In a relentless drive for innovation, the road bike industry is constantly bringing new products to market. It can be difficult to distinguish between true innovations and solutions that solve non-existent problems. We’ve summarized the most important trends below.
Quo Vadis, road bike culture – higher, faster, further? In the eternal arms race, manufacturers constantly try to outdo each other with new superlatives, but a look behind the marketing jargon and glossy images seldom reveals true value for the consumer. However, some of the products presented for 2019, give us hope when looking towards the future of the industry.
The perfect road bike for every customer?
“This frame reminds me of model X from manufacturer Y.” Have you ever caught yourself judging a new bike like this? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. Modern frame designs do in fact increasingly resemble each other! Why so? If you look at the latest road bikes in detail, you will see that dropped seat stays, more clearance for wider tyres, aerodynamic tube shapes, internally routed cables, (semi-)integrated cockpit solutions and disc brakes have become standard. These standardizations are a result of three fundamental causes:
Bicycle manufacturers want to make their bikes accessible to as wide a variety of customers as possible. Accordingly, the latest generation of bikes are more versatile than ever before – aero-bikes are becoming lighter, super-light road bikes are becoming more aerodynamic. Meanwhile, almost all models are compatible with tyres up to 28mm wide for added comfort since most manufacturers have learnt that more comfort often means more speed.
Technological progress is enabling increasingly sophisticated designs. This offers engineers previously unthinkable possibilities in aerodynamic optimisation. The frontal profile of a bike plays an important role here and the implementation of integrated cockpits can help save precious watts. Aerodynamic bikes no longer have to compromise on comfort either, ensuring that the rider can maintain an aero position for longer. Aerodynamics is no longer an end in itself, but part of a more holistic approach to bicycle design. As Di2 drivetrains are becoming more affordable, they have started to become a common sight on many group rides. If you want to stand out from the crowd as a manufacturer, you have to think ahead and integrate Shimano’s technology into the bike.
Bike manufacturers are limited in their creativity by the guidelines of the UCI. Who is the customer – Peter Sagan or you? Sure, some professional teams ride custom bikes, but if you buy a road bike today you’ll often be riding the same or similar bike as the world’s best riders. This is both a curse and a blessing. Although consumers have access to the latest technologies, they are bound by the same guidelines as professionals. For a racing bike to be allowed to compete in the Tour de France, it must meet certain criteria. Optimising bike designs within the constraints of the UCI rules means that the models from different manufacturers appear to be converging.
Show me your road bike and I’ll tell you who you are!
We’re all different – at best, our individuality is reflected in our bikes. The bicycle industry is offering more individualisation than ever before, be it the custom paint-job or an individual build; the tuning possibilities are seemingly endless. Even the integrated components of today’s road bikes can be customised. For example, some of the latest aero cockpits can be fitted with your favourite handlebar instead.
Even if compatibility issues haven’t yet been solved entirely, the list of available bike accessories is growing. But custom builds don’t always have to cost as much as a mid-sized sedan. Often, small details are enough to turn a stock bike into your bike.
Innovative processes are also giving clothing and accessory manufacturers the opportunity to have a more integrated and unique approach to product design. The style-conscious rider of today can have the appropriate sunglasses and riding kit to match their custom paint-job.
Where’s Mr Weight-Weenie anyway?
After the bicycle industry discovered carbon fibre, the quest for weight and stiffness became irrevocable goals in the optimisation of bikes. Each model had to be lighter and stiffer than its predecessor. It was a development that degenerated into the fact that road bikes with the best lab results were almost impossible to ride and Mr Weight-Weenie raced up the hill on his 4.7 kg super light bike, only to slide out in a corner on the way back down because the tires of his super stiff wheels simply skipped over the ground. Fortunately, this craze seems to have passed: some of 2019’s most innovative bikes have even become heavier than their predecessors. But apart from that, they are more comfortable and, above all more accessible to the masses. If we’re honest, most of us will never race. Isn’t that exactly why it makes us so happy to see that a modern road bike can also be ridden to the café on a Sunday, because it’s not just about performance, but most of all about having fun?
A new national pastime for road cyclists?
Anyone who heard the term “gravel” five years ago wouldn’t really have known what to make of it. Within a few years, however, this supposedly meaningless marketing concept has developed into a basic understanding of its own in the world of road bikes. Regarding the definition, there is no lack of (re-)interpretations – and that can only be a good thing, with each gravel grinder having their own definition of what gravel is to them. Right? In 2019, the gravel aficionado can choose from a huge range of products. Everything from the sporty all-road racer to the adventurous workhorse is being offered. Unfortunately, this also means that the basic idea of the gravel movement seems to be diluting itself in a kind of hypersegmentation. In future, those looking for a good all-rounder will have a harder time sifting through the chaff. But, to look at the glass half-full, the experienced gravel fan now has a lot more choice.