Future Gazing

Discuss light weight issues concerning road bikes & parts.
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by solarider

There do seem to be a lot of threads about various aspects of future componentry, but I wanted to pull it all together into a dilemna that I am facing.

I have a lovely fleet of bikes. To me they offer the ultimate in current technology, style and performance. A mix of Steel (Pegoretti Responsorium and Speedvagen Cyclocross), Titanium (Seven Mudhoney SL and Axiom SLX) and Carbon (Seven Diamas). All with carbon wheels (Bora Ultra 2s, Hyperon Ultra 2s, Lightweight Standard 3s and Zipp 202s). All with 11 speed Campagnolo Super Record, Record, or Chorus. From my frame material and custom built choice, you can probably appreciate that I fell for the 'bike for life' promise.

But I can't help thinking that they are the last of a dying species. They are all cable activated. They all have standard 1, 1/8 steerers. They all have standard threaded BBs. They all have rim brakes. Like it or not, within the next 2-3 years, the top end at least of racing bikes will seemingly be dominated by electronic shifting, disc brakes, carbon frames internally routed with oversized BBs and integrated tapered steerers of various diameters. And that's just the stuff we know about. I work in a different industry, but what we are working on for the 3-5 year horizon bears no resemblance to what is out there now, and would be unimaginable to most of our customers right now. I can only imagine that people are beavering away in a similar way in most bike manufacturers too.

Over many years of gradual fettling and upgrading, I have got my bikes just where I want them. But it seems that they are soon to be obsolete in so many ways. Now, there will always be something pure, artisanal and undiluted about them all in a sea of new technology, but I have always liked to ride the latest tech. For no rational reason, I like to invest in my love of cycling and experiment with new tech just for the sake of it. I don't race, I don't have legs of steel, I am just a fit, average rider who enjoys his 100-200 miles a week out with boys on the bike for the sake of it. There, I have said it! Phew. I guess I am like the majority of keen cyclists.

Now for some truths which a lot of the debates lately have failed to face into, mostly relating to financial and sentimental reluctance to let go of my current bikes.

I can convince myself that nobody needs electronic shifting ('solution to non-existent problem' and all of that). But I can also see the point of it, and I am a sucker for the lure of new shiny things. I can also see groupset manufacturers stopping making high end cable operated groupsets at some point. If I am honest, the main thing that puts me off it is that all of my frames are externally cable activated, I don't want to stick the cables to the outside of the frame and leave the stops in place, and right now in addition to the cost of the groupset, I can't afford to replace my frames. And even if I did.....

I can convince myself that nobody needs disc brakes on a road bike. But the reality is that disc brakes would be better in so many respects. More consistent braking. Lower rotating mass through lighter rims. No tubulars coming unglued on mountain descents because of over heating. New rim profiles unchallenged by the need for a braking surface. If I am honest, the main thing that puts me off it is that all of my frames are made for rim brakes and I have a quiver of expensive rim brake wheels. If I change a few of the frames now for internal routing, I will be doing the same thing again in a couple of years' time to incorporate disc brakes and having to replace thousands of £s worth of wheels.


OK, I am not a luddite. I want to embrace new tech, and I know that next year's gear has always come along and you can't just wait eternally for next year's new and improved version. I know that nothing lasts forever and that the pace of change is if anything increasing. I have also managed to cling onto my steel and titanium bikes with their lack of oversizing or fancy shaping despite the onslaught of carbon and still love the ride of them all. But it would appear that we are on the cusp of major changes in road bike tech. Bikes today are tweaked versions of bikes of 20 years ago in so many ways. The evolution of the road bike has meant that much of what fitted last year's bike would probably fit next year's, but with a small investment in new parts. But the bikes of the very near future will establish some new standards which will make so much of todays high end bling tomorrow's forgotten and incompatible nostalgia. I am talking fundamental stuff too like frames and wheels which will need to be internally routed, battery mounted and disc brake ready. And that's before we even start to consider the implications of hydraulics!

So, the dilema is what to do? Take the leap (pardon the pun SRAM) to electronic shifting, knowing that the frame I buy to accommodate it will itself be obsolete along with all of my wheels when disc braking appears? Wait until both disc braking and electronic shifting are the norm, by which time my current bikes will be worth nothing to sell? Or be one of those old guys you see still riding 30 years old bikes, still riding thousands of miles a year, and still unfortunately kicking your ass on the climbs!

Lots to debate there, and your views would be appreciated! It should be pointed out that I am not enjoying my current bikes any less because of their impending extinction, or laying awake at night, but it's an interesting dilema nonetheless.
Last edited by solarider on Sun Jan 15, 2012 12:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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by sorin

Your post also applies in many other areas-say the computer/smartphone gadgets.i change my phone every 2 years but with the bike well the di2 I have to have it soon and the disc brakes too...so I just stick to 1 high end bike -currently I run da7900/kinlin wheelset .here in Us is average build but in many other countries would b a luxury .So the burden to sell or upgrade when I only have 1 bike is easier then replacing 3 or 4 that in 3 years time from now will b seen as obsolete in our WW eyes ....unfortunately :(

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by solarider

I get the comparison with phones and other tech, but the scale of investment is somewhat less. I could buy an iPhone, iMac, Macbook and iPad for the price of a set of Lightweights and still have change for the bus fare home.

