For part I, click here.
One of my favorite features about the Volagi Liscio was its handling. On descents and in corners the bike was predictable and left me relaxed and confident. In the especially tight twists of the canyon roads of Malibu I needed to give the bike a bit more English than some others, but I didn’t mind that because at higher speeds the bike kept that relaxed manner.
For a bike so calm in handling, it didn’t really have a lot of trail. Thanks to my 57cm review bike’s 72.75-degree head tube angle and 48mm of fork rake, the trail plotted out at 5.53cm, which was somewhat surprising given how calm the bike was. The actual, effective, top tube length of my review bike was 56.7cm. The bottom bracket was a rather surprising 68mm; that’s 2mm less drop than I would have guessed. Those numbers tell why the bike doesn’t turn like a school bus, but it still doesn’t help tell why it can inspire such confidence. The wheelbase is where that aspect of its personality comes through, which is especially long at 100.8cm—that’s longer than found on most bikes a centimeter or more larger. Similarly, because this isn’t meant to be a race bike, the head tube was refreshingly long at 19.2cm.
Volagi deserves some credit for cutting molds for six different sizes. It’s not uncommon to see new companies cut only four or five molds and then try to use a single rear triangle across the set. Each main triangle got its own mold and then the there are three sets of chainstays and seatstays (one set for every two sizes). The approach speaks of the company’s commitment to quality, and standing behind its design. The seat tube angle for my bike was 73.25 degrees which was a hair steeper than I expect to see on a bike of this size, and for me and my fit, it was a welcome switch. In absolute terms, the bike’s stack and reach were 59.8cm and 38.7cm respectively.
The sizing run starts on the small end with a 48cm frame with a 50.5cm top tube. The 53 has a 51.6cm top tube. The 55 has a 54.9cm top tube. Then, on to the 56.7cm top tube of my 57 and ending with the 59.6cm top tube found on the 60cm frame. They manage to cover a pretty broad range for only six sizes. As a result, there are two notable holes in the sizing run, between the 53 and the 55 and then between the 57 and the 60. Anyone looking for a top tube in the 53 to 54cm range will have some trouble, as will anyone looking for a top tube in the 58 to 59cm range.
Honestly, while this bike fully qualifies as a grand touring design, I need to be clear that the handling on this bike, due to its modest amount of trail and higher-than-usual BB for this variety of bike, is a flavor of its own. Anyone seeking something slightly different than a Roubaix or a Cannondale Synapse, without going for a sport bike like the Tarmac or SuperSix EVO, would do well to at least try riding a Liscio.
In trading email with Robert Choi, I’ve learned that Volagi set its sights incredibly high for this bike, almost unreasonably so. Choi said they wanted a comfortable bike, hence the longbow stays, but they also wanted something that had the neutral handling of a race bike, even despite the long wheelbase, which explains the trail figures. What surprised me is how they also wanted to give the bike an aerodynamic edge; the top tube, down tube, seat tube and seatpost all carry an airfoil shape. The quickest way to reduce a bike’s comfort is to make it more aerodynamic. I don’t know of another bike on the market that tried to tackle the comfort issue and aerodynamics while simultaneously making a bike that offered responsive handling on unpaved surfaces. Ambitious much?
Volagi offers but one version of the Liscio frame. That means anyone who plunks down their cash for a Liscio gets the same high-modulus carbon fiber frame as the next guy, no matter what build you select. I stripped the bike down as much as I dared (internal cable routing) and concluded my 57cm frame weighed in the neighborhood of 1150g, which is pretty heavy by today’s standards; I can name a half dozen companies producing frames around that size that weigh 300g less. Volagi claims a frame weight of roughly 1100 grams (+/- 100g) for the frame and another 400g for the fork. I’ve noticed a fair amount of consumer confusion out there about carbon fiber bikes from some manufacturers. A lack of clarity in marketing materials can lead people to think that, for instance, all Madone frames are the same. (I’m not saying Trek does this; that’s merely an example.) While I doubt that this misperception is prevalent, there’s no doubt it happens, and on some occasions I think it could be more readily clarified by some marketing departments. But with Volagi, you can go for the least expensive of all the builds and you still get a very nice frame.
My bike was built up with a Shimano Ultegra 6700 10-speed group, TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes, FSA SL-K carbon fiber BB30 compact crank, an FSA Energy bar and FSA Gossamer stem. The seatpost and wheels both come from Volagi. The Volagi E7 Ignite wheels are proprietary in that they use a rim with no brake track. Unfortunately, that doesn’t result in a lighter wheel, due to the disc-brake hubs, though at 1850g, they aren’t total pigs. For reasons that I simply can’t fathom, the seatpost is made with an aero cross section. Marketing materials for the Liscio mention its aero design, but I have my doubts about just how aero this frame is and don’t really understand why a designer attempting to make a bike more comfortable would saddle it with the extra challenge of giving aero benefits. Were the seatpost round, I think this bike would probably offer even greater comfort.
I’m not going to go into any great depth on the disc-brake question. My personal feeling is the mechanical discs aren’t a great way to advocate for disc brakes. It’s like trying to use the example of the Hummer as a model of vehicular efficiency. It may be against a Packard, but in an absolute sense, not a chance. What I can say is that the TRP Spyre brakes offered an incredible degree of modulation. However, initially, many riders interpret the longer lever travel as reduced braking force. My sense was that I didn’t need to pull the lever any harder to reach brake lock-up, I just needed to pull the lever further.
As built, my bike was 17.5 lbs. and retailed for $3500. As they no longer offer the 6700 I rode, the build using Ultegra 6800 adds another $100. Were you to build it up with a SRAM Red 22 group, carbon bar and stem and some high-zoot wheels, like a set of the disc-ready Enve 3.4s, I expect you could shave close to three pounds off this bike—and add another $4000 to the price tag. While it’s true that we’re reaching a point of diminishing returns on weight, moving from a 14-lb. bike to a 17.5-lb. one, you can’t help but notice the difference in acceleration. Jumping off a light is, for both better and worse, the place where a difference in weight is most apparent. The question becomes, how important is acceleration from a standing start? Were you racing this bike, it wouldn’t really be a big deal, but for a rider in more urban conditions, every bit of help making starts easier is going to be welcome. I speak from some familiarity on this. There is, however, another side to the weight issue. Sure, an 1100g frame isn’t exactly marketing gold, but in producing a bike meant to offer comfort while balancing the rigors of post-mount disc brakes, Choi takes some pride in reporting that Volagi has yet to see a single frame (out of more than 1000 on the market) that has cracked at the fork or stays due to braking forces. Surely, reliability is a selling point to a skeptical
Years ago, when I was working in a bike shop, any time I opened a bike box and pulled out the machine within, one of the first things I would do, aside from locating the seatpost so I could insert it and then clamp it into the Park workstand, was to look at the rear dropouts. The shops I worked at sold a fair number of road bikes in the $200 to $1500 range. In looking at the rear dropouts I could identify whether the bike was meant as a more casual ride thanks to eyelets, or if it was a true racing bike because it possessed no eyelets. Any time I didn’t see eyelets I got excited. However, every now and then I’d find myself building a true touring rig and then I’d find myself intrigued by the thought that went into all the various braze-ons.
