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Best of the best: Cyclist’s favourite all-round race bikes

In-depth
24 Mar 2021
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They say ‘jack of all trades’, but where these four bikes are concerned, each can be considered a master of the craft. Enter Cyclist’s best all-round racers…

Photography: Rob Milton

What was the first road bike you ever owned? Turn over the page and we’ve given you a space to draw it and five lines underneath to describe it. Ask a responsible adult to cut out the page and send it in a stamped addressed envelope to: Cyclist, 31-32 Alfred Place…

Only joking, although drawing bikes is a very nice way of passing the time, something to which our secondary school teachers will grudgingly attest. And closing one’s eyes and remembering that first road bike does rather bring into question the idea of ‘all-rounder’, because at some point we all had our first road bike, which by definition meant it was at the time our only road bike and so, de facto, was an all-rounder because it did everything, right?

We think not, as to our mind the best all-round road bike isn’t so much a bike that can ride over any terrain (that’s the preserve of the endurance bike) but rather a bike that systematically ticks off the road bike clichés one by one: it’s lightweight, it’s stiff, it’s comfortable. It climbs like a dedicated climber’s bike, it accelerates like a sprint machine, it descends like it’s on 32mm tyres, it flicks through the turns like a crit racer.

It’s hard to sum up, but the all-rounder is the epitome of balance in terms of handling and feel, hitting the sweetest notes between nimble and stable, punchy and smooth, flighty and solid.

It’s the bike you pick out when a friend says, ‘Come out for a ride with me,’ and when you ask what the ride will be like the reply is along the lines of, ‘Some ups, some downs, quite a long draggy stretch that leads to this super-steep climb which drops into this really technical descent…’

It’s the bike that is ready for all occasions.

Or perhaps to put it another way, this is the Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel of bikes, not just versatile but capable of top three finishes – if not outright wins – in anything from a one-day race in the Ardennes to a National time-trial to victory in a Grand Tour.

Just as you wouldn’t bet against riders such as these, you would never rule out the best all-rounder road bike beating a specialist at its own game.

Then one last thing: there’s something in this bike that makes you emotionally drawn to it because that’s the other part of the equation – the best all-rounder would also be the only road bike you’d own if you had to choose just one. The way it performs suits the way you ride, it completes you as a cyclist as best it can. The best all-rounder is your most trusted companion. And here are ours…

Pinarello Dogma F12

As chosen by editor-at-large Stu Bowers

Read our full review of the Pinarello Dogma F12 here

I’ll come right out and say it: I have never been a fan of the Pinarello Dogma aesthetically. It’s just not my cup of tea. I simply don’t find all those wavy tube-forms appealing, and all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Team Sky/Ineos Grenadiers serves only to turn me off even more. So why, then, would I put it forward as my contender for our ‘best all-rounder’?

The answer is two-fold. First, and most importantly, despite wanting to dislike it I cannot deny that every time I have ever thrown my leg over a Dogma (several versions over the years, from F8 to F10 to this latest F12 Disc) and ridden it in anger, I’ve been reminded just how brilliantly it rides. The other reason is merely that it would be foolish to ignore this bike’s run of success on the world stage.

As a pro, company founder Giovanni Pinarello might have been best known for coming last at the 1951 Giro d’Italia, but bikes bearing his name are world-renowned for quite the opposite reason. A Pinarello has been first across the line in more than half of the Tours de France since 1992.

But the ‘Dogma era’ really began in 2012 with Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins. Since then this bike has won seven out of the past nine Tours. That is no small feat and is the reason this bike is as much an icon in its own right as the brand itself.

History in the making

While the Dogma can trace its roots back to metal in 2002, it was the 2009 Dogma 60.1 that launched Pinarello’s new top-tier carbon race bike into the stratosphere. The standout features were its asymmetry – designed to compensate for the drivetrain forces on one side – and the funky, wavy tube shapes that aimed to absorb road buzz.

Next came the Dogma 65.1 Think 2, as ridden to Tour victory by Wiggo in 2012, followed by the F8 in 2014, which introduced aerodynamics and had a claimed frame weight of 860g. In 2017 the F10 arrived, boasting less weight and more stiffness, only to be superseded two years later by the F12, which surprisingly saw the waviness creeping back into the tube shapes.

Buy the Pinarello Dogma F12 now from Sigma Sports

The current F12 actually looks a lot like the Dogmas of old, and Pinarello says the speed gains largely come from the new bar/stem combo and fully internal cabling, plus the slightly more svelte 840g frame.

