Disc brakes, fat tires, suspension, the hyper-niche-ification of road bikes and — the aesthetic and philosophical counterpoint to this – one bike to rule them all. Here are the top five trends for road bikes in 2017.
1. Disc brakes
Despite protests from Chicken Little in the pro peloton that spinning discs will cause the sky to fall, hydraulic braking actually will not end the world. Yes, disc brakes do add a little bit of weight compared to a traditional rim-brake setup. And yes, we are still settling on standards for disc size — 140mm or 160mm — and 12 or 15mm front axle. But the fact of the matter is that hydraulic discs offer superior braking, period.
For 2017, you’ll see discs on virtually all new endurance road bikes, certainly all new gravel and cyclocross bikes, and even plenty of full-on race and aero bikes.
2. Fat tires
One of the biggest benefits about hydraulic discs on road bikes has nothing to do with braking. By eliminating the constraints of a caliper wrapping around the rim, it’s now game on for fun tire options.
It’s funny to think that 25mm tires used to be absurdly large. No one went larger than a 23 for a road bike. Now we’re a bit more open minded — or maybe we’re just older and appreciate the extra cushioning.
In any event, being able to run fat tires opens up your route as well as your traction and suspension capabilities. No, you don’t have to put monster-truck tires on your aero bike — but it’s great to have options.
Speaking of traction and suspension — 2017 is the year of road bike suspension. Exhibit A: the new Specialized Roubaix with coil suspension on the steering column beneath the stem.
Sure, we’ve seen various suspension designs come and go on road bikes over the years, from flexing stems to full-on RockShox forks for Paris-Roubaix. But now we have refined designs, such as the Trek Domane with its pivoting and bowing tubes.
Pinarello’s K8-S, with its elastomer rear suspension, is another example of softer-riding road bikes.
4. Hyper niche-ification
Once upon a time there may have just been road bikes, but now, we have:
- climbing bikes for light weight
- endurance bikes for comfort
- aero bikes for speed
- race bikes for stiffness
- 'cross bikes
- adventure bikes
- gravel bikes
- aero gravel bikes…
When you start drinking the Kool-Aid — and Lord knows we indulge in both the pouring and the consumption thereof — there certainly are benefits to a hyper-specialized machine. A fully loaded gravel bike with chunky tires would be as ridiculous in the mountains of the Tour de France as a featherlight climbing race machine would be for bikepacking.
We love to geek out on these hyper niche machines — but damn if we don’t’ feel ridiculous in explaining the differences to non-cyclists.
5. One bike to rule them all
Perhaps in rebellion against this hyper-niche-ification, for 2017 we are seeing a few road bikes that are, well, road bikes. They are plenty fast, plenty comfortable, and generally agreeable with a wide range of body positions. They benefit from disc brakes and the ability to run wide tires.
With geometry on the racy side of endurance bikes, are these bikes the final, exasperated solution to hyper-niche-ification — or are they just yet another niche category?
Well, check back next winter, we’ll see where this trend goes in 2017.