When Cannondale told us about their Topstone Neo SL e-bike we thought it sounded great. An e-bike built for roads, lanes, byways, gravel trails or just about anything you can point it in the direction of with an ultra discrete, lightweight Mahle ebikemotion X35+ drive system. No we’ve had a chance to get our hands on the bike we’re even more impressed than we had anticipated.
When you first see the Topstone Neo SL you realise just how far e-bikes have come. You’d be forgiven for asking the question ‘Where’s the motor?” The simple answer is that this clever hub-based motor really does hide in plain sight. Despite its subtle appearance, the assistance achieved by this lightweight motor is far from it. 250W power with a 250Wh battery provide three levels of support ensuring assistance is always there when you need it. A maximum range of 47 miles is achieved when used conservatively so you really can go the distance.
Controlled by the integrated top tube controller, assistance is always within reach. You can turn the system on, select your assist level and see your battery charge, all at the touch of a button leaving plenty of space on the bars for any other accessories you decide to take along for the ride. Charging is simple thanks to the easy access charging port. This also allows for an optional range extender for a total battery capacity of 450Wh allowing you to ride even further!
The lightweight aluminum frame and full carbon fork provide a smooth and stable ride. The geometry is perfectly balanced to allow you to munch miles in a back-friendly position without being too slack. You can still get pretty aero in the drops! Clearance for 700x42c tyres provide all the cushioning and grip you’ll need on the more technical trails, tubeless compatibility means you can get the pressures nice and low too.
Functionality is catered for with multiple mounts for water bottles, racks and storage. Fit a set of fenders to keep the grime off in the damper months and you’ll have a year-round companion if you don’t mind facing the elements making it the perfect companion for commuting in style.
Available in two differing builds, the Topstone Neo SL1 comes equipped with Shimano’s GRX600 1×11 Speed groupset, the Topstone Neo SL2 has Shimano GRX400 2×10 Speed, providing reliable functionality you’d expect from a Shimano hydraulic disc brake groupset in both cases. The SL1 even has some fine finishing kit like the Fabric Scoop saddle, Promax carbon seatpost both of which aid in soaking up any buzz. WTB Resolute TCS, 700 x 42c, tubeless-ready tyres and Cannondale 16 degree flared handlebars round up a really well-thought-out build.
Living in the UK our bikes need to be versatile, after all the weather in the UK can be grim at the best of times. Let’s face it we get about 3 months of sun every year, the rest of the time we spend battling the elements.
When it comes to cycling, especially road riding the best way to combat the inclement weather, protecting yourself and your bike from the relentless road spray is often to fit a set of mudguards. Wider tyres tend to favourable with those who like to ride right through the very worst of the weather. While modern endurance-orientated road bikes do tend to allow for this, sportier bikes certainly don’t. That’s where a winter bike comes into its own and we’ve found that Gravel Bikes make a perfect year-round bike here in the UK for training and generally enjoying the great outdoors. Hear me out…
Tyre Clearance One of the key features of a gravel bike is the clearance for large volume tyres, typically 40mm and above in width on a 700c wheel. While this is ideal for gravel riding when it comes to pounding miles on the road you might want something a little narrower. The beauty is though while you may not need the tyre clearance it allows you to fit full mudguards in place and still a nice wide tyre.
Disc Brakes Disc brakes offer far more consistent braking regardless of conditions, that paired without having to worry about wearing rims out lend towards all season riding. Come rain or shine you’re not likely to notice a dip in braking performance. Hydraulic discs offer superb modulation which can be crucial on slippy lanes and you don’t have to worry about them clogging up with mud.
Mounts One thing that gravel bikes tend to feature is mounting points. This opens up a range of possibilities for attaching all manner of accessories from mudguards to extra bottle cages or even pannier racks. It’s always handy to carry a few spares, there’s no harm in being over-prepared.
