the smaller sized bikes too stiff relative to the performance goals of the bikes.
Indeed, some bike manufacturers change the geometry and carbon lay-ups with varying sizes across their standard bike lines (designed for men’s bodies though not called men’s bikes) for the same purpose. Trek made a lot of PR noise about this a couple years ago but they were certainly not the first to realize that a 140 lb, 5’6″ man is going to need different frame dimensions and stiffness than a 210 lb, 6’3″ one to make the ride characteristics feel the same.
The designers of women’s bikes have gone beyond this and included a better understanding of how the differences between men’s and women’s anatomy and physiology – women’s shorter torsos, wider hips, different sources of power, centers of gravity, etc., – require unique designs to deliver the fit and ride characteristics that they want women to have available to them in these bikes.
And I should be clear about this. Just because you are a woman doesn’t mean one of these bikes designed for women will fit you. Depending on you size and physique, you may get a better fit and get more performance out of a bike that isn’t a women’s bike per se.
I haven’t ridden either of these bikes but I have read a half dozen detailed reports from women who have and whose reviews I trust. These reviewers describe comfort, steering, responsiveness and other performance factors remarkably similar to those of their sibling bikes equipped the same way from the same company (Ruby/Roubaix, Avail/Defy). For this, I guess the bike designers are to be congratulated for coming up with revised frame sizes that don’t lose the feel of the original product. On the other hand, perhaps they shouldn’t be congratulated just yet if they haven’t translated their own vision for what women want in a road disc endurance bike into totally new designs just yet.
So what separates the Ruby and Avail, the current state of the art of women-specific bikes from from each other?
Well, it’s not the geometry. The stack, reach, StR, head tube and seat angles, wheelbase and other dimensions are remarkably close to each other at each frame size to the point that, if you fit one you’ll fit the other.
In the middle of their size range, they’ll both come in under 8kg or around 17.5lbs.
The groupset components of the Ruby Comp Disc and Avail Advanced Pro builds are also essentially the same. Both use the same shifters, brakes, 140mm rotors and Ultegra level derailleurs, and 11-32 cassettes. The Ruby uses a Praxis 50/34 chainset and Ultegra chain and the Avail uses the same ratio Ultegra chainset with a KMC chain. No performance difference there.
Evaluating these two bikes on the road does suggest some difference in performance and personality.
The Ruby Comp Disc is smooth, comfortable, and takes the sting out of rough road surfaces. It’s an agile handler, gives you confident steering and holds the line you set it upon through the corners. It feels light, will respond to you and show you some spunk if you ask it to.
The Avail Advanced Pro settles right in when you push it on long, hard rides. It’s stiff in a responsive way and keeps you in touch with the feel of the road while still providing you the comfort you want riding hours in the saddle. It won’t handle like a racer if you push it too hard in corners but it will give you a great balance of spunky and sweet riding if you remember you are on a long ride.
Summarizing, they are both comfortable and responsive but the Ruby is going to suit you better if you primarily value comfort with the opportunity to play hard now and then and the Avail is for you if you want a responsive bike through most of your ride that’s not going to give up much in comfort.
The wheelsets may further contribute to what you get out of the frames and indicate where the two companies are trying to go with these bikes.
The Giant SLR 1 carbon, 30mm deep, 23mm outside width, tubeless ready wheels with 25mm tires on the Avail is likely to give you a more sprightly and more aerodynamic ride than the Axis 4.0 on the Ruby. The Axis has a whopping 26mm wide outside width and comes with a Specialized Turbo Pro 26mm wide tire. But, the Axis has a lower profile (23mm deep), alloy wheelset that shouldn’t ride as energetically or stealthily as the Giant wheels.
Interestingly, despite their material, depth and width differences, the weight claimed by each brand for these two wheelsets is within 10 grams of each other in the low 1600 gram range.
