Farewell to All That? Not Until “Drafts” is Clear!

So, it has come to this:

Big S is putting out disc versions of some higher-end road bikes next year. Quelle surprise, and now we can see if Specialized’s own gravity/market share succeeds in quickly sinking small ships like Volagi, even if they weren’t downed by Specialized’s legal power already.

No, they aren’t hydraulic. Yet. Wait until 2014, right?

Where does that leave us on here on BliggityBlog? No longer as a self-styled lone evangelist (read: I felt alone because I wasn’t bothering to dig in to other places where, no doubt, others were saying the exact same things) for hydraulic road disc brakes. No longer interested in paying that much attention to new product announcements for the unending and overwhelming tsunami of really cool but totally unnecessary bike shit that flows through the industry every week. And – dammit – most frustratingly with a couple of link-oid posts still in Drafts about disc-related road stuff. These should see the light of day: one on thinking through fork design in the new era of disc brakes (and thru-axles on road bikes; you had to have known that was coming), the other on English’s “show-stopping” NAHBS bike from last year.

The BB interest in bikes and builders has not really died, though. In fact, as vaguely referenced a while back, BB is in the process of starting (the very early parts of the process, that is) a new scholarly project on handmade bike builders. That might be the grist for another round of BliggityBlog activity in the next couple of years. By the way, that last target is not hard to achieve when one posts at the rate of once a month or so! Or we could talk about the other stuff that was supposed to be here: green/modern/innovative house design and building, the meaning of life in middle age, productivity, whatever. We’ll see.

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Road Bike Disc Brakes: Latest Roundup

The whole “hydraulic disc brakes on a road bikes are inevitable” thing that we have been bumping here on BB for some time now has, it seems, crossed some sort of critical threshold in the past couple of months. As well it should. The tone is shifting from, “here is a crazy idea that might work” to, “this is going to happen, but when will SRAM or Shimano get off their asses and make a hydraulic road lever?!” This was most recently illustrated by Velonews’ general article on road discs, by Caley Fretz. His conclusion:

Without the availability of a hydraulic road disc, this is all conjecture. There are far more hurdles to be overcome, too many for this space.

That said, with every innovation comes the inevitable “my gear is just fine” argument. Friction shifting was satisfactory, as were six-speed indexed downtube shifters. Single-pivot brakes were great in their time. Eight-speed Shimano STI was phenomenal.

We never realize what we have is inferior until its (superior) replacement becomes commonplace. Mountain bikers will never go back to rim brakes, roadies will never go back to downtube shifters. Ten years from now, perhaps we’ll be wondering how anyone rode with those old dual-pivot rim brakes.

Yup, pretty much the BB party line.

Here is a little bit of a link roundup, highlighting a few of the fairly recent contributions to the ongoing discussion:

  • CX Magazine just now put up a little piece on Tim Johnson’s disc-ready Cannondale cross bike. The Cannondale fork is quite nice as well:

  • Last, but most intriguing, is this update to the Volagi from Procyclingnews’ Interbike coverage. I mentioned Volagi quite a while ago as I somewhat randomly came across their site very early on (in the life of the company) – you may recall that they are building a brand entirely around a platform of disc-only, full carbon sportive/gran fondo/”comfort” frames with all mod cons (BB30, tapered steerer maybe?). If anyone had incentive to grab one of these Macgyver-ish cable-to-hydraulic converters (that we’ve linked to here on BB in the past), string it together with some high-end gear and roll out a pro-style hydraulic disc’d road bike, it was Volagi. Looks like they’ve done so, and looks like Pezcyclingnews has it on test. I’ll keep an eye out for the review. In the meantime, here is a pic:

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Good News/Bad News: Di2 11-speed And Disc Brakes For 2013?

Cyclingnews is reporting today a number of insider rumors on the next iteration of Dura-Ace and Di2. Shimano might finally jump up to 11-speed cassettes, which is not that surprising given Campagnolo Some of this is the obvious stuff you might expect, namely that they will be “harmonizing” Dura-Ace with Ultegra Di2 so that the systems would be interchangeable and D-A would use the better wires and harnesses.

They note:

Indexing control will supposedly be moved to a front-derailleur-mounted microprocessor, turning the levers into ‘dumb’ switches that merely send binary signals – just like on the recently introduced Ultegra Di2.