The Liscio is one of a very few carbon fiber bikes I’ve seen that sports eyelets on the rear dropouts. It’s possible that they could support a rack, but I suspect their real intention is to help mount fenders, which brings up another curious detail about this bike. It has a surprising amount of tire clearance, enough to allow a rider to run 25mm tires and fenders. I managed to slip one of my ‘cross wheels in the dropouts just to see if a knobby 32mm tire would fit. It did, but I’d be wary of trying anything larger than a 35mm tire—knobby or smooth.
When I think about the bell curve of the roadie population, how most of us aren’t actually racing and if the surveys have anything right, most of us have had our 35th birthday and are now in a battle against Kronos to lose as little fitness, balance, flexibility and mental acuity as possible with each passing year, I keep concluding that the bike most people need isn’t the sport bike with 15cm of drop from the saddle to the bar. A bike like the Liscio recognizes the real gains that carbon fiber construction provides. Compared to most steel bikes I’ve ever ridden, the Liscio provides more torsional stiffness, greater steering precision and a higher degree of comfort on rough surfaces. Once you do away with the part of the ego that tells you your position on the bike should reflect what we see in the pages of Cycle Sport, we can get on with the business of providing people a fit based on their flexibility, not some arbitrary angle based on our ideas of what cool is. And why not make a bike with geometry for people who aren’t in the saddle for 30 hours each week? Volagi is a company with something worthwhile to contribute to the evolution of road bikes.
When I was at Press Camp in 2012, I got my first look at products from Kali Protectives. Founder Brad Waldron is a former aerospace engineer who found his way into cycling for the same reason most of us working in the industry do—he had a passion for it. Following a stint with the heavyweights in Morgan Hill, he went on to found Kali Protectives. At the root of his desire to start Kali was his interest in pursuing the conehead technology invented by Australian Institute of Physics member Don Morgan.
In broad strokes, Morgan’s conehead technology uses high density foam for the majority of material at the outside of the helmet while placing lower density foam near the head to help dissipate impact energy. Rather than simply slapping one layer on top of the other, Morgan’s idea was to create a number of small cones of lower density material penetrating into the higher density material. Were you to see just the low-density portion of the helmet, it would look like something out of Mad Max. Spray paint it black and splash come fake blood on it and you’d have an ideal post-apocalyptic film prop.
More important is how this technology has been shown to decrease the G-forces experienced in an impact. I’m always careful to say that I review products; I don’t test them. It might be a semantic point to some, but I think testing would, in this case, mean submitting my head to an uncomfortable impact while ensconced in this device. And to do a proper job, I’d probably have to submit my head to yet another, though not covered by anything than my silver fox mane. Nothankyou. The chart above tells me all I really need to know about this technology. It compares the difference between traditional EPS foam helmets with Kali’s early Composite Fusion Construction helmets and their newer Composite Fusion Plus Construction, which is found in the Maraka and Phenom helmets.
Above is one of the sections of the Maraka mountain bike helmet, prior to integration with the other sections. The concept of using different densities of foam to build a helmet that further reduces the possibility of a traumatic brain injury has been gaining interest and acceptance, and now the technology and design are beginning to catch up.
I began wearing the Maraka when mountain biking last year for one very simple reason: it was more comfortable than the other mountain bike helmets I’ve tried. It doesn’t provide quite as much rear coverage as some of the newer enduro-style helmets, but in a move that I’ve yet to encounter in another helmet, Kali uses sections of memory foam molded into the shell to further cushion the head. I get how everyone wants a light helmet and an ultra-ventilated helmet, but I really don’t see the point in having bare EPS sit directly on the head, even if you’re like me and still have plenty of hair.
The yellow sections in the shot above are the memory foam elements molded into the helmet and the black dots are the velcro dots the pads attach to, which is to say those locations are places meant to make contact with your head.
I liked the look of the Maraka well enough for mountain biking, but the road version, which was simply this helmet without the visor, didn’t wow me. Fast forward a year and Kali has introduced the Phenom, a road-specific helmet that really gets the look right, while keeping the conehead technology.
The look is rakish and aggressive, like you took one of the crazier Euro helmets and allowed a student from Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design (where BMW gets all their new recruits) to fix it. Ventilation seems on par with the other helmets I’m wearing, though I have to admit this time of year that on most of my rides, I’ve got a cycling cap beneath the helmet to actually reduce air flow due to cool (certainly not cold) air.
Kali is offering Phenom in just two sizes (small/medium and medium/large) while the Maraka comes in three sizes (extra small/small, small/medium and medium/large). There are two white vents at the temples (you can just see one of them in the image above) and they are the only opportunity for perching eyewear on my small/medium size helmet. I was able to fit Smith Pivlocks, Giro Havik IIs, Shimano Equinox and Spy Screws in the vents without too much difficulty. Oakley Radar frames have larger earpieces and don’t like to stretch much, so they didn’t fit. And the wrap of the Assos Zeghos is so great that not only did they not fit this helmet, they really don’t fit in anything.
The occipital retention device, called the Microfit System at the back of the Phenom features the largest opening I’ve encountered in any such mechanism. It is absolutely the best such device for anyone with long hair that needs to be pulled back in a ponytail. There is one small downside to this. Unlike the systems found in helmets from Giro and Specialized, this thing can’t be adjusted much; there are but two positions. Even with it set in the upper position, I’d like to adjust it upward half a centimeter to a centimeter because the straps that reach forward to the temples sit very close to my ears. It’s not uncomfortable when I first put the helmet on, but I do notice a bit of discomfort after two or three hours if I’m not wearing a cycling cap beneath the helmet. The device would be a bit more comfortable if I could move it up just a touch. It seems designed for a helmet larger than this one, though the folks at Kali tell me this helmet is intended to have a very deep fit.
My one other issue with these helmets is that they haven’t moved to the lighter weight webbing I’ve encountered in helmets like the Aeon and Prevail. I’m less concerned with helmet weight than I am with how the thinner material absorbs less sweat and feels more supple against my skin. Now, on the subject of weight, while the Maraka is reasonably light for a helmet with a visor, at only 259 grams, the Phenom weighs a fair bit more at 310g.
There are those who complain that a single-serve device such as a helmet is just too expensive, and given that many of them run to nearly $300, I can see some resistance to that. However, the Maraka and Phenom will be a welcome switch. The Phenom is only $159, while the Maraka is only $189.
As someone who’s had two concussions, I can say I’d really like to avoid them in the future. Any company willing to pursue technology that might reduce the impact my brain experiences has my attention.
One of my favorite features of the bike industry is its low threshold to entry. If you want to manufacture something in the bike industry, depending on just what you want produce, the fixed costs to launch your company can be relatively low. On the downside, it means we get some undercapitalized operations that wink out of existence even before most people are aware of their existence, crushed by the weight of their own promise. Asphalt, anyone? On the upside, surprising talents can launch reputations from a garage, Witness Chris Bishop.
