- The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 and the Cannondale SystemSix Hi-Mod eTap AXS are two of the fastest bikes you can get.
- Even high-end bikes have some small flaws.
- Off-road bikes cannot be as fast as road bikes, because they need suspension, wire tires, and other things that help them perform on trails.
- Your riding position has a big effect on your speed.
- Make sure your bike fits you.
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A fast bike needs to be aerodynamic, have a stiff frame, and have excellent wheels and tires. What are the best bikes for speed?
Two of the fastest road bikes are the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 and the Cannondale SystemSix Hi-Mod eTap AXS. For cross-country races, the Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS and the Santa Cruz Blur CC X01 AXS RSV are two of the fastest.
As a semi-professional athlete, I know all about which bikes are good enough to win the most competitive races. I have tried many of the bikes I recommend and I have carefully researched the others.
The Fastest Aero Road Bikes
Aero bikes are the fastest conventional bicycles you can get, beaten only by experimental pedal-powered vehicles that are not similar to bicycles. Aero bikes are what professional athletes ride in many types of races.
Aero bikes have very low handlebars, so the rider leans forward and minimizes air resistance. If you ride upright, more air will push against your body, which will slow you down at high speeds. Riders in recent decades lean forward to maximize speed.
Since the air pushes against the bike as well as the rider, the bike needs to be streamlined. Aero bikes have angular frames that cut through the wind. Not everyone who rides an aero bike is a competitive athlete - some people use these very fast bikes recreationally.
Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7
Reasons to Buy
- Good enough for professional athletes
- Amazing efficiency
- An impressive list of top-end components
- Very light carbon frame including light wheels
- Wireless gear shifting
- Wide enough range of gear ratios
- Expensive even for a high-end bike
- Wheels don't work with tubeless tires
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 is one of the best racing-speed aero bikes you can get. It is arguably at the top if you want a competitive racing bike. It is also a great recreational bike if you have a lot of money.
If you are riding recreationally, the bike is a joy to ride. If you are training for a big race, the bike will make you want to tire yourself out training hard.
For very strong riders, there isn't obviously a more efficient bike out there. The ultra-stiff frame and top-end mechanical parts convert your pedaling power into as much speed as possible.
The bike uses FACT 12r carbon, the best carbon Specialized uses for any of its bikes. Even the high-quality Specialized Expert and Pro models do not use this grade of carbon. The bike costs a fortune, but it is loaded with high-quality parts.
Similar to Cheaper Bikes from Specialized, but Better
If you have tried a similar but cheaper bike from Specialized before, this isn't very different. While the geometry is a little different, riding the bike is about the same.
What makes the S-Works Tarmac SL7 different is the exceptionally good parts. The Tarmac S7 spares nearly no expense and includes so many high-quality parts that you can't find a one-sidedly better bike.
Compared to earlier models of the Tarmac, the cable routing is much neater, and it is much easier to make certain adjustments. The bike no longer uses a press-fit bottom bracket, which makes it easier to maintain the bike yourself. The tire clearances are also bigger to keep up with recent trends.
There is a great wireless 12-gear system, a power meter crank, and a newly launched wheelset. The new wheels are very good for climbing hills, some of the best on the market. The wheels are light and designed with racing in mind, but oddly are for regular tires with tubes only.
There is a huge difference between the lowest gear and the highest gear. The lowest gear is great for steep hills, and you'll find it very hard to max out your speed with the highest gear.
This isn't the sort of bike where the range of gear ratios is too small. The seat (S-Works Power), disc brakes (SRAM Red eTap AXS), and bar (S-Works Aerofly II) are all good enough for such an expensive bike.
Not Compatible With Tubeless Tires
One disappointment is that the S-Works Tarmac does not have wheels that are compatible with tubeless tires. One could argue that tubeless tires are not as important for road bikes as for mountain bikes (a tubeless tire can seal itself after a puncture) but they help regardless of what kind of bike you are riding.
Many much cheaper bikes are compatible with tubeless tires, as well as other high-end bikes. Oddly, the cheaper alternatives to the SL7 from the same company have tubeless-compatible tires. On the plus side, the wheels are very light, more so than the tubeless-ready wheels on cheaper alternatives.
Cannondale SystemSix Hi-Mod eTap AXS
Reasons to Buy
- Arguably the fastest road bike
- Outstanding for shorter races
- Lifetime frame warranty
- Very Expensive
- Somewhat limited steering range
- Maybe not the best for longer races
The Cannondale SystemSix Hi-Mod eTap AXS is another one of the fastest bikes in the world. The carbon frame is as stiff as you want a high-end racing bike frame to be. It is a professional racer's bike and uses technology that other companies struggle to catch up to.