What is interesting here is that this clearly sets the stage for a “controller” paradigm that we’ve been talking about here on BB: with the “brains” moved to the derailleur units themselves, the actuators on the bars (or elsewhere) do become “dumb” switches. As we’ve also been saying on BB, this frees up space in the levers and it appears Shimano will be using that space to integrate a disc brake option as well.

Sounds like the disc option would be mechanical in the 2012 year, but maybe hydraulic by 2013. Can’t wait to see what Shimano would do with a high-end road hydraulic caliper, though it sounds like another year or two before we see that.

The bad news in all of this, though, is what will become of Bliggity Blog once I can no longer pontificate about hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike. Maybe then I will move into advocating for internally-geared hubs on road bikes. Or, I could actually write more about the state of the world, the collapse of global capitalism and the future of market-based socialism. Time will tell….

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Mother of Invention: UCI Weight Limit Edition

Over on the excellent Inner Ring, they mention a report that perhaps the UCI is reconsidering the (notorious) 6.8kg rule. The rule, for those not keen to the inner workings of pro cycling (read: you can stop reading now if this kind of arcane crap holds no interest), is of course that bikes ridden by professionals in UCI-sanctioned races can weigh no LESS than 6.8kg (which is 14.99 pounds).

The rule came along at a time when a 15 pound road bike still seemed kind of far-fetched, albeit not an impossibility. The technological march of progress has continued, though, and now pro mechanics must often reach into the tacklebox before stages to ADD small weights to bikes in order to meet the minimum. And, Joe Consumer (with $7k to burn) can fairly easily buy an off-the-shelf bike these days that weighs less than the bike upon which
Alberto Contador will win/not win/win and then have taken away later this year this year’s Tour de France.

This is the kind of ruling around which all sorts of stupid debate will spring up (just look at the first few comments on that inrng post to get a taste) about innovation, safety, fairness and blah, blah, blah. Some have taken this so far as to create a t-shirt that Sammy Hagar could love:

I don’t care much about such debates. This is not merely because I am currently carrying around well more than a minimum UCI bike weight of human fat on my own personal body, although that is definitely a big part of my non-concern. I also don’t care because any such weight limit is, by definition, arbitrary and kind of hard to justify.

I do care, however, for one main reason. Yes, it gets us back to the BB fixation o’ the year: hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike. As one of my sons likes to say: what the?! The fantastic unintended consequence of the UCI minimum weight rule has been removing the immense pressure to constantly lighten bikes by taking things away. By removing this incentive – and by even encouraging teams to add things to bikes – the UCI has indirectly expanded the market for reasonable and useful additions or extras. If you were going to have your mechanic literally add lead weights to your race bike, why not use that same amount of weight for a power meter while you race? Or, why worry about 250 extra grams for an electronic shifting system? Might as well test them out in competition, run them as prototypes, or just get more useful data that could never be collected in training conditions.

Thus, we return to the disc brakes. My slightly educated guess about hydraulic road disc brakes on road bikes is that you are looking at, let’s just say, about a half pound of additional weight once you get a workable system out there. This will come down significantly over time, of course. But, at the start, when the systems are more like modified mtb gear mounted on road frames not yet optimized for disc strengths/weaknesses, with first generation calipers and rotors, and with non-optimized wheels and rotor interfaces, there will definitely be a weight penalty. With the UCI 6.8kg rule in place, it is that much more likely that someone will start experimenting with hydraulic discs. The ultimate irony would be that, contrary to the protests of the “don’t limit innovation” crowd who oppose the 6.8 rule, the longer run necessity imposed by the weight limit would actually “mother” far more long-range, paradigmatic innovation in the cycling biz.

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Hydraulic Road Disc Brakes: Braking Update!

Sure enough, no sooner had I written more about braking options and ideas, I came across a few more choice tidbits.

First off, on the Fair Wheel Bikes blog, I saw this write-up of a newer hydraulic disc option – intended for MTB, but seems like it could be germane to the road situation as well. Rather than use tiny pistons (like current hydraulic calipers) this uses a system more akin to “bladders” or membranes to push the pads toward the rotor. The little red anodized line there keeps the two sides in balance with fluid, and the caliper body itself is apparently a single piece design. I feel like I saw another such system at some point, but can’t find it in my bookmarks file (by the way, I highly recommend Pinboard for bookmarking!). Anyway, the Fair Wheel guys note a more nuanced and modulated brake feel with these, even if they don’t provide the full-bore power of something like XTR Trail calipers.

photo via Fair Wheel Bikes.

