Best endurance and sportive bikes 2018: a buying guide
Here's a complete guide to all your endurance and sportive bike related queries and questions
If you’re new to the world of cycling, the idea of riding long distances can seem daunting especially if you’re… no spring chicken. You’ll want a bike that will translate any uneasy bumps in the road into mere soft vibrations. You may also fancy a more upright position. In other words, you want an endurance bike.
Endurance bikes are very often called ‘sportive bikes’ – this is because most sportives are long distance, all-day out affairs where the rider will benefit from the comfort of a relaxed geometry and compliant frame.
But what exactly should you be looking for when buying an endurance or sportive bike, and how can you make sure that you’re getting the best bike for your budget?
What is an endurance or sportive bike?
An endurance bike, otherwise referred to as a sportive bike, is a bike that has been designed to make long days in the saddle just that little bit easier by providing a more comfortable ride that should not only protect your backside from all the vibrations passing through your seatpost and saddle, but should also keep your legs fresher after multiple hours on the road.
These bikes have become increasingly popular in the UK over the last few years for two main reasons. First, the huge growth of sportives has meant that there are more and more people whose main concern when buying a new bike is that it make eating up the miles on long rides that bit more pleasant. And second, because British roads are so poor compared to most roads abroad, British riders generally value a bike that is able to take the worst out of rough tarmac.
Here’s our pick of the best endurance bikes, before we go on to explain exactly what features you should look out for when searching for a bike in this category.
With each bike you’ll find a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Canyon Endurace AL 7.0 Disc endurance road bike – £999
Fitted with 28mm tyres and disc brakes, the Endurace from Canyon bikes is designed for all-day riding adventures – but the geometry is still racey enough to provide a fast and fun ride.
The wheelbase is relatively long to provide confidence inspiring stability but the fork angle makes for speedy handling.
Available in carbon or aluminium, we tested an alloy model and were impressed with the low weight of 8.3kg, with Shimano Ultegra 6800 drivetrain. But if you want to spend a little less it’s available from £799 with Shimano Tiagra. Carbon models start at £1,349, with Shimano 105 and Mavic Aksium wheels if frame material is more important to you.
Specialized Dolce elite 2018 endurance road bike – £999
The Specialized Dolce is a female specific endurance bike, with models starting from £599 equipped with Shimano Claris shifting, but we rather like the Shimano 105 model coming in a penny under £1k.
The frame is constructed from ‘A1’ aluminium, the top choice from Specialized, and the carbon fork features the brand’s Zertz inserts which are designed to dampen transmission from the road. DT R460 wheels are shod with well cushioned Espoir Sport 25mm tyres which will provide some cushion and expert handling.
Pinnacle Dolomite 3 endurance 2018 road bike – £1200
Pinnacle’s road bikes are built for all weathers on rutted British roads, and practicality is kept at front of mind throughout the design.
The Dolomite is a multi purpose road bike, with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, Shimano 105 shifting and wide 25c Continental tyres. There’s clearance for tyres up to 32c rubber, and whilst the frame utilises triple and double butted aluminium tubes, the fork as carbon so will dampen road buzz.
There’s women’s specific and men’s version available – with touch points adjusted to suit.
Giant Defy Advanced 2 2018 endurance road bike – £1699
With a relaxed position and stable ride, those long miles will be eaten with ease aboard any of the Defy models.
The Defy Advanced 2 comes with Giant’s D-Fuse seatpost, which dampens out bumps along the way, and the Overdrive steerer which promises excellent handling and front end stiffness thanks to oversized headset bearings.
This model comes with a Shimano 105 drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes and smooth rolling Giant PR-2 disc composite WheelSystem with Giant Gavia AC 1 tubeless tyres.
Giant Defy models start from £1,499 with a Shimano Tiagra groupset, and travel right up to £7,499.
Specialized Roubaix 2018 road bike – £1900
The Specialized Roubaix saw a major overhaul in 2017 with the addition of the ‘Future Shock’ front suspension, and that continues into 2018 bikes (it was even added to other models, such as the Specialized Diverge). It might be easy to dismiss as a gimmick, but really isn’t.
The suspension built into the steerer tube does a great job of improving comfort on really rough surfaces, and also helps to improve handling, as the tyre spends more time in contact with the tarmac around bumpy surfaces.
It also doesn’t impede your sprinting and climbing even as you pull up and down on the bars when out of the saddle, and the bike’s weight is impressive for an endurance bike too.
Models start from £1,900 with Shimano Tiagra groupset, and travel up to £9,995.
Merida Scultura Disc 6000 2018 endurance road bike – £2750
The Scultura Disc 6000 manages to deliver all-day comfort that can still manage to excite.
The comfort is delivered through a clever carbon lay-up rather than revolutionary technology, while descending is surprisingly thrilling considering the fairly relaxed geometry with excellent handling and great braking thanks to the hydraulic disc brakes.
This model comes in with Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes and Fulcrum Racing Expert wheels.
Cannondale Synapse Hi Mod Disc Dura Ace Di2 2018 endurance road bike – £7799.99
Cannondale’s Synapse is renowned for offering a comfortable ride, without cancelling out the expert handling and stiffness that you want from a road bike.
The (unpainted) frame comes in it at 918g and fork weight of 372g for a size 56cm, but Cannondale has used its SAVE (Synapse Active Vibration Elimination) to ensure comfort is kept high on the agenda. A ‘Power Pyramid’ bottom bracket presents plenty of stiffness making for quick footed accelerations.
We were lucky enough to test the top of the range model, with Dura Ace Di2, but models start from £2199.99 with Shimano 105.
How should an endurance bike ride?