Geometry While gravel bikes may look to the eye to essentially be a road bike with bigger tyres, they typically have a more relaxed riding position. A slightly slacker front ends helps to aid stability which can prove hugely beneficial in ferocious winter crosswinds. This can also help with reducing the change of toe overlap when you’ve fitted mudguards! With a shorter reach than your typical road race bike, gravel bikes are more akin to endurance bikes, so you can ride all day in comfort.
So if you’re considering a gravel bike but aren’t quite convinced yet, we certainly think they’re worth their while. Even if you won’t be riding miles of unpaved tracks, they’re equally at home on the road with a few minor adjustments and might just make the ideal winter training bike. That being said, they’re certainly no replacement for an out and out road bike but do provide a huge level of versatility.
If you picture a road bike you are probably thinking of sleek, expensive and fast bikes that are ridden by lycra-clad pro’s and ridden in famous races like the Tour de France. You might also be thinking that this is not exactly the type of riding you wanted to do, fear not, the once limited options available to you have increased tenfold. The market has divided into subcategories and there are now a variety of ‘road’ bikes that suit every cyclist needs, a road bike is not simply a road bike these days.
So, with all these variations and bike jargon, how do you know what road bike is right for you? Below we’ve listed the many different styles of road bikes now available and what that means for you.
First, here is a quick list on what typically sets road bikes apart from commuting, touring, mountain and hybrid bikes.
A lightweight frame, wheels and components.
A drop (curled) handlebar, though some have a flat bar like a mountain bike.
Narrow wheels and tyres.
A composite (carbon fibre) front fork.
No front or rear suspension.
Men’s and women’s styles and a wide range of sizes.
The first thing to decide is what type of riding you want to do. Are you aiming to race? Do you want to tour? Will you be seeking out back roads and rough trails? At the end of the day, virtually any road bike can be ridden on any bit of road, but depending on what you want to do most of the time might mean that a particular style of a road bike would be more suitable than another. Let’s have a look at a few:
Endurance road bikes, otherwise known as sportive bikes, are designed with comfort in mind. The relaxed geometry is aimed at keeping the legs fresh and the posterior pain-free. This makes for a friendlier introduction to road riding if you are new to the activity. Endurance road bikes also tend to be designed to have a little more ‘give’ in the frame, without sacrificing much efficiency, this ‘give’ helps absorb the lumps and bumps of the British roads, keeping the vibrations in the bike and out of the bones.
Several features of an endurance bike’s geometry should make it comfortable for riding long distance over bumpy terrain. Mainly being a taller head tube and slightly shorter top tube, this means you’ll be riding in a more upright position. The less stretched out you are, the less likely you are to suffer from neck and backache.
Comfort, however, is not everything. You still want a bike that can respond and give a fast and exciting ride when you want to put the power through the pedals. You may not be hitting all the KOM’s or beating any land speed records, but rest assured, manufacturers will have balanced out comfort and speed capabilities, so you get the best of both worlds.
Where the Endurance road bikes are designed for comfort, the Performance road racing bikes are designed for speed, above all else. They are ideal race machines with geometries that allow for more aerodynamic body positions, the most dynamic handling, and punchier accelerations. Praised by professional riders and the most dedicated athletes, these bikes are most at home scaling formidable climbs, hurtling down steep descents, or attacking (this means catching and overtaking, not physically attacking) the group of riders ahead of you.
Performance road bikes will possibly sacrifice some strength for even less weight (making it even less suitable for rough surfaces). On top of this, the geometry may be borderline uncomfortable for people just starting to get into cycling. However, for an experienced rider, this reduction in weight and more aggressive geometry can increase performance. For a rider who does race, or values speed above all else and is willing to put the training in to become better, the Racer is ideal.
In the past year or so there has been a rise in popularity of riding extreme distances over mixed terrain, in races such as the Trans-Continental, for pleasure under the term bike-packing and in the exploits of one Lachlan Morton and co, in Rapha’s EF Gone Racing films. This has led to gravel type bikes being designed by the majority of big bike brands to excel in this type of riding, focusing on providing comfort and efficiency over long distances, and versatility.
