Dirty Innovators

Ok all you roadies, listen up. You’re not gonna like what I’m about to tell you, but it’s the truth. And sometimes, the truth hurts. You ready?

Road cycling owes a lot to mountain biking.

“You what?!” I hear you screaming at the monitor in disgust. “Road cycling has been around for more than a hundred years, and the mountain bike for about thirty!” Well, nice theory, but bikes were ridden on dirt long before their tyres ever saw a sealed surface. But this isn’t about the chicken or the egg, it’s about the way technology crosses over from one discipline to another, and how similar, yet different aspects of the same sport inter-breed, cross pollinate and spawn innovations that better the machines we ride and the kit we wear. And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but that sleek road machine you’re riding now probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our dirtbag cousins.

It all took off in the early 90s; the mountain bike was undergoing its own metamorphosis, rapidly dropping the ‘klunker’ heritage and becoming lighter, stiffer and racier. The geometry was changing from slack and raked-out head angles to more sharply handling, longer and lower front ends. A little like road bikes, granted. The first big change up front though was the oversized headset and steerer tube combo, dubbed the Avenger by Tioga, the first company to bring it to market. The steerer increased from 1 inch diameter to 1 1/8″, giving the front of the bike more precise steering and a more solid feel over rough terrain. Soon, Dia Compe came up with the AHeadset, doing away with the threaded steerer and headset in favour of a threadless system held together by a stem clamped over the smooth steerer tube. There’s not a road (or mountain) bike to be seen with a threaded front end these days.

Having a bigger steerer attached to rigid fork blades made some difference to the mountain bike, but even more was needed up front to tame the terrain and reduce the pounding that riders’ arms would take on proper off-road trails. While some weird and wonderful contraptions briefly held court (like the Girvin Flexstem, as terrifying as it was), the obvious solution was to borrow technology from the motocross crowd, and the first suspension fork for bicycles was born. The Rock Shox RS1 was as rare as hen’s teeth, but when one was spotted in the wild the geek-out factor went through the roof, and any rider lucky enough to have one bolted to the front of their bike would be accosted for twenty minutes and bombarded with questions about “how it works”. In the space of a year, there were three or four different iterations of suspension forks on the market, most of them completely unaffordable to the Regular Joes that rode in the dirt.

Looking back at the suspension tech of those days now, the word ‘archaic’ springs (pardon the pun) to mind. The modern mountain bike is an engineering marvel, and I’m as amped on new technology now as I was in the early 90s. The sport has continued to push the boundaries and is constantly evolving. And road cycling has benefitted greatly. We’ve all seen the Rock Shox Ruby forks that appeared on the bikes of Paris-Roubaix for a few glorious years, even taking a couple of wins in the Queen of The Classics. The MTB forks of the day were mostly heavy, elastomer sprung and undamped, giving the effect of a pogo stick on the front of the bike. To try and put one on the front of a road bike was preposterous at best, a blasphemous disaster at worst. Then there were the failed attempts at rear suspension which disappeared as quickly as they came. But riders and teams were willing to try anything to tame the brutal cobbles of the Hell of the North, and if you didn’t have a Ruby fork then you were behind the 8-ball straight away. The fact that the bike would bounce around under pedalling load on the smooth roads was outweighed by the comfort and control on the cobbles.

But roadies being roadies, the extra weight and inefficiency soon rendered the Ruby detrimental to the performance of the bikes… but that comfort was welcome. How to get some shock absorption and keep the weight low? Carbon fibre forks were conceived, giving a smooth ride up front on the stiff yet light aluminium frames that were taking over the peloton at the time (another innovation gleaned from the mountain bike). If it worked up front, then why not at the rear too? Carbon seatstays were bonded onto the back ends of just about every bike that came out in the mid 90s. If it worked for the fork and stays, then why not the whole frame? The carbon bikes so ubiquitous today were spawned from the need for a smoother ride, without the weight and complexity of suspension. Thanks, mountain biking.