For those with more industry savvy, relationships that span the globe and an actual credit line, you can launch a brand-new bike company. Volagi has been around for three years now and if the name of the company seems more familiar than the bike itself, it probably has to do with the lawsuit the fledgling brand found itself embroiled in with Specialized. Our man Charles Pelkey covered it in one of his Explainer columns. Technically, Specialized won one piece of the case and lost a few others, while the pricipals at Volagi claimed victory because they won the PR verdict with the public. Given all the money that went to “guys in pinstriped Italian suits,” as Charles put it, he was right in assessing there were no winners for the case.
Had Specialized limited their suit to the alleged Volagi owners Robert Choi’s and Barley Forsman’s alleged breach of their employment contracts—the jury did find that Choi violated the therms of his contract—this might have played out differently and less expensively for everyone involved. However, Specialized chose to sue Choi and Forsman for the Liscio’s patented “longbow” design. This might also have played differently had Choi and Forsman not chosen to patent their design; you have to figure that really got the attention of some folks in Morgan Hill. Specialized’s contention was that Volagi’s decision to join the seatstays to the top tube, rather than at the more typical location of the seat cluster, was an idea they’d lifted from the Roubaix. On this point, Specialized lost.
I don’t wish to retry the case here, but I knew there was a need to address the event that has resulted in the majority of the media coverage Volagi has received since its launch. Having ridden both bikes, including every iteration of the Roubaix, I can report that while the two bikes both belong to that class of grand touring bikes, they ride quite differently. I’ll get into the specifics of the ride of the Liscio a bit later in this review.
Animal or vegetable?
So just what is the Liscio? it deserves to be defined on its own merits, on the designers’ intent, rather than in relation to another bicycle. The company’s tag line reveals some of the bike’s purpose: “By endurance, we discover.” It’s an elegant line, one that I wouldn’t mind seeing in Latin on the seat tube or head tube. It also lays out a purpose too broad to be just another racing bike. And I’ll admit, the line contains enough regard for wonder that I felt an immediate soft spot for it when I read it.
If the lines of the longbow frame didn’t immediately betray the bike’s aim, then two other features about the bike should help establish the objectives open to the rider. First is the immediately apparent use of disc brakes. I can’t think of another component that can be spec’d on a road bike that will more immediately announce that you’re looking at a bike of a different feather than disc brakes. The appearance of two discs says nothing so much as, “This ain’t your buddy’s racing bike.” In addition to the disc brakes are the 25mm-wide tires. Now, a cynical product manager can use a wide tire to cover for a harsh-riding bike, but to do that with a frame design you’re trying to convince people is more comfortable—not less so—would really undercut the bike’s sales pitch unless your larger statement is that the Liscio is a go-anywhere road bike.
It is, and I really put that aspect of its design to the test. I’ll get to that in a bit.
For all the talk that gravel-grinder rides have been getting in the last year, there’s been surprisingly little talk of bikes designed specifically for those with an adventurous spirit. Some of that lack of talk is due to lots of riders just using ‘cross bikes, while others have used it as a chance to advocate for custom steel. Nothing wrong with either of those options, right? But what of producing a top-shelf road bike from carbon fiber just for the go-anywhere-with-drop-bars set?
This bike was, if I may, ahead of its time by just a couple of years. Volagi launched with this bike in 2010, but the idea of gravel grinders didn’t really start to catch on until 2012. Now, before any of you go to the comments section to tell us just how long you’ve been doing these rides, my purpose isn’t to argue about how far back any of you were cool. I’m simply talking about when enough of us were doing this sort of thing that it began to get the industry’s attention in a serious way. It’s fair to suggest that Volagi had their ear to the ground far sooner than most of the industry. The downside to this is that this bike might have enoyed greater acclaim had it been introduced last year.
So why a carbon fiber gravel grinder bike? For all the frustrations that carbon fiber has presented us—let’s see, there’s easily broken frames, expensive repairs, even more expensive frames and components and the general anxiety caused by the threat of damage any time you want to travel with your carbon fiber bike—the material has also given us some irrefutable advances. Road bikes have never been more diverse in appearance, fit range and ride quality. Those are all selling points. Quite simply, if you want to build the ideal gravel grinder, you’d do it from carbon fiber for the simple reason that you have the opportunity to start with the broadest palette.
Having just made the case that this is a gravel grinder par excellence, I want to put the brakes on that perception and say that this bike is a plain-old, straight-up road bike. I’ve done a fair number of group rides on this bike. There’s nothing in its handling, fit or layup that handicaps it for everyday use. This is a road bike that simply isn’t limited by road surface. That’s an important distinction. Where I live, I have to ride for at least a half hour to get to any dirt roads, and to get to the interesting ones I have to ride for more than an hour. For the groups I ride with, just what bike you choose for our dirtier excursions becomes a real point of conversation. It may not be of the order of conversation of whether you choose a ‘cross bike or a mountain bike for The Crushar in the Tushar, but rolling a knobby 32mm tire pumped to 60psi while other guys are pushing the pace on 23mm slicks pumped to 110psi (and destined to get flats later) can leave you suffering all the way to the start of the dirt.
I rode the Liscio on several asphalt/dirt combo rides this winter and it was the perfect bike for those days. Due to, uh, personal limitations, I wasn’t the first to the top of any of the climbs, but I was able to descend every bit as well as anyone on a ‘cross bike.
What I’m noticing in moving between different bikes is that some of them simply don’t impart as much shock when I hit bumps. I’ve had engineers talk to me about just how little movement is taking place when the frame is loaded. The numbers are so small any reasonable person would conclude that frame flex is a figment of our collective imagination. However, in the last month I’ve ridden five different road bikes and even when I’ve made an effort to minimize variables I’ve come to an inescapable conclusion. Those tiny amounts of flex matter. The Volagi Liscio, courtesy of its patented longbow design, simply doesn’t jar me as much when I hit bumps.
The inexorable march of technology can be as infuriating as it is fun. I didn’t buy the first iPhone. I swore I didn’t need to be able to send email with my phone or surf the Interwebs. Then one day, 400 miles from home and busy trying to figure out an itinerary change, I suddenly realized that real-time access to Google Maps would make my life much easier. Either that, or I needed to travel with a filing cabinet full of maps. I went with technology. Ever since buying that first iPhone I’ve wondered how I got along without it. So elemental to my life is the iPhone that I can compare it to the bicycle in terms of its genius, its necessity, and I can do that with a straight face. No mock sarcasm or irony. Still, with each new introduction I wonder just how much better it could be.
And every single time I catch myself going, “Oh. Wow. Cool.” Imagine how I’d feel if I used Siri regularly.