The riding position is relaxed and features stable handling, while the frame will often feature mounts for various accessories like racks and panniers. The components on these bikes are also designed with more strength in mind and can handle some light off-road riding (single tracks, bridleways and forest tracks) thanks to thicker set tyres. Some riders opt for tubeless set-ups as they offer a number of benefits for gravel riding. The most advantageous being able to run lower pressures without risking pinch flats improving ride comfort and traction.
The biggest advantage of riding a gravel bike is the absolute freedom you have at your toe tips. Suddenly, road sections aren’t the same draining drags that they can be on a mountain bike. The off-road sections won’t jolt you into the chiropractors waiting room when you do hit the dirt. This new-found freedom will have you pouring over online mapping apps such as Komoot, creating that new perfect route that you’d probably never ride on a mountain bike, definitely wouldn’t on a road bike but are perfect for a gravel bike. This bike is ideal for the adventurer, someone who wants to explore roads and everything in between it.
So, you’ve decided what type of road bikes suits the style of riding you want to do. You’re scrolling through the different brands, reading the descriptions and spec sheet and most of it’s making sense, except one little thing…the groupset. If the word is alien to you, worry not, a road bike’s groupset refers to any mechanical or electronic parts that are involved in braking, changing gear, or the running of the drivetrain. That means the shifters, brake levers, front and rear brake callipers, front and rear derailleurs, crankset, bottom bracket, chain, and cassette.
There are three main manufacturers of groupsets and bike components. Shimano is the largest and best known, while the other two of the “big three” are Campagnolo and SRAM. All three manufacturers offer a range of groupsets at competing for price points.
Shimano Road Bike Groupsets
Shimano is synonymous with road cycling, producing and introducing some of the most fundamental technologies in cycling today.
Shimano’s road groupsets range from Claris (R2000) as the entry-level road-specific groupset, all the way to the professional Dura-Ace (R9100). The 11-speed options begin with 105 (5800), which offers most of the top-level performance at a more wallet-friendly price point, and even the 10-speed Tiagra (4700) is a solid option for the enthusiast cyclists. For near top performance with a small weight gain is the Ultegra (R8000) groupset, following closely to the recently updated Dura-Ace (R9100), and sharing much in terms of design and technology.
All Shimano groupsets come with their own rim brakes, and from Tiagra upwards, are available with disc brake options. These hydraulic disc brakes provide greater stopping power in any weather conditions (especially wet) compared to rim brakes.
SRAM Road Bike Groupsets
Rather than using two shifter arms for each hand to control the gears, SRAM’s DoubleTap® uses a single-arm under the brake lever to shift. To choose a higher gear in the rear, a short push is needed (one tap) is needed, while for a lower gear you need to push the shifter arms further, which actuates the second tap, shifting into a lower gear. This is revered for the front gears.
SRAM offers all but their RED® groupsets in both 1x and 2x variants. This is to cater to hybrid bikes, gravel and adventure, and cyclocross race bikes that prefer a simpler 1x setup. SRAM is the only of the three big groupset manufacturers to offer three different kinds of braking options: cable-operated rim brakes, hydraulic rim brakes and hydraulic disc brakes.
Campagnolo Road Bike Groupsets
Campagnolo road groupsets combine style and performance with a long history of road racing. As Campagnolo is very much a racing focused brand they don’t offer a budget level groupset. Rather, they begin in the middle, at the level where riders are looking for race capable components. Campagnolo is a heart over head brand, that has passion running through the core of their components.
All Campagnolo groupsets now come in 2×11 speed setups with the recent reintroduction of their entry-level Centaur groupset. Above Centaur is the Potenza groupset, followed by the Chorus groupset, which offers high-quality materials like titanium and carbon for weight savings, strength and precision performance.
