News and Opinion

Not content with completely changing the game with their wireless groupset, SRAM will soon be adding the final component to what could be the ultimate road bike upgrade. The company announced they will be offering Red eTap with hydraulic brakes from October 2016.

Despite the UCI and others suffering from the fear factor over disc brakes, those of us still on planet earth see them as the future. Well, those of us who live in hilly places anyway!

The new product, called SRAM HydroHC will be compatible with either flat mounts or post mounts for maximum flexibility. They will also work seamlessly with eTap as you would expect. We got a glimpse of them on a Canyon Aeroad Disc that did the rounds on the interwebs, so it is no surprise this is coming, it is good news indeed and gives me something new to lust over.

One of the big improvements made in this iteration is the smaller hoods. Despite being hydraulic, the hood is modestly sized. It also include ‘Contact Point Adjustment’ meaning you can tune the brakes to be as sharp or as forgiving as you like, just like higher end mountain bike discs.

With plenty of adjustment, hopefully decent power modulation and the ability to tune it to the nth degree, the SRAM HydroHC could be the ultimate groupset. SRAM said they have made bleeding easier too. Anyone who has bled hydraulic discs will be happy to hear that!

I’ll keep an eye on SRAM and let you know as soon as they provide an update.

In a sport so full of colour, why do so many British cyclists wear black? Is it just the Team Sky effect or is it more? You would think riders would want to stand out a little, especially given the difficulty we have with the roads, road conditions and the attitude of some drivers.

Look on any cycling retailer and the predominant colour is black, or black with a token coloured stripe. Yet ride in Europe and you rarely see black on the roads. Whether you’re in Germany, France, Italy or somewhere else, European riders embrace colour as part of the sport. Even shorts are many colours other than black, with most being either team colours or bright.

While black really should be the only colour for bib tights and shorts, the jersey or jacket has so much more potential.

Being seen on the road is one of the most important safety measure you can take as a cyclist. Yet riding in black kit does nothing to help that. Some riders ask why they should do a drivers job for them by making an extra effort to be seen if the driver cannot be bothered to look. I say, is your continued health and safety not worth a little extra effort if you can look good at the same time?

Even Team Sky’s new Rapha kit has a brighter look for 2016. While that’s apparently so they can be more visible on TV when in the peloton riding at speed, the knock on effect will also benefit casual riders. The principle of being seen while on the bike is obviously something Rapha had to consider regardless of where that might be.

Being seen on the road is all about contrast. If the colours you’re wearing contrast enough with the background, you are visible. If you blend in, you’re not so visible. So black has a tendency to blend into the road, shadow and anywhere shaded or dark, which is most country lanes in the UK.

While flouro leaves a lot to be desired, there is a lot to be said for brighter colours. There some awesome designs from the likes of Prendas or Morvelo and even the big brands have a few colourful options. Most of us ride black bikes, so why would we ride in all-black kit too? Embrace colour, look good and you might be a bit safer too. What’s not to love?

We have all seen them. The 40-something men wearing Assos or Castelli gear and riding a £5k bike. Many of them look more like telly tubbies than cyclists but to each their own. A friend and I saw one of these in Cornwall at the weekend and it sparked quite a debate. Namely, can you be a bit fat and still be fit as a cyclist?

I will be honest, most of the debate was less than complimentary but we both agreed that everyone should ride a bike regardless of age, size, sex or fitness.

According to the NHS, it is possible to be healthy and fat as long as you are something called ‘metabolically healthy’. Read about it here. Basically it says you can be of a larger size and as long as your internals are healthy you are at no more risk of some debilitating conditions as anyone else. But that doesn’t equate fitness.

Cast your mind back to the 2012 Olympics if you will. Remember all those toxic tweets against Rebecca Adlington? They were bad enough that she binned Twitter altogether. Comments about her size, body shape and composition did not make for a good read. She is an Olympian, double gold medallist and one of the most successful swimmers Britain has ever produced. Considering the nearest to the Olympics most of those ignorant trolls making the comments got is Olympic-sized pizzas, it was a bit rich.

However, the question remains.

Define fat

How fat is fat? A beer belly? Full on obesity? A bit of extra padding? The NHS BMI scale is useless as it only measures age, height and weight. Other measures that include waist size are more accurate but still only a guide.

The one thing that many measures that concentrates on weight seem to miss is that muscle is heavier than fat. So if you’re training hard and making muscle gains, you’re likely to be fitter, faster, have better VO2 max and good endurance but you might also be heavier.

The one thing we do agree on when it comes to weight is that more weight is less speed. We spend hundreds, even thousands of pounds on making our bikes lighter. We upgrade everything we can to shave a few grams off our bikes because we know lighter is better. The same goes for us as cyclists. The lighter we are, the faster we can go and the lighter we are, the less mass we have to propel up a hill.