Now, check out Hodgey’s helmet in the lead photo. Look kinda familiar? Well, helmets pretty much came from mountain biking, and the early examples looked just like that; round, few vents, not pointy at the back. And what do we have now? Round, sparsely vented, not-too-pointy ‘aero’ road helmets, that we are all crying about being ugly and unnecessary. But how cool does Hodgey look? Badass! It’s only a matter of time before we’re all wearing them, and possibly with visors. (In the 1999 P-R, several riders wore helmets with visors, including 3rd placegetter Tom Steels and Frank Vandenbroucke.) Okay, maybe I’ve gone too far there, but I saw a guy riding in an Air Attack the other day, and by Merckx did I think he Looked Pro! These helmets will be the norm sooner rather than later; after all, don’t we take our cues from the Pros?

There have been numerous advances that have come from mountain biking and are now seen as standard on road bikes; removable face plates on stems, wider profile rims, lightweight saddles, tapered head tubes, integrated headsets, external cup/press-fit bottom brackets, oversize bar diameters (and let’s not forget road disc brakes. You can’t fight it!). Black socks. Tall socks. If it wasn’t for the mountain bike and the innovators working in that industry, we might still be riding lugged steel frames with downtube shifters. Which would be ok with me, as long as I can still have my off-road wonderbike.

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138 Replies to “Dirty Innovators”

  1. It’s probably anecdotal, but it seems that fewer and fewer riders are exclusively roadies anymore. Too many stupid incidents with traffic, weird declines in road racing, etc. All the formerly 100%, all-in roadies I know in areas all over the country now are more stoked on unsanctioned racing on gravel on CX bikes, MTBs, or fatbikes (yeah, that one I am still digesting). 

  2. It all took off in the early 90s; the mountain bike was undergoing its own metamorphosis, rapidly dropping the ‘klunker’ heritage and becoming lighter, stiffer and racier. The geometry was changing from slack and raked-out head angles to more sharply handling, longer and lower front ends.

    Glad this Dirty Innovation didn’t take off! My eyes hurt looking at that frame!

  3. Nice! No one ever said road cycling was innovative; traditionalists, absolutely. We need the wild child cousin to lead it out of the middle ages. So that’s where black long socks came from? Grrrr. I was blaming Lance all this time. Still not happy about that. 

    My next bike should have road disk brakes. There, I said it. It would be fun to have some slight braking potential coming into wet descending corners. If they can obey the principle of silence, so far, they are a bit loud. Campy disks, oh pappy, bring it. 

  4. I was only the other week discussing with a mate whether we would see SRAM XX1 approach on road bikes with a single front ring.

  5. If I had to ride the Arenburg Trench every year I’d do pretty much anything for a smoother ride, if just to stop my front teeth from falling out. Did those Rox shox Ruby’s have a lockout for the smooth sections I wonder? Well researched article Bretto, you forgot about the new Giro loose shorts for roadies- those have to have  been spawned from MTB

  6. What[‘s worth reviewing is how many of this innovations stuck or got recycled. Rock Shox on road bikes in P-R? Came, went and never came back. Helmets with small vents? Came, went and returned. (I still have my old yellow and black Air Attack and my Bolle MicroEdge sunnies as worn by rider #2 in main picture. Still wear ’em too!). Shock absorbers built into frames? Trek and Specialized are doing versions of it today. Maybe carbon frames and wheels negate the need for a lot of shock absorbing tricks?

    Also, how much of it is true development as opposed to marketing gimmickry? (That Motorola “Eddy Merckx” frame is surely the latter). How much has the UCI done to squash innovation?

  7. “. . . after all, don’t we take our cues from the Pros?”

    Only when they look fantastic.  Tracing a bad idea back to its source doesn’t make it a good idea.

  8. Great article! It got me thinking about road disc brakes again, and then (again) about the tiny contact patches on road tires (small contact patches + powerful brakes + wet ≠ more control), and finally about the widespread shift to 25mm tires from the super skinny ones we rode when I was a wee bairn.

    So why shouldn’t we see an intensification of the trend toward wider tires with larger contact patches and therefore increased sticktion to the road in conjunction with more powerful brakes? Supposedly, the Conti GP4000s compound borrows heavily from their MotoGP technology. Look at how crazy huge sportbike tires have gotten.

    And won’t crits be even more fun to watch, then?