I wasn’t thinking of the iPhone when Assos announced last fall that they were introducing a new series of bibs. Four pairs total, the S7 line replaces the S5 with four different models, as compared to three. No, what I was thinking of was just who I was going to have to kill for discontinuing the finest pair of bibs on the market. I had heart palpitations when I considered the possibility that the Fi.13 bibs would cease to exist. It’s like no more Grade B maple syrup. No, I’m sorry; that’s not workable. We’re going to have to find an alternative. I didn’t have a problem with them adding new models, but when your top-of-the-line bibs are easily twice as good as everything else on the market (and I swear, nothing comes close to the Fi.13s), what on earth must you be possessed by to think, “Okay, nix those”?
Who does that?
Of course, all my gnashing of teeth happened before I rode anything from the new S7 lineup.
Then I pulled on a pair of the Équipe bibs. It’s a good thing I didn’t speak ill of them before their introduction.
So the S7 lineup has four bibs. The NeoPros are the entry level. The Équipes are next in the lineup. The Cento is third and then Campionissimo is the new top-of-the-line bib. Assos has set up a microsite devoted just to the S7 bibs. There’s a great interview with Tony Maier Moussa, the company founder, there.
With a suggested retail of $270, the Équipe bibs accomplish an unusual feat by turning a nearly entry-level product into a magnitude of premium most manufacturers would find unthinkable. A quick survey online shows that there are a fair number of brands whose best bibs cost less than the Équipes. For some brands, that disparity would be alarming, a signal that they misunderstood the market. But not Assos.
I recall reading an interview with East Coast mountain bike pioneer Chris Chance back in 1987 or ’88. I believe the interview ran in Mountain Bike Action and the interviewer may have been my friend Dan Koeppel. One of the questions he put to Chance was, “What would you tell someone who only had $600 to spend on a mountain bike?” Now, back in ’88, $600 was a helluva lot of sawbucks to spend on a bicycle, doubly so for a mountain bike, but a Wicked Fat Chance ran more than $1000. So how did Chance respond?
“I’d tell them to save their money.”
I was a nearly destitute graduate student. Saving money was as impractical a goal for me as growing gills. Yet, I loved that answer. I liked the man’s principles, and I made a point to tell him so when I met him a few months later—even as I rode an $800 GT Avalanche.
Placing principles ahead of all other concerns is a stance that appeals to me at a very elemental, even visceral, level. If I may, I’m of the belief that too much is done with an eye on cost. Chasing a commodity seems a pointless endeavor, and the pursuit of producing something for the lowest possible cost seems a kind of cancer. I’m reminded of astronaut Alan Shepard, and what he had to say about his Mercury rocket.
“It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”
That’s always unnerved me. It’s offensive to my sensibility, as well.
But back to Assos. I’m using their images for the overall shots of the bibs because I don’t look cool enough to model anything, certainly not with my shirt off. I’m doing you a kind of service.
What I find so mind boggling is the way this company dustbinned their entire S5 line of bibs. I went on record calling the Fi.13_S5 bibs the finest on the market. Yes, at $369 they were nearly as expensive as the last set of tires I purchased for my car, but they were more comfortable than anything else on the market by order of magnitude. But they are no more.
So I tried on the Équipe bibs and even before I’d managed to pull the strap up I noticed an unusual feature. That same feeling that the Fi.13 bibs gave of cupping my package and getting it out of the way of my leg movement was present in the Équipe, although at only 75 percent of the cost. This feature is the Kukupenthouse, a term that has gotten more than a touch of derisive laughter. However, this is Assos at their most Assos. Sure, it’s a ridiculous name, but it’s a feature that has a distinct benefit and isn’t duplicated by any other bibs on the market; it’s truly unique to Assos.
The pad in the Équipe bibs enjoys an unusual relationship to the shorts. It is sewn in at five points. This is Assos’ new feature called Goldengate. There’s stitching along the very front of the pad, then two wing points that help form the Kukupenthouse, and then in two sections along the back of the pad—but they don’t join at the middle. The purpose is to allow the pad more natural movement, more freedom to stay with you by allowing it to slide along the short. Think of the stitching as an anchor, not glue, for three-dimensional freedom of movement.
You may have noticed that the bib straps are spaced in an unusually wide stance. Previous attempts to space the bibs wide like this really haven’t worked out. The bibs I’ve worn that tried this either tried to slip off my shoulders or the bunched up around my neck. Assos’ Bibstabilizer is a small piece of fairly rubbery plastic sewn on to the straps to make sure they lie flat along the chest and don’t bunch up. They work; they also doubles as a place to hang your eyewear, as they are sewn only at the ends. Just hook an ear piece through.
Helping to keep those bib straps wide is the (wait for it) Y7 Frame Carrier Bibtech. By using less spandex in the bibs the material bunches less and lays flat to keep the straps set wide. The upshot of the bib straps running wide is that your chest feels more open. Do other bibs restrict my breathing? I wouldn’t suggest that, but my chest feels more open with these.
You may also have noticed that the front of the short is cut pretty low, lower than most bibs. I’ll say that every time I pull these on (and it’s been several times per week since I received my pair) I want a bit more material covering my belly. I hate to have to keep talking about this, but I don’t have the flat belly of a racer boy anymore. And I don’t want my bibs to remind me of that. This is why I’ve never reviewed the Castelli Body Paint bibs; they are cut so low my belly … oh hell, you get the idea. What is both remarkable and frustrating is that the Équipe bibs seem to be cut just barely high enough to keep me from going muffin top. Still, I’d like it if the front was cut just a bit higher, but given that the Équipe is meant to be Assos’ most race-ready bibs, that’s not going to happen.
My friend Steve Carre at Bike Effect has already had the misfortune to crash in a set of the Équipes. My heart sank when he told me this. But because these are are meant for racers, Assos used an unusual blend of fibers in the shorts. They are constructed from fabric that is 70 percent polyamide, 18 percent elastane and 12 percent polyester. The intent was to create a fabric that was more abrasion resistant. Steve told me his bibs were fine despite the distance he slid and they even reduced the amount of road rash he got. Had these been out when I was still racing as a Cat III, this would have been enough to get me to purchase a pair, or two. Assos claims its Abrasionprotec increases abrasion resistance by 18 to 43 percent.
Other features include Assos Icecolor, which is their version of Coldblack, to keep you cooler on hot days, and the new Superflat Grippers which somewhat thicker leg bands to secure the shorts but they aren’t as restrictive as some out there. But these aren’t the big deal.
What’s more important is that Assos has been using memory foam since the S2 generation of shorts—one of only a small handful of companies to employ it. They also improved the Waffle and Superair features, which are the perforations in the pad that increase breathability to cut down on monkeybutt (that’s a motocross term) at the end of a long, sweaty ride. The pad is, of course, an Elastic Interface, made for them by Cytech and is proprietary to Assos. When I consider all these features plus the Kukupenthouse and the Goldengate, I realize that the Équipe bibs are every bit as good as the Fi.13 bibs.
I don’t like writing that.
