The Modern Road Bike
We met up with some friends who ride with the Pequot Cyclists of eastern Connecticut on the front lawn of Fox Farm Brewery midway through a True to Brew. We were firmly in their neck of the woods, which is to say on roads without traffic that require frequent out of the saddle efforts before being rewarded with rip roaring downhills, all whilst gazing at rushing rivers, sleeping cows, and colonial mansions. Much of the pavement is finished with a rough surface, in lieu of the smooth asphalt we get in the city, which I like when I am full of energy. Sometimes the roads turn to gravel, and sometimes they turn to dirt. We were forty miles into our ride by the time we ordered the first round of beers, and with all the bikes laying on the lawn, I started wondering what the “modern road bike” looks like. The answer to that question isn’t important, but I’m having fun thinking about it because the road world is more exciting than ever.
What’s new? So much.
Tires. So much focus has been put on tires, and for good reason. Tires have a night and day effect on the way your bike feels on the road. How many of you pump your 23mm tires to 100+ PSI before each ride? Based on the hundreds of tires I pumped up this year, I’d bet you do. Did you know that you can run a wider tire, with lower air pressure, and not lose any speed? I know, this is not what I was told growing up. As it turns out, we’ve been doing it all wrong! Sure a narrow tire pumped up to triple figures feels fast as your bouncing along, but that’s all it is, a sensation of speed. Use a 28mm tire, and pump it up to 80 PSI, and you might find it feels slow, but check your average speed and you’ll find no change, and you’ll be so much more comfortable as those fat tires bend and deform over the bumps preventing any jolts from coming through to you. Should you fall in love with riding on low pressure, you might consider using a tire even wider than 28, some roadies are out there on 38mm or bigger…and loving it. Or you can ditch the tube and go tubeless, no tubes means no pinch flats and oh so plush miles. They might be a little messy to mount, but once they are set up, you’ll experience less flats and more comfort. With so much focus on tires, your next set will likely be your fastest and most comfortable.
Brakes. As disc brakes slowly begin to be seen in your local group ride, many riders have been asking, why? Side pulls are excellent after all, and in my experience they provide good feedback, good modulation, and for the most part work without hassle. Why the need to change? There are many reasons to consider disc brakes, but the sales points that speak to me are their ability to work with any tire width, the minimal amount of brake lever squeeze required to have incredible braking power and modulation, and the added stiffness that a thru axle provides. What does all that mean to you? Less hand fatigue while breaking, especially for smaller hands, and a stiffer bike for better control and power transfer.
Drivetrain. This is a golden age for components in that the big three manufacturers, Shimano, Sram, and Campagnolo, currently offer a huge range of consistently impressive group sets. Electronic shifting is as easy as set it and forget it. Wireless set ups make for an impossibly clean look, while electric cables can be easily hidden within the frame’s tubes.
Mechanical derailleurs are as effortless as ever. Gear ranges are also growing, gone are the corn cobs and standard cranks of yesteryear, today medium cage derailleurs and compact or mid-compact cranks offer gearing for riders of all ages and ability. “One by” drivetrains eliminate the often troublesome front derailleur without short changing the rider on gearing. In addition, the finish quality, especially of the once boring mid-tier groups, looks beautiful and racy. All these options mean you can have a bike with the right gears for you, in a package that works brilliantly.
Saddles: Finding a comfortable saddle can be a chore, but saddle manufacturers are working harder than ever to fit your rump with saddles that vary in width, shape, and density so you can find one that you’ll be happy to hop on day after day. Bothe men’s and women’s saddles are available for demos to ensure your happy with it before you buy.
Finish: Paint has become the bell of the ball, and talented painters like Hot Tubes and Ben Falcon create show stopping schemes that can turn any bike from ordinary to extraordinary. Their work is often what decides who wins at NAHBS. With a clean slate, anything is possible and in addition to being talented artists, they are gifted in customer service working with you every step of the way to ensure your paint scheme is perfect.
So much new. That’s why I’ve been trying to define the modern road bike, to determine which of these new technologies belong on a road bike and which are over the top. I’m working on a very special bike, with the hopes that it’ll be the modern road bike when I am finished. To do it, I need your input! What defines the modern road bike to you? What technology have you fallen in love with? Which components or accessories do you want with you on every ride? What have you tried and given up on? Post or email me your insight! firstname.lastname@example.org