The popularity of aero road bikes has been on a consistent upward trajectory over the past decade. The fascination with going faster by using less energy has long been considered the holy-grail in cycling, and this need for speed, particularly in the pro peloton, has led to vast investment from manufacturers, which has resulted in radically faster, more compliant and lighter-weight aero bikes, thanks to advances in aerodynamic understanding, computational fluid dynamics testing, and improved carbon-fibre layering techniques.
Truncated aerofoil tube profiles, component integration and deep-section aero road bike wheels have become the order of the day as bike manufacturers attempt to out-do each other in a bid for the fastest aero road bike crown. Paired with aero enhancements throughout cycling, with the advent of aero helmets and aero speed suits, we're able to go faster than ever before.
While significantly lighter than the time trial bikes from which they draw inspiration, the modern aero road bike is designed to save you watts by cutting through the air like a samurai sword. There's a lot of science involved but even the casual weekend rider will find it difficult to dispute the speed gains of the aero road bike - both from a visceral and physical sense.
However, it's not just speed, watt savings and reduced drag coefficients but also all-round comfort that has become an important factor to consider when choosing an aero road bike. Early examples of aero road bikes were known for their unforgiving ride qualities, but that's not the case anymore. It appears as though the recipe has been mastered with all modern examples offering a well-balanced combination of speed, weight and compliance.
Best aero road bikes you can buy today
The fastest bike Cannondale has ever made
Brake: Disc | Frame: Hi-Mod Carbon, Carbon | Sizes (cm): 47, 51, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62 (men) | Weight: 7.8kg (Ultegra 54)
The SystemSix moniker is nothing new to Cannondale, having first appeared in the form of a hybrid carbon fibre/aluminium composite frame back in 2007. Ahead of its time in many ways, it paved the way for future models such as the lightweight and dynamic SuperSix Evo, which has also been given the aero treatment.
The blueprint for the SystemSix - Cannondale's dedicated aero road bike - has been touted by the American company to be the 'fastest on the planet'. At 7.8kg it may seem a little on the portly side but Cannondale says the added grams will do little to thwart progress, even on the hills.
The SystemSix makes an endearing case for itself as far as free speed is concerned. It's seriously fast - be it on a descent, flat or climb, and the powerful disc brakes make for controlled modulation mid-corner.
Offering a choice of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Ultegra Di2, Ultegra mechanical and Red eTap AXS groupsets, there should be a SystemSix for all levels of budget.
- Cannondale SystemSix Hi-MOD Dura-Ace Di2
- Cannondale SystemSix Hi-MOD Red eTap AXS
- Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra Di2
- Cannondale SystemSix Carbon Ultegra
- Cannondale SystemSix Women's Carbon Ultegra Di2
Specialized Tarmac blends lightweight with aero superseding the old Venge
Brake: Disc | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61 (Unisex) | Weight: 6.89kg (S-Works Tarmac SL7 58cm)
The Tarmac has traditionally taken on the role of a lightweight climber in Specialized's road bike range, but in the persuit of performance gains, there has been such a convergence in technology that the new Tarmac SL7 has super seeded the dedicated aero Venge.
Based purely on the aero numbers the old Venge still has the edge but the 2.5 watts advantage is not enough to overcome the lighter weight and real-world metrics such as acceleration, course topography and rider freshness.
What this results in is a bike that, according to Specialized's simulations, is faster on all course profiles. The SL7's aerodynamic overhaul includes an integrated cockpit like that found on the Venge, albeit with a new proprietary-to-Tarmac stem. There are new tube shapes throughout, an all-new deeper Tarmac seatpost, and the S-Works models are also fitted with Roval's new Rapide CLX wheelset. Finally, Specialized has done away with press-fit in favour of a threaded bottom bracket.
There will be two levels available. The S-Works model will utilise the brand's FACT 12r carbon and will have a frame weight of 800 grams (size 56cm, painted). The lower-specced Pro and Expert models will share the same silhouette but with FACT 10r carbon for a frame weight of 960g.
- Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
- Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 SRAM Red eTap
- Specialized Tarmac SL7 Pro - SRAM Force eTap AXS 1X
- Specialized Tarmac SL7 Pro - Ultegra Di2
- Specialized Tarmac SL7 Expert - Ultegra Di2
- Specialized Tarmac SL7 Expert
- Specialized Tarmac Comp
- Specialized Tarmac Sport
Trek's flagship road bike is faster and more comfortable than ever before
Brake: Disc/rim | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62 (men); 47, 50, 52, 54, 56 (women) | Weight: 7.81kg (Madone SLR 8 Disc 56cm)
You'd expect something as aero-looking and performance-orientated as the Trek Madone to possess a harsh and unforgiving ride quality but it doesn't. Like the Domane, the Madone also utilises an IsoSpeed decoupler, but in this application, it's located in the top tube and offers a certain degree of adjustability – something Trek claims has boosted comfort and stiffness by 17 and 21 per cent respectively.
The Madone however, has always been a proponent of aerodynamic trickery and, as such, employs a compendium of clever go-faster techniques such as an integrated two-piece carbon bar and stem (SLR models), Kammtail Virtual Foil tubing and disc-equipped aero wheels that will accommodate tyres of up to 28mm.
For the 2021 model, Trek has given it a diet to the tune of 450 grams. It has also been given Trek's seemingly-now-go-to T47 bottom bracket standard, along with an update in colour palettes and additional Project One themes.
As the range-topper in the Trek road bike range, all Madones feature carbon frames and high-end SRAM or Shimano groupsets.
- Trek Madone SLR 9 eTap
- Trek Madone SLR 9
- Trek Madone SLR 7 eTap
- Trek Madone SLR 7
- Trek Madone SLR 6
- Trek Madone SL 7
- Trek Madone SL 6
An incredibly fast machine with the handling characteristics to match
Brake: Disc | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): XS, S, S/M, M/L, L, XL | Weight: 7.41kg (Reacto Team-E Disc medium)
The Merida Reacto aero road bike has been updated to be more in line with modern trends - lighter, aero and more efficient. As such, the Reacto's slimmed down, aerofoil tubing and dropped seat stays make up the majority of the aero alterations.
To begin with its aero credentials, development of the Reacto IV saw six different models undergo computational airflow testing before heading into the real wind tunnel to refine and select the quickest frame.
The results include the fork being integrated into the frame, complete internal cable routing (into the cockpit rather than into the headtube), a redesign to optimise airflow at the seat stays and fork crown, and lower attachment points for the seat stays to reduce drag, among other touches.
Compliance and comfort are also the name of the game, with tweaks and improvements in the carbon layup – even more so in the higher-end CF5 frame – reducing the mass of the frame while bringing a reportedly smoother ride, which is something the Merida S-Flex seat post also assists with.
Further burnishing the Reacto IV's all-rounder tag are the 30mm tyre clearance, disc-brake cooling fins, an integrated rear light and aero touches like the 'hidden' seat post clamp and thru-axles.
- Merida Reacto Team-E
- Merida Reacto 9000-E
- Merida Reacto 8000-E
- Merida Reacto Force Edition
- Merida Reacto 7000-E
- Merida Reacto 6000
- Merida Reacto 5000
- Merida Reacto 4000
Giant Propel Advanced
Taking integration to the next level, the Propel Advanced is one of the better disc-equipped aero road bikes in the segment
Brake: Disc, rim | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): S, M, ML, L | Weight: 8kg (Propel Advanced Pro Disc Medium)
The Giant Propel Advanced, like its rivals, is available in both rim- and disc-brake configuration but boasts a high level of integration across the board to ensure it stays slippery. In fact, it's only the entry-level Propel Advanced 1 that utilises a regular stem/bar cockpit.
Although the range still makes do with a couple of rim-brake options, the Propel Advanced was completely redesigned in 2018 with disc brakes in mind using both Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and wind tunnel testing, the result of which has culminated in a 10-watt improvement over its predecessor.
One of the Propel's most intriguing attributes is the stem which hides the shift cables and brake hoses and keeps everything tidy. The range also gets wind-cheating deep-section 42/65mm front/rear aero wheels outfitted in the choice of Giant's very own SLR or Cadex monikers.
- Giant Propel Advanced SL Disc
- Giant Propel Advanced Pro Disc
- Giant Propel Advanced Disc
- Giant Propel Advanced Pro
- Giant Propel Advanced
Pinarello Dogma F12
Race-proven and Grand Tour-tested, the Dogma F12 is on the heavier side, but the ride quality is hard to fault
Brake: Disc, rim | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): 42, 44, 46.5, 47, 50, 51.5, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57.5, 59.5, 62 | Weight: 840g (Frame only)
Developed in collaboration with Team Ineos the Pinarello Dogma F12 is available in both rim- and disc-brake guises, both of which were developed independently of each other in a bid to ensure the brand's race-honed tenets remained unsullied.
