Twelve of Our Favorite Bikes of 2023

Written by Joseph Bonacci, on December 14, 2023

We built up a fair number of bikes here at the shop over the course of the year and we've pretty much seen it all from purpose built road racing bikes, to gravel adventurers, to ultra-capable mountain bikes, and even custom eBike builds for all sorts of use. While many of the bikes we build might fall through the cracks of the memory over the year, a certain few stick with us and stand out for their unique characteristics. 

To celebrate both the year rounding out and the fact that we're lucky enough to be around these great bikes, we've compiled a list of our twelve favorites for 2023. This list of outstanding bikes is in no particular order, as one could easily make a case that each of them belong at the top the list. As you read through, what would be your bike of the year?

You can read full write ups on all of these remarkable bikes in our Contender Journal, and we'd love to hear from you with any questions or to get the ball rolling on your own dream build. We'd love for your next bike to make our "Best Of" list next year!Chris King OPEN at Contender Bicycles with ENVE Wheels

IT ROLLS GOOD LIKE ANGRY BEE SOUND - OPEN X CHRIS KING WI.DE LTD.

When we heard that one of our favorite bike brands was partnering with Chris King to give us an ultra-limited, ultra-sharp paint job, we were of course excited. When we finally laid eyes on the bike though, none of us had expected it to be so detailed. The pristine purple paint job finished with small pink Chris King bees has made this a universally loved edition of the OPEN WI.DE. Each of the 19 frames produced are unique, with the "angry bees" being placed in unique spots on each frame. 

The Chris King bottom bracket and headset that pair with this 90's Porsche purple paint job guarantee smooth operation and smooth miles anytime you take the bike out. A SRAM Force AXS mullet drivetrain was the perfect choice for this bike, maximizing the range to ensure performance on any gradient. ENVE AG25 wheels offer a wide internal width that optimizes gravel tires, limiting road vibrations and keeping your ride happy. This limited-edition OPEN would make any bike lover's dream list, and it's deserving to be high on our own list of favorites this year. Isaac's Ultralight Santa Cruz Blur CC

A BLISTERINGLY LIGHT SANTA CRUZ BLUR

Even though we said we're not playing favorites, this incredibly detailed Santa Cruz Blur project bike made it to the top of the list for some of us, as it was built up by our own Isaac here at the shop. 

This Blur illustrates how lightweight bikes can still be capable and comfortable, something that is oft disputed and under appreciated. Typically when you get on a bike built to be light, you'll feel every single undulation, rut, rock, or pothole under your tire due to the stiffness of lightweight carbon frames and components. This Blur CC build utilizes tire liners, electronic shifting, 180mm rotors, a dropper post, and 2.4” tires, which would usually nets a bike weighing over 25 lbs. Isaac getting this build in under 21 lbs is an extraordinary feat. 

Isaac took a deep dive into the bike and shaved off every gram that wasn’t explicitly necessary. Customizations and reductions to existing parts were employed in the extreme weight savings, as well as the use of  a custom made Berk Carbon saddle and ultra light X-Pedo titanium pedals. The highlight of the build is the Trickstuff Piccola brake set, rarely seen in the United States, and providing perfect braking precision in an ultra-light shell.

This bike isn't just light however, proving itself strong enough for the toughest of challenges and disproving another common convention that lightweight bikes are delicate. Isaac completed (and wrote about) a brutal and fast trip on the 120 mile White Rim Trail in southern Utah.Pinarello Dogma F at Contender bicycles with Zipp 303 Firecrest

A PINARELLO F BORN TO STAND OUT

Two words come to mind when looking at this bike: “Molto Bello!” It might not seem conventional to the Italian marque, but the high-vis "Pinarello yellow" is the color of choice of none other than the company's helmsman Fausto Pinarello. Considered by many to be the Ferrari of the bike world, legions of cyclists dream of owning a Pinarello and we love building every one we can. When we get to compile and build a customer's dream Pinarello, we get especially excited. We helped the customer go all out on this one, prioritizing performance over all else, and the the finished product is a pro-level masterpiece. 

Equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 and Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels, this Pinarello MyWay custom painted Dogma F perfectly blends classic Pinarello heritage, aerodynamic performance and perfect shifting into a flashy, lightweight speed demon.Fourstroke AMP LT at contender bicycles

GET AMPED ON THE BMC FOURSTROKE AMP LT

BMC has gotten everyone AMPed up for their latest electric mountain bike, the Fourstroke AMP LT. Built to be lightweight, the BMC Fourstroke AMP LT elevates each ride to the next level. Featuring a TQ HPR50 motor unit, the bike provides smooth, natural assist to your ride, enabling it to still feel like a normal bike while providing enough assist to get up the hills. The clean frame design gives the bike the classic BMC Fourstroke look, while only slightly increasing the volume of the downtube to accommodate the battery and motor. 

