In the 15 years I’ve been coming to Las Vegas for Interbike, I cannot recall a year where the conditions were more inhospitable for riding than today and yesterday. One set of reports I saw put yesterday’s high temperature at 106 degrees, while today’s dropped a single degree but added a steady wind that could gust north of 15 mph. Not many things can dampen my enthusiasm for bikes, but feeling like I’m sitting in the oven along with the pizza I’m cooking isn’t conducive to bike riding. I didn’t ride as much today as I wanted or expected to, but the upside is that it gave me more time to talk with people.
Zipp had a couple of announcements. They revamped their Service Course bars to make them a bit more intuitive for fitters. There are three bars, all of which feature a flatter drop to the levers—the SL70 has the shortest reach of the bunch and is bound to be popular with riders who want to run a long stem. The SL80 has an 80mm reach, while the SL88, pictured above has the longest reach and a slightly modified take on the classic bend. I stopped using a classic bend bar even before Greg LeMond retired and can’t stand them now, but the bend on this bar is opening up just enough I can get my hand in there comfortably.
The 808 received a new hub that is supposed to be much stiffer than the previous one. It features virtual three-cross lacing, new larger bearing and plenty of input from Mark Cavendish.
Zipp says the change in the ride experience for the rider will be that the wheel will be much stiffer laterally without picking up any additional stiffness vertically. And for really powerful sprinters who have complained about the wind-up of Zipp wheels, this new 808 addresses that issue square-on.
There weren’t a lot of titanium bikes at the show, but I decided I wanted to try to ride each of the different frame materials once during the Outdoor Demo. I dropped by Litespeed and checked out the T1. This is produced from 6Al/4v and while this is meant to be the successor to Litespeed’s Archon model, it is also true that this is their flagship metal bike and in that it reminded me of the old Vortex, both in terms of stiffness and handling.
The chainstays are asymmetric, and while engineer Brad Devaney did a fine job of explaining just why they chose to build the bike around two different chainstays, the explanation will have to wait for a full review of the bike. It was a delight to ride.
To make the bike easy to build up with current parts and to give it as many performance attributes found in the current carbon bikes, Litespeed went with a BB30 bottom bracket.
It’s also easier to increase front-end stiffness if you’re not building around a straight 1 1/8″ fork. The T1 uses a fork that tapers from 1 1/8″ at the stem to 1 1/2″ at the fork crown. This was easily the stiffest ti bike I’ve ridden to date.
I’ve been dying to ride Felt’s redesign AR model since seeing it at their global product launch back in August. One of the reasons Felt has been such a great value at the mid and low end of the market is their price-point bikes come out of the same mold their high-end bikes do. This bike is the AR4; it’s exactly the same frame as the AR FRD, except for the material used. So while it didn’t offer quite the road sensitivity that their high-end bikes do, this is an Ultegra-equipped bike that retails for $3499. And honestly, some companies’ top bikes offer no more sensitivity than this one does.
The AR uses an unusual seat post and clamp that pinches not the post itself, but the walls of the post, allowing them to make an exceedingly thin-walled seatpost that doesn’t need to withstand crushing forces. The point is to increase rider comfort. I will say that this bike was stunningly stiff in out-of-the-saddle efforts. However, I wasn’t able to get much of a feel for how much comfort it offered because the road surface I was riding on was pretty smooth. And, frankly, I cut my ride short because there was a steady 10 mph wind that was gusting to 20 mph. An aero bike with aero wheels wasn’t dynamite, but truly, it was so bad out there that any bike riding wasn’t much fun. Where’s my Visine?
The large bottom bracket area not only helps smooth the wind’s flow over the lower part of the bike but helped give it the stiffness necessary to stand up to hard sprints. And because the rear brake was mounted to integrated posts, the braking offered terrific power and sensitive modulation.
There’s plenty more we saw at Outdoor Demo and more posts will be coming. Contributor JP Partland rode a great many bikes as well, so this won’t be the end of the ride reports.
The aero road bike is an endeavor unlike anything else in the bike market. While most engineering teams were struggling to make bikes simultaneously stiffer and lighter without sacrificing stiffness, along came Cervelo with the Soloist and created a bike that sacrificed measures of weight and stiffness in exchange for improved aerodynamics. It was like saying juggling a bowling ball, a chainsaw and a newspaper isn’t hard enough, I’m now going to do it blindfolded. And on fire.
Put another way, when you threw the problem of aero road bikes at some of the most talented engineers in the bike industry, it was little different from the challenge of moving from Cat. 3 to the Pro/1/2 field.
What ya got boy?
We’re still early enough in the development of aero road bikes that the results from one company to another vary like the quality of music on the radio. While Cervelo set a high bar in terms of absolute aerodynamics, and has re-set that bar continually with bikes like the S5, one phrase no one has ever uttered is, “My S5 is the most vertically compliant and comfortable bike I’ve ever ridden.”