The new regulations imposed by Boris Johnson mean that we are no longer able to enjoy the great outdoors as freely as we’d like. We are limited to leave our homes for reasons deemed a ‘necessity’. This includes shopping for food and medicines, work, helping a vulnerable person and once a day for exercise. As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, cycling is mentioned as a permitted exercise and while the details are slightly hazy, cycling is what you should do. The distance or time isn’t specified, however, common sense should dictate your rides. Stay safe, on your own, on routes you know and with all the necessary tools and with the knowledge of how to use them.
France and Spain had similar restrictions in place, unfortunately, cyclists flouted them, riding in groups and long distances. The government came down hard and banned all cycling due to a few unruly riders, with roaming police, strict fines and potential prison sentences to deter anyone from breaking the rules. Let’s not get ourselves into the same position by respecting the regulations and behave responsibly.
In the meantime, do the most to enjoy riding a bike. The sun is out and no one is in a hurry. Head out into the fresh air and take some deep breaths and enjoy the feeling of your legs spinning, the lack of cars and slightly eerie quietness in the streets. If you’re currently bikeless and feeling the urge to get one, there are some great bikes out there for under £1000 and options to finance them over a selected period of time, to alleviate any financial strain. Hargroves have picked a few of our favourite bikes for under £1000 and listed them below:
Available in pink and black the Sirrus X is your ticket to riding more and to places you never imagined possible. It’s a comfortable, capable “let’s do stuff” kind of bike that will inspire you to ride more than you ever have before. With bigger confidence-inspiring tires, a slightly more upright riding position, a super intuitive one-by drivetrain and plenty of mounts for racks and fenders it’s more than just a solid partner on the pavement. Specialized also equipped every Sirrus X with next-level comfort from their scientifically tested and ergonomically engineered shared platform body geometry saddle, handgrips and pedals. Here’s to your new life on two wheels. At £699 and finance options as low £19.40 a month it’s a deal that’s hard to pass.
With its low-standover, mountain-bike-inspired frame, its 700c knobby tires and 50mm suspension fork, the Althea can take you from pavement to dirt, to gravel and back…with a smile on your face. It’s comfortable, popular and looks good. The women’s frame design matches the ruggedness of a mountain bike with the speed of 700c wheels. Super low standover means easy mounting and dismounting. The women’s specific geometry of the Althea delivers the speed and agility of a city bike, with the stability and heads-up comfort of a mountain bike. Currently, with 15% off at £509.99 and finance options available at £14.15 a month, it’s time to snap up the Althea and get the most enjoyment out of your ride.
The Avenida 6 was built around comfort, with its classic step-through frame design and upright riding position coupled with the swept-back bar and suspension seat post the Avenida 6 puts you in the perfect position to ride all day and step off feeling just as fresh as when you stepped on. Fully equipped with full-length mudguards and rear pannier rack as standard it is more than capable of tackling the morning commute or the daily ride and equipped with 6 speed Shimano gearing means it can handle any route you choose. Available at £449.99 and finance options starting at £12.49 a month.
A personal favourite of mine, the Cannondale Topstone, is a capable, versatile gravel road bike. Built for chasing horizons, exploring routes less travelled or accelerating your commute. Its lightweight aluminium frame uses Cannondale’s SmartForm tubing to save weight and engineer comfort, increasingly important on long and off-road rides. Wide tyre clearance allows 700 x 37c tyres to come as standard, which really blurs the lines between on and off-road with their fast-rolling tread yet high volume providing plenty of comforts. Disc brakes, internal cable routing and multiple mounting points for luggage and you’ve got a seriously capable bike on your hands. At £949.99 you get some real value for money and the finance starts as low as £26.36.
