I sometimes wonder if bike manufacturers get slightly embarrassed about making road bikes for those riders of a more ‘recreational’ persuasion (which is you and me, duck).
They wrestle with promotional language to try to make it clear that whilst a bike might look like a professional racer’s bike, it is in fact built for the slightly overweight guy with a dodgy knee and less-than-perfect flexibility.
Sports car makers seem to have it easier. Whilst there are definitely stripped-back race cars for the road available, there is no shame in providing both comfort and performance. When we see a ‘GT’ somewhere in a sports car’s description, we know what they’re getting at.
At the very least we expect a walnut gear knob to go with the V12 engine.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post.
It feels to me that there is some confusion over which bike makers make ‘sportive’ bikes and what those bikes are (i.e. what they call them). And you know me. I do like to dispel a little confusion.
Whilst some manufacturers do explicitly market certain ranges towards sportive riders, others do not, choosing instead to allude to a loose notion of ‘endurance’ and ‘relaxed geometry’.
In this post I’m going to list out those (okay, some) bike makers that sell a ‘sportive model’ bike, with a short flavour of the range of prices and specifications available for those bikes.
My purpose isn’t to recommend a specific bike that you should go out and buy. Instead I want to help with the first stage of your bike-buying process, pulling together a pool of potential sportive-specific bikes that you can do further research on (and test ride, discuss with your local bike shop etc).
Needless to say, I haven’t ridden all of these bikes. In fact I’ve ridden precisely one of them. Hence, these are not reviews. (And as you may have seen, when I do try to write a review, it doesn’t exactly come out impartially).
Finally (…get on with it Grimpeur…), if you’re wondering what I’m talking about when I refer to a ‘sportive’ bike, I recommend you read this post. When you’ve done that, come back here. I’ll be waiting for you…
Sportive Bike Makers And Their Fabulous
Flying Sportive-going Machines
Right, let’s begin. And in no particular order (!).
The sportive models in Trek’s stable are those that belong to the various Domane series. Series 2 is at the bottom of the range; series 6 is at the top of the range for most people; the ‘Classics Edition’ is the uber-top-of-the-range model (essentially the pro team bike used by Trek Factory Racing).
To me, Trek’s marketing of its Domane range is quite clever (Specialized use the same tactic as well). The Domane was built at the pro-team level for the ‘Belgian’ cobbled classics (the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix). By emphasising the need for comfort over these long, arduous and bumpy races (the clue is in the ‘cobbled’ title), Trek can sell varients of the pro bike to recreational riders without having to explain away the compromises versus pure racing machines.
Back to the bikes. All of the Domane series are carbon framed, other than Series 2. They all feature Shimano compact gearing (other than the 2.0 which has a triple). They all have an adapted funky frame, where the seat post is not directly attached to the top tube and seat stays (which you’d generally expect). Trek claims that this provides a little bit of suspension, absorbing some of the bumps in the road.
Domanes range in price from £1,000 to £8,800 (manufacturer’s prices). I’m guessing that £8,800 might be a stretch, even for the more committed amongst you.
Specialized also market their sportive bike as being an appropriate bike for winning the odd Spring classic race.
In fact, they’re a bit more explicit than Trek, naming their flagship ‘endurance road’ (read, ‘sportive’) range after the end point of the Paris-Roubaix race (which is ‘Roubaix’ in case that’s not clear).
The Roubaix comes in 10 flavours, from the SL4 (£1,150) at the bottom of the range through to the S-Works Roubaix SL4 Di2 (£8,500!) at the top.
Unlike the Trek Domane range, all of the Roubaix (plural, like ‘sheep’ and ‘sheep’) have carbon frames. The full stable of Shimano gears feature, from Sora on the SL4 through to Durace Di2 (which is electronic, innit) on the cunningly-named SL4 Di2. All of the bikes come with compact gears, other than the SL4 Sport Triple which comes with a double (joke – obviously it comes with 3 chain rings).
Like Trek’s Domane, the Roubaix frame has some faux suspension features. In this case, we see ‘Zertz’ inserts integrated into the seat stays and the front forks. According to Specialized, these ‘help absorb road impact and keep power planted firmly on the road’ (they possibly do the former; not so sure about the latter).
Specialized actually has two road bike models suitable for sportive riders (they probably have more – I never claimed that this is an exhaustive list).
The Secteur is their aluminium ‘endurance road’ bike, but with the top-of-the-range version sporting Shimano Sora gear tackle (technical term… for anglers), it clearly aligns towards the bottom end of the Roubaix range. Still, it has those ‘Zertz’ dampeners in the front (carbon) forks, so worth looking at (particularly given that prices for the Secteur start at around the £650 mark).
Interestingly (IT IS INTERESTING!), Specialized seem to be embracing the move towards disc brakes on road bikes (unlike the UCI, which bans them in professional races). A number of the Roubaix and Secteurs are available in a disc brake version, which you might like to consider.