Somehow, that doesn’t stop Cervelo’s Phil White from wondering why their R5 is so popular. He can’t figure why anyone wouldn’t choose aero over comfort every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I’ve haven’t spent a lot of time talking to the man, but it is endlessly enjoyable, but also fascinating because of his utter bewilderment that people ride bikes not optimized for aerodynamics.
Felt decided to split the difference on comfort and stiffness with the first iteration of their AR model. They gave up some torsional and drivetrain stiffness, but you can finish an 80-mile ride on that bike without needing to soak in a hot tub afterward. Specialized took a similar approach with the Venge.
Last fall at Interbike I encountered Litespeed’s entry in the aero road bike category. On a short hill at the outdoor demo that I’d already descended nearly a dozen times I let the bike roll and it had the unmistakable feel of aero-assisted acceleration that I experience when I switch from box rims to a set of Zipp 404s. I found myself braking a little earlier and harder just before the turn at the bottom and thinking that I still hadn’t scrubbed quite enough speed as I exited the turn. That could have been an embarrassing and expensive screw up. That one experience was enough to make me want to do a full review on a bike.
Litespeed sent me their top-of-the-line frameset for this design, the CR1. My size large (57cm top tube) frame weighed in at 1080g with as much hardware removed as possible and the seat mast intact. Most frames get measured for weight once they are out of the mold and the flashing is removed, but before water bottle bosses, derailleur hangers or any other hardware is added. While I can’t say with certainty the weight of the C1R makes it the lightest of the aero frames out there, what I can say is that it is definitely the lightest of the frames I’ve ridden. There are plenty of non-aero frames that don’t use a seat mast that still can’t hit 1000g. It’s remarkable achievement.
The C1R is available in five sizes. Unfortunately, that’s one less option on sizing than you get with its competition—the Cervelo S5, the Specialized Venge, the Giant Propel or the Felt AR. Practically, what that means is that the Litespeed will be difficult to fit for the smallest and tallest riders. The smallest bike comes with a 52.5cm top tube (37.8cm reach), which is anywhere from 7 to 15mm longer than the others. Similarly, the largest frame has a top tube of 59cm (40.2cm reach), which is conversely 7 to 15mm shorter than the others. The upshot of all this is that the spacing between the sizes is very similar to the other bikes.
Because Litespeed chose different start and end points for their size run, the sizes fall a little differently in my size range. Often I’m looking at a choice between something in the range of a 56.5 or 58.1cm top tube. The ability to choose a 57cm top tube, which is a little closer to idea sizing for me, was a welcome change for me.
Let’s take a moment to give credit where due, or depending on your view, where to lay the blame. This category of road bike simply wouldn’t exist without Cervelo. The Soloist was the first carbon fiber road bike that was specifically designed around aerodynamic properties ahead of all other considerations. As completely fair goes, there were some aluminum road bikes with vaguely aerodynamic shapes (I recall several designs in particular from GT), but the Soloist was the first road bike, i.e., not a time trial/triathlon bike, that was both aerodynamic and intended to be ridden with a drop bar. That particular design culminated in the SLC-SL.
That bike was fast, but the speed came at the price. It should have been sold with a kidney belt. Or instructions only to ride the bike with 32mm clinchers pumped up to 45 psi. Alas.
While the S5 was a more forgiving bike than the SLC SL and more speedier than its predecessor, the S3, anyone who pays attention to what Garmin-Sharp rides in the grand tours will see that they really don’t ride the S5 all that often. Back to that whole kidney belt thing. Maybe it would be different if the pad in Castelli bibs was thicker, but holding them responsible for the Garmin riders not riding that bike more is a bit like blaming Blondie for the demise of disco. Disco, thankfully, was doomed anyway.
Felt released their AR model prior to Garmin moving to Cervelo and it was an intriguing alternative. The gave it slightly more relaxed handing than their F-series bikes and gifted it with a more comfortable ride. The downside to this bike—and see, that’s the deal; currently all aero road bikes have some Achilles heel—was that it wasn’t all that torsionally stiff. It wasn’t a great bike to sprint on, nor was it meant to be.
The Venge is a bike Specialized meant to be closer to a traditional road bike than an aero bike. Think road bike with aero attributes. It needed to hold up under a sprint.
Frankly, these bikes—the S5, the AR and the Venge—are the only three models of aero road bike I’ve seen on the road, and the S5 and Venge outnumber the AR, based on what I’ve seen, something on the order of 20 to one. I’ve yet to see a single Giant Propel on the road, possibly due to the newness of the model. Or, they might be out there by the hundreds, but just not on the Westside or South Bay of Los Angeles. I did, however, see another bike from Litespeed’s C series one day on PCH in Malibu. He looked a good deal faster than me.