An Overview of the Latest "Ride Changing" Road Bike Technology

An Overview of the Latest "Ride Changing" Road Bike Technology

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Since the invention of the “safety bicycle” in 1885, there have been few times in history that have seen the types of monumental advances in road bike technology as we have seen in the past few years. The changes might not be quite as monumental as the advent of steering, gears and pneumatic tires in the late 1800’s, but they are as significant as the development of the clipless pedal in the 1970’s and the advent of the integrated brake/shift lever in 1990 – both innovations that changed riding a bike forever. What are some of the advancements in the latest road bike technology that have made such a pronounced difference in how road bikes work and perform in recent years?

Gearing: While there have been compromised “workarounds” for years, the past few SRAM X-Glide 1190 Cassetteyears have seen great strides from Shimano and SRAM in terms of gearing options from the factory. “Compact” 50/34 chainrings, providing lower and easier to climb gears than the traditional 53/39, are now the standard on most road bikes. In addition, SRAM deserves much credit for making longer cage road derailleurs that allow lower gearing ranges in the back of the bike (down to a low of 32, or even 36, teeth) readily available. Compared to the 39T small front chainring with a 25T rear cog that was the most popular low gear on many road bikes not that long ago, a 34 tooth chainring in concert with a 32 tooth rear cog is like adding an engine while climbing for many riders!  The net effect of all these new gearing options is that road bikes are easier than ever to ride – making climbs, distance and spinning a higher cadence much more obtainable for many riders. If you want even lower gearing, Fit Werx has ways to make that happen to in many cases, just ask

Disc Brakes: While most performance oriented wheeled vehicles switched to disc brakes years ago (including mountain bikes), the road oriented bike has taken longer to adopt.  While cable actuated disc brakes have been available on some cyclocross style bikes for awhile, the first hydraulic disc brake system (like what is found on a motorcycle or higher end mountain bike) didn’t show up until 2013 when SRAM introduced their Hydro line!  Since then, Shimano has jumped in as well and now there are hydraulic brake options available across a range of component levels, including those with electronic shifting.

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Why would you want hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike? While disc brakes are heavier and less aerodynamic , they do offer performance and convenience benefits over traditional caliper brakes.

1) A quality disc brake system will be stronger, more progressive and modulate better than a caliper brake. It takes less hand power to actuate and control a hydraulic disc brake and the braking performance is not diminished by weather and environmental factors to the degree found in a caliper system. Rain or shine, pavement or dirt, disc brakes work consistently.

2) Disc brakes open up design options so that a frame can be built to accommodate a wide range of tire sizes with little compromise. Some disc brake road bikes can accommodate everything from your standard traditional 700×23 tire up through a wide 40mm+ tire! This is great if you want one bike that rides great on pavement or dirt and looser/rougher surfaces. Check out bikes like the Parlee Chebacco, Felt V55 and Moots Routt to learn more about adventure road bikes with disc brakes.

3) Wheels can start to become lighter in the right places. Without the need for a braking track, disc brake wheels can be built with lighter rims where wheel weight is most apparent during acceleration.

So, while disc road brakes are not for everyone, they can help provide confidence while opening up new roads for many riders.

Electronic Shifting: While the first electronic shift systems came out in the early 1990’s, they were buggy and the designs were discontinued after a season or two.  This all changed when Shimano introduced their electronic Di2 system in 2009.  With the introduction of Shimano Di2, Shimano took electronic shifting mainstream when they introduced a system that truly progressed the way bicycles shift. In addition to Shimano, Campagnolo’s EPS system offers electronic shifting and SRAM introduced their wireless SRAM eTap electronic system in the spring of 2016.

While electronic shifting may sound gimmicky, it is not. Once you try it, the benefits and opportunities become clear quickly (think color TV vs. B&W). Some of these include the ability to shift the front derailleur at almost any time and in ways you would never want to try on most mechanical systems. Yes, you can shift under full load and it will do it well. People riding electronic frequently find that they shift more often; it takes so little effort to shift that they maintain a more consistent cadence and energy expenditure. On a related item, electronic shifting is easier on the wrist and arm as the long throw required of a mechanical shift lever is consumed by the electronic push button. Many systems also allow shift levers to be placed in multiple places and they eliminate the compromises found in having cables internally routed in a frame. A triathlon bike, for example, can have aerobar end mounted shifters and also have shifters integrated into the brake levers so you can shift regardless of where your hands are on the bike. Also, no matter how twisted and tight the cable routing is from the aerobars to the derailleur, it will not matter – the bike will shift great now and the quality will not degrade in the future. In a word, electronic shifting is really “easy”.

Another benefit of electronic components is the effect that it has had on the development and expectations of traditional mechanical shift systems. Once the quality of shifting in the electronic systems was realized, it set a high benchmark for the shift quality and ease of use of components in general. All three major component groups have made significant improvements to their shifting (especially in the front derailleur) of their mechanical groups in the past few years as they have redesigned derailleurs, cranks and chainrings based on the requirements for electronic shifting.

On an interesting note, at Fit Werx, we have noted that electronic shift systems also require less maintenance. The cables are some of the most problematic parts of many bikes. By eliminating the cables, and the associated friction, electronic bikes not only work better, but the derailleurs require little to no adjustment after initial set-up. The batteries provide great life (1000+ miles between charges) and, as an added benefit, many of the latest electronic systems are actually lighter than their mechanical counterparts.

Innovations like wide range gearing, disc brakes and electronic shifting have significantly enhanced the experience of riding a bike for many riders. If you have not experienced them, it is a great time to be considering a new bike.

Be sure to get a Rider First Fitting in advance of buying a bike so that you can find that perfectly matched bike for your body. Your bike should be selected and set-up to accommodate your needs, not the other way around. Combine the right fit with the right technology and you will find riding to be more enjoyable than ever. We guarantee it.

Fit Werx is a bike shop and bike fitting studio started in 2001 with locations in Waitsfield, VT, Peabody & Lexington , MA and Ridgefield Park, NJ (near NYC ). Fit Werx is changing the way people buy bikes through their Rider First Bike Fittings and Rider Matched Bike Sales approach.  Fit Werx offers production and custom bikes, cycling products, service and bicycle fitting services for new and existing bikes. We invite you to reach out and ask questions and to make sure that you have a bike fit in advance of buying a new bike.   Using the information from a Fit Werx fitting will guarantee that you select a bike that fits your individual needs as well as possible.


About Ian

From first time riders to Olympians, Ian has helped thousands of athletes achieve their cycling and triathlon goals. Ian develops much of the Fit Werx fitting and analysis protocols and is responsible for technology training and development. He is regarded as one of the industry leaders in bicycle fitting, cycling biomechanics and bicycle geometry and design. He is dedicated to making sure the Fit Werx differences are delivered daily and provides Fit Werx with corporate direction and is responsible for uniting our staff and initiatives.

Find out more about Ian Here


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