Once upon a time road bike frames were simply made of rounded tubes of steel welded together. Then there was aluminium. Fast forward to recent times, carbon is the buzz word and any reputable bicycle company who wants to be taken seriously must have top-end carbon models.
So part of the problem now for anyone who is looking to get a road bike or upgrade to a better road bike is the wide plethora of models available in the market. Do I want a super stiff frame? Do I want something more comfortable? Or do I want a ‘do-it-all’ road bike? Based on observation, it seems like there are currently 2 big trends in terms of road bikes: the choice of Aero and Gran Fondo.
Aero Road Bikes
The trend of Aero road bikes, i.e. road bikes with aerodynamic features such as aero-shaped frame tubing, hidden (from the wind) brakes amongst others, was probably started by Cervelo with their venerable aluminium Soloist model more than a decade ago. One can think of aero bikes as a road bike with features of a time-trial bike meshed together. As with any new trend, many were puzzled or even ridiculed Cervelo for their early adoption of Aero bikes. Look who’s laughing now.
The classic first generation aero bike, the Cervelo Soloist
One could say it’s part marketing and part ‘professionally-tested’ that aero bikes are better and provide some kind of advantage, especially over long races (saving x no. of watts over a certain distance). There’s no shortage of aero bikes out there by most bike manufacturers: Specialized has their Venge range, BMC has their TMR 01, Scott’s Foil, Ridley’s Noah,Trek’s 7 series and of course, Cervelo’s S-series bikes. The list goes on. Even French company Look had a prototype ‘695 Aero’ model on display at EuroBike this year.
The prototype LOOK 695 Aero. Note the integrated front brake at the fork crown
However, it seems that aero road bikes are more race-oriented, aggressive and arguably unsuitable for the average weekend cyclists. Let’s be honest, how many among us have the means to unleash the full capabilities of a road race machine? Of course there are exceptional ‘power riders’ out there but for most of us, it is probably overkill or for the ‘snob appeal’ of owning an aero bike.
Gran Fondo Bikes
You may ask: “What is Gran Fondo?”
Gran Fondo actually means long distance or great endurance and races are usually 160-225km long. In recent times, there has been a spurt of such long distance cycling events in Europe and North America. Professional road cyclist, American Levi Leipheimer of Omega-Pharma Quickstep has his own Grand Fondo charity ride event which concluded last weekend. In our region, events like Kuantan Century Ride and Cyclo Sportif in Malaysia are fast gaining popularity with locals and international participants alike (many of them Singaporeans and Indonesians).
BMC’s answer to Gran Fondo riders: The BMC GF01
Typically, many of these events/rides/races cover long distance and most riders would not want a bike with a harsh ride quality considering long spells on the saddle and would appreciate a ‘slacker’ geometry (usually taller head tube and longer chain stays). Bike manufacturers noticed the trend of more recreational and fitness riders going for such events and have introduced ‘Gran Fondo’ specific road models in their product line-up. Swiss bicycle company BMC introduced the uncreatively named Gran Fondo GF01 road bike (see above) this year just prior to the ‘Hell of the North’ Classic with Alessandro Ballan coming in 3rd on board the same machine. Trek of USA also unveiled their Domane model, with a special coupling suspension system between the seat tube and chain stays under Fabian Cancellara of RadioShack Nissan-Trek. Cervelo had their R-series for some time, oriented towards comfort and harsh conditions that most riders might face at Gran Fondo events. Look also released their new 675 model which I had the privilege to take out for a spin at EuroBike’s Demo Day!
The LOOK 675 at EuroBike Demo Day. That’s my hand holding it by the way. An unforgettable ride
I’m not sure if the classification of aero and Grand Fondo road bikes made it easier for those who are in the midst of searching for a new road bike but broadly speaking, if you are an aggressive rider who wants a race rocket, you probably won’t go wrong with an aero bike. On the other hand, if you prefer comfort and an endurance-oriented kind of ride then the Gran Fondo type of bike is the way to go. My personal preference is the latter.