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For most everyone but the true mountain goats, an aero bike is hands down the best real world choice. They’re faster on the flats, descents and even shallow climbs. It’s not until the gradients pitch up to six percent and beyond that lightweight bikes steal the show. So, if setting the K.O.M. on Alpe d’Huez isn’t in your future—and you’re in very good company—take a look at these top seven picks for aero bikes that will have you taking a machete to your PRs.
• Integrated cockpits and hidden cables have become standard in aero bikes—though some systems are more user-friendly than others.
• Trek’s new Madone SLR offers an entirely new adjustable ISO Speed design to dial the ride for rider weight and terrain.
• The Factor ONE has a split downtube claimed reduce drag and increase stiffness.
• The new Specialized Venge shaves off over a pound compared to its predecessor!
• BMC’s Timemachine ROAD 01 integrates water bottles and storage for maximum aero efficiency.
Trek Madone SLR
The first thing we noticed on the SLR was the Top Tube ISO Speed. Previously, that feature resided in the seat tube. The update completely changes the design of the bike and allows Trek to more closely match vertical compliance values across all frame sizes and let riders choose their favorite setting based on terrain and preference. The SLR is 17-percent more compliant than the previous Madone—a significant improvement over an already-comfortable aero bike. Within 30 seconds of riding down a stretch of road in the Blue Mound area, we began to fall in love. The bike is fast, fast and more fast. Did we say, fast?
We loved the new adjustable bar-and-stem combination and the move of the ISO Speed to the top tube. The new H1.5 geometry did not warrant a trip to the local chiropractor for a “treatment” and we did notice a compliance improvement from the previous Madone (in a good way). The lines and shapes and curves of the SLR and the almost complete integration made the SLR the fastest bike we have ridden in recent memory. On descents, our disc-brake-equipped SLR ($12,000 as tested) was ultra-stable, ultra-secure and took corners with ease. The integration of Bontrager lights into the design and the disc- and rim-brake options are inspiring. Add in the new ICON paint schemes available through Project One and this bike becomes a must-consider. We are also impressed with the variety of model options for women.
$11,999–$12,499; 7.65 kg/16.86 lbs (size 56cm as tested); Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6 tubelessready disc; trekbikes.com
Wilier Cento10AIR Disc
Is it wrong that we just want to talk about the Wilier Cento10AIR disc’s paint job? The bike appears almost lit from within, an iridescent sparkle emanating from the bike under the sun’s rays. It will create pre-ride buzz in even the most-high-rent zip codes. But enough about the paint job. This is a race bike that deftly balances aerodynamics with the ride quality the Cento name is famous for. The position is aggressive, with weight over the bars for balance and a nimble personality. Happily, with some rider weight on the bars, the Alabarda is one of the most ergonomically friendly integrated bars in the peloton. While many disc variants of proven race bikes mute power delivery, with Mississippi-long chain stays, the Cento10AIR disc’s stays grow by just 2mm on the large size, yet it still allows for a 30mm tire. Despite the short stays, at almost 17 pounds, our size-large test bike was not for the pure climber. The bike also retains the Cento10AIR rim bike’s aero performance with truncated, Kammtail airfoils, dropped stays and a slippery front end. But, honestly, it says “Cento” on the top tube and that’s good enough for us. Now, have we mentioned the paint job?
$11,270; 7.7kg/16.9 lbs (size large); built with Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc, DT Swiss ERC1400 wheels; wilier.com
Related: The 6 Best All-Around Wheels
Orbea Orca Aero
The Orca Aero is one of the first bikes to be developed in the wake of the UCI’s recently relaxed 3:1 tube-section rules, and what a difference it’s made. Over 40 kilometers at 50 kph, it’s almost a minute and half faster than the Orca OMR. The Orca Aero is no climber, but it whips up to speed quickly—from a low-speed jump out of a corner to off of a wheel at 50 kph under 1,600 watts. Stiffness runs through the head tube as well, with precision and confidence at the bars, to rail the final corner at absurd speeds. All that stiffness is very capable of beating you up over a long ride but, fear not, it comfortably takes a 28mm tire. Ride that tubeless at 80psi and you’ve got all the plushness you could ask for in a bike that’s absolutely vicious under power.
