Long Distance Road Bikes Head To Head Review
We review four long-distance bikes that’ll let you reach your destination in comfort and style
For more road bike reviews, check out our Best Road Bikes For Triathlon round-up.
When looking for a bike to cover big miles on, be it for training or competing in big-distance events, the needs are very different from a traditional tri bike. The aggressive geometry of a race machine is perfect for its purpose – a long, low, wind-beating position is ideal for hitting your PB in competition – but use the same bike for distances of more than 100 miles and you’ll come unstuck. The lack of comfort or a position you can change when fatigue starts to set in will both hinder and hurt in equal measure.
The main features to look for in a distance bike are those that affect ride position. Bikes designed for sportive duties will have a slightly shorter top-tube and a taller head tube. This has the effect of making your riding position more upright. Not being at full extension and with less forward bend puts less pressure on your lower back. It also makes it easier to alter your hand position from the drops to the hood tops, and on to the bars’ top flat section. Being able to change your ride position helps keep you flexible and less prone to aches and pains as the miles tick over.
Van Nicholas Mistral Apex
Compared to the other distance bikes on offer here, the all-titanium Van Nicholas has a decidedly old-school flavour. It’s blessed with a supple smoothness that makes it quite simply a wonderful bike to ride over long distances, especially those that throw in some significantly tough climbs.
Read the full Van Nicholas Mistral Apex review
+ The titanium frame is well finished and beautifully plush
+ SRAM Apex WiFLi gearing offers wall-climbing prowess
– Not the best option if you intend to race on it
– The saddle doesn’t match the bike’s otherwise high comfort
Trek Madone 3.5
The 3.5 is quite simply brilliant, with a beautifully smooth frame that evens the ripples of poor roads with a magic-carpet-like ease. The sheer stability of its handling makes this a great competition bike, especially on hillier courses.
Read the full Trek Madone 3.5 review
+ Smooth riding and great handling
+ Very impressive specification for the money
– We’ve found the 3.5 difficult to fault
– Eventually we’d upgrade to lighter wheels
Ridley Orion Team Edition
The Orion has lost a few grams for 2012, but it’s retained its true born-in-Belgium design ethos. It’s quick, in both pedal response and cornering turn-in, and is much more of a race machine than a relaxed, mile-eating cruiser. The Team Edition’s metal flake bright blue paintjob is an oasis of vibrancy, and one we really like the look of.
Read the full Ridley Orion Team Edition review
+ Beautifully accomplished ride
+ Vibrant looks stand out from the crowd
– Weight in the wheels holds back its climbing potential
– Single-pivot brakes don’t have the feel of a dual-pivot design
Ribble Sportive Racing
Despite the fact that the Ribble’s full-carbon frame costs £500 on its own plus an extra £113 for the matching fork, complete bike prices start at less than £1,000, which represents incredible value for money. If you’re looking for a bike to ride long distances at a constant pace, the Sportive Racing is a great value choice, providing you address the front-end buzz with a bar tape upgrade.
Read the full Ribble Sportive Racing review
+ The best equipped bike in this test
+ Light frame and good complete weight too
– Buzz through the bars needs to be reduced
– Handling isn’t race-ready
When we set out to find the ideal long-distance bike we wanted one that would cope with the challenges of long miles and help keep discomfort at bay through a frameset that would cushion the ride and a riding position that would alleviate pressure on your lower back and arms. We also wanted a bike with plenty of fun potential, that wouldn’t get flustered on fast descents, accelerations and out-of-the-saddle stomping sessions.
The Ribble and Van Nicholas both handle the miles, and do so very well. The Ridley most certainly has more of the fun factor. But the Trek 3.5 Madone balances all of those characteristics better than its rivals. Its long-distance comfort is spot on and its high-speed handling is stable yet direct enough to cope with big miles and the rigours of racing. We also love the attention to detail like the Speedtrap ANT+ sensor, hidden mudguard eyelets and stainless steel frame protection at the bottom bracket and chainstay to protect the carbon frame should you drop the chain. Add into this a great value package and it’s a worthy winner.