Fitness: A Mini-revolution In Bicycle Design

Features, Lifestyle I By Tom Martin I April 14, 2021

Editor’s note: Winding Road is adding bicycle coverage. This is in large part because many experienced track and race car drivers have found that cycling is a great fitness approach. It works on health, endurance, strength and hand-eye skills. It is fun and you can do it regularly, which is key to fitness regimes. 

The bicycle as we know it was invented about 140 years ago. This was about the same time as the car was invented. One could argue that the bike has changed far less than the car, because bike design is simpler, but also because bike design is measured in incremental units. Cycling is also very tradition-bound. That is changing but needs to change more.

The article below explains well how the gravel bike phenomenon has been a kind of slap in the face for the industry, in a good way. I would simply add that another slap is needed.  The people responsible for road bike  design (product managers) are pretty stingy with room for bigger tires. Not gravel bike big, but road bike right. From my testing, room for 35mm tires is key. Designers almost always stop at 30 or 32mm and act as if these tires were huge. I get that 32mm seems a lot bigger than 25mm, but I say not enough to really make a comfortable drop-bar urban bike for serious fitness riders (chip/seal, pavement breaks, potholes, uneven asphalt, some gravel between rideable sections). And I don’t see that allowing room for 35mm tires is that hard because it isn’t going to radically change the geometry vs 30mm or 32mm. 

(Note: 35mm is 50% bigger than 28mm volumetrically. 32mm is 30% bigger than 28mm. 30mm, which is sometimes marketed as a big deal, is 15% bigger than 28mm.)

My basic argument is that gravel as a bike category was a great realization that “road” riders weren’t always on roads. But to really do gravel you need to go to 42 or 47 mm tires. Or you need an MTB. Those are different bikes geometrically (and maybe groupset-wise) than the real long-distance urban/suburban drop-bar bike that most riders need for group rides and weekend training. This latter urban road bike is pretty much what Trek builds with the Domane and Giant with the Defy/Contend, so it does exist. It is just weirdly rare because the industry doesn’t have a name for it with a clear use case. It should.

Read more on the strangeness of bike category-think here.

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