Road Disc Brakes: “Big S” vs. Volagi Edition

Given the early (and continued) attention paid to Volagi here on BB – and given the attention this current story seems to have garnered today – wanted to mention the reports that, to borrow Velonews’ title, Specialized sues Volagi over Liscio road bike. This was also being reported in the San Jose Mercury News, following on the lawsuit moving to trial. Of course, I have no knowledge about the facts/merits of the case, nor anything to add beyond the inevitable troll and flame wars to be found in the papers’ respective comments sections, but this does seem like an overreaction by Specialized. My reaction, in other words, is in the vein of Bike Snob NYC’s, who does a great job skewering Specialized and is worth reading. One interesting tidbit from the Velonews interview with Volagi co-founder, Robert Choi, is the mention that Specialized “were almost bankrupt 7-8 years ago,  and now they’re knocking on Trek’s total sales”. Is that really the case?

If Specialized were smart about this, they would just start from the fantastic looking (and riding as well, according to bikeradar) Crux disc cross bike and build up a line of disc-equipped road bike themselves. Hell, they could market it as a new addition to the Roubaix line (which is kind of what this whole lawsuit is about anyway).

The Crux, by the way:

BikeRumor - Crux Disc

(Source: Bike Rumor’s review of the Crux)

And, if they had just ignored Volagi (rather than draw attention to a pretty small fish), most customers out there would have given Specialized credit for “inventing” a disc-equipped fondo/sportive/comfort bike! Volagi seems to have a lot going for them…but, let’s face it, the primary advantage they will have is that of being “first mover” in this area. If/when SRAM/Shimano pops out an hydraulic road disc, the market will explode and pretty soon, for better or worse, we’ll have the option for a rebranded Asian carbon road frameset with disc brakes, BB30/whatever standard and tapered headtube/steerer offered at $499 from the Sette line at Pricepoint (or some equivalent). Too bad for Volagi that they have likely wasted a year of that precious time dealing with the a-holes at Big S. But I guess that’s the point of the lawsuit in the first place.

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Hydraulic Road Disc Brakes: WHITE(!) Volagi Di2 Edition

Volagi

Yowza – two of BB’s favorite obsessions, wrapped into big tasty package! Bike Rumor has some shots of this white Volagi, built up with Ultegra Di2 and a white TRP Parabox (more links to the Parabox to come, btw) with hydraulic discs. Can’t wait to see the ride reports on these Volagis (built with hydro discs and the Parabox) to start popping up – clearly there are a number of them out there being tested.

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via Bike Rumor.

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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Ridiculously Complicated Fixes to Non-Problems: Integrated Braking Edition

This here is one of those posts I started to draft during the past summer – during the 2011 Tour de France, to be more precise – but then put aside.

One of the more notable trends in bike design at this summer’s Tour de France (2011) has been the proliferation of intensively engineered time trial/chrono bikes. With Evans winning aboard a BMC, that bike clearly got a lot of attention….but BMC was not the only manufacturer rolling out totally “bespoke” chrono machines. Custom chrono machines is, of course, not a new trend. What distinguishes this batch from prior years is the attention going in to integrated braking solutions. Google Evans’ BMC chrono bike and you will see: they’ve been working to integrate traditional calipers into the fork and seat/chain stays such that the brakes are almost invisible, save for the arms and brake pads.

Now, it appears that this approach is shifting over (at least for a couple of manufacturers) to traditional road frames as well, of which the Ridley shown below is a prime illustration:

via Velonews.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: this is an amazing piece of engineering and problem solving, in my view.

But, mark my words here: in only just a few years (2015?), this bike will be viewed as a joke, a kind of last gasp of an earlier paradigm that is now completely outmoded. This bike, in other words, will be regarded in 5-6 years as Lance Armstrong’s ’99 TdF winning Trek was regarded by the time of his last TdF (2010) entry: an odd bird and kind of joke. [Armstrong’s ’99 bike, you might recall, was a Trek carbon frame, but with a 1″ threaded headset and a massive (albeit pretty) Cinelli quill stem. This was essentially a cutting-edge carbon frame, brought down by a sizing standard that had prevailed for decades; Trek probably managed to shave close to a pound from the bike in the next two years simply by shifting the headtube size and moving to a threadless setup]

These integrated braking solutions are the sine qua non that the limitations of the rim brake model have been reached (or even exceeded). Rim brakes must die, in other words, because the “best minds in bike engineering” are having to spend their time on stuff like this in order to keep rim brakes alive. Designers and engineers are turning themselves inside out to find a way to disguise and deal with rim brakes….all while the totally obvious solution is right in front of their eyes. Dump the rim brakes, dump the cables, mount a tiny hydraulic disc back there in the junction between the seat and chain stays, run some internal hydraulic lines that need no service, and you are done. Same with the front.