You can undoubtedly mount a wider tire (28mm) on your Ruby’s rails (sorry, had to say that at least once) if you plan to ride the bike on rough roads or want to get even more comfort than it already offers. You’re likely however, to get a plenty comfortable, more responsive ride on the Avail’s SLR 1 hoops.
If you don’t like the Axis long term and you want to upgrade the wheelset as I recommend most people do on nearly all the bikes reviewed in this post, the design of the Ruby and of all Specialized road disc bikes limit your choices to Specialized Roval wheels. I’ve written more about Specialized’s unique hub design and why it limits choice in my review of the Roubaix below, but this is a deal killer for me.
Finally, there is the price. The retail price of the Ruby Comp Disc build at $3000, £2000 which is a good deal less expensive than the Avail Advanced Pro at $3700, £2599. If your riding personality and purse suits one of these more than the other, I think there are enough differences to choose between them.
The Specialized Ruby Comp Disc is available at Rutland Cycling
MY TAKE ON OTHER ROAD DISC BRAKE ENDURANCE BIKES
In addition to the recommended bikes, here are others I can confidently say you should consider or not and why.
BH Quartz Disc Ultegra – Comfy and light though not very responsive as equipped
This is a very comfy, capable endurance bike by all accounts for good, predictable riding. It’s not however one you can expect to really get up and go and handle aggressively in and out of corners if you want to have a more spirited ride. The Quartz is stable going downhill and has the kind of side to side stiffness built into its frame and bottom bracket to efficiently transfer your power through the bike onto the road. As with most new bikes however, the QR axle Mavics on the Quartz don’t respond as well as the relatively light 950 gram, medium sized frame would allow with a better (lighter/stiffer) wheelset. Equipped with one, this bike might have more potential though I don’t think it would be that endurance/racer bike some like to have for more competitive rides.
The head and down tubes look kind of chunky to me but the finish suggests high quality. The Quartz Disc model also comes in Ultegra Di2 and 105 builds but both are a good deal heavier. Pricing is in line with other endurance bikes fitted out with a mechanical, mostly Ultegra groupset like this one. As priced, this build stays with an Ultegra compact crankset and Ultegra level 805 flat mount brakes, a 105 11-28 cassette and Easton carbon handlebars, good for further dampening.
BMC granfondo GF01 Disc Ultegra – A fun, confident bike for riding on all roads and gravel
When it first came out in 2015, the BMC granfondo GF01 Disc got a lot of people excited and for good reason. Comfortable yet not overly plush. Fun to ride on gravel and rough roads as much as on well paved tarmac. Peppy and responsive when you accelerated though not a race bike. A great first road disc bike option for the well rounded endurance rider.
A year later and against some updated competition, the GF01 looks to be riding a little behind the others and at quite a bloated price. The stout down tube, chain stays and bottom bracket that make it so stable and confident on all surfaces also make it a half to a full pound (225 to 450 grams) heavier than others that have similar characteristics. Perhaps BMC realized this when they equipped the bike with a 11-32T cassette to go with its compact chainset, the better to get up steep hills.
The GF01 Disc frame is a converted version of their 2012 design for their top rim brake endurance line of the same name, a line that BMC replaced last year with this road disc bike model. It dropped the out-sized priced Dura Ace Di2 build of this bike that sat atop the line last year and replaced it with a 105 build but continue to use the excellent 785 or 685 STI (integrated shifter and brake levers) and 785 brakes on all builds of the GF01 model. While I don’t think it makes a huge performance difference for most enthusiasts, the frame uses a QR axle and post mount brake design, both of which appear to be losing favor to TA and flat mount.
With this bike already being heavier than most, I’d steer clear of the 105 and Di2 builds both of which add weight for a small cost or shifting benefit, respectively. The DT Swiss wheelset on this year’s bike is a more road oriented one than what they equipped it with last year, one that you could confidently ride a 25mm tire on for rough or gravel road riding.
Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra – A combination of comfort and performance that has earned it a slightly higher price
The Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc is comfortable, smooth, speedy, and well-balanced front and back. For all that it offers, Cannondale can sell it at a premium to those road disc endurance bikes of its big brand competition. It won several ‘bike of the year’ awards in 2015 after high praise from reviewers far and wide.
While it’s clearly an endurance bike, this Synapse Disc’s frame and components (save for its wheels) has the responsiveness, stiffness and long ride comfort to hammer out a fast and competitive ride through the length of a century, fondo or sportive or even on a shorter class A club ride where you and your buds are out to up your performance level.
The bike is essentially unchanged from last year. It comes with the mechanical shifting Ultegra 6800 groupset with Shimano ST-RS685 shifters and BR-RS685 brakes. Cannondale hasn’t moved from QR to TA or post mount to flat mount wheel and brake attachment, but selling this bike at a price above endurance road disc bikes from others and with the kudos showered on them by reviewers, it’s hard to fault them for not changing anything.
They did add a 105 build to the line up this year that’s a thousand dollars less but looks to be set up more for heavier riders or touring with larger rotors (160mm vs. 140mm) front and back and the 785 brakes rather than the 685 used on this Ultegra build. You can also get a much more expensive, more carbon fiber rich Synapse Hi-Mod model, but I don’t see the added value or performance in the upgraded frame for most enthusiasts.
The Mavic Aksium One disc wheels that come with this bike are nearly 2000g, ok if you want an off-road or gravel set especially with the 28mm rubber they put on them. You can drop several hundred grams with a decent carbon wheelset and make the bike more responsive at the same time.
Thanks to the 32 tooth sprocket furthest in on the cassette, and a compact (non Ultegra) chainset, you can go up most any pitch regardless of this bike’s weight. That said, I don’t know too many endurance and event riders who lean to the competitive side with more range than 11-28T unless they are headed for seriously steep alpine climbing. If that’s you, I’d opt for an 11-28T to get shorter transitions between the middle sprockets of the cassette where most of us live.
Felt Z3 and ZW3 – Building it right yields low weight and a higher price.
In the brother and sister Z3 and ZW3 road disc bikes, Felt has figured out how to make a road disc bike that fits and rides the way most endurance cyclists like, a half a pound lighter than other bikes suited for the same purpose and by taking no component shortcuts to get you to a fair price.
You could probably get to a similar weight and price as the Z3 and ZW3 through component upgrades on other bikes and for some that might be more fun, but I don’t think most enthusiasts want to spend a lot of energy upgrading cranksets, cassettes and the like so soon after getting a new bike. Upgrading your wheelset, something I do recommend with this bike as with the others in this review, is where you should put your mental energies and financial resources.
I review the Z3 and women’s ZW3 together because they are essentially the same bike in terms of their philosophy, components and sizing. The geometry of the two smallest size Z3s (they don’t call it a men’s bike, by the way) and the two largest size ZW3s (which they do call a women’s bike) are exactly the same. The ZW3 comes in two smaller sizes. The two have distinct paint jobs though I personally don’t see one as more feminine in color than the other.
While it doesn’t stand out in any on the road performance area when compared to its competition, the Z3/ZW3 is more than capable enough to do most of the long rides and hills you’ll encounter with a competent, good natured ride. It is reasonably stiff and has good power transfer. The handling is confident negotiating what you’ll see on a normal day in the saddle.
Most of the dampening occurs in the seat post rather than the frame. The aluminum handle bars don’t help much here even with the benefit of Felt’s gel bar tape. A more forgiving set of bars or tape would probably be in order to avoid any hand fatigue setting in over century-long rides. So there is that upgrade.
