In the days of Covid, a bike has become an essential means of transport and a way to stay fit while the gyms remain shut. And luckily – thanks to advancements in technology and a whole host of upstart manufacturers – if you buy one now it’s an investment for life. So, whether you’re looking for something suitable for a city commute, to take off-road or just go extremely fast (all atop something that looks tremendous) we’ve put together a selection of must-cycle bikes for this year and beyond.
The first and main thing to consider is what you want to do on your bike. Do you want to go off-road? Are you in the market for speed and a gateway to competing? Do you want something to cruise on and look good? Or do you want a blend of all three? This might seem obvious, but what might be less so is that a few of the hybrid options on this list offer a diversity that will cater to multiple needs.
By material we also mean weight here. We haven’t included touring bikes on this list (the sort of robust frames essential for cross-continent cycling) so we’re not dealing with anything too heavy, but there is a range of materials and thus weights below. If your commute involves lugging a bike on and off public transport or up or down stairs, do consider something lighter as irritation (and fatigue) will quickly set in if you underestimate weight.
Frame materials run the gamut from traditional steel and aluminium through to titanium and the much fêted carbon fibre. Although the latter might feel like a sexier option, it’ll likely lead to a lighter, more sensitive ride that will take some getting used to. You should also consider stiffness for power transfer and the general shape for comfort.
Far too often overlooked, comfort is a really important factor to consider. Although a Brompton might seem like a handy, compact commuter option, when you actually come to trying one, depending on your build, you might find it’s not the most comfortable option for you. Likewise, you may want the speed and thin tyres of a road bike, but actually find that the flat handlebars and upright seating position of a hybrid style suit you better. A little road testing is highly recommended.
By kit, we mean what’s on the bike. If you’re edging more towards a road-style bike, or even if you’ve got your eye on some of the more aesthetically-pleasing bikes on this list, it’s worth considering the overall package. What frame, wheels, brakes, groupset (gears), tyres and seat are you getting? This always tends to be a balancing act, and with road bikes especially, it’s often the case that more impressive components like the frame are offset by slightly cheaper groupsets or brakes.
However, this can be thought of in the sense of a work in progress. As you grow into your bike and feel the need for better components to match your cycling ambitions, you can always upgrade, so really place the frame and groupset high up your list of priorities.
Specialized Allez E5 2021
Impressive for an entry-level bike, the Specialized Allez is versatile and, in our opinion, pips its competitors to the crown of perfect gateway road bike. There’s a great E5 premium aluminium frame that provides the basis for a light racer that handles well. Run the standard issue components into the ground and then maybe upgrade a few bits, but overall it’s a package inspired by better bikes at a very affordable price point.
Specialized Roubaix Sport
Further along the road from the Allez and with a substantially higher but nonetheless great value price tag is the Roubaix Sport. A light but muscular FACT 10r carbon frame is complemented by disc brakes, a Shimano 105 11 speed groupset and Specialized finishing kit. Shock cartridge forks provide 20mm’s worth of vertical stem and bar movement – great for soaking up punishing bumps at the end of longer rides. Did we mention that it’s incredibly fast too? Looks best in black.
Canyon Roadlite CF 8.0
We touched upon it earlier, but not everyone wants dropped handlebars and sleek racing credentials. Step forward the Canyon Roadlite CF, a carbon frame hybrid that’s ideal for urban commuting and pushing yourself harder on the weekend. Mixing a road bike frame with a more comfortable riding position and flat pedals, the package also includes high-quality groupset, disc brakes and nifty DT Swiss wheels.
Felt AR3 AERO
So, you want an aero bike do you? Something that’s light as a feather, as fast as a speeding bullet and looks like something out of Tron? The Felt AR3 AERO should do the trick. Not too pricey by aero standards but extremely light and fast nonetheless, what the AR3 AERO lacks in comfort (which isn’t the aim here) it certainly makes up for with sheer lack of drag. A classy drivetrain and finishing kit complete an impressive specimen.
Ribble CGR 725
Preston-based bikemakers Ribble are a name you should definitely consider when choosing your next bike. Their knack for sourcing the same parts seen on expensive Tour bikes from far off places for a fraction of the price means that when you buy anything from them, whether a road or hybrid bike, you get great quality and value. We’ve opted for the CGR 725 in this case because as well as its light and sturdy steel frame, this “cross, gravel and road” gem just looks terrific. Another hybrid option for those who want to spend a one-off fee on something that will see them through a number of different cycling scenarios.
Specialized Tarmac SL7 Expert
We were going to end there with the road bikes, but we couldn’t resist including this monster. If you’ve got the money, the time and the cojones – this is certainly an investment. That FACT 10r frame and serious Shimano Ultegra groupset combined with finishing touches like Roval 38 carbon wheels and hydraulic disc brakes (be careful) mean the Specialized Tarmac SL7 Expert really is a dream bike. There’s a camouflage paint job option too.
Another British cycling mainstay, Pashley are well-known for their glorious collegiate wide-handled, vintage-inspired bicycles. They create the sort of bike you expect to be leaned against an Oxbridge college wall, but they also do a few more compact and speedier numbers – the Guv’nor for instance. Again visually stunning, but with a build and package to see you cycling for decades: Reynolds 531 steel (the best), gold-lined black alloy Westwood rims and Kevlar-lined tyres with a reflective band. Don’t underestimate the retro aesthetic, this bike certainly moves.
Brompton M6L 2020
Read any reviews of a Brompton (featured image, top) and they’re always the same: “I wish I had made the investment sooner”. Chances are, if you’re considering a Brompton, you want that innovative packing system for varied commuting and a smooth ride that lends itself to nipping around in urban areas. The good news is Brompton is the bike for that, but they’ve also ironed out the foibles with improved groupset and brakes. The M-style handlebars are our personal preference, but flat ones are available too.
B’Twin Riverside 920
Another great hybrid to finish off on. This great-value bike provides a more upright and comfortable ride compared with the racier options on the list but still packs in some speed and versatility. At the heart of that versatility is the bike’s Suntour NCX Air suspension fork with remote lockout, which provides cushioning for bumpier rides, power transfer on flat, and an adjustability to suit in between. A surprisingly good groupset and hydraulic disc brakes make the price even more impressive. A real gem for commuters who want to tackle different terrain on the weekend.