Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday News And Views


LeMond Confirms Gravel, Road Offerings To Come:

In the past several FN&V posts you've read about the LeMond company's new carbon fiber efforts in the cycling realm. I have been convinced that there would be road and gravel bikes coming from LeMond and was also convinced HPC's (Hybrid Powered Cycles) would be a part of this venture as well, which was confirmed last week. 

In a recent "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" article, the gravel and road lines are also confirmed as something LeMond is bringing to the market. The road bikes coming in November with the gravel bike line to follow later. 

Comments: In LeMond's lead up to these revelations, they stated that these bikes would be something "surprising" considering the brand's history, but are they really all that surprising? I don't think so. Here's the thing: In 2020 and beyond, if you do not have an electrified bike, you are not being smart. It's where the money is in cycling. Market data supports this assumption every time new figures are released. Of course, someday that won't be the case, but for now? Yeah, you have to have motors on your bikes. 

Then consider gravel, (which is the wrong name for this category, but whatever.....), again- you'd be nuts not to offer something here. This is another growth category in cycling. Not to the extent that HPC's are, but there are no other growth markets in cycling. None. So, yeah, why not do a gravel bike? 

Then we are talking LeMond here, right? Three time Tour de France winner and World Champion? Road racing bikes have to be a part of the brand. That's obvious. So, where is the surprise? I really don't see it. Now if there were, say, a tandem, or a mountain bike, or say something for kids? Big surprise there. But also a dumb move in the marketplace. None of those categories are movers on the high end, which is what LeMond bikes will be marketed as. These are going to be high dollar machines. 

The "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" piece also mentioned LeMond is going to try to bring the manufacturing of the carbon frames to the US and Europe. That would be a big deal if it happens. Also, a World Tour Team is in the plans as well. Again, not surprising, but that might be interesting to see. It also makes me wonder if LeMond might also dip their toes into gravel racing. At least in the US, that would be something that would make sense. 

The Nordest Ti gravel bike

Gravel Trends In 2021 and Beyond:

I've noticed a few things lately that are becoming trends in the gravel bike marketplace. Most having to do with where the influences come from regarding geometry for the future gravel bikes. As I see things, designers are taking cues from mountain biking or from road biking and ending up with very different bikes. Let's take a brief look......

Mountain: Bikes like the Evil Chamois Hagar are probably the best known of the type I see as being influenced heavily by MTB design. But they are not the only ones. Their is a bunch of small, third tier brands that are doing similar designs. Take for instance the Nordest Super Albarda Ti and CrMo gravel bikes. (Pictured here is the Ti model) 

They have decided on a long front/center, a slack sub-69° head angle matched with a deep bottom bracket drop. The company called "Hudski" also offers a similar design in aluminum but with a higher bottom bracket on their Doggler model, which- by the way- has flat bars. So, this seems to be something that is catching on. Big tire clearances are here, along with all the "Adventure Warts™", and all are not suspension corrected. 

Road: Then we come to the road-ish designs, which, in my opinion, are evolution of road racing bikes to better reflect the all-around uses of road bikes, or......yes...more of what I was talking about ten years ago. Bikes like the Trek Domane Disc, the Giant Contend ALR Disc, and the new LOOK 765 Optimum+. All bikes that can take up to a 38mm-40mm tire easily. Geometry is being adjusted on these bikes to have slacker head tube angles. the new LOOk bike has a 70.5° head angle! 

The thing here is all of these bikes do not have the extra water carrying capacities that the normal "gravel" bike might have these days, and yes- maybe we really have become addicted to fat tires in this space. So, a 38mm-40mm tire may not turn you on, but ten years ago we would have swooned over having such choices. That said, to my mind, these more "road-ish" choices are probably all the gravel bike most folks will ever need. 

The more mountain bike-like of the lot are NOT where we need to go to get more butts on bikes. To my way of thinking, they are neither good at gravel nor good at mountain biking, and definitely would not be the best geo for roads. So, if you are trying to get more MTB folks into "gravel", hey! I've got an idea: Make a nice hard tail MTB that isn't all slacked out, long, and goofy. You know, like you used to do 10-15 years ago? THOSE would be rad gravel bikes that could "send it" too. Remember when you used to use bikes like that? I do. 