Scott Solace 10 Disc – Smooth comfort in a light feeling road disc endurance bike
The Scott Solace 10 Disc sits close to, if not right in the middle of the road disc endurance bike class. The comfort and range is the first thing you notice and continue to enjoy over long and varied riding. This is not surprising as the flexible seat stays and standard 28mm tires provide for a smooth ride no matter the road surface and the compact chainset (50/34) with a 11-32 cassette give you the gear ratio to climb most any hill. The 1.50 StR is decidedly middle of the road too, putting you in a comfortable position on this comfortable bike. Did I mention the Solace 10 was comfortable?
While not as snappy and responsive as some of the others in this review, the bike feels stiff and effective converting your power when out of the saddle going up a climb. Downhill, the Solace 10 is solid, confident and a sure handler. Go play.
The steering requires only a light touch, better than most road disc bikes that weigh well into the mid 8kg/18lb range. Handling is also very competent on the Solace 10, perhaps a touch more lively than most of the mainstream endurance bikes.
The 2016 Solace 10 is essentially the same bike as last year’s Solace 15. Scott designed the frame to use thru axles and flat mount brakes, the former which it began using last season and the latter made possible this year by the introduction of the Shimano 805 and 505 brake calipers. The Ultegra level 805 is used on this bike.
Despite this component ‘vision’ around the brakes, the actual wheels that come with this bike are the DT Swiss R24 Spline DB badged as Syncros RP2.0 Disc. Yes they are wide (18mm inside diameter), but they are heavy and are equipped with 28mm wide, hard rubber Schwalbe Durano tires that assure your comfort on any road but limit much chance of staying in the mix and going with the moves in even a good Class B (18-19mph) group ride. But, it’s an endurance bike and the wheelset and tire choices reflect the desire of more relaxed endurance riders.
While the Solace 10 disc is equipped with Ultegra level shifters/brake levers, brakes and derailleurs, it disappointingly also includes an entry level Shimano crankset two levels below an Ultegra and a 105 rear cassette, one level down.
There’s more this bike could do with upgrades to the components I’ve mentioned above but perhaps Scott wants you to use this bike in the endurance lane they intended for it. The Solace 20 Disc is equipped a modest level below the 10 and the Solace Premium Disc jumps to more than 2x the price on Dura Ace Di2 components and a higher modulus carbon frame, albeit of the same geometry.
If know yourself well and like to ride in the endurance mainstream with seldom a twitch to hammer it on the bike, the Scott Solace 10 Disc will be a very comfortable companion, one that you can ride for miles and handle with ease.
Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc – Well balanced endurance performance but wheelset options are limited
Full disclosure, I ride a Roubaix in my rim brake bike life. Its geometry suits me and I can be comfortable for many hours in the saddle. In many ways the ride is a neutral benchmark, one that many other companies have tried to emulate (or improve on) as they followed Specialized into the endurance category over the last 10 or so years. The Roubaix’s smooth, balanced ride allows me to notice the performance characteristics of wheels and other components I test without wondering whether the frame is hindering or amplifying the nature of what I’m testing.
The Roubaix SL4 Disc has many of the same hallmarks of the rim-brake Roubaix with the obvious exception of the brakes. Its unique front fork, chainstay and seatpost dampening designs give you a comfortable ride. It combines that comfort with a good deal of responsiveness, confident downhill riding, assured steering and predictable handling.
In short, the ride of this bike has the same balance of attributes many endurance riders and relaxed event riders will be attracted to similar to others in this review. To keep the price down, and it’s one of the lowest in this category, Specialized combines a 105 cassette and capable Praxis crankset with the Ultegra level derailleurs, brakes and shifter/brake levers. Others do this too. You can also get one of four other builds of this bike with the same frame but a combination of Ultegra or Dura Ace Di2 components or SRAM Force 22 components including higher end cranks and wheels.
If you prefer to spec the combination of components you prefer rather than upgrading them after you purchase your Roubaix, you can buy one of a four Roubaix frames with the same geometries that have more or less carbon fiber in them. As you increase the amount of carbon in the frame, you get a lighter, stiffer and more responsive frame at a higher purchase price.