  9. Everybody needs some dirtbag cousins!

    I’ve been riding a lot more cross this winter than road. I love jumping back on a road bike and thinking and feeling, “Oh yeah, this is what a race road bike feels like.”

  10. @Ron

    Everybody needs some dirtbag cousins!

    I’ve been riding a lot more cross this winter than road. I love jumping back on a road bike and thinking and feeling, “Oh yeah, this is what a race road bike feels like.”

    I have a kinetic rock n’ roll trainer which I love for its “loose” feel, but you’re right, there’s nothing like jumping on an unfettered bike and riding down the street. You feel like you can fly!

  11. @PeakInTwoYears

    Great article! It got me thinking about road disc brakes again, and then (again) about the tiny contact patches on road tires (small contact patches + powerful brakes + wet ≠ more control), and finally about the widespread shift to 25mm tires from the super skinny ones we rode when I was a wee bairn.

    So why shouldn’t we see an intensification of the trend toward wider tires with larger contact patches and therefore increased sticktion to the road in conjunction with more powerful brakes? Supposedly, the Conti GP4000s compound borrows heavily from their MotoGP technology. Look at how crazy huge sportbike tires have gotten.

    And won’t crits be even more fun to watch, then?

    Like this?

  12. @PeakInTwoYears

    Oh!  You said “intensification of the trend.  I thought you said “intensification of the tread“.  Never mind then.  However, this is roughly what comes to mind when I think of road disc brakes.

  13. @Optimiste

    @PeakInTwoYears

    However, this is roughly what comes to mind when I think of road disc brakes.

    Ha ha, yeah. I’ve consistently said that disc brakes are boar’s tits for the road and mutt’s nuts for the trail. I’ll probably turn out to be wrong on this as on so many things. But it won’t be because of great huge rotating anchors like those things.

  14. @PeakInTwoYears

    @Optimiste

    @PeakInTwoYears

    However, this is roughly what comes to mind when I think of road disc brakes.

    Ha ha, yeah. I’ve consistently said that disc brakes are boar’s tits for the road and mutt’s nuts for the trail. I’ll probably turn out to be wrong on this as on so many things. But it won’t be because of great huge rotating anchors like those things.

    @PeakInTwoYears

    Indeed.  I shudder at the thought of them.

  15. @Optimiste

    Indeed. I shudder at the thought of them.

    Me too. But imagine a pair of sticky, durable 30mm tires, the same weight as the current crop of 25’s, inhibited in their propensity to rotate by a set of brake rotors, say, I don’t know, 100mm across instead of 160. A system like that just might change my attitude.

  16. @PeakInTwoYears

    @Optimiste

    Indeed. I shudder at the thought of them.

    Me too. But imagine a pair of sticky, durable 30mm tires, the same weight as the current crop of 25″²s, inhibited in their propensity to rotate by a set of brake rotors, say, I don’t know, 100mm across instead of 160. A system like that just might change my attitude.

    I dunno.  At that point you’ve essentially got a ‘cross bike with slicks and bidon cages.  But I do like a wider tire.

  17. @Optimiste

    @PeakInTwoYears

    @Optimiste

    Indeed. I shudder at the thought of them.

    Me too. But imagine a pair of sticky, durable 30mm tires, the same weight as the current crop of 25″²s, inhibited in their propensity to rotate by a set of brake rotors, say, I don’t know, 100mm across instead of 160. A system like that just might change my attitude.

    I dunno. At that point you’ve essentially got a ‘cross bike with slicks and bidon cages. But I do like a wider tire.

    Yeah, hard to believe in the 80s that 19mm tires were the bomb-diggedy! Now 23s are considered narrow.

  18. @brett

    There’s not a road (or mountain) bike to be seen with a threaded front end these days.

    I beg to differ.

    Although I do admit it is the fashioning of a hopeless romantic.

    And yes, that’s a carbon fucking spacer in the headset. I didn’t have an alu traditional one and didn’t until this instant realize I’d never replaced this “temporary fix” after the first build-up.

