This month, the Japanese company Shimano, one of the world's largest bicycle equipment manufacturers, unveiled the main innovation in recent years - the updated Dura-Ace and Ultegra road ranges. It's a triumph of engineering: Hydraulic Bicycle Brake, electronic shifting, even more speeds. The bicycle is rapidly approaching something cosmic in terms of its level of elaboration: it is cooler, it is more complex, it is faster than ever, but also more expensive.
New Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra: 12-Speed Electronic
Shimano decided to support the general trend, rather than revolutionize and add even more speeds. Otherwise, you probably would have to change too much, including the distance between the feathers, wheels, and so on. This is all Shimano decided not to do, and as a representative of the industry, I am very pleased with this: all of us - manufacturers and consumers - were not created any problems. Imagine Shimano makes a 13, 14 speed groupset - plug in any number. This will entail huge investments in the upgrade, because everything will be specific, non-standard - there is no need for it.
Is 12 speeds worse than 11? Of course not. Is 12 speeds more expensive? Of course, yes, such a transmission is technically more complicated. Is 11 speeds enough for most users? Absolutely enough. I remember well the days when the professionals on the top bicycles had 9 speeds and rode them and the Tour de France, and everything else was also enough. But this is the essence of progress: we are not talking about survival, but about moving forward.
And it did great that Shimano made the new Durace and Ultegra wireless bands. Although, in fact, they are deceiving competitors, and this is criticized by Shimano: they are accused of not coming up with something new. The American Sram also has batteries in the grips, but the realized Shimano (wireless grips powered by batteries and connected to a common battery) introduced the FSA brand of switches a few years ago.
What about giving up mechanical shifting in principle? Are the Japanese in a hurry to follow this path?
I didn’t like this step either. I own a mechanical Dura Ace road bike myself, and I chose it for one reason: I don't have the opportunity to devote so much time to maintaining the bike. Everyone already has a bunch of devices that need to be charged - is it necessary to add a lot to them?
On the other hand, although the electronics are not without sin, I don't know a single user of such a groupset who would regret purchasing it. Once people cross over to this side and no longer strive back. The crisp, easy switching that electronics gives is really hard to trade for.
But I would still leave the mechanics. After all, there are fans of long rides on road bikes - riders, bike travelers - who are rightly afraid of electronics. Because if something happens to her in the field, that's all. In cases where the mechanics can be repaired, the electronics definitely require replacement, in this case a very expensive replacement. At least in Ultegra, the mechanics could have continued. From a technical point of view, this is just a super cool groupset: tough, lightweight, clearly switches - everything is cool. And leaving the choice here would be a universal solution.
Confrontation for years: Bicycle Disc Brake versus rim brakes
- The mechanics were removed, but the rim brakes were left for now. What about the disc trend in general?
- No manufacturer in the world will produce what the market does not want. The road war on which brakes is the best has been going on for years. But ten years ago, something similar was in the MTV segment. And where are the rim brakes on a mountain bike now?
As for efficiency, the question is interesting and directly depends on the wheels. If these are aluminum rims, then I can argue that rim brakes do just fine in normal operation. With carbon wheels, everything is definitely more difficult, for carbon it is worse to brake. And here the transition to disks is justified.
In general, this is the same thing as with electronics. It seems that both have their pros and cons, but as soon as you go over to the side of progress, as soon as you try on these trends, it becomes impossible to go back. This slow drift, it seems to me, will end in an unconditional victory for the disks anyway.
The attitude of professionals towards disc brakes remains unclear. There people play by the rules, and those rules are not really meant to be frank about the equipment provided by the technical sponsors. But something is leaking out of the pro-peloton every now and then. Either the Italians complain about the disks, then Chris Froome, who was forced to replace Sziemann's "crabs" with Sziemann's hydraulics, decides to open up, then almost all Movistar, which has switched from the classic Campagnolo to the Sram disk, will start twirling his noses on this topic. In general, there are different opinions among professionals, even if it is not customary to speak about it too loudly.
- Of course, there is a share of marketing in everything. But if the audience didn't react to it, then no marketing would survive. Bicycles are getting better quality, more enduring. And they also become aesthetic, aesthetic in a new way. And disc bikes (this is not my personal opinion) people like, disc road bikes are the new "normal".
What should the rest of us do? Remember that there are medium groupsets, where all the options that are no longer available in the top segment are still saved. The same “stack” in recent years has become a very balanced, very resourceful group. Perhaps the new "stack" will be even better and on par with the technical advancements of the previous Ultegra - the standard travel for Shimano.
Perhaps, by the way, rim brakes will remain in the budget segment, because making an inexpensive bicycle with hydraulics is an extremely difficult task. The metal cable is much cheaper, and the hydraulics have raised the price bar for bicycles by a notch or even two.
As a result, a person who has matured to a bike worth more than $ 5,000 in equivalent (and in the road segment these are increasingly common numbers) wants the best. And the best shifting is electronic (with all its disadvantages), the best brakes are hydraulic. And a person will not want to save on something by giving away that kind of money.