One thing cycle salesmen neglect to mention is that many wheels, especially carbon ones, have upper weight limits…

So fit and fat?

We all need a certain amount of fat for the body to remain healthy. It not only provides a store of calories for long rides, it also cushions organs, keeps them separate and performs a range of functions necessary for health. So not all fat is bad and we need some in order to stay healthy.

So being fat is more than about weight. The fit and fat question has to take into account how much actual fat you’re carrying rather than how much you weigh. It also needs to consider where the fat is.

Of more of a consequence to your health and cycling efficiency is how much you exercise. That study above that measured people as metabolically healthy? Those people exercised. The ones in the study not regarded as metabolically healthy did not.

Another aspect of fitness is your cardiorespiratory efficiency. This contributes to how strong you are as an athlete and how much endurance you have. Fatter people can have excellent cardiorespiratory health, which is hugely beneficial in cycling.

So back to the question. Can you be fat and fit?

Does it matter? Does it really matter what size you are? What does matter is how much you exercise, how healthy your diet is and how much you ride your bike.

Let’s not pretend that it’s good to be a couch potato or think the walk from the car to the counter in KFC is exercise. We don’t need to see ‘real size’ models on TV, we don’t need the whole ‘fat and proud’ messages everywhere because it isn’t a good look. However, to say someone must be unfit because they are carrying a few extra pounds? That isn’t necessarily true.

So good on you Mr MAMIL riding your Dogma through Cornwall at the weekend. At least you’re out doing some exercise. That’s more than all to many people in this country can say!

A piece of news I noticed last week was a release from Kia. It built upon their showing at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during January which showcased their autonomous car technology.

Kia wants to have semi-autonomous cars on the road by 2020 and fully autonomous models by 2030. While that is a long way off, what is nearer is new tech that monitors what the driver is doing. One potential beneficiary of this technology is the cyclist.

How many times have you been nearly knocked off by a driver who wasn’t paying attention? How many times have you see a car swerve or brake suddenly because the driver fiddled with their stereo or talked on their phone? That’s what this new tech seeks to address.

Showcased in the Kia Soul EV, Drive Wise encapsulates a series of technologies that includes driver monitoring. Sensors within the car can monitor the driver’s eyes to make sure they are looking at the road. If they deviate, the autonomous brain of the car takes control and brings the car to a safe stop. It’s the technology every cyclist has been waiting for!

There is no doubt that distracted driving is a real issue on our roads. It isn’t just cyclists who are at risk but every road user. While using a mobile phone while driving is technically illegal, without any police on the road, it isn’t enforced. Even down here in sleepy Cornwall, I see at least one driver on the phone when I’m out on the bike. When I used to commute along the M4 to work, there were hundreds of them.

With a distinct lack of roads policing and a wilful ignorance on the part of some drivers, anything that makes the roads safer for all of us is a good thing.

Kia Drive Wise

As well as driver monitoring, the Drive Wise program will develop Preceding Vehicle Following (PVF), Urban Autonomous Driving, Highway Autonomous Driving (HAD) and full vehicle autonomy over the next 15 years. The Korean automaker has invested $2 billion in their research, so they aren’t being shy about wanting things to change.

Preceding Vehicle Following technology will allow a driver to drive a route with poor, or no, road markings and navigate autonomously to the destination. The car will use GPS navigation and sensors to follow the road, overtake other traffic and get you there on time.

Urban Autonomous Driving uses the same system with live traffic data to manage your journey over busy roads. It can take over driving in traffic and help avoid traffic altogether.

Highway Autonomous Driving will use lane-keeping technology, autonomous braking, dynamic cruise control and sensors to help with motorway driving. The system can already drive at speeds appropriate to traffic, change or keep lanes, overtake and navigate.

Kia isn’t the only car manufacturer to be investing in autonomous technologies. However, it is the first that we know of to develop driver monitoring. We hope it works as it could spell the end of one of the biggest perils of cycling in Britain!

After the testing this year, the subject of disc brakes on road bikes is hotting up. Team Sky tried it at the Eneco Tour and Trek Factory Racing used them at the Vuelta a Espana. Both seemed to perform well an despite initial fears of disparate braking power within the peloton there were no accidents.

So where are we on the debate? No further forward for those outside the pro circuit actually.

For the pros, the proof of concept has been delivered. There were no crashes because of some riders using discs while others were on rim brakes which was a major concern. Performance seemed to be strong throughout and while no adverse weather or crashes have yet to hit pro riders, they appeared to perform well from what we saw.

Advantages of disc brakes on road bikes

The reason for this debate is the perceived benefits of disc brakes. I use a set of Shimano XT hydraulic discs on my mountain bike and love them. I used standard rim brakes on my road bike and they are fine too.

