On a flat road, you have two choices if you want to go faster. One, get fitter. Two, become more aerodynamic. Focusing on the second of these possibilities, over the past few years aerodynamics has been the big noise in the bicycle world.
In fact, the immutable laws of physics have always made it the most important factor in going faster – it’s just not always been recognised as such. Happily, recent developments in material technology mean it’s now easier to make a bike both very aerodynamically efficient and yet also enjoyable to ride and look at.
Still not a sandbox in which it’s cheap to begin scratching, the range of truly conscientiously designed aero bikes is still surprisingly small. Below are seven of our favourites.
...and because although it’s nice to dream, we’ve also highlighted examples of each platform we think represent the best value for riders funding their own purchases to sit alongside.
Trek Madone SLR 9
£13,200, Shop Trek
Would Mads Pedersen’s Trek Madone look as fast if I didn’t already know he’d just won the World Championships on it? I found myself pondering this conundrum in front of the aforementioned bicycle when Rouleur had it shipped over for the Classic exhibition in London a couple of years back. After some consideration, I think the answer is probably yes. Trek’s Madone just looks like a bike made to whack someone over the head with.
Aerodynamics isn’t even the only story going on here either. Trek’s 800 Series OCLV carbon aero frame also includes an adjustable IsoSpeed decoupler. This sees the Madone’s seat tube pass clean through the bike's seat stay cluster, with the degree to which it can then flex then adjustable by the rider. Taking more than just the edge off what is otherwise an extremely unyielding bicycle, it’s one of the few occasions where the opposing poles of marketing bumf, i.e. stiffness and comfort, are genuinely united.
Also to consider, Trek Madone SL 7, £6,000
Cervelo S5 Dura-Ace Di2
£11,059, Shop Cervelo
The man with the most aerodynamic surname in bicycle design may long since have left Cervelo, but Gerard Vroomen’s legacy lives on in the brand’s dedication to making incredibly slippery bicycles. With a rear wheel so raffishly tucked as to have the commissaires fingering their measuring tapes, the firm’s S5 represents about the limit of what’s permissible under the UCI’s current racing regulations.
With a radical one-piece cockpit sitting above the frame’s squat hourglass-shaped head tube, the integration of this into the frame itself is just the foremost part in a design intended to pass through the wind as easily as a cabinet minister slips from government into consultancy. Recently seen under the Jumbo-Visma squad, their nabbing of wins on it at everything from Grand Tours to cobbled classics hasn’t hurt its image either.
Also to consider, Cervelo S5 Ultegra Di2, £8,779
Cannondale SystemSix Hi-Mod Dura-Ace Di2
£10,000, Shop Cannondale
Long a bastion composed of round tubes and external cables, Cannondale’s beautiful SuperSix recently underwent an aero makeover. However, it’s the brand’s pointy SystemSix that we’re including here, partly inspired by its claim to ‘generate the least aerodynamic drag of any road bike on the market’. It manages this, like most high-end bikes, by optimising not just the frame and fork, but also its seat post, cockpit, and wheels.
Built from the wheels up, its 64mm deep KNØT models are also wider than average to smooth airflow over the tyre and rim. At the same time, the SystemSix’s bar and stem look to both the eye and the oncoming breeze to be made in one piece. However, in reality, these again prove to be two neatly integrated units allowing for a far greater degree of adjustment. It’s one of several user-friendly accommodations made to riders who don’t have pro-levels of mechanical support.
Also to consider, Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra, £5,000
Ribble Ultra SL R Ultergra Di2
£5,199, Shop Ribble
A bike that considers both itself and its rider when punching a hole through the air; the Ribble Ultra SL R works hard to smooth airflow over both. On the integrated one-piece handlebar, this is evident in cut-away sections and bulges that shelter you from the oncoming wind. The bike’s boxy downtube is similarly designed to work best with a water bottle attached. Other features are equally tuned for aerodynamic gain including the deep bladed fork and widely spaced and dropped seatstays. Unsurprisingly there are no cables to flap about, while the bike’s disc callipers have also been brought in out of the wind.
Created by UK-based firm Ribble, each Ultra bike is both excellent value and can be custom-built. This means riders can change everything from details like gearing ratios to big-impact components such as the wheels. Finished off with a choice of paint jobs, these include various lovely-looking metallic options.
Also to consider, Ribble SL 105, £3,199
Merida Reacto Disc Team-E
£9,000, Shop Merida
The first nose-bleedingly aero bike I ever rode was an ex-team Bahrain-Merida Reacto. A bit of a step-change, I remember thinking, ‘yep, this truly is obnoxiously fast’. An experience it’d been several years of reviewing since I last encountered, the effect was so notable I had to spend the rest of the week in a dark room recovering.
