Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Mineral exploration

This very long post (sorry) has been in the draft pile for sometime. A few bike feeds coming in early today, strongly suggested that today was the day to finish it.

Cyclesguff has been watching the developments of bicycle braking technology with a keen eye. The 2010 decision by the UCI to allow cyclo-cross bikes to use disc brakes in officially sanctioned races did provide some comfort that they can still make a decent decision. The advent and subsequent adoption of discs in the mountain bike world followed a similar path to the response of the news from within the cyclo-cross world, the initial response has been polar. Why use a system that weighs more, requires a new frame (or tinkered), forks and of course, brakes? The other camp was more than happy to view progress and be in place to help develop, refine and possibly make history.

Tim Johnson first disc-equipped UCI High level win
The reports coming back from those that earn their keep by riding a bike flat out for an hour over a demanding cross circuit is favourable. Let's not forget that they also have the luxury of swapping a bike for a clean one if the mud is causing havoc with the controls, gears etc. Just like mtbs and disks, once you had used them for the first time, it was difficult to consider going back. They worked like nothing else. Even in the early days, discs out performed the good ole cantilevers and v-brakes. Also, when was the last time a buckled rim caused an issue on a disc equipped bike?
This leads to the next stage in bicycle component evolution. The cable versus hydraulic disc brake system debate is in full swing over in cyclo-cross land. The 'will they or won't they' rumour mill is also in full swing with SRAM being touted as having developed a hydraulic brake system for drop levers. Whereas small brands are developing piggy back hydraulic interim solutions and others still pushing the boundaries of cable systems. For those readers that have used Avid's excellent BB7 cable operated discs, you'll know that a cable operated stopper can be a very effective tool. Not only that, in terms of maintenance, they are a breeze.

For those that still follow and adhere to the weight penalty claims, let's consider the development of mountain bike rims. The disk specific rims are lighter. The reduced wall thickness, due to lack of a braking surface, not only makes for a lighter rim. It also removes weight, where it counts - the extremities of the wheel. A reduction in mass in this area has a major benefit to a sport that is almost Fartlek in its adjustment of pace. The development of tubeless tyre technology has also resulted in some interesting gains. The ability to run lower pressures, results in more grip, this can also help with comfort for those riding a fully rigid 29er - you know who you are! 

I still require bounce
Tubeless tech is also amazing when it comes to reducing punctures. I've been riding tubeless on my 29er SS for over 18months and have yet to puncture. There are thorns in the tyres, but the sealant is doing its work and the pressure holds. Compare this to the tube set-up that was used previously and I was patching tubes on a regular basis. Now, you could argue that tyre tread, rubber compound, ply etc would also have something to do with it. And, you would be correct. There is also a slight weight penalty in a tubeless specific rim (it will improve), but the reduced all-up weight of a tubeless set-up is still in the weight weenies favour. The simple truth for me, is that I'm not going back to tubed tyres on a mtb. The benefits outweigh the faff of fitting and sealant peeing out when changing tyres.

The road world has also seen a few forays into tubeless tech. The well received Hutchinson tubeless clincher hasn't been adopted by the consumer to the level where it competes against the establishment. It is quite possible that Hutchinson where ahead of the curve. My summer bike is currently shod with a fantastic pair of Shimano C24 wheels. I seriously considered the clincher tubeless version of these wheels before parting with the cash. My only reason for not going down the tubeless route was lack of tyre choice. I've never had much luck with Hutchinson tyres and my experience of Michelin Pros and more recently, Continental GP4000s black chillis played to the standard set-up. The roads around where Cyclesguff ride are far from perfect, but the C24's have been faultless. I would even go as far as saying that they are best road wheels I've experienced (sorry Big Al). One thing that will let them down is the price to replace a rim. The alloy breaking surface has performed well, but like any alloy rim, they will require replacing at some point.

Now it is time for some future gazing and teasing. Will I buy new wheels that use old standards, doubt it. Will I buy a new road frame that will have a conventional brake bridge and forks that are drilled for calipers? Doubt it. Will I consider buying a 11speed electronic groupset? Doubt it. There was a wee teaser out there recently that eluded to a hydraulic groupset. For me, the smart money has been on hydraulic gears and disc brakes for sometime. The technology works, it is reliable and is universally accepted by other markets as being, currently the best solution. That tease is no longer tickling away and overflowing with potential. Today's press release of the collaboration between Magura and Cervelo has created more of a scratch than a satisfying end to the tickle....