In our hunt for the best all-rounder, Pinarello has one compelling argument for the Dogma. Unlike other brands, Pinarello’s sponsored riders rarely switch bikes for different types of races. Cannondale and Trek, for example, both have distinct bikes in their stables that pros can choose on any given day: a climber’s bike for mountain stages; an aero bike for flatter races; a cobbles bike for the spring Classics.

But look back at Team Sky/Ineos on practically any day or at any race over the last decade and you’ll almost always see the flagship Dogma as the riders’ weapon of choice. That, for me, is the mark of a true all-rounder.

Feeling like a pro

My own rides aboard the Dogma have left me in no doubt about its capabilities either. One memory in particular stands out – my first time on the F10. I rode it at a groupset manufacturer’s launch event, and remember being mildly annoyed to have been handed the F10 over a host of other top-flight race machines lined up in the bike rack. But that disappointment was short-lived.

The F10 was, in fact, superb. Far from being dealt a bad hand, I found myself aboard a rocket ship that impressed me no end, handling with absolute precision while never being anything other than agreeable to ride.

The F12 evoked a similar reaction years later. Pinarello has created something that feels just that little bit more refined, and with those claimed aero gains I’d wager it’s not likely to be toppled from its WorldTour dominance anytime soon – and not just because some of the fastest riders in the business are doing the pedalling. Dogmas, however, don’t come cheap, so you’d better get on the phone to your mortgage lender before you step foot in the bike shop.

Buy the Pinarello Dogma F12 now from Sigma Sports

BMC Teammachine Disc

As chosen by tech editor Sam Challis

Read Sam's BMC Teammachine review here

The BMC Teammachine gets my vote because in a particularly refined and competitive category the brand has shown it can not only pioneer the blueprint of a modern all-round race bike, but consistently improve on it as well.

The Teammachine is now in its fourth iteration and every time BMC has been able to add without taking away. By definition all-rounders are an exercise in compromise, so for BMC to keep mixing ingredients into the Teammachine dish without spoiling its already delicious flavour gets ever more impressive with each update.

Released 10 years ago, the Teammachine quickly built a reputation for its light weight, sharp handling and stiffness. It also did this funny thing with the seatstays – it dropped them below the intersection of seat tube and top tube. BMC claimed the design was better for compliance at the rear end and was more aerodynamic to boot.

The feature was met with some skepticism but the Swiss brand had the last laugh, seeing as how nowadays you’d be hard pushed to find a bike of any genre without dropped seatstays. The fact that the Teammachine’s overall profile has remained broadly similar over the years, where some competitors have changed drastically, is very telling.

BMC credits supercomputer modelling (whose algorithm has an appropriately dynamic sounding name: Accelerated Composites Evolution, or ACE) in a world-class, Grenchen-based R&D lab as the reason for the brand being so early to recognise race bike trends.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that BMC’s former owner, the late Andy Rihs, is said to have invested more of his own money in professional cycling than any other person ever. It stands to reason that a good chunk of that went into setting up the Impec Lab in Grenchen, so I’d be inclined to take BMC’s claims of possessing the facilities to produce cutting-edge designs at face value.

Buy the BMC Teammachine SLR Three Disc now from Tredz

The Teammachine has also benefited from some world-class field testing. Cadel Evans has long been associated with BMC, having won the Tour aboard the Teammachine’s first iteration in 2011.

According to BMC’s head of R&D, Stephan Christ, Evans had the experience and knowledge to engage with the frame development. Christ says he was a stickler for details and material choices and is one reason why the Teammachine is such a complete race bike today.

Reportedly the second iteration introduced comfort because Evans insisted compliance, even at the slight expense of one or two other attributes, would increase net performance. Again, BMC was ahead of the game.

Third time’s a charm

Frameset revision number three introduced disc brakes. The update appeared nondescript – other brands were equally busy fitting disc brakes onto their flagship racers – until BMC announced it used the concept of frame asymmetry to mitigate the weight gain then associated with switching to discs.

Asymmetry to account for the forces of a drivetrain was nothing new (just ask Pinarello), but to use it for disc brakes too was unheard of – most rivals essentially just reinforced rim brake frames when the market started to trend toward disc brakes. Thus the Teammachine Mk3 was one of the first disc race bikes able to hit the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit while preserving the racy geometry of its previous generation.

That brings us to the present day and Teammachine number four. BMC’s fancy software has been upgraded, becoming ACE+, which also now accounts for aerodynamics and is the reason its tubes have been stretched and its frontal profiles narrowed. Aero features can be particularly disruptive to the feel of a bike, yet BMC has incorporated extra performance seamlessly. The bike retains all of its hallmarks despite promising that bit of extra help at speed.