Liking the idea of downsizing and investing in one 'indulgence' bike instead of a demanding 'stable'.

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by Geoff

No, there is no comparison. Modern tech is in no way analogous to bike tech. As an example, I have 60's-vintage product in my collection that is just as fast and as fun to ride as the McLaren is. Fifty-year-old Campagnolo does the job intended very well. in comparison, a ten-year-old cell phone probably doesn't even work anymore.

Keep your bikes and keep riding them! You can never have too many bikes or wheels.

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by drchull

You have tended to small manufacturer artisan builds which certainly have a more timeless quality. You may thin it down a little as you move into the next generation, but I am still wishing I had my ugly 20 year old Italian steel are bike. To me now really isn't the time for jumping into the current tech with both feet. This really is a transition period. All the people shelling out a fortune for Di2 will be made obsolete next year when Shimano jump Di2 to 11 speed leaving so many 10speed wheels suddenly outdated. Campagnolo usually takes a year or two in production to get the tech just right, see the 11 speed spring tension and shifter feedback issues. God knows if disc brakes will even take off on the road market, or if the UCI will even allow them-after all they do hate technology. The integrated hydraulic cylinder may be showing up in the brifters next year but the rim tech isn't even discussed yet. Hell, there may even be 12 speed hydraulic shifting coming in the next year or two.

The press fit BB is just starting to get it right with BBright and 386 as BB30 was the clearly inferior PF system. It got to be the standard because of who incorporated it. Also the PF BBs are wrought with creaking problems for many.

There is also the realistic issue of whether you or I are good enough for these changes to really make a benefit. Probably not but that doesn't stop those of us with the money to afford it and the desire from buying way over the top equipment.

I am taking the same approach I try to do with electronics and skip at least one generation. I tried to stay away from the iPhone 4s as clearly is a transitional product but the damned 3Gs planned obsolescence just got unmanageable.

I still look at the Pinarellos from 20 years ago with a certain deference. They were beautifully constructed and had some of the nicest paint jobs of any bikes ever. Now they are are overly heavy, covered in sparkles and look like they were left in a car window for too long. New isn't always better.

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by ldamelio

I have a similar stable of of ti and steel bikes (my steel slightly more modest than yours at present but a Richard Sachs in the queue) for similar reasons. I have had the same thoughts as you as technology evolves. The only difference is that I race (not well). I will continue to enjoy my titanium and steel bikes for the forseeable future with no changes in the stable. When I perceive an objective performance disadvantage of enough magnitude to make a difference in my race results, I'll buy a carbon fiber/electric/disc/etc. race bike. For now, as a 50+ Masters racer, there's much more room for improvement in my performance with training, recovery, etc. than there is with a new bike every year or two. At some point, when 12 pound electric/ disc /carbon is the mainstream, I'll get one. For now, I'm good. The Sachs and Lynskeys will be the bikes I'll ride through my golden years for pleasure and fitness.

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by bricky21

Unless something new makes me faster then I don't see it as an improvement in cycling technology. Otherwise it's just the latest bling bling to sell more product and attract new customers to the market. Nothing wrong with that but lets call it what it is. To me obsolete components would put someone at a disadvantage, and while really cool I can't see were a racer on wires would have a performance advantage over a racer on cables. Same goes for 800 gram frames and 1000 gram wheel sets when the weight limit is already so easily obtained, and the list goes on. Around here the terms obsolete and improvement get used a little to liberally I think. When enough people start to believe that performance comes to those that pay the most $ then cycling will stop growing. Fortunately that is pretty much limited to a small but seemingly growing number of WW's. Out in the real world(amateur cyclists) I've so far seen only 2 Di2 setups, and a whole hell of a lot of sub $3,000 bikes being ridden at a pretty high level outfitted with everything from 8 speed tiagra to ten speed ultegra, and wheels that around here wouldn't even be considered worthy of indoor training.

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by Dcgriz

solarider wrote:?...............Or be one of those old guys you see still riding 30 years old bikes, still riding thousands of miles a year, and still unfortunately kicking your ass on the climbs!..............

A very appealing notion indeed!

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by ticou

[I feel that electronic shofting is the emporer's new clothes, and disc brakes will have to be the size of mtb disc brakes to be safe and effective. The mavic exalith rim treatement will be improved and may become a future standard. I ride a steel frame too ( only dedaccaia zero replica so I'm jealous of your responsorium), but hearing that a chap uses a 1932 steel frame to go to the shops etc, I'm confident that steel will allways have a place. The lightest material in the world is a metal matrix ( 10x lighter that stryrofoam ans 0.1g lighter than the previous record holder, silica gel), so you might see this in the distant future.