  19. The Rock Shox RS1 was as rare as hen’s teeth, but when one was spotted in the wild the geek-out factor went through the roof, and any rider lucky enough to have one bolted to the front of their bike would be accosted for twenty minutes and bombarded with questions about “how it works”.

    I had an RS1 and the answer was “I don’t think it does anything”. Until the answer became “It doesn’t because the bushings are fucked and I can’t get any replacements.”

    It was wicked cool looking and made my bike look like a motorcycle, but it took such a huge impact to make it do anything that you may as well not have it at all.

     The fact that the bike would bounce around under pedalling load on the smooth roads was outweighed by the comfort and control on the cobbles.

    I can’t remember if you were there for that chat, but I asked Johan about his double suspension Bianchi; he said it was very comfortable on the cobbles, but that there are 200km of tarmac and riding on a “throne” made it worthless.

    I’m done now, great fucking article!

  20. @wiscot

    Yeah, hard to believe in the 80s that 19mm tires were the bomb-diggedy! Now 23s are considered narrow.

    At the time, I didn’t care how harsh the ride; the narrower the better.

  21. @Optimiste

    @wiscot

    Yeah, hard to believe in the 80s that 19mm tires were the bomb-diggedy! Now 23s are considered narrow.

    At the time, I didn’t care how harsh the ride; the narrower the better.

    I don’t know what the roads are, and were, like where you ride and rode. In the Portland area in the 80s, the word “chipseal” wasn’t in my vocabulary. Unless we were in the boonies, we were on smooth pavement, and it was easier to believe that stupid-narrow tires inflated to nine thousand psi were the bomb.

  22. I’d add to the list of innovations adopted from mountain biking – road tubeless tires which in my view are the schizz.

  23. Interesting that you list press-fit bottom brackets. Yeti tried it for a year and then went back to threaded bottom brackets because of all the pain (although I think the SB75 is back to press-fit?).

    I wore out a Chris King pressfit in 2-3 months of riding offroad (still waiting on a replacement).

  24. @PeakInTwoYears

    @Optimiste

    @wiscot

    Yeah, hard to believe in the 80s that 19mm tires were the bomb-diggedy! Now 23s are considered narrow.

    At the time, I didn’t care how harsh the ride; the narrower the better.

    I don’t know what the roads are, and were, like where you ride and rode. In the Portland area in the 80s, the word “chipseal” wasn’t in my vocabulary. Unless we were in the boonies, we were on smooth pavement, and it was easier to believe that stupid-narrow tires inflated to nine thousand psi were the bomb.

    The harsh ride was fitting for the new fangled Alu frames that were harsh also

  25. @Kiwicyclist

    I’d add to the list of innovations adopted from mountain biking – road tubeless tires which in my view are the schizz.

    Yet to try road tubeless, something about 100psi puts me off a bit. But for the MTB, I don’t understand why anyone would ever use tubes, or pressures over 25psi. I tend to run 20-22 F/R, heaps of traction, good rolling, no flats. No brainer.

  26. @frank

    The Rock Shox RS1 was as rare as hen’s teeth, but when one was spotted in the wild the geek-out factor went through the roof, and any rider lucky enough to have one bolted to the front of their bike would be accosted for twenty minutes and bombarded with questions about “how it works”.

    I had an RS1 and the answer was “I don’t think it does anything”. Until the answer became “It doesn’t because the bushings are fucked and I can’t get any replacements.”

    It was wicked cool looking and made my bike look like a motorcycle, but it took such a huge impact to make it do anything that you may as well not have it at all.

    The fact that the bike would bounce around under pedalling load on the smooth roads was outweighed by the comfort and control on the cobbles.

    I can’t remember if you were there for that chat, but I asked Johan about his double suspension Bianchi; he said it was very comfortable on the cobbles, but that there are 200km of tarmac and riding on a “throne” made it worthless.

    I’m done now, great fucking article!

    Yep, remember that anecdote well…

    There was an XC racer in the early 90s in Australia, a good top 5er, who ran an RS1 and a Tioga Tension Disc rear wheel, a la Tomac… he didn’t win a lot, but he always got the most attention. You could hear those wheels coming from a km away.