I’m in the privileged position of being able to ride a lot of bikes. Most improve my ride experience in one or two areas, perhaps over rough ground or up steep gradients. The Teammachine, however, makes me feel like a better rider everywhere. For me that is what marks this bike out as truly special.

Buy the BMC Teammachine SLR Three Disc now from Tredz

Scott Addict

As chosen by editor Pete Muir

Read our Scott Addict RC Ultimate review here

Ask me to name a great all-rounder and the first thing that pops into my head is ‘Ian Botham’. The former England cricketer is frequently cited as one of the greatest all-rounders of all time. He could bat, he could bowl, he could field, he could advertise Shredded Wheat, he could captain a team on A Question Of Sport… he was good at a lot of things, but he wasn’t the best at any of them (Bill Beaumont was a much better A Question Of Sport captain).

This is the problem with the term all-rounder – it comes with a whiff of compromise about it. It’s like being called a jack of all trades, and when it comes to describing a road bike the underlying message would seem to be that if you want an all-rounder you have to swap brilliance in any one area for competency in all of them.

But occasionally along comes a bike that really does seem to be able to do it all: a bike with no weaknesses, a master of all trades, a Leonardo di Vinci among racers. And in my case that bike came in the form of the Scott Addict.

New best friend

The first time I test rode a Scott Addict it was an altogether skinnier affair than the aggressive-looking race machine seen here. In truth, I thought I wasn’t going to like it. Scott was not a brand that got my pulse racing – didn’t they make skis? – and the bike snob in me would have been much happier on something from a heritage Italian marque (and I’ll admit here that I think the Colnago C64 over the page is easily the prettiest bike in this roundup – but, hey, it ain’t a beauty contest).

There was nothing remarkable about the way the Addict looked, although its slender, rounded tubes and classic frame shape did make for a very elegant bike. I was also not a big fan of the name, which seemed strangely unappealing – why not just call it the Scott Junkie? It was only when I got on and rode it that the Addict’s many fine qualities rather quickly became apparent.

It climbed like it was being hauled upwards by an invisible rope. Its lightness – slap-bang on the UCI minimum weight limit – was matched by its stiffness, which meant that every pedal stroke elicited forward movement quite out of proportion with the amount of effort going in.

Suddenly I was a mountain goat, floating up gradients with the grace of Federico Bahamontes (in my mind, at least). And on the descents I was Ingemar Stenmark, slaloming through the bends with speed and precision thanks to handling that flattered my mediocre skills.

Buy the Scott Addict RC Pro now from Tredz

And it was comfortable. Not in a saggy armchair way, but in a way that meant that after a long day in the saddle I didn’t feel like I needed an urgent visit to a chiropractor. I was enjoying my riding so much I didn’t want to get off, and you can’t ask any more of a bike than that.

New and improved

The modern incarnation of the Addict takes all the things I loved from the old version and adds extra goodies. The lightness and stiffness are still there, but now there is added aerodynamic efficiency. Importantly, those deeper, more sculpted tubes haven’t compromised the ride feel, which is always the worry when brands start playing with their CFD software and changing tube profiles in the hunt for a few saved watts.

Also importantly, the addition of internal cable routing and ultra-light (just 12g) seat clamp hasn’t come at the expense of practicality. Scott has made it easy to remove aero covers to perform basic maintenance tasks, thereby saving the blushes of bodgers like myself who can render a bike unrideable at the turn of an Allen key.

Add in 28mm tyres as standard for extra grip and comfort, and it really is hard to fault this bike. True, the top-spec model is insanely priced at close to £11,000 (I wouldn’t pay that much for a car) but we’re not rating these bikes on price.

The Scott Addict is the friend who is great at everything but still manages to be charming, unassuming and always a pleasure to be with.

Buy the Scott Addict RC Pro now from Tredz

Colnago C64

As chosen by deputy editor James Spender

Read our Colnago C64 review here

There’s a part of me that thinks he does this kind of thing for everybody. He’s well into his eighties, with a noticeable stoop and even more pronounced comb-over, but this is a man who wrenched for Eddy Merckx, partnered with Ferrari, presented gold-plated bikes to Popes and won multiple Hour records.

Ernesto Colnago is not above a bit of showmanship, and right now that extends to the sudden ‘back of a beer mat’ sketch he is scribbling then pushing into my hands like the Eucharist.

The sketch explains the workings of Colnago’s very own crimped tubing, the polygonal-shaped hallmark that debuted in 1982 on the Colnago Nuovo Mexico and which is still present today on the C64, albeit in carbon not Columbus steel.

I accept the sketch as if a Parisian cafe Picasso has just given it to me, wedging it into a bright red, heavy-bound biography Ernesto signs with equal flourish. He then presents a carbon fibre Colnago pen with such ceremony that I find myself bowing slightly to receive it.

