Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Big in 2015!

With the Eurobike cycle show in Germany at the end of August, the Interbike show in Las Vegas mid-September, and the UK’s very own Cycle Show at the NEC next week, we’re getting a good idea of what next year’s bike market is going to look like.

In road bikes there are a couple of very obvious trends coming on stream: hydraulic braking; and quicker frames with lighter weights and increased aerodynamic efficiency. We’ve looked at SRAM’s range of hydraulic brakes — both disc and rim — here before, but in the international bike trade it’s probably no surprise to discover that Shimano is taking control in 2015. The Japanese giant’s electronic Di2 groupset-only R785 hydraulic disc brake is the most popular option — appearing on a huge range of 2015 models — but its new R685 hydraulic discs, which are compatible with old-school mechanical groupsets have had a very positive first year, too, and their influence on the market can only grow wider.

When it comes to which road brands have adopted the idea of disc brakes with most gusto, Cannondale looks to be leading the way. Seven models in the Synapse range of sportive-style bikes alone come with disc stoppers, either hydraulic or cable operated. For example, the entry model — the Synapse Tiagra Disc 6  — comes with an aluminium frame, Shimano Tiagra 10-speed gears and Promax Render mechanical disc brakes for £845*. Meanwhile, the Synapse HM SRAM Red Disc has a cutting-edge high-modulus carbon frame, SRAM Red 22 gears and matching hydraulic disc brakes, for £4,495*. 

One thing that can be easily forgotten when talking about bikes with disc brakes is that they need complementary wheels fitted with disc brake rotors, too. To that end, it’s a significant step to see wheel specialist Mavic releasing a disc version of its entry-level favourite, Aksium wheelset. For people wanting a bit more refinement and less weight, Mavic also has a disc brake-compatible Kysrium Pro wheelset coming out in 2015.


Light and aero

With the road bike-buying general public tending to be guided mostly by what the pros use, you’d think manufacturers would be constantly trying to reduce the weight of their products. However, with cycle sport’s international governing body, the UCI having a strict 6.8kg (14.99lb) minimum weight limit for complete race bikes, and with that limit being easily achieved these days, the ‘pro influence’ has actually rather hampered development when it comes to bike weights.

So it’s probably not coincidentally that at the same time that the UCI has suggested it will relax or reconsider that 6.8kg limit, some of the most famous race bike brands have brought out new, ultra-lightweight frames. The most exciting for us — particularly as we have them in stock already here at All Terrain Cycles — is the brand new Emonda from Trek.

Another speed-influenced trend that has gained more ground is the promotion of aerodynamic efficiency. So you’ll see more bikes in 2015 with bottom bracket-mounted rear brakes, even more bikes with internal cable routing, and some quite exciting carbon frame shapes. Comfort hasn’t been forgotten either. Time has revealed a new-for-2015 ‘Aktiv’, which uses an internal automotive-inspired mass damper to help absorb road vibrations.

If you want to see next year’s bikes now — including ATC brands such as Trek, Giant, Raleigh and Cube — then this year’s Cycle Show will be taking place at the NEC in Birmingham on September 26-28. Adult tickets cost £13 in advance and children under 14 can enter for £1.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Let’ talk about sets… chainsets!

Of all the parts of a bicycle — from the frame and wheels, to the derailleurs, gear levers, and even brake calipers — the chainset is possibly the least exciting. It’s really just a few relatively simple bits of metal, attached together, which do nothing more than spin. Yet, in terms of the mechanics of how you interact with your bike, it’s a surprisingly crucial component.

The chainset is made up of three elements. There’s the spider, which is the drive side crank arm to which you attach chainrings and the right pedal; the non-drive side crank arm to which you attach the left pedal; and the chainrings, on which the chain runs.

One very obvious personal consideration — although one many cyclists might not think about enough — is the length of the crank arms. The relationship between crank arm length and the rider’s leg length will determine the range of motion that the rider’s leg will travel through during each pedal stroke. If a crank arm is too short, it was thought (as we shall see, erroneously) that the rider wouldn’t be able to generate the same amount of pedalling power. If it is too long, the rider’s legs will experience a potentially uncomfortable pedalling action.

On modern road bikes most manufacturers have decided upon a range of crank arm lengths between 170 to 175mm. Very generally speaking, you find 170mm cranks on small bikes, you might find crank arms of 172.5mm on medium bikes, and there’ll be 175mm cranks on large bikes. On custom order bicycles you may be able to specify a different crank arm size, but it will still probably be limited to between 165mm at the very least and 180mm at the most.

Why this choice of lengths? They’ve actually been settled on fairly arbitrarily, although the general idea is that they offer a decent compromise between leverage force and range of leg movement for average sized riders. In truth, though, that notion of bigger cranks helping transfer leverage force is misplaced, and there is a growing body of opinion that suggests smaller crank arms offering a smaller range of leg movement may be considerably more efficient.


Lord of the rings

The second aspect of chainsets that affects every rider is the choice of chainrings. In days past, road riders had just two options: a triple chainset with three rings of something like 52, 42 and 30 teeth; or a double chainset with two chainrings, normally of 53 and 39 teeth. The triple chainset offers a broad range of gears, including very low ones — so is great for applications such as cycle touring — while the double is lighter and quicker, so great for racing.