I’ve got some minor quibbles, like how I prefer the way the way the front of the Fi.13s come up a bit higher and all the sublimation on the webbing in the back of the bibs. They aren’t a deal breaker. What I do think may have some impact on sales for these bibs is the purple stripe that encircles the left gripper that denotes these as the Équipe. What on Earth possessed them to do that? I know plenty of riders who color coordinate every piece of their wardrobe and getting that purple stripe to match everything you wear isn’t going to happen for every ride.
Whatever. These bibs are so good I’ll probably wear them with any jersey I own because they are so comfortable. I’ve worn nothing from another brand that comes close to how comfortable these bibs are—at any price. I was about to write about how these bibs are a game changer and then caught myself when I recalled how Assos’ ads for these bibs used exactly that phrase. Damn. They’re right.
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? The large self-propelled device in the image above these words isn’t a bicycle, is it? And yet this is a site that is allegedly devoted to cycling, right? Well, there are times when I’d like to think that this is a site that just uses the bicycle to get at larger, more human issues like community, culture and happiness.
It’s impossible to hid the fact that I like cool machines. Writing about cycling is a pretty terrific excuse to play with fascinating machines. Being a cyclist predisposes one to digging big, fascinating machines. As it happens, Los Angeles is the site to a new construction project worthy of at least minor media attention. Construction crews are working on the new Wilshire Grand hotel in downtown. By the time it is complete, it will be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.
In a big city like Los Angeles, something is under construction at almost all times. One new building ain’t no biggie. Except, this one is. Because the ground here is prone to movement, the architect behind the new hotel wanted the foundation to be one single piece of concrete. To do that, the entire foundation had to be poured in one continuous movement. My wife and I figured that at least one of the boys would find it amazing, though I’m thinking she wasn’t referring to the four-year-old still lodged deep within me.
What sold us on going was the pitch that this was promised to be the largest continuous pouring of a foundation in history. Agents of that most hallowed institution of the extreme, the Guiness Book of World Records, were on-hand to verify that this was more concrete poured at once than anywhere else in the world. Beginning at 5:00 pm on Saturday crews began pumping concrete into the huge whole in a process that was to take 20 continuous hours of pouring.
The new Wilshire Grand promises to be some 73-stories, 1100-feet high, containing shopping and more than 900 hotel rooms. It sounded big, really big. And when is big not cool?
Those large crane-looking trucks are the concrete pumps. The construction crew used 19 of them in pouring the concrete for the foundation which is 330 by 440 feet, and lies 106 feet below street level. Mini-Shred was pretty fascinated so long as something either moved or made loud machine sounds. A good belch of diesel exhaust was enough to get his attention.
Given the number of very large vehicles moving around the restricted confines of dense urban landscape, the need for coordination was higher than any game of Twister you ever played.
I had a chance to speak with someone from the project and the details he rattled off were mind-boggling. It was like talking to an astrophysicist. The numbers were mind-stunningly huge. So each cement mixer carries 10 cubic yards of concrete. The foundation required 120 to 150 concrete trucks per hour. Each of those pumps had two trucks parked next to them at all times. As soon as one was empty, they’d switch to the one next to it, and the empty would pull out and another would be directed into position.
Here’s where the math starts to get interesting: One cubic yard of concrete weighs about 4000 lbs. So the payload for each truck was roughly 40,000 lbs. or 20 tons. Those pumps were directing between 2400 and 3000 tons of concrete into that hole, per hour. That’s a total of between 48,000 and 60,000 tons of concrete for the foundation, which when translated back into a measure of mass we have a visceral appreciation results in this figure: between 1,920,000,000 and 2,4000,000,000 lbs.
The Deuce, if he could talk, would tell you that Mini-Shred is by far the coolest person he’s ever met. Mini-Shred has yet to develop a taste for adulation, so scenes like the one above are about as good as it gets.
After the family outing on Saturday, I decided to get up early Sunday and head back to downtown by bike and see if I couldn’t gain a vantage of the hole. What I saw was staggering; it reminded me of something out of the War of the Worlds.
I’m amazed by just how small the shipping containers are. In the far right corner there’s a bucket loader that looks like a Tonka toy. I haven’t seen anything so fascinating since I stopped reading Richard Scarry books. For a brief moment, the world was new and I could be anything I wanted when I grew up.
For Part I, click here.
Evaluating road feel
In the past year I’ve ridden roughly a dozen different bikes for 50 miles or more—enough to get pretty familiar with them. Of those bikes (some of them will be coming through in other reviews I’ve yet to write), the Roubaix proved to be among the easiest to fit to me.
I’ve heard people at Specialized as well as a number of retailers mention the “new” geometry for the Roubaix. It’s a detail I repeated a few times until I actually looked at the geometry chart. Across its six sizes, the bike hasn’t changed by a millimeter. The only significant change I can see that will affect the bike’s handling is that I’m not seeing the bike with that long, conic top cap anymore (and followed by three or four centimeters of spacers). And despite continued assertions by others, I’ve verified this with the manufacturer. No change in the head tube length.
So while the geometry of the Roubaix remains unchanged, that doesn’t mean this bike hasn’t evolved significantly. The SL4 iteration of the Roubaix introduces yet another expression of the Zertz technology. Where previously the Zertz inserts were inserted into openings molded into the fork and seatstays and were held in place by their contours, they now wrap around the fork blades and seatstays and are secured with small bolts. This change has a two-fold effect; first, it eliminates the extra material required to form those openings, making the bike lighter and, second, the new attachment method has resulted in improved vibration reduction, according to testing that Specialized performed.
Specialized added a new new seatpost, the CG-R that cantilevers the seat clamp in order to create more of a pivot action with the carbon arm that holds the clamp supported by a high-durometer Zertz damper. The combination of Zertz dampers in both the seatpost and seatstays means that even less vibration is being transmitted to the rider’s hindquarters than ever before.
While Specialized claims that the CG-R offers a whopping 18mm of suspension action, I have my doubts that I got even a full centimeter of travel. So while I quibble with that number, I’d hate for that to obscure the fact that this seatpost does cushion the ride, and I can say that because I tried the Roubaix without that seatpost and I tried that seatpost in another bike; it definitely changes what you feel at the saddle.
I can tell you that this bike was built with Specialized’s FACT 11r construction, but the simple reality is that having typed those words, they don’t really mean anything. This business of constantly coming up with arcane nomenclature mostly doesn’t serve the consumer that well because it doesn’t do anything to enable a consumer to make an apples-to-apples comparison of different bikes. What I can tell you is this: as Specialized has moved from FACT 9r to FACT 10r and now FACT 11r, those jumps have been meaningful enough that they’ve translated to bikes that were stiffer under pedaling forces, lighter and arguably stronger, given that I can report anecdotally I saw fewer riders taking their bikes back to the dealer for frame cracks.
More important are the lengths Specialized had gone to optimize the ride quality for each size. It’s not uncommon for a brand to use the same chainstays or the same wishbone seatstay and the same fork for every single model. By varying tube diameter and layup for each size bike, the Roubaix is one of a select group of bikes that offers such a tuned ride.
