Road cycling technology has come a long way since the days of downtube shifters, toe straps, and wool jerseys—from adding a bit of extra tire girth to losing the front derailleur.
If you’ve been a fan of road racing over the past decade or two, chances are you’ve noticed that the bikes you see around the shop are drastically different from the ones you see while rewatching your VHS copy of Greg LeMond winning the ’89 Tour. Times have changed, and so have the bikes. While technologies in the sport are constantly evolving, this past year has seen some pretty substantial innovations.
Disc brakes, 1x drivetrains, stronger tubular tape, and wider rim and tire profiles are just a few of the most prominent technical innovations that we’ve noticed. While not all of these innovations are necessarily new, they have all played a key role in changing the face of road bikes over the course of the last year in terms of safety, efficiency, weight, comfort, and performance.
One of the biggest and most noticeable innovations we now see on road bikes is disc brakes. Disc brakes have immensely increased the versatility of road bikes. By removing caliper brakes, frames are able to accept wider rims and tires, thereby increasing the types of surfaces they can be ridden on. While disc brakes have been used on road bikes for a few years, they’re now in the early stages of being legitimized for road racing. Last year, USA Cycling officials allowed them to be used in competition at a local level—meaning any race that didn’t abide by the UCI rule book. In April of this year, however, the UCI announced that it would begin to allow limited testing of disc brakes to occur during the 2015 and 2016 professional road calendars. While this doesn’t come as a surprise to many, it is a huge step forward for both professional racing and the industry at large. The UCI announcement states that professional road teams will be allowed to utilize disc brakes in two events of their choosing in August and September of 2015, with continued testing to occur in 2016. If all goes well during these test phases, disc brakes will be allowed during the full 2017 UCI WorldTour and eventually will be allowed at all levels of road racing.
Wider Rim Profiles & Tires
The days of seeing 23mm tires on 19mm wide rims are dwindling. Riders of all levels—from casual weekend riders up to UCI WorldTour pro racers—are realizing the benefits that wider rims combined with wider tires offer. Let’s start with the wider rims. Wider rims—25mm for example— allow the tire to have a rounder profile, eliminating the “lightbulb” effect caused by narrower rims. The rounder profile in turn allows for a more secure connection to the pavement and increased predictability and control while cornering. These wider rims allow a 23mm tire to have the same contact patch as a 25mm tire.
Since we’re on the subject of contact patches, that’s one of the advantages that wider profile tires offer. The increased contact with the ground provides more grip and traction, which is extra important when cornering or during rainy conditions. Wider tires also allow riders to drop their PSI. This lower pressure absorbs vibrations from the road for added comfort and allows the tire to roll faster overall. When wider tires are mounted to wider rims, the benefits of each are even more noticeable and open the rider up to additional route possibilities. With a 28mm tire mounted to a 25mm rim, a rider can confidently add some gravel into their road ride or not have to be as concerned about avoiding pothole-filled city streets.
1x Drivetrains / Single Chainring
Single chainrings or 1x Drivetrains on road bikes are evolving just as much as wheels and tires—except instead of beefing them up, brands are trimming the fat. At Sea Otter this past April, SRAM announced that it would be hitting the road with its 1x technology with the launch of Force 1 and Rival 1. Available in an extremely wide range of gear combinations, these two new groups have gearing for everyone, from flatlanders to those who enjoy climbing for hours at a time. As discussed in the June issue of Call Up, Single Ring Bliss, in the past couple of years, 1x drivetrains have taken over as the standard on mountain bikes and even more recently on cyclocross bikes. More technical details can be found in that article, but the general setup consists of a narrow/wide tooth profile chainring, a wide-range cassette, and clutch rear derailleur.
The benefits that tubular tires offer a rider are undeniable—supreme ride quality, amazing cornering performance, and safe riding at low pressures (or even completely flat if necessary). Thanks to products like Effetto Mariposa Carogna tubular gluing tape, tubulars are experiencing a renaissance amongst amateur riders who previously never ventured into tubular territory.
Tubular tape isn’t a new product by any means. Variations of the sticky stuff have been around for years, but Carogna tape is unique in how it’s constructed. It uses a thin adhesive layer on the rim side and a thicker layer on the tire side that goes all the way to the edge to create more contact with the tire and an extremely secure bond.