Campagnolo Ekar 13spd cassette

Campagnolo Debuts Ekar Gravel Group-set:

The rumored Campagnolo 13 speed gravel specific group-set has been officially unveiled as of Thursday this week. The group-set was developed to compete with Shimano GRX specifically and to some extent, SRAM's AXS, although that is not a specifically gravel group. 

The expected clutch rear derailleur is here and the group is 1X specific. 13 speeds are spread fairly evenly until the last 3-4 cogs where bigger jumps occur. There are three ranges for the cassette with a 9-36, 9-42, and a 10-44 spread being offered. Front chain wheels are wide-narrow toothed, of course, and are offered in sizes 38,40, 42, and 44T. Campy uses a typical paddle/thumb lever shifter on the right side with a simple brake lever only on the left side since there is no front derailleur option. Hydraulic brakes, of course, and the typical UltraTorque bottom bracket. 

Comments: While this is "gravel specific" it should be noted that Campy has been used successfully at gravel events for well over a decade now. At any rate, now you have what 4,500 canvassed 'gravel riders' told Campy they wanted- a 1X specific, 13 speed, (because one or two more cogs is better, ya know?), group-set. 

Listen, if you didn't already know it, 11, 10, and 9 speed cogs wear out fast. But any 1X group will be hard pressed not to have these ultra-short life cogs if they want wide range gearing. The chain engagement on those smaller cogs is so acute, and in terms of times a tooth engages a chain link, not advantageous, due to the fact that wear is accelerated on the chain and cogs in those faster gears. Secondly, and I've banged on this for a long time, your chain line will also be severe in those faster gears, (and in the lower ones as well), so that this will also affect wear. Not to mention, it isn't as efficient as having a double front ring set up. But 4.500 gravel riders know better, so 1X is all you get, and Campy says so. 

But have no fear! You can buy a new Ekar cassette and 13 speed specific chain for $300.00 or so. Yes, Campy is not cheap, and the entire group-set will likely only be found on upper end bikes from the likes of Pinarello, Ridley, and on Specialized's Diverge with the Campy option. 

In the end I am very skeptical when companies start adding cogs, especially at the expense of front derailleurs. The trade-offs to have 1X that 'works' are many, and I am not convinced it is worth it from several standpoints. In fact, other than a simpler to understand drive train and maybe a mud clearance benefit, I just do not see why 1x is even necessary. Especially in an era where front derailleur/front chain ring technology is perhaps at its very best, not to mention electronic shifting, which essentially can take any complexities of understanding how to properly make a 2X work and eliminate those concerns altogether. 

But we've been programmed to understand that adding rear cogs and 1X fronts are "better" and an "advancement" in technology and performance. I'm not buying into it folks. I think you should be skeptical as well. That's my take. 

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend and enjoy some Fall riding if you can!


Adam said...

the silly thing is that 9-42 cassette has exactly the same range as, say, an 11-51T But we couldn't have that, too many grams...

Nooge said...

I love 2x for road and gravel. However for MTB I think 1x does make sense, especially for full suspension bikes. The terrain variation requires shifting often enough that the simpler and faster changes to find the right gear are appreciated while I’m trying to focus on bike handling.

Doug M. said...

1x was getting popular around the time I retired from riding road/gravel, and I don't get it either. I'll take the range and finer cadence adjustments of a 2x. Seems the party that benefits most are frame designers, not having to make extra accommodations at the seat tube/bb/chain stay area, and gaining tire clearance.

Exhausted_Auk said...

Still waiting for the triple. I'm not holding my breath.....

baric said...

Still loving my 3x9 setup. It's more than everything I need for gearing and I'm still lamenting it's demise.

MG said...

I'll stick to my 'antiquated' GRX Di2 2x11, thank you very much. I'm sure they'll get plenty of takers though...

scott said...

I've never owned a bike with Campy components. On a scale of SRAM to Shimano how does the design/performance of Campy front derailleurs compare?

Guitar Ted said...

@scott - Old Campy mechanical front derailleurs and shifters, (9 speed era stuff) worked really well. I had an old Italian road bike with Veloce' on it back in the late 90's. Campy was the first, (yes- the first) to have an electronic shifting group that worked, and EPS is well regarded. So, considering advancements in technology, my considered opinion is that Campy can do a front derailleur quite well. They just chose not to based upon what they perceived as "popular opinions" and probably also from OE manufacturing requests. Which, truth be told, trumps anything that consumers say in the end. Original Equipment (OE) contracts drive what we see or do not see on our bikes. If brands deem front derailleurs passe', then manufacturers would be well advised to make group sets to cater to those proclivities.