Advantages include:

  • Strong, definite braking
  • Ability to modulate power depending on circumstances
  • Lower rim wear and more options for carbon rims
  • Better braking in adverse weather, especially the wet
  • Better heat dissipation

All of those advantages can offer a lot to road riders, yet buy a good set of brake blocks and you can have almost the same braking force. Modulation I think is overrated as roadies don’t need the kind of brake control that mountain bikers do. I certainly don’t anyway.

The one distinct advantage of disc brakes over rim brakes is all-weather ability. Even the best brake blocks suffer in the wet whereas discs get better. So for UK riding, disc brakes could make sense.

Disadvantages of disc brakes on road bikes

With every evolution of technology comes a price. Disc brakes aren’t the holy grail of cycling and do have their downsides.

Disadvantages include:

  • No mounting standard as yet
  • Through axle or standard skewer?
  • Extra weight
  • More stress on fork
  • More work to service
  • They can glaze

As with any new technology, the manufacturers come up with their own solutions to practical problems. In the case of discs, it’s mounting and axles. There is currently no standard for either, so different bike manufactures use different solutions. Some use thru axles while others use standard skewers.

Forks have to be made stronger to cope with more stress and the discs, mount and calliper are heavier than rim brakes too. While this isn’t an issue for most of us, it will put some off. There can be problems mounting mudguards to disc bikes too.

Fitting and aligning a disc wheel is trickier and doing it in a hurry can be a challenge. This could be even more apparent if manufacturers adopt thru axle.

One thing that affects mountain bikers but hasn’t been mentioned in this debate is glazing. Disc brake pads have to take a lot of heat and while dissipation is very good, you can overheat the pad. This results in glazing, where the material heats, melts and goes glassy. This compromises braking force and makes brakes squeal. Does anyone know if this happens on road discs?

I’m on the fence right now. My bike is only six months old so I’m not in a position to upgrade just yet. However, even if I were, I think I would wait until a clear winner in terms of mount and axle standard was announced so my choices wouldn’t be limited.

These last couple of months have seen wireless groupsets arrive in the pro peloton and at Eurobike. SRAM and FSA showcased theirs at the Tour de France and rumours abound that both Shimano and Campagnolo are working on theirs. It’s an exciting time to be a road cyclist!

As anyone who has built or owned a bike with internal routing can attest, cables can be a real PITA to manage. This should change all of that. I have been considering upgrading my BMC from 105 to Di2 but was concerned with wiring and battery placement. I’ll think I will wait a while to see what happens with these.

SRAM wireless groupset

We first saw the SRAM eTap wireless groupset on AG2R La Mondiale bikes as a prototype. We then knew it was coming soon as UCI regulations say that teams are only allowed to use available, or imminently available, tech on their race bikes. There was a press embargo for a while but now we have plenty of information about the new kit.

I like SRAM shifters. They do sound a little agricultural at times but the shift is solid and dependable. So I for one look forward to the same quality of shifting without the loud clicks. That’s one of the things eTap will bring to the table.

GCN got to try the new groupset and made this video.

The shifters are slightly smaller and rather than Double Tap, you shift down on one lever and up with the other. Use both shifters to move the chainring. It will take a little getting used to but it seems like an elegant and simple design.

Both front and rear derailleur use separate batteries attached to the unit itself. This saves having to find space for a bulky battery a la Di2. They detach and fit into a special eTap battery charger that comes with the kit.

According to SRAM, battery life should be up to a year depending on use. Thanks to a sleep mode between shifts, there is no need for manual power up or down like Campagnolo.

The main selling point of the SRAM eTap wireless groupset is simple operation. It would be easy to upgrade if you have a compatible frame, simple to pair the shifters and derailleurs and a breeze to use. The fact that once paired, each unit uses encryption to protect itself is a useful bonus. While Bluejacking never really took off as people feared, this security will protect you while out on the road.

FSA wireless groupset

Also at the Tour we saw a prototype FSA wireless groupset on a couple of Tinkoff-Saxo and Etixx-QuickStep bikes. FSA had been talking about getting more into the components business for years but look to have made some headway.

At the time of writing, there has been no official press release or news from FSA, but GCN did go a good piece on it here.

Unlike the SRAM wireless option, FSA’s looks to be wireless from the shifters to the front mech and have a wire from front to rear mech. This may be a dummy wire to keep everyone guessing, we just don’t know yet. The shifters look to be more along the lines of Di2, with up and down on each shifter. This should be instantly familiar to all of us, needing little familiarisation before becoming second nature.

Personally, I like the look for SRAM eTap but will need to wait for the trickledown effect to kick in. At £2,059 the price is good, but a little rich for my taste. It will be interesting to see how and how long Shimano and Camagnolo will respond.

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