As such, disc-equipped versions benefit from a 40 per cent stiffer fork to better deal with the added braking forces of powerful hydraulic brakes while rim-brake models have finally made the move to direct-mount calipers. Interestingly, Pinarello decided to skip the F11 moniker and jump straight to F12, just like the F10 before it which chose to forgo the F9 badge.
As a dedicated aero road bike, Pinarello has ensured the Dogma F12 has achieved the best aerodynamic efficiency values of any of its predecessors, thanks to re-worked, wind-tunnel-optimised asymmetric tubing. While it still retains the same flat back downtube of the F10, it gets a kinked top tube - an addition the Italian brand claims is a case of form following function.
Other key updates include a redesigned bottom bracket and chunkier chainstays which have bolstered stiffness by 10 per cent (over the F10), improved tyre clearance, and prompted the use of internal cable routing thanks to the new Talon Ultra integrated handlebar.
The one downside of the F12 is its overall weight. Ahead of the Tour de France's more-mountainous days, in a bid to bring the weight down to the UCI's 6.8kg minimum weight limit, Team Ineos invested in a number of £5,000 Lightweight Meilenstein Obermayer wheelsets.
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Disc Red eTap AXS
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Disc Dura-Ace Di2
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Disc Dura-Ace
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Disc Campagnolo Super Record EPS
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Disc Campagnolo Super Record
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Campagnolo Super Record EPS
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Campagnolo Super Record
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Dura-Ace Di2
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Dura-Ace
An affordable aero race machine loaded with tech and spec
Brake: Disc/rim | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): 44, 47, 50, 53, 55, 57, 59, 61 (unisex) | Weight: 8.38kg (Ultegra disc 53cm)
The Bianchi Aria is one of the most versatile aero road bike offerings gathered here. Not only is it super-efficient in a straight line boasting a phenomenal turn of speed, but it's also impressively responsive to directional changes thanks to the steep head angle and racy geometry.
The frame comprises all the aero-optimised shapes you'd expect from a bike of this nature, with an integrated frame and fork, dropped seat stays and a d-shaped seat post - it all looks very fast.
The range comes in the choice of both rim- and disc-brake options and while it does err on the heavy side, it still climbs well and offers impressive compliance despite lacking the Countervail technology as used on the brand's higher-value models such as the Oltre.
That said, if it's greater comfort you're after, disc-equipped versions can accommodate wider tyres - the Aria comes with 28C road tyres as standard.
- Bianchi Aria Ultegra Disc
- Bianchi Aria 105 Disc
- Bianchi Aria Ultegra Di2 Disc
- Bianchi Aria Ultegra Di2
- Bianchi Aria Ultegra
- Bianchi Aria Triathon Ultegra
- Bianchi Aria 105
The Canyon Aeroad hits all the right markers in terms of aesthetics, performance and price
Brake: Disc/rim | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): 2XS, XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL (Men), 2XS, XS, S, M (Women) | Weight: 7.6kg (Aeroad CF SL 7.0)
With a name such as Aeroad, there's no mistaking what this weapon was designed to do - attack the finish line as quickly as possible.
There are a host of models available from rim and disc to men- and women-specific options, the Aeroad has something for everybody, regardless of budget.
To make its products more accessible to a broader spectrum of riders, Canyon offers an impressive selection of entry-level models that feature Shimano 105 components, a move which has done little to impact the overall performance and weight. In fact, the entry-level Aeroad CF SL 7.0 weighs just 7.6kg.
As expected, the Aeroad does get more expensive the further you move up the range, the pinnacle of which is the Aeroad CF SLX Disc 9.0 which comes tricked out in a SRAM Red eTap groupset.
- Canyon Aeroad CF SLX Disc 9.0 SL
- Canyon Aeroad CF SLX Disc 9.0 Di2
- Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 9.0 SL
- Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 9.0 Di2
- Canyon Aeroad CF SL Disc 8.0
- Canyon Aeroad CF SL 8.0
- Canyon Aeroad CF SL Disc 7.0
- Canyon Aeroad CF SL 7.0
With its proven pedigree the Scott Foil makes no bones about its ability as a race bike - it's firm and razor-sharp
Brake: Disc | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): 47, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61 | Weight: 7.48kg (Foil Premium Disc 54cm)
The Scott Foil aero road bike may not be the cheapest option out there but when it comes to ride comfort, aesthetics and integration - it's a difficult bike to trump. In fact, with stage wins at all three grand tours, a slew of classics victories, and a rainbow jersey to boot, the Foil's pedigree is indisputable as an out-and-out race bike.