MuddyMatt said...

I also run Veloce 2x10 on my road bike and like it; would love the higher Campy stuff but can't afford or justify it.

As for MTBs, I can't agree that modern geometry is all that goofy. I know it depends on your terrain, but I find modern bikes are fast on XC and absolute beasts on the downhills.

I'm speaking as someone who rides a Bird Zero AM hardtail with a 150mm fork ( and it's handling is superb. I'll allow the alloy frame is stiff but there's plenty of bikes out there with similar geo in steel which are on my radar. I also have a YT Jeffsy 29er with 2.5 tyres and again, it is great fun. I don't even live near any mountains, just proper hills. Arguably a modern XC full-sus bike would be even better suited to my terrain but these bikes are no slouches.

If I didn't have any rough off-road terrain but still had access to groomed singletrack, then 'gravel' bikes make some sense, but that Nordest probably more so, as it is effectively a rigid hardtail MTB and I bet it would be sublime in the right conditions.

What - perhaps - we're really talking about is branding - MTB makes little sense if you are not near mountains, gravel doesn't quite work for those without access to miles of backroad rollers. Hence the sub-genres that become increasingly nonsensical.

In my view gravel bikes are great for all roads that are at least man-made in some way, be it tarmac, rough, scabby tarmac but especially un-metalled roads with loose surfaces.

The new crop of adventure bikes that mimic mountain bikes (some even have flat bars!) are fine for the same but also cover smooth singletrack much more ably, while modern MTBs let you rock any off-road surface, of any sort - a 30 mile off-road pedal on rolling hills with some singletrack is a very enjoyable experience on a modern hardtail MTB.

There's a lot of overlap between all three of these types of terrain and most bikes are optimised for one or the other. It's not hard to see that there is no such bike that suits all riding, and anything that tries to sit in the middle will have a hard time. There's just not enough smooth singletrack unfortunately!

I'd be surprised if that Nordest with its MTB-inspired geo didn't ride and handle pretty well though.

Guitar Ted said...

@MuddyMatt - Thanks for those comments and insights. The thing is, I've ridden slack-ish gravel bikes and 'modern geo' MTB hardtails here where I live and they do ride well. But......There are designs that don't wander on climbs, that don't steer weirdly in twisty single track, and that don't have a 'sit-up-and-beg' seated position, which out here is death for longer riding due to our incessant winds.

Yes- "Horses for courses" and all, but I would argue most people are not well served by sub-genre design philosophies and would be better off with a slightly generalized design with the caveat that at times you'd be 'under-biked'. OR- you can have a stable of bikes and think more like a golfer with the right club for certain situations.

Neither is worse than the other, as far as how you decide to go. I'm just of the mind that bikes like the Nordest are overlapping so much into flat bar hardtail territory that, well......just get the proper design then. OR get a gravel bike and if you find yourself 'underbiked', then make do. As you say- there is a lot of cross-over in design, and what I am saying is we should be aware of that. Perhaps it makes more sense to be buying a bike firmly planted in the midst of the genre' than one of these designs out in the weeds of ideas which maybe seem cool on the surface, but aren't really something that makes sense for general riding purposes. Either due to being too bizarre or so condition specific that it becomes a liability for general riding.

Unknown said...

Nice article, I do disagree though on your statement that e-bikes and gravel bikes are the only growth markets. There's one you forgot: cargo bikes. They are getting more popular day by day, not in the least because electrical assist actually makes sense on those bikes, but also helped by the COVID measures.

About all the gravel options in wheel sizes, tire widths and geometry, I can only say that I converted my '94 titanium mountainbike to a gravel/monstercross bike, with dirt drop bars, a higher stem and faster tires, and I'm having an absolute blast. 26" isn't dead yet :-D

Guitar Ted said...

@Unknown - Hybrid powered cargo bikes are classified as "e-bikes" and are included in market data for so-called "e-bikes", so breaking out those types of motorized two wheelers isn't usually done for purposes of showing a growth category.

That said, yes- those are obviously selling well in certain areas. (However we cannot give them away here where I live)