The S-Works Roubaix SL4 is a far cry from the original Roubaix. Honestly, all they really share is geometry. My sense is that the S-Works SL4 conveys a similar amount of vibration to the rider as the original Roubaix, though I have to grant I haven’t been able to go back and ride one of the original bikes to verify that assertion. But I’m willing to put that out there because I know that as frames see weight reductions thanks to better compaction, using superior fibers and cutting the amount of material used, those advancements cause more vibration to move through the frame. In short, the very features that cause the Roubaix to be a better bike today are the wrinkles that make shielding a rider from vibration ever more difficult. Just treading water in this game is a win.
The upshot is that this is one of the most comfortable bikes on the market, easily in my top three, when considered for vibration damping. What truly sets the Roubaix apart from other bikes in its class is that it still has the performance of a sport (or “racing”) bike. As much as I really like the live-wire feel of a bike that makes no effort to shield the rider from vibration, there is something positively welcoming to climbing on the Roubaix. As I’ve put it previously, we may dream of owning a Ferrari, but you would probably prefer to stick with a Lexus for your daily driver. Honestly, smooth sells itself.
As I mentioned in Part I of my review, the geometry on the Roubaix hasn’t changed since the model was launched, but this bike is a marked improvement over the original. Several features contribute to that evolution and improvement. Because the bike is both stiffer and lighter now, that improved feedback in handling and reduced mass means it’s easier to ride the bike aggressively. By spec’ing the bike with Roval carbon fiber clinchers and new, lighter Roubaix tires, it’s easier to dive into turns, which allowed me to compensate some for the calm handling, which is imparted by the long wheelbase and low bottom bracket. So, while Roubaix has only 5.6cm of train in the 56cm size, a bit less than its Italian predecessors, its 101cm wheelbase and 7.15cm of BB drop are what give this bike its deliberate demeanor.
When you combine the Roubaix’s ability to smooth out roads and impart confidence to a rider, what you get is a bike that is my preferred ride for rough descents. That’s a quality that is particularly useful in the Sierra where many of the descents feature wide-open turns on surfaces that are sometimes—well, let’s just say I’ve been on smoother fire roads.
Because the Zertz are dead weight in the frame, in order to present a 14.3-lb. bike, Specialized had to pull out essentially all the stops. Details like hollow dropouts, longer fiber runs, and more size-specific features, such as 1 1/8″ steerers in the smallest frames, 1 1/4″ in the mid-sized frames and 1 3/8″ in the largest sizes; this also aids rider comfort.
On the parts side, my bike was equipped SRAM Red as well as an S-Works bar and stem, plus the aforementioned CG-R seatpost. An S-Works crank is substituted for the Red unit. The Roval Rapide CLX 40s with Ceramicspeed bearings follow the example of Zipp’s Firecrest and Enve’s SES wheels which are designed around the idea using the spoke bed as a second leading edge. The way these wheels handled in the wind only served to confirm my previous experience that this rim shape makes a big difference, sending markedly less steering input to the rider than traditional deep-V designs. That said, braking performance was decidedly lacking. It was better than an aluminum rim in wet conditions, but it was far less than I’ve come to (reasonably) expect from a set of carbon clinchers.
My review bike, which included mechanical calipers carried a retail of $8000. Specialized supplanted this version with models sporting either SRAM’s hydro road rim brake or the hydro road disc, which run $500 more. Unfortunately, due to SRAM’s recall of those brakes, those bikes aren’t available in exactly those configurations currently. You may find them on the shop floor; SRAM is providing mechanical disks (cable-actuated) for all those who really can’t wait to have a disc version.
An $8k bike is more than many of us can afford, but here again, Specialized sets itself apart from many of its competitors by offering a stunning 15 different versions of this bike, from the $10,500 Dura-Ace Di2-equipped bike all the way down to an $1800-version. Very few companies come anywhere near this level of selection.
Specialized has taken some hits to its reputation in the last few years, first with the lawsuit against Volagi, then with the C&D letter to Cafe Roubaix. In both situations both parties claimed victory; whether that was true was really a matter of perspective. What was certain for all to see was the hit Specialized’s public image took. It’s a shame that ill-handled actions on the part of Specialized’s legal team should obscure the achievement on the part of the company’s product team. This is one fantastic bike.
I’m going to be candid. I think it’s fair to say that categorically the head tubes on race-oriented road bikes are too short. To be clear, I’m referring to the bikes that the big pro teams are riding, models like the Trek Madone, Specialized Tarmac, Giant TCR and Cervelo R5, what I typically refer to as “sport” bikes. That’s why when Specialized introduced the Roubaix nearly 10 years ago I concluded that it was one of the best carbon-fiber road bikes on the market designed for real people.
Designing bikes for the needs or at least the perceived needs of top level pros has proven to be a double-edged sword. Thanks to the input from some of the strongest riders in the world you and I have the good fortune to ride bikes that are stiffer under pedaling forces and in cornering. Some of them have remained remarkably comfortable; others, less so. What I continue to marvel at is the incredible diversity of experiences out there. Not only are the significantly greater differences between top-of-the-line road bikes for most brands than there were back when everyone’s top road bike was made from steel, there’s also the fact that now many brands offer a sport bike, a grand touring bike, as well as an aero road bike. The interesting detail in this is that for most brands that offer all three models or at least a race bike and a grand touring model, the race bike still is the sales leader.
There’s an interesting back story, not just to this bike, but to this category, because the simple truth is that when Specialized introduced the Roubaix, they didn’t just launch a bike, they launched a category. If we get in the Wayback Machine® and set it for 1984, the bikes we will see in the better bike shops will have a bunch of details in common. They’ll have a long wheelbase (100cm or more for a 58cm frame), a lowish bottom bracket (all the Italian stuff will be 26.5cm or lower) and a moderate amount of trail (5.9cm was common). They’ll also have a stunning amount of flex by today’s standards. The Roubaix is essentially that bike, just lighter and stiffer. In other words, the Roubaix is a bike that—from a geometry standpoint—has been around a long time.
So what changed?
Well, back then what a Roubaix is was just a road bike. However, we can say with considerable authority that the bike industry has chased stiffness ever since. A funny thing happened along the way. Stiffer tube sets allow a builder to give a bike quicker geometry. So as bikes got stiffer, we make them more nimble because that’s what racers wanted. This is evolution at its finest. Descent with modification means that by the time the Roubaix was introduced, nothing on the market handled like that anymore. Sure, there were custom builders still producing bikes like that, but there wasn’t anything on a bike shop showroom floor like the Roubaix. It took the introduction of a production model to turn this into a category. For that, Specialized in general, and Mike Sinyard in specific, deserve a lot of credit.
Even though bikes became quicker handling thanks to ever-stiffer frames, the opposite wasn’t untrue. Full points to Sinyard for being the first guy to realize that you could use top-shelf carbon fiber to build a light, stiff frame that handled like the old Italian stage-race bikes.