Giant uses ‘performance endurance’ to describe its sportive bikes. Essentially it comes down to two series: the Defy range, for men, and the Avail, for women (which appears to be sold under the ‘Liv/Giant’ brand).
I think (think!) that for each Defy model there is an equivalent Avail at the same price point, with the geometry tweaked on the Avail to suit female riders. Taking one of the models at random, the Defy Advanced 2 and the Avail Advanced 2 share the same specification, including a full set of Shimano 105 components and the relevant (gender-specific) Fizik saddle, and share the same price (£1,899 as of April 2014).
There are four tiers within the Defy range. Some of these tiers have multiple models – essentially the same bikes, just with different components.
At the bottom end of the range we have the basic ‘Defy’ which comes in six flavours numbered 0 (highest spec, priced at £1,199) to 5 (lowest, priced at £499). All of the Defy tier have aluminium frames with sportive-friendly compact gearing. Those gear components range from a mix of Shimano Claris (which I’ve never heard of) and SRAM on the cheaper models up to Shimano 105 and Ultegra on the top two models. It has to be said, getting Ultegra gears (albeit with FSA chainrings) on a £1200 bike is just phenomenal value.
Above the basic Defy, we have the Defy Composite, Defy Advanced and Defy Advanced SL (in order of rising cost). These each have a couple of variants. Confusingly, Giant refers to these bikes as having ‘composite’ frames with no obvious mention of carbon fibre. A little bit of digging discovers that these are carbon fibre frames – Giant is just trying to highlight how sophisticated it’s in-house carbon frame-making is.
Cannondale‘s sportive (or gran fondo) road bike is the Synapse. According to Cannondale’s website, ‘the …Synapse’s balance of raw power and all-day ridability means that “endurance” is no longer code for “boring”‘. I’m not sure I’ve ever equated ‘ridability’ with tedium, but… er, whatevs.
In Cannondale’s favour (particularly for someone trying to round up all the sportive bikes in the known universe), it uses bike names that reflect their specification. Hence we have two series, the Synapse (which has an aluminium alloy frame) and the Synapse Carbon (which is made out of marshmallow).
Each bike within each series is cleverly distinguished by appending the name of the components it uses. So we have a ‘Synapse 6 Tiagra’ which is a Synapse (aluminium frame) with Shimano Tiagra components (mostly – the chain rings and brakes on the ‘Tiagra’ are not made by Shimano).
For bikes that sport disc brakes, Cannondale cunningly inserts the word ‘Disc’ into the name, e.g. Synapse Disc 3 Ultegra (translation: aluminium with disc brakes and Shimano Ultegra gears).
I have not done an exhaustive study, but it feels like Cannondale bikes are competitively priced (although perhaps their pencil isn’t quite as sharp as that of Giant). The bottom-of-the-range Synapse Claris retails for about £650; the Synapse Carbon 6 105 (which is the equivalent spec to my own Trek Domane – the bike against which all others are judged) goes for £1,699, a full £101 cheaper than the aforementioned Domane.
Clearly I have a slight bias towards my Trek (as do other readers that found this blog through my ham-fisted review of the Domane), but it’s worth saying that there is a vocal minority of Cannondale owners here on Sportive Cyclist who I’m sure will be happy to extol the virtues of the Synapse, if you give them the opportunity.
Also, Cycling Plus magazine (ha! magazine! paper is so last millennium) awarded the Synapse it’s Bike Of The Year Award 2014.
On the one hand, Ribble makes life very easy for the sportive cyclist. Three of its range of 9 carbon road bikes have ‘Sportive’ in the title and one has ‘Gran Fondo‘ (as sportives are known in the US, Australia and, er, Italy). Three of its 6 alloy road bikes use the ‘Sportive’ moniker.
And then that’s where it starts to get a bit complicated.
In order to buy a Ribble bike, you use the ‘bikebuilder’ tool on its website. This allows you to select a frame and then spec it up with the components of your choice: groupset, headset, wheels, stem, handlebars, headset spacers, saddle, seatpost, tyres, inner tubes, handlebar tape, pedals.
Whilst this allows the discerning purchaser to get exactly what they want on the bike (Fizik Superlight Glossy Bar Tape), it might put off (nay, freak out) the novice cyclist. Sometimes having too much choice is simply not helpful.
Which is a shame really. I really like Ribble. My sister and her fiancé both ride Ribbles and rate them highly. They offer great value for money: you can get a carbon-framed Sportive Bianco with full Shimano 105 groupset (gears, brakes, everyting) for a shade less than £1,050. Cycling Weekly awarded that bike 10/10.
The other slightly annoying thing about the Ribble website is the presentation of the sizing and geometry information. This is pretty crucial if you’re aiming to sell a bike online. To be blunt, the way it’s presented is muddled and overly complicated.