  27. @G’rilla

    Interesting that you list press-fit bottom brackets. Yeti tried it for a year and then went back to threaded bottom brackets because of all the pain (although I think the SB75 is back to press-fit?).

    I wore out a Chris King pressfit in 2-3 months of riding offroad (still waiting on a replacement).

    I’m not a fan of BB30, or BB92, or Press Fit bottom brackets. A standard 73mm shell with external bearings is foolproof, and one of the reasons I went for my Turner as well.

  28. @Kiwicyclist

    I’d add to the list of innovations adopted from mountain biking – road tubeless tires which in my view are the schizz.

    Schizz? I think you mean shits. Waste of time on the road (at high pressure), still have to carry. Tube and pump, messy to put a tube in when the jizz inside fails to seal (most of the time) and don’t get me started on the clean up effort afterwards. Tubes on the road for sure. Cheap quick easy.

  29. @Gianni

    Nice! No one ever said road cycling was innovative; traditionalists, absolutely. We need the wild child cousin to lead it out of the middle ages. So that’s where black long socks came from? Grrrr. I was blaming Lance all this time. Still not happy about that.

    My next bike should have road disk brakes. There, I said it. It would be fun to have some slight braking potential coming into wet descending corners. If they can obey the Principle of Silence, so far, they are a bit loud. Campy disks, oh pappy, bring it.

    The first time I saw black socks was on Travis Brown, in 94 I think… he was considered a bit of a rebel because of that, and his earrings, goatee and sideburns. He wouldn’t raise an eyebrow these days. I immediately tried to grow sideburns with varying success, but the black socks have been with me ever since.

    Travis was a bit of an innovator with his bikes too, including the 69er (29 front/26 rear wheel mtb) and a belt drive singlespeed ‘crosser…

  30. @Rigid

    If I had to ride the Arenburg Trench every year I’d do pretty much anything for a smoother ride, if just to stop my front teeth from falling out. Did those Rox shox Ruby’s have a lockout for the smooth sections I wonder? Well researched article Bretto, you forgot about the new Giro loose shorts for roadies- those have to have been spawned from MTB

    Research? Ha, just the memory banks retaining crap that isn’t really useful except for churning out an article at 1am!

    Some of the Ruby-equipped bikes ran lockouts, like this GripShift activated example on LeMond’s Ti bike… not pretty, and probably not that functional either!

    He also tried some rear damping…

  31. “The carbon bikes so ubiquitous today were spawned from the need for a smoother ride, without the weight and complexity of suspension”

    This, and really the whole paragraph claiming that mountainbikes are the cause for carbon frames is reaching for straws. Carbon frames aren’t there for comfort. Carbon frames are there because they are lighter and more aerodynamic than steel, titanium or aluminium frames. The only race that had riders begging for comfort was Paris-Roubaix, and the first carbon parts were used in every race, not just Paris-Roubaix. 

    I am also still baffled by the sudden increase in tire width. Things that were true 20 years ago don’t suddenly reverse. A narrow tire has less roll resistance because the contact patch is smaller which imposes less deformation on the tire. That’s why ultra-efficient cars such as the volkswagen XL1 and BMW i3 have very narrow section tires. 

  32. @RVester

    Carbon frames aren’t there for comfort. Carbon frames are there because they are lighter and more aerodynamic than steel, titanium or aluminium frames. The only race that had riders begging for comfort was Paris-Roubaix, and the first carbon parts were used in every race, not just Paris-Roubaix.

    Well, nice theory, but not quite right. Steel has as good, if not better, damping qualities as carbon, but can’t be made as light as easily and as cheaply as carbon frames can. Titanium, even more so on both counts. Alu, well it can be made as light as fuck, and cheaply, but the ride will always be the harshest, and made super-light it’s prone to crack easily. Carbon is the cheapest, lightest, and easiest material to make for frames and has good damping characteristics. Make a mold, churn em out.

    I am also still baffled by the sudden increase in tire width. Things that were true 20 years ago don’t suddenly reverse. A narrow tire has less roll resistance because the contact patch is smaller which imposes less deformation on the tire. That’s why ultra-efficient cars such as the volkswagen XL1 and BMW i3 have very narrow section tires.