If I had any insider connections to “the biz” I’d make some ambitious prediction: 2012 will see the first TdF chrono bike with hydraulic discs. But, I don’t have any idea what goes on inside the biz, so I won’t be so bold. However, in subsequent posts – on Eurobike and Interbike 2011 – I’ll harp on this “so obvious the manufacturers can’t even see it” argument a bit more.

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Hydraulic Road Disc Brakes: Braking

First off, the keywords for the BB Bike o’ the Future: integration; single-purpose components.

So, in Part I of the Bliggity Blog Road Bike of the Future series, I pointed to the upcoming/already released Volagi carbon frames as, to my knowledge, the first instance of a production line of racing and/or sportive-oriented road bikes designed around disc brakes. Just going by what you can see online (I have not touched nor seen a Volagi in person), these seem like about the best option going – at least given the current design and technology constraints. However, I would expect that, once the disc brakes on road bikes ball gets rolling, the Volagi design will quickly be seen as a v. 1.0 attempt at truly leveraging the potential strengths of the disc brake paradigm.

Braking

Right now you pretty much have to use cable-actuated mechanical calipers – probably either Avid or Shimano. Again, I have not used either of these, but I know from endless online debates in the MTB world that mechanical brakes have their proponents. However, mechanical discs are just plain stupid. For one, you still have to monkey around with adjustments, cable stretch and cable degradation over time. Secondly, they just do not seem to offer the power of hydraulics (at least when each is set up to the best of its abilities). Finally, they are clunky…and, overall, likely to be heavier after a few more rounds of hydraulic revision in the next couple of years.

So, what if you wanted hydraulics on your (drop bar) road bike, right now? You are pretty much out of luck. One option is to rely on the the previously discussed mechanical-to-hydraulic converter, which appeared at Eurobike 2010. Although it brings a weight penalty, this would allow for any shifters/brifters you would like. Another minus: it’s ugly. I will say, though, that this is pretty elegant given the fundamentally kludgy nature of what it is doing. I suppose this thing could be further refined, and it is somewhat neat to think it would allow you to swap “brifters” over time, without touching the braking system.

It isn’t hard to imagine how a nice, super lean hydraulic road caliper could look – just think of the new Shimano XTR race calipers with maybe even a bit more taken off. And, how long would it be before some crazy cool composite rotors started to appear for the road market. Like this:

Still, what is really needed is a true, purpose-built hydraulic disc shift/brake option. I would bet good money that Shimano has one or more of these mules buried somewhere on a test bike in Japan or Irvine, probably machined from Alu with Sharpie notations all over it. For now, though, this is vaporware. Why would it be Shimano (apart from deep pockets)? Because, in my view, you cannot address the hydro disc issue without addressing the shifting issue…and Shimano, more than anyone else, has dealt with the shifting issue. Which leads us to….the next episode, which is forthcoming!

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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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Eurobike 2010: Hydraulic Road Disc Option

In their coverage of Eurobike, road.cc makes mention of the oddity that so few cyclocross manufacturers are showing disc-brake cross models (now that discs are UCI legal).

Or maybe no-one’s doing anything until one of the big manufacturers brings out a credible hydraulic system that works with STI-style units. There was a loose handful of bikes with little cable-to-hydraulic converter units zip-tied under the stem, a small company called Cleg made the tidy if agricultural box and we’d like to get a chance to throw one down a muddy slope to see how it feels. There were a few instances of ‘cross bikes using cable discs but as a gritty cable can make them perform worse than a set of cantilevers and almost as bad to set up whilst being heavier then they’re not overly popular.

Still seems odd to me that nobody has come up with a hyrdraulic “brifter” option yet; here is the “agricultural box” mentioned above:

Maybe I mentioned this before, but there did used to be a cable-actuated hydraulic disc option from RockShox. Similar idea as this, but the action was all down at the caliper. Still, they both seem goofy.

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via road.cc.