In the current bike market, if you are offering a lightweight eMtb it has to stand out from the other options available. The Fourstroke AMP LT stands out with its progressive frame design, allowing you to confidently descend through any terrain, even with only 120mm of travel. Because of the short travel, the bike can turn right around and push up the climbs while providing a stiff, responsive feel. The Fourstroke AMP LT created a lot of hype when it was introduced, and now that we have seen and tested it, it's definitely worthy of being one of our top bikes of the year. 

Santa Cruz Skitch in front of a mural

MAXIMIZE FUN WITH THE SANTA CRUZ SKITCH FLAT BAR

Oxford Languages defines "Skitch" as “holding on to the back of a moving motor vehicle so as to be pulled along while riding a bicycle.” The Santa Cruz Skitch eBike embraces this verb, whether you are towing your friend in a pace line, exploring new routes, or just ripping around town, this bike brings youthful joy back into biking.

A lightweight carbon frame, flat handlebar, and the gravel-bike geometry makes the Skitch responsive and quick and the new-this-year Fazua Ride 60 motor  packs a powerful punch to push you up any climb. The SRAM GX Transmission drivetrain provides perfect shifting anytime, even with the added torque of the motor, and the wide range 10-52t cassette ensures the right gear for any incline or descent. 

The Santa Cruz Skitch is a bike that you'll always have fun riding, which is why it deserves to be featured on our best of the year list.

Colnago Master Campagnolo Super Record at Contender Bicycles

A ROLLING MASTERPIECE - COLNAGO MASTER BEAUTIFUL BICYCLE

Not every bike can be an ultra-lightweight race machine, and in our opinion not all of them should. From a modern standpoint, the Colnago Master might not seem to make a lot of sense; Compared to most other contemporary road frames It’s weighs more, employs old-school technology and materials, and frankly, it's really expensive. With that being said, you would be hard-pressed to find any owners who would trade in their Colnago Master for anything else.  

While you might never choose the Colnago Master as your race bike, the design, composition and craftsmanship result in a bike that is hard to put away. When you pair modern specifications with Colnago's classic steel frame building, you're gifted with a bike that you could ride forever. You're unlikely to ever have a bad day on a Colnago Master. Almost any cyclist would agree that the Master is one of the greats, and it's earned its spot on this year's list.Orbea Rise with XT Di2 at Contender Bicycles

EMBRACE THE E WITH THE ORBEA RISE

E-Bike technology is getting better and better with each new product release and the Orbea Rise continues to prove itself an industry leader. Back in 2021 when Orbea's flagship Rise model was released, it surprised us with its weight and powerful motor. Since then, Orbea has continually improved the bike by adding multiple battery options, implementing internal cable routing, and offering the super customizable Shimano XT Di2 Linkglide derailleur as a standard feature. 

Shimano’s Linkglide Di2 provides perfect shifting every time you hit the button, or even when you don't: You can set the bike to monitor your pedal cadence and actually shift for you when it runs too high or low. On the other side of the spectrum, you can manually shift as you are coasting, and the drive system will rotate the freewheel, properly align the derailleur and lock in the gear selection. While this isn’t a feature every cyclist will use, it's exciting to see how much eBike technology is improving and enhancing the ride experience. 

3T Extrema Gravel bike with GX SRAM Transmission

3T EXTREMA ITALIA - THE RACER'S ADVENTURE BIKE

Well known for their high-end cycling components, 3T also brings the same Italian craftsmanship and quality to their bike frames. Arguably the finest among them is the made-in-Italy Extrema Italia. Boasting an outstanding 700x57mm tire clearance, you will never be short on tire options for this bike. Rarely do we see a gravel bike with aero lines, such wide tire clearance and an aggressive riding position. Needless to say, the Extrema Italia more than piqued our excitement!  The frame is optimized for use with a 52mm tire, so it still feels like a race bike even with wider tires. 

Each model of the Extrema Italia uses a SRAM Transmission drivetrain, emphasizing capability and durability above all else. Designed with hard core gravel riders in mind, this bike features all the necessary bag mounts to allow the rider to load up their bike with anything they might need for their adventures.

Feeling as at home on rough single track as it does on the road, this bike is for the rugged gravel rider that fears no terrain aboard their carbon frame. The bike solidified its spot on our top 12 list with its never-back-down attitude and versatility. 

