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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Volagi: In Motion!


(Source: Thinly Sliced, Generously Served)

As a brief aside to the Specialized vs. Volagi matter, figured I would toss up this photo of a Volagi in motion (taken from a brief interview, click the link and look around to see another interview with the other co-founder). What is funny (to me) is how infrequently I see pictures of road bikes with disc brakes actually being ridden! The front-end integration and simplicity here is quite pleasing. Imagine some Di2 shifting and minimalist cabling and it’s already a whole lot better.

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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.

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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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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Hydraulic Road Disc Brakes: Interbike 2010 Edition

Sorting through the Interbike 2010 coverage (and post coverage), one can pull a few different threads together to weave a more complete vision of the Bliggity Blog ROAD BIKE OF THE FUTURE. In any event, a couple of interesting “proof of concept” type things popped up…as well as the first, full-fledged, market-ready framesets it would seem.

Let’s start with the disc-ready framesets, because that is probably the most exciting – or certainly the most important in terms of reasonable disc-ready bikes getting to market. There are now two bikes out by the Volagi company, which it appears was started by two engineer types who left Specialized. I assume they are in Northern CA as the pictures on their site are straight out of Sonoma County – Geysers and Pine Flat would be my best guess. Volagi seems to be aiming for the high-end endurance/Gran Fondo market opened by Specialized’s Roubaix and Cannondale’s Synapse lines a few years back. Here is the Venga SL model, shown at Interbike:

via procyclingnews.com

There are many great things about these bikes even apart from the disc brakes; the quick rundown would be:

– full carbon construction

– taller headtubes for comfort and position, without having to resort to crazy high post or a riser stem

– BB30 bottom bracket

– cool looking cantilevered seat mast design that probably offers a supple ride

– integrated fender mounts

– ability to run most any size tires without worrying about clearance

In short, you’ve got all of the features that are becoming standard for high-end carbon frames (and presumably this could quickly include a tapered steerer setup as well).

Then, of course, you’ve got the disc brakes:

That fork in particular seems really nice. Would love to know about how it works in practice, as the road disc skeptics usually argue that standard forks can’t handle the torque from braking down at the tips. More on this to follow…

So, what else do you need?

  • hydraulic discs
  • shifting options that work with hydraulic
  • fork (and frame) redesign that can take advantage of the options opened by hydraulic discs

I’ll take each in turn in the posts to come!

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