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by gpeng05

I had similar thoughts recently, although without quite the glorious bicycle collection to go with it.

I'm not of the opinion that electronic shifting is a game-changer, at least not in its current form. My guess is that hydraulic braking, at least for road bikes, is not either. Disc brakes might be, but like the above, there still lie the constraints of weight, given as how gravity is and will always continue to be a bitch. :D

The basic design of the bicycle hasn't changed in 100 years. I think that's why people like us love them so much - there is such an obvious elegance to a design that is so nearly perfect out of the box. And I guess the idea that it might all go out the window in a relative heartbeat is a little scary, not to mention expensive.

But in terms of game-changers, I think that there are some potential ones, and I'm sure they're sitting on somebody's prototype table today. I think VN mentioned the idea of not only electronic shifting, but intelligent electronic shifting, so that each shift reflects not just a change in cog, but a linear change in gear ratio. This would actually be a value add, IMO. Another, and this is a natural step, is wireless shifting (and maybe braking). If you take wires completely out of the equation, then the benefits to calibration and aesthetics suddenly become interesting. And the last one is some form of continuous variable transmission - CVT. If I recall, people have been playing with that one, although I suspect it's greatly aided by electric guidance.

Of course, all of this is dependent on weight and aero concerns. The idea that electronifying the entire bike will have insurmountable obstacles is probably a temporary one, but one that will certainly take some time to figure out. But to me, it seems to make more sense to wait until the entire bike is electric (at least except for propulsion), than to pick these technologies up piecemeal, which is obviously a cumbersome and painfully expensive way to do it.

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by elviento

Planned obsolescense is part of the modern economy, and the bike industry is no exception. People are driven to create "newer and better" things to make the old models obsolete. Many people's livelihoods depends on that, even.

So with that in mind, I suspect the "life time" concept will have limitations. Even the titanium companies have to make newer models from time to time.

While many changes are BS and hype, some changes (I call them the "good changes") do have merits -- a top end bike is indeed technologically more advanced than the one from 20 years ago. However, changes over any 3-4 year span are not likely to make a huge difference. At this point, we don't know disks for road is one of those good changes yet.

It is indeed annoying what you thought was the best is now outdated. Some things fade slower than others though. I still am holding on to a C50 (and regretting I sold my Mapei C40).

As the other gentleman pointed out, it's good to keep ONE "state of the art" bike, and a "timeless classic" around. At least be thankful bikes don't get outdated like computers.

At the end of the day, it's mostly in your (and our) head(s).
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by maxxevv

elviento wrote: At least be thankful bikes don't get outdated like computers.

That's so true indeed.

A typical bike is 'obsolete' to the point of being unable to find a complete set of compatible replacement parts/spares off his neighbourhood/ town limits bikeshop in about 15-20 years.

For desktop computers, its usually less than 4years ! In notebooks, it may be as little as 2~2.5 years! And as time goes by, its getting shorter !

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by lancejohnson

I have a MacBook and a fantastic steel road bike and both are every bit as functional and bada$$ as the day they came home. Sure one has a new hard drive and the other a new set of wheels, but the cost to enduring pleasure ratio has been great with both.

There's always new stuff that you can get, but will it actually make anything in your life better if you have it? If not, spend the money on an experience instead of more stuff that you just have to find space for...

"Organization is for the simple-minded, the Genius controls the chaos." - Jens

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by ticou

Firstly, any notion of disc brakes and electronic-all-in veers me toward a Vespa moped or or electric bikes, or at best, a glorified MTB. A top quality bike is analogous to a sailing yacht, in my view, it should have pure unadulterated lines for it's purpose. And to think I'm going to trust my life to a wire less electronic braking pulse on a mountain descent, there ain't no way!

I'm still puzzled by the 'success' of the rabidly priced electronic gear shifting. If I'm on a bimble, I only use about two gears, 50x14 or 50x16 or 18, or I go fixed gear. Of course with Chorus being able to shift down 5 gears in one movement at the top of a climb, or up three at the start of one, and the swiftness of it's gear change as well, makes me unlikely to change my view anytime soon.

Of course a new frame material will come along, but it won't berth unless it has a high MpA rating. The bike I rode 20 years ago was 24 lbs, so my new steel has lost 6 pounds, whilst gaining at least 700 MpA. It's possible that KVA and Reynolds 953, the two strongest bike frames, might up the ante to 2700MpA, and I feel the greatest change will come from continuing to make bikes lighter, stronger stiffer without compromising road feel and comfort, and more durable.

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by bones

To the original poster.
Your post is too long. General rule of thumb. If an initial post is greater than 2-3 short paragraphs, then the written material would better be served as a blog, and not a forum post. Please sign up for a blogging account.

Re the future of cycling. The answer is disc brakes, starting this summer when the UCI hopefully approves of their use on the road.

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