    So, by that theory, Formula 1 cars should be on motorcycle tyres by now? And Moto GP bikes should be running 23s…

    Schwalbe, who know a bit about tyres, disagree with you…

    Why do wide tires roll better than narrow ones?

    The answer to this question lies in tire deflection. Each tire is flattened a little under load. This creates a flat contact area.

    At the same tire pressure, a wide and a narrow tire have the same contact area. A wide tire is flattened over its width whereas a narrow tire has a slimmer but longer contact area.

    The flattened area can be considered as a counterweight to tire rotation. Because of the longer flattened area of the narrow tire, the wheel loses more of its “roundness” and produces more deformation during rotation. However, in the wide tire, the radial length of the flattened area is shorter, making the tire “rounder” and so it rolls better.”

    http://www.schwalbetires.com/tech_info/rolling_resistance

  33. Brett, great article, lots to chew on… Just to get it out of the way – black socks are a no brainer for  off road but look shite for road – end.

  34. @RVester

    I am also still baffled by the sudden increase in tire width. Things that were true 20 years ago don’t suddenly reverse. A narrow tire has less roll resistance because the contact patch is smaller which imposes less deformation on the tire. That’s why ultra-efficient cars such as the volkswagen XL1 and BMW i3 have very narrow section tires.

    Things that weren’t very true 20 years ago aren’t true these days either. Lots of the old “wisdom” was never researched nor proven scientifically. There are plenty of tests these days that show how 21mm, 23mm and 25mm versions of the same tyre show progressively less rolling resistance, and how pumping up to 150psi isn’t any faster, on the road, than a reasonable 110psi.

    A smaller contact patch means the smaller tyre must deform more to counter the load (which usually remains the same). The relationship is nearly linear, but a larger contact patch has to deform less overall and therefore usually achieves better rolling resistance. That is, unless you run higher pressures – which most do – which opens up a different problem: Your bike then soaks up whatever force the road transmitted that wasn’t absorbed by tyre deformation, which means a larger percentage of your precious power is spent going up and down in the vertical direction instead of horizontally going forward.

    Long story short, unless you’re racing on silky-smooth velodrome boards, lower pressures and larger contact patches will usually win, up to a point of diminishing returns (pinch-flats, etc).

    There’s also very little in common between a 1500kg damped vehicle and an 80kg two-wheeled rigid vehicle.

  35. Great write up Brett!  Late last year there was the Ausbike exhibition in Melbourne. I spent most of my time there at the Farren Collection stand absolutely blown away by the gear they were making in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. There was heaps of suspension innovations on solid tyres, and along came the pneumatic tyre. Also check out the all drive train innovations.

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  36. @Optimiste

    @PeakInTwoYears

    @Optimiste

    Indeed. I shudder at the thought of them.

    Me too. But imagine a pair of sticky, durable 30mm tires, the same weight as the current crop of 25″²s, inhibited in their propensity to rotate by a set of brake rotors, say, I don’t know, 100mm across instead of 160. A system like that just might change my attitude.

    I dunno. At that point you’ve essentially got a ‘cross bike with slicks and bidon cages. But I do like a wider tire.

    Even if we chuck aesthetics from the equation for a moment, there’s one problem that disc brakes can’t solve:  I don’t want a squadron of searing-hot metal blades rolling toward me if the bunch goes tits-up on a descent.  Nope nope nope.

  37. @frank

    @Puffy

    @Kiwicyclist

    I’d add to the list of innovations adopted from mountain biking – road tubeless tires which in my view are the schizz.

    Schizz? I think you mean shits. Waste of time on the road (at high pressure), still have to carry. Tube and pump, messy to put a tube in when the jizz inside fails to seal (most of the time) and don’t get me started on the clean up effort afterwards. Tubes on the road for sure. Cheap quick easy.

    I’ll second the antipathy toward road tubeless.  I’d much rather glue up a pair of tubs than muck around with tubeless on a road bike.

  38. @RVester

    “The carbon bikes so ubiquitous today were spawned from the need for a smoother ride, without the weight and complexity of suspension”

    This, and really the whole paragraph claiming that mountainbikes are the cause for carbon frames is reaching for straws. Carbon frames aren’t there for comfort. Carbon frames are there because they are lighter and more aerodynamic than steel, titanium or aluminium frames.