While the line-up still comprises both rim brake- and disc brake-equipped models, it's the latter that adds enhanced levels of comfort thanks to the use of wider tyres. Unlike the rim-brake version which utilises a bottom-bracket-mounted caliper (something that limits the use of crank-based power meters) the disc version is compatible with all power meters, crank-arm units included.
Regardless of which model you prefer the Foil is one of the most comfortable aero road bikes in the segment - it has won Paris-Roubaix after all.
- Scott Foil Ultimate Disc
- Scott Foil Premium Disc
- Scott Foil RC Disc
- Scott Foil 10 Disc
- Scott Foil 20 Disc
- Scott Foil 10
- Scott Foil 20
- Scott Foil 30
Fast and reactive, if a little firm, the Cervelo S3 is one of the most refined and purest aero road bike options
Brake: Disc, rim | Frame: Carbon | Sizes (cm): 48, 51, 54, 56, 58, 61 | Weight: 8.15kg (S3 Ultegra Disc 54cm)
The notion of aerodynamics is nothing particularly new to Cervelo having single-handedly created the aero road bike concept back in 2002 with the aluminium Soloist. With aerofoil tubing developed by NACA – the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics – the Soloist was unlike anything seen before.
Like all models in Cervelo's S range, the S3 has been designed to be as slippery as possible utilising wind tunnel testing data to refine frame geometry and reduce drag coefficient. As such the S3 has gone with internal cable routing and a new bar and stem to complement its wind-cheating physique, something Cervelo dubs TrueAero - which makes it faster than the previous-generation S5.
All these tweaks have resulted in a 102g weight saving over its predecessor. It's also stiffer and more compliant than before and the range also benefits from the added surety of hydraulic disc-brake modulation.
- Cervelo S3 Ultegra Di2 Disc
- Cervelo S3 Ultegra Disc
- Cervelo S3 Ultegra Di2
- Cervelo S3 Ultegra
Aero road bikes explained
The more-easily a moving object cuts through the air, the less energy it needs to keep it moving - it's simple physics really. What this means is that if the playing fields were equal and every cyclist possessed the exact same metabolic engine, the rider with the most aerodynamic bike would win the race - every time.
The speed at which the benefits of improved aerodynamics become greater than that of saving weight is around 15kph, which, depending on fitness, is likely to be at a gradient of around six per cent. Therefore, in all but the steepest of mountain days, it's not necessarily the lightweight bike that wins the race, but the one that is best suited to the topography.
In the pro peloton, team mechanics are now able to get their aero road bikes close to the minimum weight limit of 6.8kg, meaning there's little to be gained by using a brand's less-aerodynamic 'lightweight' offering. However, for the rest of us, where that limit doesn't apply, the decision ought to be a more considered one. Here are a few attributes to look at before buying an aero road bike.
1. Aerofoil tubing
Round tubes are out and truncated, tear-drop-style tubing is in. These wind-tunnel-honed shapes have resulted in faster, more slippery bikes which have also made for some aggressive-looking facades, too.
One of the biggest buzzwords, when it comes anything pertaining to aero bikes, is integration. Simply put, integration refers to the seamless melding of proprietary components to the bike's frame so that the overall aerodynamics are not adversely affected. As such the cockpit, brakes and seatpost have all been refined and positioned so as not to meddle with the bike's drag coefficient. Some brands offer one-piece handlebar/stem combinations with hidden cables, others neatly integrate the brake calipers or utilise frame-specific seatposts with invisible binders.
Bar some of the more entry-level offerings in each model range, most aero road bikes come with deep rim profiles as standard. Just remember that you can always upgrade your wheelset should you require something more aggressive.
Aaron is Cyclingnews' tech editor. Born and raised in South Africa he completed his BA honours at the University of Cape Town before embarking on a career in journalism. As the former gear and digital editor of Bicycling magazine and associate editor of TopCar, he's been writing about bikes and anything with wheels for the past 16 years. A competitive racer and Stravaholic, he’s twice ridden the Cape Epic and completed the Haute Route Alps. When not riding, racing or testing bicycles in and around the UK's Surrey Hills where he now lives, he's writing about them for Cyclingnews and Bike Perfect.
Rides: Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura Ace Rim, Cannondale Supersix Evo Disc, Trek Procaliber 9.9 MTB
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