Custom Built Scott Solace Contessa at Contender Bicycles

SILENTLY POWERFUL - SCOTT SOLACE ERIDE GRAVEL

Finding Solace in each ride is essential, and this custom built SCOTT Solace Contessa might be the perfect bike for the job. Equipped with the necessities for maximizing performance, this bike aptly illustrates the idea that any bike can be improved with with the addition of carbon wheels and electronic shifting. Selected primarily for its versatility, this bike was intended as a “recon” bike, used to scout out gravel roads and trails before returning to ride on a non-electric bike. 

TQ’s HPR50 motor gives this Solace eRide a powerful 28mph of assist, providing the option to push as fast as possible, or provide more minimal assist for longer distances. Forge+Bond’s patented FusionFiber wheels give the bike all the benefits of carbon, while not significantly impacting the environment. SRAM X0 Transmission keeps this bike rolling down the trail, without having to worry about much maintenance. This custom built Scott Solace Contessa eRide delivers top performance each and every time, claiming its spot on our list of favorites. 

Open UP with Limited Edition Silver GRX Shimano

CLASSIC CONTRAST  MAKES FOR A BEAUTIFUL OPEN UP

One look at this OPEN U.P. should help you instantly recognize why we've included it on our list of favorites this year. The custom black metallic paint job paired with the limited edition silver Shimano GRX drivetrain makes this bike truly stand out. Few bikes we see are as eye-catching as this OPEN, and it's built to perform as well as it looks. Just like its black counterpart, the Silver GRX build kit offers crisp mechanical shifting and solid, reliable operation. The wide gear range also ensures that this OPEN U.P. will have a gear for anything that comes its way. 

A limited-edition silver HED Emporia GA Pro wheelset is the perfect match for this bike. Alloy still makes for a lightweight and durable rim material, and HED manufactures some of the highest quality alloys in the business. The 700x43 Rene Hearse tires allow this OPEN U.P. to take any path without decreasing speed or destroying the ride quality. This beautiful black OPEN cements itself into our 12 bike list that can take on any road at whatever speed, without losing its high-performance feel. 

Cervelo Aspero-5 with Ceramic Speed Pulleys

CERVÉLO ASPERO 5 GRAVEL RACER

We'd be hard pressed to create a top-bikes of the year list without a bike from from the fabled Cervelo making the cut. This year, the Cervelo Aspero-5 piqued the interest of many employees around the shop and ended up as the most purchased bike by shop employees this year. This particular bikes belongs to Ed K. at the shop who used it for a variety of gravel events with a variety of drivetrain configurations. SRAM’s AXS electronic shifting system enables effortless swaps (if you have the parts) between 2x and 1x setups, using the same road-oriented brake levers. This Aspero was set up with both a 2x12 SRAM Force group, as well as a 1x "mullet" configuration using a SRAM XX-1 rear derailleur and cassette with a 1x crank. 

Ed’s Aspero features an ENVE SES 3.4 Wheelset that features a 27mm internal width. The increased internal width helps optimize tire profile, while the aerodynamic shape helps maximize speed. Ceramic Speed’s OSPW system was added on to the SRAM Force rear derailleur to decrease drivetrain wear and increase power transfer. This Aspero saw some arduous miles over the past summer in both gravel races and training rides, and never faltered. A well-designed frame and component group ensured ultra-reliable, topnotch performance all year long. 

Kansas City Chiefs Travis Kelce Taylor Swift

IF TAYLOR SWIFT WERE TO DESIGN AN ORBEA OIZ

The Orbea Oiz is an incredible cross country bike, whatever the terrain, and Orbea’s personalization program ensures that you can get exactly the bike you want. This particular Oiz M-Pro was designed by one of our customers, and we can’t help but be reminded of the pop-culture "Swift-Kelce" royalty whenever we see the bike. An ode to the Kansas City Chief's Super Bowl winning season, the royal gold and red colorway gives this Oiz a tight, polished overall finish.
(KC Chiefs fans out there can also score the Patrick Mahomes MVP edition Oakley Sutro from us here at the shop)

This Oiz M-PRO features a full Shimano build kit. The XTR Rear Derailleur offers crisp, consistent shifting in all conditions, while the XT brakes provide more than enough confidence to tackle any trail with powerful stopping power and even actuation. Oquo’s latest MP30 Team wheels provide all the performance of carbon, as well as a level of durability that allows for peace of mind on any ride. The Orbea Oiz is one of our favorite bikes, but this "Swift-Kelce" Oiz M-PRO is just about everything we look for in a bike and more.


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