Like most of the bikes I’ve evaluated for this post, the stock wheels on this Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc limit its potential, especially if you want a more responsive, faster moving machine. But unlike the other bikes in this post, with all the Specialized Roubaix (and racing oriented Specialized Tarmac) disc brake models, you have few options when upgrading your wheels. Because Specialized decided not to lengthen the chain stays on their road disc bikes to accommodate the wider dropouts for disc brake wheel hubs to prevent rubbing or ‘fouling’ of the chain on the stays, they developed a unique hub solution that only comes on the Axis and Fulcrum stock wheels Specialized have made for these bikes and on Specialized Roval brand of higher end wheels.
Roval makes good 40mm and deeper wheelsets but if you like choice and the option to get other wheels I and others feel are better and/or less expensive than the Rovals, you won’t be able to put them on the Roubaix disc bikes. Unless pride goeth before Specialized’s fall, I suspect later model year versions of this frame will come up with a better design to accommodate more wheel choices.
Trek Domane SLR 6 Disc – Plush stem to stern but with limited road feel
The Trek Domane rim brake road endurance bike family was one of the first to adopt disc brake siblings a couple years ago and with the introduction of the Domane SLR Disc family it’s now completed a march to what may be the most comfortable endurance road disc bikes available.
The 2017 model SLR road disc bikes improves on the last generation of Domane bikes by bring bringing the level of comfort that was available only in the rear to the front in both the headset and handlebars and now allows you to vary the rear seat tube flex. This eliminates the imbalanced level of comfort that characterized and I thought was a turn-off for the prior models. The rest of the bike including the frame geometries, wheelset, commitment to 160mm rotors, and external front for cabling remain the same.
The SLR 6 Disc is currently the lowest priced disc Domane disc model and while it weighs a welcome pound and half (0.7kg) less than the Domane 4.5 Disc that it essentially replaces, that’s mostly because it comes with a complete Ultegra mechanical drive train whereas the 4.5 used a heavier Shimano crank and cassette. The added comfort and higher end components on the SLR 6 Disc up the price by a couple grand, making it one of the more expensive Ultegra mechanical equipped road disc bikes you can buy. I’ve got to believe that something priced closer to the old 4.5 will come out in 2017, but for now the 6 is the lowest priced SLR model you can get.
This bike has to be one of the most comfortable road bikes out there, disc or rim brake. It seems immune to most normal any road imperfections including chip seal and inch deep holes. Riding a dirt or gravel road on this bike is like riding a paved one. It’s crazy comfy, almost like you are riding in a limousine. I couldn’t tell whether it was what they call the “decoupler” system in the seat tube or headset or another damping technology in the handlebars or likely a combination of these things, but you are indeed set free from having to worry about riding on rough roads.
The downside of this for me was the loss of road feel. Even with the rear decoupler in its stiffest position, the bike feels too plush when I want to hammer it or ride hard in and out of corners. I don’t do that very often mind you, but I felt a kind of disconnect, decoupled if you will, with the road in a way I haven’t with other comfortable endurance bikes.
The bike still handles well, is very confident going in and out of corners and going downhill. You don’t feel the response as well as on less dampened yet still comfortable bikes when you accelerate or get out of the saddle
It may be Mama Bear right for you, but for me and I would hazard to guess most enthusiasts, it was Baby Bear cold. Rather, I think this is a bike for the enthusiast who primarily wants to cruise or if you are one who rides cobble-like rough roads a good deal of the time.
Available at Rutland Cycling.
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There are several road disc bikes that are relatively new that I look forward to riding and writing up including the Cervelo C3, Boardman SLR Endurance and Eddy Mercks Mourenx69 endurance bikes and the new Pinarello GAN and Focus Izalco Max race bikes. That would sure keep me busy. Meanwhile, there are a lot of good ones above to choose from and have fun with. Enjoy!