These could be interesting, particularly for those who (wrongly, in my view) claim that hydraulic calipers are “too powerful” for the road context.

Secondly, I also came across a cool Canyon project bike from a couple of years ago….built around, you guessed it, hydraulic discs. Canyon’s approach was interesting, particularly for dealing with fork torsion loads. You’ll have to take a look at their site directly to see the one picture they’ve got up, but it’s worth the click. Canyon opted to go with a 2-rotor system up front. Yes, that means 2 calipers as well! This way rotors are very small and braking loads somewhat cancel each other out, it seems. Pretty impressive piece of engineering, although I’d like to see an update now that fork sizes have increased so much. Canyon came up with some kind of a shifting option integrated with the hydraulic levers, although it’s not clear from the picture what exactly their “fix” was; looks like extra levers of some sort.

Taking that Canyon Project bike from 2006 and adding the Fair Wheel Di2 hack…you’d basically be at the point of having a viable hydraulic disc road bike. Or, better yet, take the Volagi frame, add the Canyon dual-caliper fork, run Fair Wheel’s Di2 system, and you are there.

In the next installment, I’ll focus on fork design options…and eventually get to the ultimate goal: internal shifting.

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White Bikes of the Future

photo via Cyclingnews.com.

Nice shot here of David Moncoutie in the Vuelta this week. He’s riding the crazy new high-end Look bike (which I believe is the 695). Yes, the bike is white. However, this time I’m highlighting the Look for another reason: it takes us closer to what I believe is the BIKE OF THE FUTURE!

The basic trend is system integration of all sorts. This is not shocking – it has been going on for a number of years now, and Cannondale has even used the “system integration” moniker for quite some time. Look now takes this further, with the combination of integrated crankset/bb, stem, and integrated seat mast.

You buy this bike as a module (which Look calls a “pack”):

What are the next steps toward the kind of bikes we will be seeings ten years from now? As the frequent readers of BB (reader??) might guess, an immediate addition would be hydraulic disc brakes. It cries out for them, in fact. Take a look at the profile shot:

Not very hard to imagine those brake calipers removed from the bike. Maybe a large rear disc caliper mount (large meaning triangulated) down there at the chainstay/seatstay junction. And, picture a fatter, or at least deeper, bladed carbon fork with an integrated caliper mount at the end. Perhaps a shift as well to MTB-style through-axle fork/hub interface (like Rock Shox’s Maxle Lite, but smaller for road)

So, now you just need some very simple, single-purpose hydraulic brake levers up on the bars. And, you still need to buy your own bars…but it’s hard to imagine something that taste-based and unique ever going away.

Next step – and this is the BIG one – is a move to internal gearing. Electrically actuated internal gearing. Think Shimano’s Di2 wires and battery, but only running to the rear hub. You’ve now dropped the front and rear derailleurs, cables/housing, cassette and double rings from the equation. You have a single cog on the rear (attached to the Rohloff-like internal hub…with maybe 16-18 gears eventually), a single chainring mounted to the integrated crankset, and a couple of tiny shift actuator buttons OR maybe integrated buttons like on Di2. But, even Di2 now has the “remote shifter” button option – that is, a shift button that can be placed on top of the bars.

In this new bike purchasing paradigm, you have two major costs:

1. Frameset module/pack like you see with the Look 695. You buy the correct rough size and then custom tune the stem and integrated seat mast to your size and comfort level.

2. Wheelset. These are complicated, but integrated. Big ass hubs for large axle (in the front), disc brake rotors and mounts and a very expensive rear hub with the internal gearing. Deep carbon rims, designed without a braking surface (you’ve got disc brakes, remember), probably tubular (because you don’t have to worry at all about overheating rims and melting glue from braking).

What else do you buy?

3. Handlebars

4. Hydraulic calipers, levers and rotors

5. Saddle

6. Chain

7. Shift actuators, wires (if not built in to the frame), battery

Maintenance is almost nill – clean the chain, but that only involves spraying it with solvent, wiping clean, and re-lubing. You want to change bikes? Basically you only need to buy another module/pack from a different manufacturer; wheels and minor parts just shift straight across.

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