    I’m with RVester on this one. Brett’s article had me up until this point. (Although the other reason carbon frames have become ubiquitous is because of economies of scale. More carbon frames from the same mould averages down the cost of the mould. Unlike paying a guy to TIG weld frames where only limited ability to realise economies of scale.) Also, I don’t think that the the current aero helmet trend owes anything to mountain biking. I’m putting it down to pure (aerodynamic) coincidence that the new style aero helmets look like “skid lids” from the early to mid eighties.

    Check out this years Giant TCX advanced for an insight into what we’ll all be riding in 5 years time. As well as disc brakes, in a nod to Brett’s article, note the 15mm through axle on the front. In recent times the big push has been for greater stiffness (fnar, fnar) with oversized tubing, larger diameter steerers, etc. Through axles are next, just ask a MTBer.

  39. Never considered that the new aero road helmets are from the Dirty Cousins. Interesting.

    I was looking through a TdF photo book and it was the early 1950s and a crowd was watching Louison climb. One teenage gal was in a beach hat, a bikini top, high-waisted shorts, and slipper shoes. Well damn, she’d fit right in today with uni-girl and post-uni trendy city fashion.

    What’s old is new. I just wish Tom’s dirty cousin had killed Tom so I wouldn’t have to see men walking around in overpriced women’s Keds and pretending they aren’t acting like fuckwits.

  40. @frank

    @brett

    There’s not a road (or mountain) bike to be seen with a threaded front end these days.

    I beg to differ.

    Although I do admit it is the fashioning of a hopeless romantic.

    And yes, that’s a carbon fucking spacer in the headset. I didn’t have an alu traditional one and didn’t until this instant realize I’d never replaced this “temporary fix” after the first build-up.

    I love the functionality of threadless, and the ease of swapping stems around, but I think quill stems are far, far slicker looking. Thus, I still keep two Italian steel steeds, with quill stems, in the stable. One has a Cinelli XA while the other has a nice, black ITM.

    Frank, don’t despair. I too have a carbon spacer on an otherwise steel/alloy bike. I’ve been meaning to swap it out as well.

  41. I have been sick in my mouth after looking at road bikes with suspension, I had only just stopped puking upon seeing zertz inserts….

  42. @RVester: on tires:  Moto GP bikes and F1 cars have wide tires because they have to transmit huge power to the ground with a low vehicle weight.  These guys want to brake as late as possible and get back on the power ASAP in turns.  This requires huge surface area.  However, Bonneville land speed record cars and those experimental solar-powered and record-breaking MPG cars ride on narrow tires; they want to go as fast or as far as possible in a straight line, no corners.   The solar and MPG-champion cars run on very little horsepower…just like cyclists.  The Schwalbe website mentioned above goes on to explain that on a race bike, optimal efficiency is the result of a number of factors that should be balanced optimally.  I don’t know that if a 25 is somewhat more efficient than a 23, it follows that a 28 0r 32 will be more efficient yet, all aspects considered.

    On MTB and its influence on frames:  MTB ushered in some new tube shapes/diameters to the mainstream industry.  Before, pretty much everyone used brazed 1″ tubes;  MTB introduced TIG welding, freeing makers from the constraint of having to used standard lugs and fittings. Larger tube sections allowed Aluminum and Ti designs that otherwise would have been pretty flexy with 1″ tubes.  This oversize philosophy continues with carbon today, for good reason.  MTB simply questioned to old status quo.  Recall that even the early carbon frames (Vitus, ALAN, TVT/Look) were modelled on tradition: essentially standard 1″ tubes screwed/glued into aluminum lugs.

  43. @Zach

    It’s probably anecdotal, but it seems that fewer and fewer riders are exclusively roadies anymore. Too many stupid incidents with traffic, weird declines in road racing, etc. All the formerly 100%, all-in roadies I know in areas all over the country now are more stoked on unsanctioned racing on gravel on CX bikes, MTBs, or fatbikes (yeah, that one I am still digesting).