$5,000; 8kg/17.6 lbs (57cm); orbea.com
Specialized S-Works Venge
There is a new king of the Specialized ring and it’s called the Venge. It’s smooth and lively, magic in the hills, alive at the pedals for quick jumps as well as all-out sprints, absurdly confident at the bars and sticks in corners with grace and precision. It feels like a Tarmac (high praise indeed)—just in a package that is faster than the otherworldly Venge VIAS. It’s also a whopping 460 grams lighter than the Venge VIAS (that’s just over a pound!) leading to a drastically improved stiffness-to-weight ratio. As it has gotten more likable, more like a traditional bike, its geometry and fit have done the same; it is now essentially identical to the Tarmac Disc. The new Venge is also exclusively electronic and disc brake. That means cycling’s flat-earth society—electronic bad, rim brake good—will be out of luck.
$12,520 (frameset: $5,500); 7.4kg/16.3 lbs (as tested); specialized.com
BMC Timemachine ROAD 01
Wind tunnels lie; well, maybe they don’t lie, but do mislead. The wind tunnel is not the real world with hydration and storage needs, fit and ride quality needs. BMC designed the new Timemachine ROAD 01 with these things in mind—this is real-world aerodynamics. The “aero module” tucked down low in the main triangle takes what were previously liabilities in the wind tunnel—water bottles and storage—and makes them aero benefits. The cockpit is as sexy and integrated as it gets, but it’s easily adjustable without having to chop hydraulic hoses. The front disc is shrouded and the aero seat post offers plenty of adjustment and doesn’t slip. The rest of the bike, the traditionally aero stuff, is quick too—truncated airfoils and dropped rear stays. As slippery as the bike is, the ride quality does not suffer. BMC’s TCC (Tuned Compliance Concept) means simply a bike with plenty of power transfer and precise handling that provides the compliance needed for comfort and balance. The Time Machine Road’s aerodynamics weren’t just created for the wind tunnel, but they may be the fastest there anyway.
At a glance, the Factor ONE’s most striking detail is its split down tube. Called the Twin Vane Evo down tube, it reduces drag and massively ups the stiffness. Combined with other more traditional aero features, like Kamm-tail truncated airfoils, the ONE feels fast, blindingly so. The overwhelming takeaway is of a road-bike feel with TT-like speed. It excels at turning big wattage in the saddle into pure speed. An aggressive fit—our 58cm frame had a head tube 24mm lower than a 58cm Venge—contributes to the speed by putting you in a much more aero position. The OTIS front end is a rare home run in integration: The bars are super-stiff and comfortable, but modularity means the bike can be re-cabled without completely disassembling the cockpit. One gripe—the front end is so stiff that the back feels slightly unbalanced under peak wattage while sprinting.
$12,000; 7.45kg/16.4 lbs (as tested); factorbikes.com
Cannondale SystemSix HI-MOD
This new SystemSix puts the beloved original SystemSix’s sublime characteristics in a new, faster package. It’s got the same aggressive personality, the same kinetic feel at the pedals, the same ability to absolutely rail corners—but all of it done faster, seemingly much faster. It’s a master at taking high wattage jumps at breakneck speed, making it an incredible weapon for the dash from the final crit corner to the finish line.
Cannondale’s new HollowGram KNOT 64 carbon clinchers, based in part on a HED patent, are a real highlight of the build. These 64mm rims are some of the best-handling rims past 58mm we have ever ridden. Ride your tires at over 100psi and you’ll feel the ride in your backside and hands, but there’s no need for that. The KNOT 64 is tubeless ready and optimized for 26mm tires.
Another highlight is the new KNOT SystemBar. An integrated bar and stem is the low-hanging fruit for aero, but it can be a fit, technical and comfort disaster. Not so with the KNOT set-up. Stems can be swapped, bars lowered, raised or tilted, all without re-cabling your bike.
Much of the bike’s inherent abilities come to the fore when pointed downhill. The faster you go, the more the aero works, and you can feel it, either rolling past your buddies or constantly touching your brakes to stay off the wheel in front of you. When the descent gets twisty, the bike’s balanced stiffness and geometry—the same as the EVO—are a revelation. It leans with such confidence that exiting the corner it can feel as if you picked up speed. But at 17.3 pounds (7.85 kilograms) for our size 58 test bike, going uphill won’t be as fast as some aero manufacturers.
$7,900 (approx. $8,400 w/activated power meter)
17.3 lbs (7.85kg) 58cm (w/o pedals or cages) Build: Shimano Ultegra Di2 with HollowGram Si cranks and deactivated Power2Max NG Eco power meter, carbon KNOT SystemBar handle bar, alloy KNOT SystemBar stem, Prologo Dimension saddle, HollowGram KNOT 64 wheels, Vittoria Rubino Pro Speed Tires; cannondale.com