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What Bike Should I Buy: Carbon All-Road Racers

Every day, TPC’s expert Ride Guides help cyclists find their next (or first) bike. This time, they help Adam find an endurance road bike or gravel bike that can pull double duty on pavement and dirt.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Guides

Adam is looking for a fast dropbar bike that can handle hilly roads and mellower gravel around Central New York. He already owns a burly gravel bike for tougher terrain, so he wants something a bit more road-friendly for races that feature a mix of pavement and gravel. Let’s see what the Ride Guides at TPC can find for him!

I do about 5 races during my season. All of these events are about 50% pavement / 50% category 1 to 2 gravel (dirt roads, not too many huge rocks). For anything more gnarly I use my Salsa Cutthroat.
I want something that can take 33-35mm tires (700c) and has a carbon frame. I would love electronic shifting (not a deal breaker though) and hydraulic disc brakes. I prefer a 2x setup unless it's close-ratio (Campagnolo Ekar, etc). For budget, let's look around the $3500 range. I’m open to gravel bikes, cyclocross bikes, or road bikes that meet the above criteria.
My size is Large (58) to XL (62). I might be interested in more of an endurance fit. Last season I was on a 58cm 2018 Giant TCR. The fit was good, although a bit too far on the “racy” side.
Curious to see what you come up with. - Adam

Location: Central New York
Bike type: Road, gravel, or cyclocross
Budget: $3,500
Size: 58-62cm
Wants: All-road capability, clearance for ~33-35mm tires, carbon frame, electronic shifting, 2x drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes.

Our Ride Guide team is based in the U.S. and staffed with former bike mechanics, bike shop managers, and other certified bike nerds. They provide expert advice on bikes and gear, sizing, comparing build options, or finding your next upgrade. If you want help finding your next bike, you can contact our Ride Guides via chat, phone, or email.  

Megan’s Ride Guide Bike Picks

Adam, you’re describing one of the best types of riding! I’m thinking of Tour of the Battenkill and those nice season opener road/hardpack dirt rides and races that are so iconic. I honed my search with that in mind and landed on a few good options

An endurance road bike with off-road friendly comfort features

Trek Domane SL 6

2019 Trek Domane SL 6 Disc Di2 

Size: 58cm
Price: $3,439.99

With Ultegra Di2 and clearance for 35mm tires, I think the is a perfect choice. It’s smooth and efficient on pavement but still very well-mannered on gravel. This older generation Domane was more svelte than the 2020 redesign, which honestly got heavier and more sluggish! One feature I really like on the Domane is the IsoSpeed Decoupler. It decouples the seat tube from the top tube which lets the seat tube flex and absorb vibration. There’s barely any weight penalty on the road, but when you do get into the rough stuff, it adds so much comfort.

I actually sold a Domane just like this to a good friend that mostly rides it on rough rail trails. But it also ended up replacing his Madone for road rides because it’s such a good combo of speed, comfort, and capability. Not sure what sort of gearing you need but the setup on this bike is a bit more road-focused with a 50/34t crankset and 11-32t cassette. That will work for a lot of terrain but if you need an easier climbing gear there’s a good chance an 11-34t cassette will work with that rear derailleur. 33t is the listed max for tha t model but Shimano is notoriously stingy with max capacity ratings for their derailleurs. 

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A competition-ready CX race bike with good road manners

Trek Boone RSL

2019 Trek Boone RSL 

Size: 58cm
Price: $3,779.99

I wanted to sneak this Boone in even though it’s a bit above budget. It has a really nice carbon cockpit, carbon wheels, and Ultegra Di2. It also has a compact 50/34t crank and rear derailleur that officially fits an 11-34t cassette (though it does have an 11-28t cassette currently installed). Because it’s a ‘cross bike, the Boone will be a little sharper handling on pavement/longer rides, but I personally LOVED mine for both ‘cross racing and gravel rides. I also regularly took mine out on pure pavement rides whenever the weather was less than perfect for my rim-brake road bike.

Similar to the Domane, it uses a rear IsoSpeed Decoupler, but it adds IsoSpeed to the front too. In my opinion, this makes it even better on techy and rough gravel descents that would normally leave your hands and wrists a bit sore or numb. The fit/stack height will be lower and reach longer by about 10mm when compared to the Domane, so this will fit more like a road race bike. With some of my other ‘cross race bikes, I didn’t enjoy them on longer road and gravel rides, but that was definitely not the case with the Boone. (Can you tell I regret selling it?!)

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A classy and lightweight all-purpose gravel rig with road gearing 

Santa Cruz Stigmata

2019 Santa Cruz Stigmata CC

Size: 60cm
Price: $3,203.99

I think this Stigmata will pretty much satisfy all of your wants except the electronic drivetrain. Electronic drivetrains aren’t impossible to find at this price point, but it’s definitely a bit rarer! This bike is a 60cm, which sounds like a size you can make work. The reach is similar to the TCR you had but it has 47mm more stack height. That’ll give you the comfier endurance fit you want while still providing a position that’s lower and racier feeling than your Cutthroat. Plus, I think this generation of Stigmata just looks so clean in classy in the solid red.

The compact 50/34t crank with the 11-32t cassette (and again, this one is compatible with a 11-34t) gives you plenty of gear range to mix road and gravel. It’s a full-on gravel bike so it has more tire clearance than you need, but if it has some 35mm slicks mounted it will still feel road bike fast. If you ever need it, you can switch to bigger rubber to take on slightly tougher gravel races where your Cutthroat would be overkill. 

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An eclectic 1x-equipped endurance road bike

Salsa Warroad

2020 Salsa Warroad 

Size: 59cm
Price: $3,859.99

I’m not sure if this Warroad is technically within your budget, but you said “around the $3,500 range” and not “under $3,500” so I’m just going for it! I’m a big Salsa fan, and the Warroad has been on my own wish list for a long time. It’s a endurance road bike with a carbon frame designed to fit up to 35mm tires — pretty perfect for your described needs. It’s got good looks, extra mounts for bottles and a top tube bag, and more than enough comfort and capability to blast down category 1-2 gravel. 

But the biggest reason I wanted to suggest this Warroad is the drivetrain. It’s built up with Campagnolo Ekar — the only 1x drivetrain you called out by name as a suitable alternative to 2x. I’m a big proponent of 1x, but can understand why some riders don’t like it. I think Ekar really bridges the gap. With 13 speeds, a super wide gear range, and single-tooth steps across the 6 smallest sprockets, it’s the perfect option for racers hitting varied terrain who also want tight gear jumps for sticking to fast groups. Again, it’s mechanical rather than electronic, but it’s unique and Italian, and I think it takes this Warroad to the next level. 

We’ve picked out four bikes that we think will be perfect for Adam. Let us know which bike you think he should pick. Or if you have other suggestions, be sure to let us know in the comments! If and when Adam does purchase a bike, we’ll update this post with what he chose.

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