Comfort is your primary concern when buying an endurance bike. As most of your weight is support by your saddle rather than the handlebars, it is most important that the back-end of the bike is comfortable. However, depending on your position, your arms and wrists will still be bearing a fair amount of your weight so front end comfort is still important.
But comfort is not the be all and end all with an endurance bike. After all, comfort is not going to be your only concern 100 per cent of the time, and you still want a bike that is able to respond and give an exciting ride when you want to put the hammer down.
This means that you don’t want a bike that provides comfort by building flexibility into every part of the frame as this will result in a bike that cannot respond to quick bursts of power and will mean that you can’t hold your speed as well. So any extra comfort would be offset by the extra time that you have to spend out on the road due to lower average speeds.
As you’re not going to be tearing up a tight and twisty criterium circuit on an endurance bike, the handling should be leaning towards the more chilled out end of the spectrum. This basically means that you need to put in more effort to navigate the bike through corners, which might sound like a bad thing, but also means that less effort is required to keep it on the straight and narrow.
Don’t worry though, it should still be able to cope with everything but seriously fast and technical descents. And anyway, your bike handling is probably more important than the bike’s handling when it comes to cornering.
Endurance bike geometry
The geometry is one of the most important element that defines how a bike rides. Indeed, give an expert a geometry chart and they will be able to have a pretty good guess at the type of bike that they are looking at and how it rides.
There are a number of features of an endurance bike’s geometry that should make it comfortable for riding long distance over rough terrain, normally giving a more upright riding position that will place less stress on your back and neck.
The first thing to look for is a taller head tube, which will usually be more than 17cm for a 56cm frame, although on some bikes it will be approaching 20cm, which will mean that you don’t have to lean over as far to reach the bars. Of course, this position can always be tweaked by the use of spacers underneath the stem and by using stems of different angles.
Endurance bikes will also usually come with a slightly shorter top tube, which will effectively bring the saddle and handlebars closer together. Again this will mean a more upright, less stretched out position to reduce the strain on your back and neck.
Other endurance bike geometry features are designed to improve the comfort of the frame and to alter the bike’s handling. Most endurance bikes have a slightly slacker head tube angle and greater fork rake, which will create a more compliant front end and more stable handling, while a longer wheelbase (occasionally greater than a metre) also makes for a less twitchy ride.
Endurance bike comfort features
Aside from the geometry there are a whole load of different features that different manufacturers build into their endurance bikes to try and make them stand out from the crowd.
One of the most popular such features is the use of some sort of suspension or vibration dampening technology to reduce the amount of road buzz that is transmitted through the frame and into your body. Two of the most well-known are Trek’s Isospeed decoupler technology and Specialized’s Zertz inserts, although there are other similar systems used by the likes of Pinarello and Lapierre.
However, other manufacturers create comfortable endurance bikes by working with the carbon-fibre lay ups of the frames to build flex into areas like the seatstays and top tube while other areas of the frame are stiffened up to to make sure that power transfer isn’t hindered.
What components should I look out for on an endurance bike?
As when buying any new bike, the most important thing to look at when buying an endurance bike is the groupset. Most endurance bikes will come with a wide range of gearing that should enable you to get up some pretty steep hills even when tired at the end of a long ride.
This will usually mean a compact chainset (50/34t) and a wide range cassette with a 28t or even 32t largest sprocket. However, this compatibility with this size of cassette varies. So if you’re buying a bike with Shimano Dura-Ace, then the limit is a 28t cassette, while all Campagnolo rear derailleurs currently have a maximum capacity of 29t. SRAM fans will have more joy, however, with all of the company’s rear derailleurs (apart from SRAM Red eTap) catering for a 32t sprocket when bought with a medium cage.
However, your choice of groupset won’t affect the comfort of your endurance bike, while your choice of wheels and tyres certainly will.
You probably won’t get much of a choice if you’re buying a complete bike, but some wheels with wider rims combined with wider tyres will improve the comfort of the ride. More and more endurance bikes are coming with clearance for 28mm or even wider tyres, which can be run at lower pressures to soak up road vibrations, and come with the added benefit of better grip and lower rolling resistance.
The benefits are greater when combined with wider rims, which allow for a greater volume of air within the tyre at any given pressure, and therefore a more comfortable ride, as well as making for a wheel that is also able to absorb more vibrations from the road.
Finally, endurance bikes are leading the way when it comes to disc brakes on road bikes. While bikes that are designed more with speed in mind can suffer with the added weight and aerodynamic turbulence that comes with attaching disc brakes to a road bike, these are less important when it comes to endurance bikes.
These are by no means a deal breaker, but certainly offer a number of benefits over rim brakes. Most notably you get more consistent braking performance in wet and dry conditions, while they have more braking power and better modulation as you don’t need to squeeze the brake lever as hard to aplly the brakes. But make sure you get hydraulic rather than mechanical discs, as mechanical discs are far less powerful and efficient than hydraulic systems.
How much should I pay for an endurance bike?
There’s no need to splash the cash in search of a good endurance bike. The geometry is probably the most important thing in creating a comfortable endurance bike, and in general bikes at the lower end of the market have a more relaxed geometry. This means that you should be able to pick up a comfortable endurance bike for well under a grand.
However, if you want something made out of carbon-fibre and featuring the bells and whistles of some snazzy vibration dampening technology, then you can spend a lot more than that. £2,000 and a bit of shopping around should be able to secure you a bike with the same frame as used by the pros in the likes of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, albeit with a cheaper (although usually perfectly good) groupset and heavier wheels.
Spending more money than this will move you up the groupset ladder but might not give you a significantly better frame, so it’s worth considering whether this extra money is better spent on other kit, such as some high quality shorts which will greatly improve your comfort on long days in the saddle, or a bike fit which could relieve any aches and pains that you get from riding.