Cannondale claims that it is the fastest road bike you can get anywhere. That is a very strong claim, but they do back it up with a report that provides plenty of evidence. It is at least one of the fastest bikes you can get, and it's comfortable to ride.
Wheels and Tires
The deep-rimmed KNOT wheels grip the ground and help you go fast. The width of the wheels also helps you stay in control. Even on a very windy day, it is easy to control this bike.
The bike comes with tires that have some rolling resistance, which means that small imperfections in the road won't push the tire off the ground. The tires also cut through the wind easily. However, they are not as puncture-resistant as they could be.
Use Tubeless Wheels for Longer Races
The wheels are tubeless-compatible, so you might want to replace the tires with more puncture-resistant tubeless ones. Get high-quality tubeless tires if you have a bike that costs as much as the SystemSix.
The KNOT wheels are not bad at all - they help you accelerate quickly and reach a high maximum speed. However, at least if you want to win longer races, you might replace them with the best tubeless tires you can find.
Excellent Gear Shifters
Some people say the gear shifters are not instant, but they seem to work very fast to me. The programmable shifter buttons are easy to use and easy to understand. The gear shifters are durable, and there is nothing wrong with how they feel.
The brakes are powerful and engage instantly. Sometimes, the brakes can rub against the rotor just a little, but this is so slight that I won't count it as a drawback.
The bike is not as light as it could be (7.9kg, there are lighter high-end road bikes out there) but is still very fast. Lighter is not always faster. A cheaper but lighter bike is quite likely slower than the SystemSix.
The Fastest Cyclocross Bike
Cyclocross is an off-road racing sport where you ride a bike and climb over obstacles. You might have to climb over a fence or carry your bike with you when you go upstairs as well as ride as fast as possible.
Sometimes, cyclocross bikes make good general-purpose off-road bikes or are even used by commuters. They are fast and lightweight. However, a gravel bike is probably a better choice if you want a light off-road bike.
Scott Addict CX10
Reasons to Buy
- Very fast
- Light frame
- Lots of clearance on the front and back
- Powerful brakes
- Quick gear shifting
- Difficult to put tubeless tires on the bike
The Scott Addict CX10 is a cyclocross bike built for speed. While the CX10 was briefly discontinued, it is back again with improvements. Scott claims that the frame is lighter than any other cyclocross bike frame you can buy.
The light and durable frame is flat in some places, which makes it easy to carry if you have to carry your bike over a fence or up some steps. The cables are inside the frame, and while there is no dropper post, the bike is compatible with one.
What makes this bike great is how durable it is relative to its weight. It looks a bit flimsy, but it is more than durable enough for cyclocross racing.
The bike is made of high-quality materials. It is a lot stronger than it looks, and can handle difficult off-road conditions. A minor accident isn't likely to damage the bike.
Wheels and Brakes
Like everything else on the bike, the wheels are made of light and durable carbon. The wheels are compatible with and even come with tubeless tires. While the wheels look similar to road bike wheels, they perform very well on a cyclocross track.
I found it difficult to put tubeless tires on this bike, more of a hassle than with other bikes. This is because the internal rims are too narrow. Tubeless tires do work perfectly well after you install them, but even removing them from the wheels can be a hassle.
Thankfully, the brakes are one-sidedly good. The SRAM Force 1 hydraulic brakes will stop your wheels immediately. There is a wide range of gear ratios, certainly enough for cyclocross races.
The bike performs excellently on a cyclocross track. It is like riding a road bike, except it performs much better off-road.
The high-tech carbon allows it to be both light and fast, and both light and durable. The bike is fairly expensive, but it is worth the money if you are serious about cyclocross racing.
A few things that can slow you down on a cyclocross track aren't likely with the Scott Addict CX10. The chain won't slip off the bike, and the tubeless tires can seal themselves after a puncture. The gears shift smoothly and instantly.
All of the bike's components are carbon and not aluminum or steel. The bike has a lot of clearance for the front and back tires, so you can put a larger tire on your bike if you need to. The chainstays are designed in a way that makes mud slide off, which is important in some cyclocross races.
The Fastest Cross-Country Bikes
Cross-country racers need very different bikes from those who race on roads. They need suspension at least at the front, and these days at the back as well. Different bikes are ideal for different types of off-road courses.
