Editors’ Choice: Best Road Bikes and Gravel Bikes of 2019

From the dozens we rode, these are the bikes we liked best

Of all the things we can properly boast about at Road Bike Action it’s that no one else rides and reviews as many road and gravel bikes as we do.  From the odd birds to the team replicas, the number and variety of drop bar bikes that pass through the vaunted halls of the RBA office is at times overwhelming…but oh so awesome!

As such, each year for the last decade we’ve rolled into each new year by first heralding the best bikes we tested from the previous year. Below you’ll find the contenders that ranked highest with RBA editors  and test riders. As we sit here just hours from beginning a new decade, we are already looking at a stable of new bikes that we think you will want to know about. Stay tuned for more to come!

ZAP’S

BEST ROAD BIKE

Every once in a while, a test bike comes along that simply wins everybody over who throws a leg over it. This year that bike was the Pinarello F12.  At just under 18 pounds, it wasn’t light and real fans of Italian made bikes felt let down to know the bike is actually made in China. Still, owing to its modernist styling, unique, asymmetrical  frame design and, most of all, its stand-out (or maybe it’s outstanding) handling, Fausto Pinarello delivered the goods that left everyone gasping with joy and overly impressed. Oh yeah, a Tour de France winning legacy never hurts. Available in a whopping choice of 13 sizes, as tested our built with a SRAM Red AXS drivetrain bike sells for a cool $13,500 with frames selling for $6500. MORE on the Pinarello F12   www.pinarello.com

 

BEST GRAVEL BIKE

Not unlike the responses we heard about the Pinarello, the same held true for the Open WI.DE. – as in everybody who rode it raved about it. Funny thing, even with the big 2.3 knobby meats, these same people all said the Open still performed as a good road bike! Yes, we’ve seen fat tire road bikes before, but by surprisingly weighing just a skooch more than the Pinarello F12; from group road rides to the Leadville 100 to the Rim Trail in Moab, Utah, the WI.DE simply proved to be a revelation. Just as a million and one other gravel bikes have borrowed the dropped driveside chainstay design used on the  original Open UP (that blew up the burgeoning category) a few years ago, expect to see dozens more now borrow the WI.DE’s double-dropped chainstay yoke design which is what allows the big meats to fit in the rear triangle. The level of off-road control afforded by the big tires is amazing.  MORE on the Open WI.DE www.opencycle.com

 

BEST GRAVEL RUNNER-UP

As slow as Europe as been to both recognize and embrace gravel riding, who would’ve guessed that the French would knock it outta the park on their first try?! But that’s just what Look did with their noteworthy 765 RS gravel bike that shined bright as a first-time effort for the venerable legacy road brand. With its Mavic wheels and SRAM Force 1x drivetrain, the Look impressed us for not trying to be anything more than it was designed to be; simple and svelte in stature with solid and precise handling. MORE on the Look 765 RS Gravel www.lookcycle.com

 

BEST BOLD INITIATIVE

When the history books are written, Niner will go down as the “small-guy” brand that beat all the majors to the punch by introducing the world’s first production full-suspension gravel bike. Although some people question the need for it to exist, there was a time when many thought the same when FS came to mountain bikes. The Niner MCR has ushered a new era of gravel technology and design that will be something to reckon with in coming years. With 50mm of rear wheel travel, the 26-pound bike was designed with a spirit of adventure in mind. We like the range of models available that start at $4700. MORE on the Niner MCR www.ninerbikes.com

 

BEST SHOCK OF THE NEW

Such a bold masterpiece was the S-Works Creo e-road bike from Specialized that we even joked…”road bike of the year”?! Hitting the scales at just 26 pounds, the $14,5000 S-Works model features Class 3 speeds (28mph) with almost friction-free pedaling. Simply put, there is no other e-road bike we’ve ridden that impressed us this much…we would advise buying the Comp model which costs more than half as much but still uses the same motor high-end carbon frame. MORE on the Specialized Creo SL www.specialized.com  

 