Say you’ve decided you want a Sportive Bianco and you click through to start building up the bike, if you click on the ‘Frame geometry’ link, a new window pops up showing a selection of frames and measurements, most of which are not relevant to the bike you’re looking at. The diagrams are inconsistent. Some of them have model types that don’t seem to exist as potential purchases.
I’m pretty sure you can call Ribble and discuss sizing and other questions (I think my brother-in-law-to-be did exactly that) but you have to go searching on the website to find the number. I wonder how many potential bike purchasers are lost simply because they’re worried about making a sizing gaffe or specifying the wrong number of headset spacers.
The sportive model is the Focus Izalco Ergoride. Izalco is a volcano (in fact a stratovolcano) in El Salvador. Ergoride is a made up word.
All of the Ergorides sport a carbon frame.
There are three variants of Izalco Ergoride:
- Top of the range: Focus Izalco Ergoride 1.0 – full Campagnolo Chorus groupset (compact) (ooh, Campagnolo, ooh bits of it made from carbon fibre) – £2,459
- Middle of the range: Focus Izalco Ergoride 2.0 – full Shimano Ultegra groupset (compact) – £1,999
- Unten auf der Palette: Focus Izalco Ergoride 3.0 – Shimano 105 gears plus other bits (triple or compact) – £1,549
Focus don’t like you buying a bike over t’internet, so whilst you can order one online from one of the various interweb bike sellers, you’ll have to go and collect it in person from the shop. Which you might want to do, given that their prices look pretty keen to me.
I think (think!) Scott do two ranges of bikes that are suitable for sportives, with a further one that is a ‘maybe*’.
The two sportive definitives are the CR1 and Solace ranges.
(*The ‘maybe’ is the Scott Speedster, the company’s range of alloy-framed bikes. I haven’t done any further research because I’m rapidly losing the will to live).
According to a proper review of the CR1 (which I have hastily just read), the bike started life as Scott’s super dooper, lightweight professional racing bike. In recent years, it has been adapted for sportive riders with carbon layup this and head tube heightened that. Still, it’s race-proven pedigree probably adds to the ‘cool factor’ (or not, depending on your view).
The CR1 certainly beats the Solace in its marketing – to me, the name Solace (noun: comfort or consolation in a time of great distress or sadness) doesn’t quite strike the right note. I can see where they were going with it but…
In any event, there are 4 Solaces (I’m guessing that’s the first time you’ve ever read the plural of solace). They all sport(ive) a carbon frame. They range in price from a penny under £2,000 to a penny under £7,000. Yes, you heard that right.
At the lower end of the range we have the Solace 30 with Shimano 105 gears. It’s available either two flavours: compact gearing or with a double (eek!) chainset. I can’t see the full spec list for the compact version, but the double is fitted with a distinctly hill-unfriendly 11-25. Where’s the solace in that?
The ’20’ ups the solace quotient marginally. Again we have the choice of compact or ‘double’ gearing (this time in Shimano Ultegra flavour), but this version offers an additional 3 teeth on the largest cog of the cassette (it’s an 11-28). The Solace 10 has the same gear ratios, this time with Shimano Dura-Ace components. The Solace Premium is like the ’10’, just with electronic gears and is only available with compact gears (though the stated 52/36 chainrings are slightly less ‘compact’ than others – my Domane has the more standard 50/34 combo).
Perhaps the CR1 should be renamed the ‘Respite’. Or at least ‘Better Value’. The range starts at £1,199. The bike with the equivalent specification to ‘The Bike Against Which All Others Are Judged’ comes in a full £300 cheaper than the Trek.
All three CR1s come either with triple chain rings (30 gears) or compact gears. The CR1 30 comes with Shimano Sora components; the ’20’ with Shimano 105; the ’10’ with Ultegra.
For the CR1s fitted with triples, it’s worth noting that the little chain ring has 30 teeth, matching exactly the number of teeth on the largest cog of the cassette (all three, even the ’10’ are fitted with a forgiving Tiagra 12-30 cassette). This 1-to-1 gear ratio should make even the steepest slope
a doddle slightly less hard to climb.
Enough. Please. Enough.
I’ll be honest, I’m exhausted. At times, writing this post has been like sharting a pineapple.
Hopefully the resulting fruits of my labours have not been too mind-numbing to read, and have at least provided some value in terms of narrowing down your own new sportive bike research.
Needless to say, I am guaranteed to have missed some bikes and bike makers out. If I get the sense that this post has been useful (if it has been, please do click one or all of the share buttons below), I’ll perhaps do a follow up post with any additional sportive bikes that come to light.
So, to reiterate, please share this post with as many people as possible. The easiest way is to hit the share buttons below but I’m quite comfortable if you also want to print it out and give it to random strangers in the street.