If you’re looking for something a bit more fun, look no further than the Cube Aim Race Hardtail. It’s cheap, cheerful and with plenty of play, it’ll keep a smile on your face the entire time you’re on it. Whether you plan to zip around the block, delve into the local park or even a quick single track lap round the local woods this well-equipped, easy-to-handle and reliable trail companion won’t let you down. At £499.99 and starting at £14.95 a month finance you’re not going to find more bang for your buck.
Regardless of what you choose, what’s important is keeping safe, riding responsibly and being careful, but get your exercise in 🙂
For a daily feel-good factor, look no further than bike commuting – it’s great for getting fit, saving money and being green, too. Your commuter bike needs a combination of key traits: efficiency and comfort for making light work of the journey, resilience for all-weather performance, and upgradeability, with components that you can easily maintain, and update to better-performing replacements when you’ve racked up the distance.
While the more tarmac-friendly of the flat-handlebarred hybrid bikes make popular commuter options thanks to their terrain versatility, luggage practicality and upright comfort, dedicated road bikes are an increasingly popular option for the work-run. Their skinny wheels, lightweight frames and a racier geometry (drop handlebars encourage a lower, more efficient position) make for speedy rides and what’s more – they can double up as your weekend club run bike, too.
Road bikes come in a range of materials, with varying advantages for commuting. Carbon fibre is the lightest, while steel is ultra-durable, but heavier too. With aluminium, many find their perfect happy medium thanks to its light weight and durability, and importantly, its cost accessibility.
There’s also a range of price tags, which correlate to the materials used and the specification of the components, and while here we’ve featured some of the more popular models at around £800 to £1,000 – which also qualify for the government’s Cycle Scheme – it’s worth a search across the Hargroves Cycles site for options outside of that price bracket.
The Specialized Men’s Diverge E5 Sport, £1,000, is an aluminium-framed road bike with a FACT carbon fork and a tough 12×100 thru axle, ready for year-round riding – and just as capable of tackling off-road as it is tarmac. Its mechanical disc brakes provide all-weather stopping confidence and its clearance comfortably fits up to 42mm tyres unlike road bikes built for racing – which usually max out at 28mm.
Its Shimano Sora components are reliable and, for 2018, Specialized has taken its well-received Future Shock suspension technology, serving up 20mm of travel in the head tube, and adapted it for off-road use with a stiffer spring. This makes for a smoother ride which, when twinned with endurance geometry (a bottom bracket that’s over a half-centimetre lower than the previous version, slacked-out head tube angle, short chainstays, and a short wheelbase) adds up to more comfort on your daily ride. There’s also a Women’s specific version.
SPEEDY COMMUTES If you’re looking for a commuter that can double up as your club run, sportive or race bike, Specialized also offer a beautifully-finished aluminium commuter with a FACT carbon fork (tapered, with eyelets and an easy-to-use QR skewer) for just £799. Their Allez Sport Road Bike serves up a stiff frame with a slick finish, and fast-rolling yet wide enough 25mm tyres.
As with the Diverge, components are Shimano Sora, and the wheels are robust enough to see you through the winter months. The Allez’s double chainring and 9-speed cassette provides a good ratio range, but if you want more help on the hills, consider a wider set of gears.
The Ridley X-Bow 10 Disc, £899 provides exactly this with its 22-speed Shimano 105 groupset, a popular choice for high performance on a budget. Its 105 components deliver sharp shifting and a reliability that’s all-weather capable – in fact, designed for cyclocross, this is a bike ready for whatever your commute throws at it. It’s got enough clearance for wider 32c tyres for comfort and grip, mechanical disc brakes for confidence when conditions get really rough, and it’s race-ready if you fancy trying your hand at CX.
While £1,000 and under will provide you with a fantastic commuter bike, we’ve got a range of options to suit higher budgets; delivering even better performance through higher spec groupsets, lightweight carbon frames and speedy wheels to make your commutes even more enjoyable.
With the right bike on your side, once you’re set up with the winter clothing for your daily commute – nothing will spoil your fun.