Sadness for those who want to have a cool road bike with top-end equipment, which at the same time would remain quite a classic, "simple" bike. It seems that they will not leave us such an opportunity. Either it is simpler, but worse, or more abruptly, but with recharging from the outlet in the kit and a subscription for service from a professional bicycle mechanic.
Cycling is the new golf: have you seen how much it costs?
- Cycling has long been called the new golf because it is becoming very expensive. Bicycles for the price of a budget car: a professional gets them from a technical sponsor, and an amateur buys them for his own money. Is this also new "normal"?
- The fact that the bicycle becomes more expensive with each new round of technology is also painful for us as manufacturers. And perhaps there is marketing fault here, since the consumer immediately looks to the top.
- Has Ultegra always been such a top? And how now to teach those amateurs who are accustomed to mechanical and rim Ultegra and Dura Ace, to the fact that it's time for them to change for the same money on the "stack"? Is the upward trend in the sport itself making the sport more niche?
- I look at it from the inside, from the perspective of a professional market participant. The number of amateurs who come to cycling still grows every year. And I would argue with the claim that cycling is the new golf. Great is still not a hobby for rich people.
Very cool bikes are often bought by people who don't have big bucks or cool cars. They just sincerely love their hobby and are engaged in it almost professionally. And such people, which is surprising, I meet quite a lot even in Belarus: they can save money for a year for a cool bike, buy it and then save on something else.
Of course, there is an audience that is not related to cycling, and for them it will remain something inexplicable for a very long time: how can a bicycle be so expensive? However, the cycling paradigm is changing for so many. This is no longer something from childhood, not about driving around the yards, but rather about living in a certain style. And the one who accepts it looks at things differently. My personal opinion: if you spend a lot of money on such a hobby, first of all you motivate yourself to do this sport, invest in development and health. This is cool!
Carbon or aluminum? Or steel at all?
- Let's say we start to save on the group and choose a "stack", but the frames on the counters are completely made of carbon. Is carbon in cycling already a must-have?
- Choosing any element of cycling equipment and bicycle equipment, it is necessary to answer the main question: what is it for, what do you want to do on a bicycle? If we are talking about bike travelers, then they often choose steel frames, they need the most unpretentious bike. A carbon bike is much easier to accelerate or climb uphill, but it will be less practical - this is also true.
In sports today, even aluminum as a material for a bicycle frame fades into the background. Firstly, due to the rise in the cost of components, a carbon bike and a similar aluminum model will not differ so much in price. Secondly, materials differ in their properties. Aluminum offers fewer advantages, in particular when we are talking about vibration damping. It's simple physics: metal conducts all vibrations from one end of the pulse to the other along pipes. Carbon, on the other hand, has a fibrous structure and better dampens the effect of irregularities.
Someone will say: carbon is afraid of blows. Yes, carbon is afraid of lateral impacts if we are talking about extreme loading, such as a fall. But under the same load, when the carbon frame cracks, the aluminum frame will bend and the bent frame can no longer be used either. If aluminum deforms, then a stress zone forms at the place of deformation, and the frame as a structure will lose its rigidity. If you push her back, she becomes weak and unsafe. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the carbon frame is disposable, and aluminum, they say, for all occasions. Steel frame for all occasions, but it has its drawbacks.
On the other hand, carbon allows other bicycles to be made in terms of design, and cycling as a technical type has become much more beautiful with the development of this technology. But even more important is what the manufacturer can invest in his bike when working with such a material. Combinations of carbon fibers allow the frame to be rigid where needed, while still being comfortable. Aluminum excludes such a possibility, there either - or.
But still we run into the purpose of the bike. Whether you need it to ride the bike path or commute to work on a sunny day, it doesn't matter what material the frame is. But if we are talking about sports ambitions (and this applies not only to highways), even at an amateur level, it definitely makes sense to take a closer look at carbon, especially since it has become more accessible.
That being said, aluminum is still a very advanced material in cycling, and this is one of the reasons why Shimano continues to make top-end aluminum housings. And their cranks, for example, compete directly with the lightest carbon cranks.
Trendy bicycle wheels are more about emotions. Here, in general, everything is about emotions.
- And the wheels? Also carbon or aluminum still good?
- There were a lot of questions about carbon wheels when using rim brakes. This is not the case with disks. But if we are talking about the non-sporting purpose of the bike, then I will not recommend carbon wheels to anyone. There is no direct benefit from this if you do not drive at an average speed of 40-45 km / h: aerodynamics simply will not show itself, but such an upgrade will cost a lot.
Let's not forget about the inner child who wants to do what he loves. He's not rational, so be it! It is this irrationality that drives us, makes us leave in any weather, sweat, get tired. We are already overly calculating in all other areas of life. And cycling, like any hobby, is something in which you can allow yourself to relax and give free rein to your emotional impulses. This is the thrill!