Races are fairly long but much shorter than a lot of triathlon races. It takes an hour to an hour and 40 minutes to complete an A-Grade or elite race. Racers often do many around a course.
Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS
Reasons to Buy
- Very adjustable
- Powerful and lockable front and back suspension
- Good enough for the most competitive races
- Wireless gear shifting
- No dropper post
- The frame could be lighter
- The bottom bracket needs maintenance
The Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS is a fast full-suspension bike for races on rough and bumpy trails. The suspension protects you from bumps without slowing you down.
The suspension has improved since earlier models, now offering 120mm instead of 100mm on travel on the front and back. There is an internal linkage between the two shocks.
There are also three suspension modes - open, traction, and firm. Traction is somewhere between using the suspension and locking it - it limits the travel to 80mm. You can easily switch between the three suspension modes.
Everything is Hidden Inside the Frame
The rear shock is hidden inside the frame and isn't even visible. The brake lines also go through the frame, minimizing the chance of damaging the brake lines.
The bike also uses wireless gear shifting, which is not yet common. The technology has been around since 1999, but it didn't catch on at the time and it is only starting to become more common now.
The advantage of wireless gear shifting is that it minimizes clutter and reduces the number of moving parts that might break. Since the brake lines are inside the frame and the gear shifting is wireless, the bike has a very clean look and is protected from damage.
One of the Most Popular Cross-Country Racing Bikes
The Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS is one of the best-known cross-country racing bikes. Riders have been winning cross-country races with Scott Spark bikes for a long time.
Nino Schurter, a six-time cross-country world champion, rides a Scott Spark RC. While the bike is fairly expensive, this is the top of the line for cross-country racing bikes. You won't find a faster cross-country bike for a higher price.
The geometry is also up-to-date and in line with what helps the most competitive racers win races. The adjustable head angle is slack (67.1 degrees) by default, and the reach is 471mm. The slack head tube angle makes the bike more stable, and the longer reach puts the rider in a more aerodynamic position.
Santa Cruz Blur CC X01 AXS RSV
Reasons to Buy
- Very light and fast
- Excellent handling even at high speeds
- Full suspension
- Great warranty
- Wireless gear shifting
- Many riders would prefer a bigger fork and tires
The Santa Cruz Blur CC is great for anyone who wants to train for and compete in cross-country races. The bike is expensive, but that is what you can expect if you want a competitive bike.
The bike does what a cross-country bike should - be strong enough to handle a rough trail but light enough to go fast. It performs very well on both the lighter and rougher sections of each trail you encounter.
The frame is somewhat different from other Santa Cruz bike frames, but similar to what you would expect if you know the company. What makes it stand out is how light it is - the lightest full-suspension bike from the brand so far.
The bike's suspension (100-125mm at the front, 100-115mm at the back) is enough to protect you from a bumpy trail and help you stay in control. A lot of the time, a full suspension bike has a "pedal bob" - the bike bounces up and down because of the chain tension affecting the rear suspension. The Santa Cruz Blur's suspension stands out for not making your bike bounce.
The suspension is very light, as is the carbon frame. The bike is 289 grams lighter than the last model, and the total weight is only 23 pounds. It is one of the lightest carbon-frame full-suspension bikes you can get for cross-country races.
If you are familiar with other Santa Cruz bikes such as the Megatower, the Blur doesn't use the same suspension system. The Santa Cruz Blur has a new, lighter, and better suspension system. It also uses flex in the seat to minimize bumps.
Other Excellent Parts
The parts are good enough to justify the bike's high price. It has very durable and powerful SRAM Level RSC brakes. There is an Eagle AXS wireless drivetrain that lets you change the gears wirelessly.
Lighter wheels improve a bike's speed more than a little, and the Syncros Silverton wheels are certainly light. The Maxxis Rekon tires are both fast on smooth ground and durable on rocky ground.
All of this is backed up by an excellent warranty. The handlebars and wheels and not just the frame have a lifetime warranty. You can also adjust the slackness of the head tube slightly on the trail, though not by much.
The Frame is not Particularly Stiff
At least for such a high-quality bike, the frame is not stiff enough. The frame is durable, but it still flexes a little when you pedal. This can slow you down a little, although the bike is still fast.
What Makes a Bike Fast?
Racing bikes have to be designed differently from bikes that focus on things other than speed. A racing road bike needs narrow tires. A mountain bike may have wide tires for traction; a road bike needs narrow tires for speed.
