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Carbon frames are lightweight but rigid

High-mileage cyclists and aspiring triathlon or race competitors can easily spend thousands of dollars on a custom-designed road bike. But experts say improving technology has reduced the cost of high-tech carbon frames and high-end, lightweight components, so most riders can get a solid-performing road bike without hitting the $5,000 mark.

Advanced cyclists looking for the best road bikes prefer carbon fiber frames over aluminum for their light weight and rigidity, and the Trek Madone 6 (*Est. $3,800) gets our nod for the best road bike. It's based on the same design that claimed nine of the last 12 Tour de France victories. Reviewers like its precise steering, quick acceleration, long-haul comfort, hand-built quality and ability to customize through Trek's Project One program.

Trek completely redesigned the 2013 Madone with Kammtail Virtual Foil (KVF) aerodynamic tube shapes in the fork, downtube, seat tube, headtube and seat stays, and added integrated brakes in the fork and behind the bottom bracket. Road.cc names it Superbike of the Year, calling it "one of the very best road bikes out there." Site editors also rank the Trek Madone 6 the No. 2 Bike of the Year, saying, "It's stiff enough to handle all the power you can throw at it yet also incredibly comfortable."

The Specialized Roubaix SL4 Expert Compact (*Est. $3,600) is another favorite in this category. While the Roubaix includes a variety of builds and price points like all Specialized models, this is the same design that Tom Boonen rode to his 2012 Paris-Roubaix win. The five models in the Roubaix line receive the SL4 designation formerly reserved for Specialized's race bikes, including the Tour de France-winning Tarmac SL4.

Specialized continues to refine the Roubaix line first introduced in 2004, and the current version is as fast as a race bike but easier to control and more comfortable, according to reviewers. Testers say the carbon frame's new Zertz vibration-damping technologies help the bike track smoothly over rough roads. Although the Shimano 105 cassette is a step down and the chain is only Tiagra, testers had no issues and the Ultegra Compact crankset works flawlessly.

The SL4 Expert's wheels are its only downfall, say users and experts who found them relatively heavy. In addition, one reviewer says the rims rubbed on the brakes when pedaling hard from a standing position.

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