Since Specialized introduced the Roubaix I’ve been pretty vocal in touting it as an example of the bike that most people should be riding. I’ve often seen people on group rides overreact in situations because they’re on a quick-handling bike. While it’s impossible to say definitively, I think many dicey situations I’ve seen could have been calmed, if not averted, had at least a few of the people involved been on bikes that are slower to react.
That we even need the Roubaix and its ilk is tragicomic. Production race bikes have ultra-short head tubes because that’s what pros want. And anyone who has been to see pro racing up close knows that a great many, possibly most, pros ride bikes that don’t fit them. The bar is often too low and the reach too great, all part of that effort to get that ultra-aero flat back. To make sure that the bike will turn when you have that much weight on the front end, you have to build the bike around 5cm of trail, maybe a tad more. So what happens when you put 6cm of spacers between the headset and the stem? The bike handles wicked quick, that’s what. It’s essentially a different bike that what the pros ride just because the weight distribution is so different.
Which brings us back to the Roubaix and other bikes in the grand touring category. I’ve heard these bikes referred to as “old man bikes.” They should more properly be referred to as “bikes designed around good fit.” That would be more accurate.
Case in point: Most of the time, when I look at a bike’s geometry chart, I struggle to decide whether the 56 or 58 will be the better fit because it’s rare anyone offers a 57. The geometry of most grand touring bikes makes that choice much easier. Let me put it this way: If I remove all the spacers below the stem and run it on the top cap of the headset, that puts the bar below my preferred fit. That leads me to think that the head tube, unlike what some people have suggested, isn’t too long. The top tube on the 56 (or “large”) is 56.5cm and when paired with a 12cm stem, the result is one of the best fits for me I’ve found in production bikes.
One aspect of the Roubaix that I think gets overlooked is the fact that while the Roubaix itself comes in six sizes, the Ruby—the women’s model—comes in another five sizes, from 44cm to 57cm. Considering the fact that the Ruby does come in a gender neutral finish each year (this year, it’s white), this gives a fitter the chance to pick a bike not just for its size, but also for the rider’s weight. Were I shopping for a skinny adolescent boy, the Ruby would be near the top of my list because it features a bit more vertical flex (thanks to less carbon) in order to yield the same comfortable ride for someone who weighs 120 lbs. as the Roubaix will yield for a 160-lb. man. The upshot is that the Roubaix has the ability to fit someone as short as 4’11″ and someone as tall as 6’3″, not to mention offering some choices based on weight.
If it seems I’ve gone overly deep into the why of the Roubaix and just what this category means to both consumers and the bike industry, there’s a reason, if not a method behind this. I’m going to be reviewing a number of bikes from this category this year and I want to frame some of my larger observations now. This review will be a reference point later this year.
If you go to Europe and spend enough time kicking around bike shops and talking to distributors you’ll find that seemingly every pro who ever won Paris-Roubaix more than once or stood on the top step of the podium of a grand tour has his own line of bikes. Most of them never made it stateside, and among the ones that did, Eddy Merckx is to exception what Bernard Hinault is to rule. I know of at least two attempts to bring his bikes to North American that ended with such anonymity you’d think the line had been launched by one of his domestiques, not the Badger himself.
Into this non-fray Chris Boardman, holder of the “absolute” hour record, has chosen to distinguish himself. Here’s the funny thing: he just might pull it off. Forget for a second that you need a great product with killer marketing to connect with consumers; you’ll never get there if you don’t have distribution. By partnering with Competitive Cyclist (which has had a near-Midas-touch with helping to give a brand credibility) while also seeking select high-end dealers, Boardman is off to an effective start.
Another important ingredient: effective public speaking. Brands need a figurehead, someone who can help project a persona on which to hang the identity of the bikes. I watched a video of Boardman talking about his bikes and the development that went into each model and realized that he has a rare talent for talking intelligently about his product line; he’s good in front of the camera, engaging like few CEOs in the bike industry.
Then there’s the product. My visit focused on the road bike, the aero road bike and their ‘cross bike. I was able to ride the road bike on the second day’s ride but never shot it. Insert sizable d’oh.
What I saw in the bikes that made me interested in them was a simplicity of design, a lack of affect, that is, funny contours that can’t be supported by solid engineering. I love great industrial design that results in products that are as beautiful as they are functional, but that means that if a bike looks like it was drawn by a Victorian costumer so that it has frills and ruffles where a straight line would do, well then I’m probably out.
In the Boardman line I saw bikes that repeated the best ideas that I’m seeing on a number of other bikes. The down tubes are massive and squarish. The seatstays had all the moxie of a number two pencil. The chainstays curved upward in an effort to make the rear triangle a little more supple; think pasta al dente. Of course, all of that could have just been sharp presentation. Making a bike that looks like other popular bikes is easy to do, especially if you already have a Taiwanese factory ready to work for you, but making it ride right is another matter.
When I took the road bike out, I’ll admit that I wasn’t holding my breath. Sure, my conversation with Fletch and Andy, the Boardman representatives, went well, but I’ve had people fudge significant details before. The bike I rode, the SLR 9.8 is SRAM Red 22-equipped and frame weight in the medium size (55.5cm top tube) is said to weigh 798 grams. I can say from some experience that once a frame is down under the 900g threshold, the bike will feel lively just because there’s not a ton of material to result in a dead-feeling frame. The more material in the frame, the more zombie-like the feel.
Stay tuned for a review of the Air, their aero frame, sometime later this year.
This was my first chance to take a look at Box components. They are better known as a maker of BMX components, but they’ve been gradually adding more and more mountain components to their range of offerings. They’re offering some stuff that will be of interest to ‘cross riders, such as a linear-pull brake that mounts to cantilever posts.
What makes them especially interesting is that they’ve branched out beyond just those parts that are easy to CNC machine—namely, linear-pull brakes, cantilevers, levers, stems and the like.
Box has been working in concert with their sister brand Promax (owned by their factory), to introduce a hydraulic disc brake.
This is the Promax-branded version, but a Box version, which should look a bit more elegant is on the way.
But here’s the really impressive part: Box has tackled the drivetrain. This rear derailleur is already in production.
This is the shifter, which was the most exciting component to me. This shifter is the patent minefield, the thing that requires not just some good engineering sense, but creativity by the warehouse. To downshift, you simply push the paddle forward like you would other shifters. To upshift, you push the portion of the paddle past the fold (with the little dots) in toward the shifter unit. In my time playing with it in the stand it performed solidly.
Orbea, the Basque brand best-known for sponsoring the Euskaltel-Euskadi team for their run, was on-hand to show two mountain bikes, the Alma and the Rallon (say Ray-own). While the company is best-known in the U.S. as a road brand, they’ve more than proven themselves as a mountain bike brand in Europe due to the success of cross country riders like Julien Absalon and Georgia Gould.