Racing bikes also need to be more efficient than general-purpose bikes. The overall quality has to be high. If your bike is not for competitive athletes, it might sell well even if it could not win races - people merely have to like it. Athletes need higher-end bikes to have a chance, so race bikes are expensive and use high-quality parts.
How Much Does Weight Matter?
Weight matters enough that it can determine the outcome of a race. Races between skilled or professional athletes are very close, and a small difference in speed can make a big difference in what place a rider finishes in.
When you are riding around for fun, weight doesn't make a huge difference. The shape of the bike matters more than the weight. If you weigh 175 pounds, the difference between a 16-pound bike and a 21-pound bike feels small.
However, five pounds less weight may make you go two or three percent faster, or slightly less than that if you consider more wind resistance at higher speeds. Going "only" two percent faster is more than enough to win a close race, and the most prestigious races are often the closest.
Any object moving through the air encounters wind resistance, which slows it down or prevents it from speeding up. The wind pushes against both the bike and the rider. The rider creates more wind resistance than the bike does, but the bike produces enough drag that the shape of the bike still matters.
The position of the rider matters more than anything else. If the rider leans forward, they take up less space. The air pushes against a smaller surface area and produces less drag.
While an upright position can be better sometimes (for example, if riding up a hill) a bike built for speed should encourage the rider to lean forward. The position of the handlebars needs to be right for this position.
What is the Aero Position?
On some bikes, the handlebars are lower than the seat. This makes it easier for you to lean forward until your upper body isn't far from horizontal to the bike frame. This is the aero position, which is the right way to ride in competitive races on paved ground.
The aero position is very uncomfortable if you aren't used to it. It is much less uncomfortable for an experienced rider who uses the position. You will have to get used to it over time to be a competitive rider.
Getting Used to the Aero Position
Again, the position is not very uncomfortable for experienced cyclists. You can get used to leaning forward when you ride just as you get used to riding faster and for longer distances.
At first, don't go fully into the aero position if you find it too difficult. Go partway there first until you adjust to it. If you go fully into the aero position before you are ready, you could easily fall off your bike.
Make Sure Your Bike Fits You
If your bike isn't a good fit, you will find it uncomfortable whether you are used to the aero position or not. Don't confuse your bike not fitting you with not being used to the aero position yet. You might also talk to a trainer, or at least an experienced friend, who can correct you if you aren't doing the aero position the right way.
Train Your Muscles
You will probably have to train your muscles off your bike as well as on it. You need a strong upper body and not only strong legs. Do push-ups, planks, and sit-ups to strengthen your upper body.
The stronger your upper body is, the easier it is to remain in the aero position and pedal hard for a long enough time. Your body will also get used to leaning far forward while pedaling if you consistently practice it.
What Types of Bikes are Good for the Aero Position?
Touring bikes, endurance bikes, and gravel bikes do not encourage the aero position or only partly encourage it. You do not lean nearly as far forward as you do on a road bike.
When you are using an off-road bike or a bike designed for longer rides, the Aero position is too difficult to maintain. The handlebars on these bikes are above, even with, or only slightly below the saddle. Riders need a relatively upright position to keep riding for that long.
If a person is riding recreationally and is not trying to win races, they usually prefer an upright position. There is a market for bikes where the handlebars are above, even with, slightly below, or farther below the seat.
Did Racers Always Use the Aero Position?
Cyclists took aerodynamics less seriously in the past, even if they were always aware of it. The outcome of the 1989 Tour de France made racers realize its importance.
While Greg LeMond used low handlebars and wore a helmet designed to minimize drag, Laurent Fignon used regular handlebars and didn't wear a helmet. Lemond caught up to him in the middle of the race and beat him.
This made other cyclists realize that you could lose a race by ignoring aerodynamics. Today, the aero position and bikes designed for it are standard in competitive races. The aero position was a great achievement - nothing since then has done more to speed up the fastest racers.
Other Ways of Reducing Drag in Races
Racers today wear skinsuits, not ordinary clothes. A skinsuit can reduce drag by as much as 30%, more than enough to win a race against someone without one.
Lycra is probably the best material for a racing skinsuit. Sometimes, part of the skinsuit is made rougher and not as smooth as possible, as this reduces drag further. A golf ball has a rough surface to reduce drag and fly farther.
When a cyclist moves fast, a zone of low air pressure will appear behind their head, slowing them down. Many cyclists after 1989 put on aero hats which reduced drag. These aero hats have since been replaced by aero helmets, which both reduce drag and keep the rider safe.