TROY’S

BEST ROAD BIKE

Choosing a road bike is tough but one bike this year stood out the Norco Section Carbon. Not what I would have thought was going to be at the top of my list since it came in all black and was what I would consider a sleeper. The geometry was responsive while maintaining a confident and predictable ride. It was fun to ride, aggressive enough to push the pace with the front group and well-spec’d. All that plus room for larger road tires all while not breaking the bank. I would choose a frame with some color. MORE on the Norco Section Carbon www.norco.com 

BEST GRAVEL BIKE 

There were a lot of companies jumping on the gravel train but the most impressive to me was the revamped GT Grade. The update was really a full bike makeover that did more than bring the bike into the current axle and brake standard. The most impressive part is the use of glass fiber in the thin and long seat stays. The added compliance is impressive and the reason I also chose it as my Dirty Kanza bike (RBA Sept 2019). For the ultimate setup I added a Lauf Grit fork for a close to full suspension ride. MORE on the 2020 GT Grade www.gtbicycles.com

BEST RACE BIKE

While I don’t race, I do enjoy a race bike. The Tarmac has been a great balance of responsive handling and predictable responsiveness. On top of that, it is equipped with the new SRAM AXS and their version of mid-compact, 48/35. This new combination is matched with the 12-speed 10-28 cassette, offering a wide range of gears with tight gear gaps. MORE on the SRAM AXS & Specialized Tarmac Disc www.specialized.com

BEST DO-IT-ALL BIKE

When Lauf launched the True Grit gravel bike with their noteworthy suspension fork I was impressed with the geometry. I also knew that if it was paired with a rigid fork it would be an impressive do-it-all bike, Lauf calls it the Anywhere. The frameset is exactly the same as their True Grit but with a rigid fork and large road slick tires. The best part is you can install their Grit Sl Fork and build your own True Grit. MORE on the Lauf Anywhere & Lauf True Grit www.laufcycling.com

 

DAVID’S

BEST RACE BIKE


Giant’s TCR Advanced Pro 0 Disc earned the top step in more than one sense. While I did ride it to my first win in a Pro 1/2 race, the snappy, predictable handling characteristics were precisely the reason I chose it. The TCR weighs in at 17.12 pounds but makes up for the extra couple pounds with an efficiently stiff and responsive frame helping serve its role as Giant’s flagship race bike. MORE on the Giant TCR Advanced Disc www.giant-bicycles.com

 

BEST DISC BRAKE PACKAGE

Factor’s O2  is near the top of the list of lightweight disc brake road bikes. But always ready to push the limit of frame engineering, Factor shaved 100 grams off the O2 with their latest release, the O2 VAM. Factor claims a size 54 frame weighs 690 grams while the Svelte fork weighs 310 grams for an impressive total frameset weight of 1000 grams. Built-up and ready to roll, our test bike hit the scales at 15 pounds. MORE on the Factor O2 VAM www.factorbikes.com

 

BEST ALL-DAY COMFORT

While comfort is a subjective term, for me it means, a smooth, predictable, upright ride. BMC’s Roadmachine 01 Three checks all three boxes and does it in eye-catching fashion. The $7699 Three’s wireless SRAM Force AXS build keeps the lines of the frame clean which is a plus from the stylish Swiss brand. A  100.8cm wheelbase gave our size 56 predictable cornering traits and combined with 28mm Vittoria Corsa 2.0 tires a plush ride as well. BMC designed plethora vibration reduction throughout the frame, but the bottom bracket retains stiffness that saves watts (compared to more flexible frames), which add up on long rides. MORE on the BMC Roadmachine 01 www.bmc-switzerland.com

 

BEST GRAVEL VALUE

2019 start-up from Tennessee, Ocoee comes to us from the same minds behind the titanium legend Lightspeed. The Boundary is their gravel offering, with complete bikes starting at $2600 for the Shimano 105 version up to their Shimano Ultegra Di2 model for $3950. Much the Salsa Warbird, my pick from last year, the Boundary is set with plenty of accessory mounts, perfect for long gravel adventures. MORE on the Ocoee Boundary www.ocoeebikes.com

 

 

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