The Alma is a hardtail Orbea offers in 27.5″ and 29″ wheels. Unlike some (most) brands that will base a model on one wheel size, Orbea took the approach of using 27.5″ wheels for the 15.5″, while offering the 17.5″ in both 27.5″ and 29″ wheels and then offering the 19″ and 21″ versions in 29″ wheels exclusively. It’s their belief that wheel size is less a choice than a function of rider size and to a lesser degree type of bike. It makes a lot of sense to me.
The Rallon is the company’s new enduro bike. It features 27.5″ wheels and 160mm of travel front and rear. They’re putting a big push behind this bike with the announcement of a new enduro team they’re sponsoring. As much as I know the Alma is the bike that Orbea is known for, the Rallon is the bike I’m excited to ride.
I have three friends who have complete Mavic gruppos from yesteryear, who are actively looking for just the right bike to put them on. Each of them has been holding the prized parts for longer than my kids have been breaking hearts and making messes. This is how we are sometimes, bike nerds, obsessive and patient, nostalgic and ingenious.
If I were to go to eBay and search for a bike frame from 2004, the chances are good that I would be able to take the componentry off my current bike, move it all over to the ten year old frame and it would all work. This is part of the great fun of this hobby of ours, upgrade and afterlife, making an old bike new or taking a current bike up a level in the quiet of the basement or garage, like my father’s generation bent under the hoods of their cars, slung headlong beneath engines with heavy wrenches and oil stains on their faces. No one I know works on their own car anymore, not a modern car anyway. The computerization and modularization of newer engines resists tinkering.
If you scan the covers of your favorite cycling magazines, you might think the road bike is going the same way.
A little over ten years ago road frames started having 1 1/8″ head tubes instead of the 1″ tube they’d had for decades, and that created problems for tinkerers. A lot of riders employed ugly adapters to slip through the eye of that needle, but by and large a frame’s head tube marks it as either retro or contemporary. Still, that break was fairly clean, and it was a single paradigm shift.
A similar leap had taken us from down tube shifters to brifters (brakes/shifters) in the ’90s, but simple adapters to convert the down tube bosses to cable stops made this a fairly painless one. Cable stops and guides remained the same, preserving the path future utility.
Then things went haywire.
Bottom bracket standards proliferated. Electronic shifting came on line. Disc brakes arrived on the road, and each of these changes hint at future compatibility problems beyond the reach of simple adaptation.
Two or three years into the life cycle of products like Shimano’s DI2 and Campy’s EPS, we see all the batteries formerly bolted to chainstays and under downtubes disappearing into seatposts or into the frame beneath. That leaves us with several season’s worth of bikes filled with holes they don’t need and parts bins harboring batteries we’ll never use again.
Say you want to build a mechanical bike five years from now. You will find that some large percentage of what’s available on the second hand frame market is routed for Di2. No cable stops. Say you want to build a bike with rim caliper brakes, but some large percentage of what’s available has disc tabs, and no brake bridge. Say you want to build a bike with a straight 1 1/8″ fork steerer, but some large percentage of what’s available has a 44mm head tube. You’ll be able to get adapters, but you’ll end up with the classic ‘hot dog down a hallway’ look. It’ll be ugly.
It could be argued that for decades the road bike was evolving along a single path, bikes of the past being upgradeable to the components of the moment. But over the last few seasons, that evolution has branched hard in myriad directions, many of which have led to dead ends, seriously degrading the sustainability of the existent bike population.
We’re going to end up with a lot of garbage, and we’re going to have fewer and fewer frames to work with in our basements, in our garages. It could be that the performance advantages afforded by many of these new technologies will be adequate recompense for the loss of the ability to tinker, to while away hours in studied silence, or to knock out a new bike with some music playing, over beers. It bears thinking about.
Sociologists use the term cultural lag to describe the moral and social delay we experience in assimilating new technologies. The Internet provides the most immediate example. Web technologies that spawn efficiency, convenience and cost savings also enable all manner of transgression, all of it governed by outdated laws and on-the-fly social contracts. For all its transformative brilliance, there is a dark side we struggle to contain.
The modern day road bike is not, probably, such a treacherous medium, but its effect on this cycling culture of ours, what has been a mechanically inclined culture organized around a people’s technology, is rapidly becoming modular and proprietary. In the moment it may be more aero, or more accurate, but its obsolescence will cost us more than the price of replacing our favorite ride.
I’m old fashioned. You know that by now. I like things that last, both because I am New England thrifty and because I tend to become quite fond of my stuff. I have never in my life put a bike frame in the garbage. I have also come to see my bikes as living things on some level. They grow and change, and when I get a new one I am normally thinking about how I want it to be in the moment, and how I will maybe alter it later. And I think cyclists in general have always had these values. Quite why we are engineering ourselves into corners now, I can’t say, but I’m concerned and a little sad.
Image: The Salvatore Collection
Campagnolo came to show their new internal battery system for the EPS group. Those two nuts you see in the battery above allow small screws to go in through a frame’s water bottle bosses and secure the battery. The screws are threaded on both ends so that you can still mount a water bottle. I’ll admit that at first I though that even though the battery was slim, I figured it would only be mounted in the seat tube, the exception being larger frames. Surprisingly, Campy’s tech guru Dan Large showed me that he could slip the battery into the down tube of even small frames.
Campy’s engineers devised an ingenious system of cables ending in magnets to capture the cables and feed them through the frame. I recall how challenging we used to find just routing a brake cable through a top tube if there wasn’t a guide and I’d conclude this battery system all but impossible to install without the guides from Campy.
For seat tube installations, there’s a threaded rod that allow the installer to lower the battery into the seat tube and hold it in position until the first screw can be inserted.
To charge the battery, the installer drills a small hole in the frame and the charging port is mounted. The cable for the charging port is long enough to give the installer a fair amount of latitude on just where the port is positioned.
Also on display was Campy’s new Over Torque crankset, which was announced last fall. Rather than using a split spindle, the Over Torque now uses a one-piece titanium spindle. The new crank is really mean to address the proliferation of new bottom bracket standards. using different adapter cups, it will work with BB30, BB386 and PF30
The Over Torque crank moves the bearings as far outboard as the spindle will allow. It’s available in two versions, the Ultra Comp and the Camp 1. The Ultra Comp is said to drop of 54 grams from the crank (for a claimed weight of 563g) as well as offer a five percent increase in stiffness.
Vision was on hand to show a number of additions to their product line, including this bar, a variation on FSA’s popular K-Wing design. Despite my regard for this bar, I had to ask the guys a fairly elemental question: What’s the difference? As it turns out, there are a few notable differences between the two bars. The first, biggest distinction is the effort on the part of Vision to clarify its position in the market. Previously, Vision was strictly a triathlon line; it is being transitioned into a line that encompasses all aerodynamic race-quality components. FSA’s K-Force line will remain the lightweight stuff, parts that won’t offer the same level of stiffness as those from Vision.
Like the K-Wing compact, the Metron 4D bar has an 80mm reach and 125mm drop. However, this bar offers a five degree forward sweep as well as a slight outward bend in the drop to make the reach to the brake levers easier.