    I’ve found the minority of riders were ever pure roadies (in my circles at least) but what is much more common to me is the pure off-roader. A MTB rider is much less likely to go dip their toes into road riding than a roadie is into the dirt.

    But absolutely I agree that the most exciting trend at the moment is road-position tuned CX bikes being raced on gravel of off road. In fact, I have line of sight into a 40-50km route in Seattle proper that is probably about 10% tarmac and the rest is off road or on trails.

    Riding the cobbles is an experience that will permanently give you a hunger for the trill of flying off tarmac onto wildly rough terrain. If you love the cobbles, and don’t live in Northern France or Flanders, you owe it to yourself to get a gravel rig and ride it on mixed terrain.

  44. @Gianni

    My next bike should have road disk brakes. There, I said it. It would be fun to have some slight braking potential coming into wet descending corners. If they can obey the Principle of Silence, so far, they are a bit loud. Campy disks, oh pappy, bring it.

    This disk brake thing makes you like the guy at the party who took E and then told his best (male) friend that he always was curious to fuck him.

    I find carbon rims brake just fine in the wet. So long as you’re willing to go through 2 sets of pads every season.

  45. @Teocalli

    I was only the other week discussing with a mate whether we would see SRAM XX1 approach on road bikes with a single front ring.

    You mean a single 53T, right?

    @PeakInTwoYears

    @Rigid

    You guys are, quite literally, making me fell sick.

    @wiscot

    Also, how much of it is true development as opposed to marketing gimmickry? (That Motorola “Eddy Merckx” frame is surely the latter). How much has the UCI done to squash innovation?

    It was a genuine effort by Bauer to test this theory that setback would give him more power. I think he had his worst-ever performance on that bike at P-R and it never appeared again. Its certainly no marketing gimmick as finding photos of it is a nearly impossible task. There are three that I can think of.

  46. @Rom

    @PeakInTwoYears

    @Optimiste

    @wiscot

    Yeah, hard to believe in the 80s that 19mm tires were the bomb-diggedy! Now 23s are considered narrow.

    At the time, I didn’t care how harsh the ride; the narrower the better.

    I don’t know what the roads are, and were, like where you ride and rode. In the Portland area in the 80s, the word “chipseal” wasn’t in my vocabulary. Unless we were in the boonies, we were on smooth pavement, and it was easier to believe that stupid-narrow tires inflated to nine thousand psi were the bomb.

    The harsh ride was fitting for the new fangled Alu frames that were harsh also

    I rode a Cannondale on 19’s pumped to 150 psi. It explains a lot about my cognitive capabilities. Its like dropping a baby on its head.

    @brett

    @frank

    The Rock Shox RS1 was as rare as hen’s teeth, but when one was spotted in the wild the geek-out factor went through the roof, and any rider lucky enough to have one bolted to the front of their bike would be accosted for twenty minutes and bombarded with questions about “how it works”.

    I had an RS1 and the answer was “I don’t think it does anything”. Until the answer became “It doesn’t because the bushings are fucked and I can’t get any replacements.”

    It was wicked cool looking and made my bike look like a motorcycle, but it took such a huge impact to make it do anything that you may as well not have it at all.

    The fact that the bike would bounce around under pedalling load on the smooth roads was outweighed by the comfort and control on the cobbles.

    I can’t remember if you were there for that chat, but I asked Johan about his double suspension Bianchi; he said it was very comfortable on the cobbles, but that there are 200km of tarmac and riding on a “throne” made it worthless.

    I’m done now, great fucking article!

    Yep, remember that anecdote well…

    There was an XC racer in the early 90s in Australia, a good top 5er, who ran an RS1 and a Tioga Tension Disc rear wheel, a la Tomac… he didn’t win a lot, but he always got the most attention. You could hear those wheels coming from a km away.

    THOSE WHEELS WERE THE COOLEST!

    TOMAC WAS THE COOLEST!

    Didn’t Tomac ride Manitoux? (However you spell that)

    The 90’s was such a cool time for innovation, and I think it totally came from the dirt. And then the UCI decided they had a fucking clue and decided to put a stop to it. You need look no further than the Hour Record.

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