Clubs member

This all happened some years ago during a visit to Colnago HQ in Cambiago, about 20km outside of Milan, not far from where Ernesto first set up shop in 1954. The company moves among cycledom as more legend than business, and my presence there felt more like a pilgrimage than a work trip. I have always loved Colnago, and I always wanted a Colnago long before I ever rode one.

In a sense I am biased towards choosing the Colnago C64 for my favourite all-rounder, but my rationale is that an all-rounder bike is the bike I would most like to own, and the reason I would most like to own it, and no other, is in part emotive.

That’s just how bikes appear to me, emotional objects, and the C64 is the bike I would want to pull out of the proverbial shed on any day of the week.

Buy the Colnago C64 Dura-Ace Di2 Disc now from Sigma Sports

Yes it is blessed with a brilliant ride character, but it’s also a bike that tugs at my heartstrings. The C60, which I also tested, was the same. And I daresay I would have felt the same had I ridden the original C35, Colnago’s first production full-carbon frame from 1989 (the number is the company’s anniversary, by the way). I look at them; I want to ride them.

However, objectivity must come into it, and that’s just what elevates the C64 into a class of its own. This bike rewards the discipleship in Colnago and the faith in its beauty. The geometry, for a start, is dialled, hewn over a lifetime of Ernesto Colnago making custom bikes for pro racers, only for them to be liveried up in the teams’ actual sponsor logos.

In that, the C64 is a geometric goldilocks – not too low, not too high, reactive to turns, stable on descents. It’s also, rather wonderfully in this day and age, still offered with a near-horizontal top tube (although Ernesto doesn’t miss a trick – there is a sloping/more compact version too).

Then there’s that ride quality. Did Colnago’s case for crimped tubing in that sketch make sense to me? Honestly, no, I can’t see crimped tubes are mechanically any better than round tubes, but it does mean the C64 looks the part, much like those early steel frames.

And the fact that it is a lugged frame, with tubes slotted and bonded into the bottom bracket, head tube and seat tube cluster lugs, imbues the C64 with a more steel-like feel. The tubes are essentially butted – thin and light in the middle yet shored up at the junctions for strength – which culminates in a bike that just feels superb to ride.

It not so much glides as glistens over tarmac; it alights descents; it courses through corners; it drifts deftly up climbs. Most of all, it makes me use stupid, flowery language to describe it.

I look at a C64 and I see a man, a passion and a history, and it stirs something in me in a way no other bike with this level of performance does. It is the embodiment of 64 years of road cycling, and it rides with refinement in every area of its being. It is the absolute best at what it does – the pinnacle of proper road bike.

Buy the Colnago C64 Dura-Ace Di2 Disc now from Sigma Sports

And the winner is…

Swiss precision pips Italian flair

Before we continue, let’s take a moment to recognise again the incredible Pinarello Dogma. Its first Tour de France victory was less than auspicious – Óscar Pereiro was awarded the 2006 title after Floyd Landis was retrospectively stripped – but since then it has notched up 11 Grand Tours and counting.

Save for 2014, that’s at least one every year since 2011. But yet that’s not quite enough to steal another win here.

For one thing, the other bikes here have laudable palmarès themselves. Cadel Evans propelled a Teammachine to glory on the Champs-Élysées in 2011; Mark Cavendish notched up multiple wins and a green jersey with Columbia/HTC between 2008 and 2012, while Simon Yates gave the Scott Addict a red jersey at the Vuelta in 2018.

Then Colnago won what strangely was its first ‘official’ Grand Tour only last year under Tadej Pogačar, albeit C-series bikes dominated the Classics in the 1990s with Mapei.

However, the deciding factor here isn’t race wins, because we are riders and bike lovers, not GC contenders. Thus when the forensic scientists had finished dusting things with tiny brushes it was clear one bike just edged it: the BMC Teammachine. We’ll hand over to tech editor Sam Challis to accept the award.

‘The thing with the Teammachine is it set the tone for the modern race bike – but 10 years ago. It had dropped seatstays back with Cadel Evans, and he hasn’t even raced for six years.

Each model also pushed the boundaries for stiffness-to-weight, and back in 2017 it was the first WorldTour bike to have disc brakes, racy geometry and still weigh 6.8kg. That’s impressive even today – just look at the weights of the other bikes here.

‘BMC was also quick to incorporate aero designs, and all that amounts to a bike that is incredible in every road-going regard. It’s tremendous to ride.

‘Then just look at it. This bike is so clean, right down to the smoothed-over axle nuts. Who wouldn’t want to own it? It is the epitome of all-round brilliance.’