Has this collaboration moved the game on? Well it's approved by the UCI and will feature in this year's Tour de France as Garminn-Barracuda are using the set-up. Cyclesguff has to ask, what happened to Magura hydraulic rim brakes, did they ever progress beyond the nineties? Since questions are being asked, what happened to the wonderfully sublime aesthetic of Campag Delta brakes - there is a similarity with the RT caliper.... Deltas suffered from style over substance and where not as powerful as the contemporary Shimano offerings. If memory serves me well, they where also prone to problems with the mechanism. Campag enjoyed the rewards of having the upper hand in the peleton when it came to gruppo supplier and the status helped to shift components. This is quite possibly the reason why riders of a certain age covet Delta brakes and regard them as being an iconic product from a golden era.

The exclusive one-year deal that Cervelo and Magura have agreed to with the RT8 TT for its own P5 may well provide other companies with the time to come to market with a 'total' solution for 2013. There is no doubt that the early adopters will be very interested in considering these new brakes. It will be interesting to watch how many considerations are converted into purchases.

The new magura brakes will not suffer from the problems associated with routing traditional brake cables around and through convoluted aero frame designs. The tighter bend radius that a hydraulic hose can accommodate will provide greater options. However, a few frame and component design engineering teams have developed interesting and creative solutions for traditional cable brakes.

We know that the UCI is driven by commercial activity as much as bicycle component manufactures drive frame design. The rumour is that Shimano and LaPierre bicycles approached the UCI with a disc equipped cyclo-cross bike and a proposal for the rule change. The cyclo-cross market is at an all time high, races have record entries, and bikes are selling well. There are even a few brands with disc equipped bikes. If the 'pros sell bikes' argument is anything to go by, this is certainly a growth area. The mtb market has seen growth through the once niche market of 29ers now being mainstream. As for road, the biggest news has been 11 speed and electronic shifting. Thankfully, the racing has more than made up for the lack of drama on the component front.

The drama in the mechanic's truck on the other hand looks set to become even more entertaining. The range of tech that they now have to understand, maintain and adjust to suit individual rider's requirements is a far cry from the days when Deltas where the pin-ups of the component world. A fantastic insight to the changes from a mechanic's perspective can be found at Park Tools. One particular comment that is interesting is how the bike industry has almost standardised threads. The reference to stripping and cleaning bottom brackets could be a tinkerers dream. As for today, how many bottom bracket (also sealed) standards are out there?

I told Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle not to use them....
So, what can we expect in the bike market over the next few years? Have Campag missed out on a golden opportunity and decided to follow big S and go electric?  Will the recent UCI disk brake decision and opportunity of introducing a premium product that is transferable to cyclo-cross and road encourage and inspire the smaller players to take on the establishment? This member of Cyclesguff certainly hopes so, and the UCI doesn't appear to have a ruling that does not allow discs to be used in road races. The main reasons the pro-peleton haven't adopted them is due to there being no perceived benefit. Marginally slower wheel changes, neutral support having to carry various set-ups and potentially heavier bikes (the UCI could solve that easily) are hard facts that don't make for an easy debate. Once the technology is optimised and standards are agreed to, the debate will be far more interesting. 

Readers of Cyclesguff may remember the zero bhp post. The bicycle rider in that article had a very interesting point to make about a road bike equipped with discs. Basically, disc brakes would have enabled him to post an even more impressive time.

The Factor 001 bike has being doing the rounds for a few years, their site states 

Factor are working on an all-new road bike that will be launched at Eurobike 2012. Our mission is to redefine what a bicycle can be by integrating innovative design and advanced technology to create machines that enthral their riders with an attention to detail, ride quality and level of electronic sophistication that is unmatched in the marketplace. 


Hopefully it will be in reach of mere mortals, the 001 is over £20k.  


By the time disc equipped road bikes are the hottest ticket in town, the roads around here will be so bad (cue future post about council tax freeze) that my 29er full susser will be shod with Continental GP6000s Jalapeno Peppers and unobtanium nano-tech drop bars. The integrated controls on those drops will be fed from the same reservoir that supplies the gear and the brake system with mineral oil. Geraint Thomas will have just won the muddiest ever Paris Roubaix on a disc brake equipped bike, hydraulic groupset, severely buckled rims and no complaints about traction. Wait a minute, do the UCI allow brake discs on a velodrome?

Stay upright

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