Fast enough to help Vincenzo Nibali win Milan–San Remo, like every other aero bike the Merida claims to temper its manners for the benefit of the everyday schlub. Certainly, its dropped seat stays and cutaway post don’t hurt these aspirations. Still, it remains a very racey proposition. Also, while I know it’s dreadfully déclassé to mention these things, it’s also somewhat of a bargain compared to most of its competitors.
Also to consider, Merida Reacto Disc 4000, £2,250
Wilier Filante SLR
£7,380, Shop Wilier
Wilier has always been a brand that captures the spirit of Italian racing. Wilier has always prided itself on a distinct sharp handling character. Having ridden most of its bikes from the Zero 7 to the Cento10Air, we can confirm that Wilier’s bikes do tread a perfect balance between aggressive, reactive Italian flair and a stable, mature ride quality.
Wilier’s Cento10Air was the most race-focussed of the fleet, and the Filante SLR represents an interesting evolution. All of the external cables have been placed inside the frame and handlebar, making for a svelte looking and highly aerodynamic front end, yet it’s also strikingly light. The frame comes in at only 870g – meaning that even with disc brakes the full build weighs only a little over 7kgs.
Despite its aggressive curves, a 56cm top tube size L has a 15.5cm toptube, making it a tad more relaxed than a first glance may suggest. Added to the tyre clearance of 30mm, the Filante boasts striking versatility despite its aero credentials.
It’s being put through its paces by the Astana Premier Tech team this season, already proving to be the preferred option from Wilier’s fleet across a range of terrain. In its grey gloss finish, it does simply look incredibly fast too, meaning the riders will have to do their best to keep up.
Sadly, unlike the other bikes on the list, they’ll be no buying the 1.4-litre version and sticking a 2.2-litre badge on the Filante. If you want one, you’re going to have to get a loan.
Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7
£11,500, Shop Specialized
There was brief debate over whether the Tarmac was quite aerodynamic enough to be included here. However, if it’s quick enough for Quick-Step, I guess it should be quick enough for us. Having killed off the Venge, Specialized’s long-serving Tarmac platform is now the firm’s fastest racer. Redesigned to better occupy this segment, it’s nevertheless comparatively slender looking, while also being more acquiescent in its handling.
However, if its 60mm deep Roval Rapide CLX wheels, or troupe of elite-level wins hadn’t already convinced you, it’s still very, very quick. Matching real-world rideability with a WorldTour capable turn of pace, it also delivers on its promise of all-day comfort. Arriving at or below the UCI’s current weight limit out of the box, this isn’t too shabby for an aero bike with disc brakes and deep wheels either.
Also to consider, Specialized Tarmac SL7 Force eTap AXS, £7,250
BMC Timemachine 01
£10,000, Shop BMC
There’s something to be said for any bikemaker clever enough to design the aerodynamic properties of its bicycles to incorporate the bottles that will invariably be attached to their main tubes. Their integration, along with a non-UCI-compliant removable storage holster help smooth airflow over the surface of BMC’s aero-as-can-be TimeMachine.
Resulting in a boxy profile quite unlike any other machine on the market, elsewhere dropped seatstays and an integrated cockpit are equally de rigueur in their adherence to the latest in aerodynamic thinking. In fact, as far as we can remember it was BMC that popularised the former of these. So clearly its designers are more than capable of coming up with a trick or two. With a strong racing heritage, while BMC may no longer be the title sponsor of a WorldTour team, it does still supply bikes to both Ag2r Citröen and Team Qhubeka Assos.
Also to consider, BMC Timemachine 01 Three Ultegra Di2, £6,500
Ribble Endurance SL R Disc
£4,999, Shop Ribble
Aero road bikes aren’t often cheap, so when one manages to provide a quid change from five grand, plus a set of Zipp wheels, a Dura-Ace Di2 groupset, and an integrated cockpit, it’s worth taking notice. As you’d expect from the name, Ribble’s Endurance SL R platform is adept at general riding yet still quick enough to serve the Drops-Le Col team on race days.
Balancing long-distance utility with enough of a turn of speed to make it exciting, almost every aspect of the bike from the number of teeth on the cassette to the shape and brand of the saddle can be customised when ordering. Arriving with a one-piece carbon bar and stem, the width and reach of this can also be pre-specified, potentially saving a lot of fiddling and expense later.
Also to consider, Ribble Endurance Sl R Disc Ultegra, £2,999