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What The (Very Near) Future Of Bike Tech Looks Like

  • By Aaron Hersh
  • Published February 6, 2013
Illustration by Oliver Baker.

We dissect the five biggest trends to emerge from the top bike trade shows to give you a peek at the way we’ll ride in 2013 and beyond.

Buff Brakes
While integrated frame design slowed in 2012, hidden external brakes continued to progress. Instead of stashing the front brake behind the fork, many frame builders are now using V-brakes with arms that hide completely in the shadow of the fork. Cannondale, Parlee and Argon 18 are just three of the companies using TRP’s well-concealed TTV brakes.

V-brakes are only compatible with certain bikes because they require a specially designed fork, but an upstart triathlon business created an aero caliper that’s compatible with standard brake mounts. TriRig borrowed design elements from Trek’s Speed Concept 9-series integrated front brake and Campagnolo’s Delta stoppers to create the Omega brake. It mounts in front of the fork without sticking into the wind and offers solid stopping power and modulation.

Saddle Acceptance
ISM saddles were ridden by 328 athletes at the 2012 Ironman Hawaii—the second-most of any brand—yet only one bike maker, Quintana Roo, includes these saddles on its bikes. And there were only 61 QRs in the race. That means at least 15 percent of the field upgraded their saddle to an ISM. Despite the exploding popularity of tri-specific saddles, bike companies have been hesitant to include the unconventional seats. That stubbornness may be fading. Cervélo is spec’ing the ISM Prologue on the 2013 P3 and P5, becoming the first big bike brand to do so. Hopefully more will follow.

Fat Tyres
Wide tires aren’t just for trail riding. On pavement, a broad tire dampens road vibration, reduces the risk of flats and increases cornering performance. Skinny tires—19–21mm—used to be popular because they created less aero drag, but wide-rim wheels changed that. Bigger tires ranging from 23 to 25mm have little or no additional drag on broad rims—in some cases they even create less drag than a narrower alternative—and they’re just more fun to ride.

Specialized debuted a version of its Roubaix Pro Endurance road tire with an unprecedentedly broad 28mm-wide body and narrower tread to create a forgiving ride feel without sacrificing speed or much agility.

While 25mm clinchers are common, wide tubulars are still rare. Michelin debuted a 25mm-wide version of its Pro4 tubular tire that elevates the forgiving feel of tubular tires to the next extreme. They’re perfect for an Ironman, or any race over rough pavement.

Cheaper Power
Stages Cycling displayed the first fully functional, direct-measurement power meter to cost as little as $699. Like more expensive versions from Quarq and SRM, the Stages system embeds strain gauges in the crank to directly measure power created by the rider. While the others can measure power from both legs, the Stages’ unit can only record power created by the left leg. The company embeds the necessary hardware into a non-drive crank arm, and you swap your existing arm for the instrumented version to turn it into a power meter. They will be available later this year. Budget a few dollars for an ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart computer to display data.

For truly affordable power measurement, Kinetic created a power measurement add-on for the company’s Road Machine trainer. This indoor training system accomplishes the most important goal of a power-based training system: data repeatability. With a quick spin-down test, it factors in tire and pressure differences so the effort you put out on a workout this week can be exactly the same as next week’s session.

The Perfect Fit
Why buy a bike from a physical shop when many can be had at a discount online? Part of the answer is simple: Shops have experts who can provide help. “Fitting is one of those services that allows [bike shops] to differentiate themselves from the mass merchant, from the Internet,” says Specialized Bicycle Component University’s Global Manager, Scott Holz. “It’s good for the industry.” Cannondale also believes in the value of bike fit and the service that physical shops can provide. To help support their vision for the cycling industry, both bike giants bought fit businesses that they are now harnessing to push professional bike fit further than ever before.

With the exception of Holz’s SBCU program, most bike fit techniques and tools have come from individuals or niche companies with limited resources. Without the collective force of a large, coordinated effort, the art and science of bike fit has progressed sporadically—but Cannondale and Specialized are making sure that comes to an end.

Specialized acquired a big fraction of Retül, a high-tech fitting tool startup in its fifth year. “Before, we had to pay for things as we could afford them,” says Retül co-founder Franko Vatterott. That meant leashing their CEO and “engineering Jedi” Cliff Simms until the business could sell enough systems and services to pay for the resources needed to develop new technologies. The result: Bike shops and riders had to wait months or even years longer than required by the R&D process before they could use Retül’s innovative new fitting technologies. Now they’ll be able to crank out new tools as quickly as Simms can dream them up.

Cannondale threw its weight into the world of fit by buying Guru Cycles’ fit business. Cannondale (technically, the company that owns the company that owns Cannondale) purchased the fit component of Guru Cycles, and built an entire fit system around its motorized fit bike. They worked to complement it with the full bevy of tools needed to find an ideal position and transfer it to a real, rideable bike. Specialized has been intertwined with fit for years, but this is Cannondale’s first step in, and they enter with largely the same objectives. They want to empower bike shops and fit studios to help riders enjoy cycling.

These decisions to buy into bike fitting signal a major shift in the way riders will be paired with their bikes for years to come. And the best thing about this change is that neither Cannondale nor Specialized is using its newfound influence to block competing dealers from using these preeminent fitting tools. Instead, they’re arming the entire industry with better resources. Any shop or fit studio can buy either system, whether they sell Cannondale or Specialized or neither.

It seems very charitable of Specialized and Cannondale to create next-level fitting technology then sell them to, for example, a Trek dealer, but both companies are in fact doing it for business reasons. “Having Retül thrive and prosper and be a super-solid fitting system is good for the industry,” says Holz. “We hope [Retül] prospers in our dealerships as well as everybody else’s.” The value of bike fit is brand-agnostic, and with these two leaders pushing their weight behind rider comfort, the art and science of bike fit is sure to continue to progress and reach even more riders.

Static Design
We also identified a couple patterns of non-change:

Unchanged front ends
Since Giant started the movement to front-end integration with the Trinity Advanced SL, there has been a major improvement or change every year—until now. Trek set the bar for total integration while others, including Cervélo and Specialized, pushed to balance aerodynamics and functionality. This year, the new tri bikes on display borrowed strategies from existing bikes.

No disc
Last spring, Sram teased upcoming hydraulic disc brakes designed for road bikes. If you’ve ever jumped on a mountain bike with a similar set of brakes, you know just how much of an improvement they can be over caliper brakes. Well, it turns out that managing the heat created on a long descent creates problems, so neither Sram nor Shimano has a set ready for the public just yet.

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