But just as in the last few years road bikes with drop bars have subtly veered away from being purely race bikes so, too, chainsets have adapted and the most popular option on new bikes is the compact chainset. Like the double this has just two rings — normally 50 and 34 teeth — but if combined with a suitable cassette at the back — say one ranging from 11-28 teeth — you can achieve a spread of gear ratios to almost rival a triple. So ‘compacts’ offer easier gears than an old-school ‘double’, very similar top gears to a ‘double’, and have essentially the same weight.

Another development in cycling over the last 10 or 15 years has been the accepted efficiency of higher cadences — pedalling faster. This puts less strain on the leg muscles, meaning less build up of lactic acid. Components such as ‘compacts’, which allow for easier, higher-speed pedalling are a perfect complement to this approach.

Compact chainsets aren’t for everybody, but for most leisure road riders — especially those who take on hilly sportives — they are a great compromise. In fact, team a 34-tooth inner ring with a 32-tooth biggest sprocket on a wide-range cassette at the rear, and you should be able to climb a brick wall!



Thursday, 11 September 2014

Money no object? What bike do you buy?

We all know you can buy perfectly functional road bikes for less than £500. Equally, at about £1,000 you can find really decent aluminium bikes with good equipment, or carbon offerings that might require some compromises on the spec sheet. From £1,500 to about £2,500 you’re in the realms of excellent dedicated sportive or race bikes. And at more than £2,500 it becomes a question of top-end components, famous brand names or hi-tech frame designs.

That’s all very well, but what if you’re a Russian oligarch who wants to buy something really special? While the car trade has hot hatches, coupes and sports cars for relatively normal budgets, for the truly rich and ostentatious there are the six-digit supercars. But what is cycling’s answer to McLaren or Bugatti?

For personalisation and comfort, you could buy an old-school made-to-measure steel frame from one of Britain’s legendary builders, such as Mercian or Roberts. But that won’t have all the cutting-edge technology of a true ‘super-cycle’. Meanwhile, although there are custom carbon bike builders out there, none of them have the household name status of, say, Ferrari (in fact, even dedicated cyclists would be pushed to name a custom carbon frame builder). If you want to spend more than £10,000 on a bicycle, even if only to show off, it’s actually almost impossible. Should you succeed in finding something, you’ll most likely be looking at a bike with historical value, rather than something with modern cachet.

So let’s forget about symbols of exclusivity, luxury and wealth. Thankfully, if it’s pure performance and visual excitement you want, the big bike brands can supply it — albeit without hitting a five-figure price tag. Here at All Terrain Cycles www.allterraincycles.co.uk we have some incredible top-end options. Let’s examine the three most expensive — one each from Trek, Giant and Cannondale — to see why they’re so good.

Trek Emonda SLR 9 H1 (ATC price: £7,795)
Trek’s Emonda frame is new for 2015 and with a claimed weight of just 690g (unpainted) it’s officially the lightest production bike in the world. Trek says it also set out to create the best riding bike it’s ever made, so the Emonda has undergone three years of research and development, including strenuous testing with riders from the Trek Factory Racing team. It even comes with a lifetime warranty; for a brand new ultra-lightweight carbon bike — not normally the most robust of products — how’s that for confidence? This top-end model is fitted with full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic gearing, Dura-Ace brakes, Bontrager wheels, and a selection of Bontrager carbon finishing kit. Is this the most exciting road bike of 2015? Very probably.
Giant Avail Advanced SL 0 (ATC price: £7,245)
We reckon big-name cycle manufacturers can create top-end bikes with supercar-matching looks, and this Avail Advanced model from Giant does it for us. Giant might have invented the compact frame, but we’ve never seen one quite so extreme as this. In fact, that ultra-compact women-specific frame coupled with Shimano’s hydraulic disc brakes means that at first glance you’d be mistaken for thinking somebody had stuck a set of drop handlebars on a mountain bike. But this is pure road machine, with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic gearing, super-strong PowerCore bottom bracket and even an appreciable amount of comfort via the integrated D-Fuse (see what they did there?) seatpost. A truly modern bicycle, not least because it proves that female riders can have the best, too.
Cannondale Super 6 Evo Nano Black (ATC price: £6,995)
Cannondale might have been one of the great exponents of aluminium frames but until recently (in fact, until the Trek Emonda came along) it also boasted the lightest mass-produced carbon frame in the world, in the Super 6 Evo Nano. Despite being lightweight, this rides like a very stable and surprisingly comfortable bike thanks to Cannondale’s BallisTec carbon set-up, which puts the strength exactly where it’s needed. The SuperSix also has proven competition success, being used in the world’s biggest bike races by riders such as Ivan Basso and Peter Sagan in the Cannondale Pro team. This Black model comes with a full Shimano Dura-Ace 11-speed mechanical groupset, some high-end ENVE carbon bars, stem and wheel rims, and is finished off with a Fabric ALM TiCarbon Buffalo Leather saddle.