If a road bike has mountain-bike tires, disc brakes and a suspension fork, is it still a road bike? Drop-bar machines keep getting weirder, and that’s a good thing — especially for those of us who just want a normal road bike.
This year at Interbike I rode a 3T Exploro — the brand’s aero gravel bike (yes, really; that’s a thing now) — with a 1x hydraulic group, a Lauf suspension fork and 2in WTB Ranger 27.5 tires. Aside from the drop handlebars, it was pretty hard to distinguish from a hardtail mountain bike in aesthetics and performance.
For road bikes, the big weird trickledown is comfort. Comfort. That word used to be anathema. We’d all but spit it out as a withering description of slow, heavy bikes for old people
Have we gone too far? Heck, no.
I love weird bikes for three reasons. One, they’re good for a laugh when you’re with your buddies. Look at that thing! And two, they can be surprisingly fun to ride in specific situations, re-infusing that childlike sense of play unhampered by The Rules so many self-serious roadies self-impose.
But that strongest reason for weirdness is this: As creative brands and builders push the various parameters of what a road bike can be, many of the mainstay bikes in the middle of the road become more capable. With the landscape widening, a plain old road bike can expand in range and still seem pretty tame.
Super-fat clinchers like the 42mm fatties on Cannondale’s Slate are too much for most of us (and curiously devoid of tread, but that’s another story), but the 25mm tires that are now standard on endurance road and even road race bikes? That’s just good sense. What we now accept as logical for comfort, grip and rolling resistance used to be downright crazy when no bikes came with anything wider than 23. But next to 42mm? Those 25s look pretty reasonable.
Or look at aero. Not long ago, anything more than a box-section rim was off-limits for daily use, and bike tubes were all round, period. Now 60mm wheels are a common sight and we’re seeing bikes like this Diamondback Andean; in contrast, small nods to aerodynamic gains on our everyday bikes and wheels make sense.
A similar thing is going on with mountain bikes. Fat bikes? Fun to ride on icy snow, but really, few of us actually wanted to buy one. But Plus bikes? Well, those big-tired bikes actually make sense for many riders.
For road bikes, the big weird trickledown is comfort. Comfort. That word used to be anathema. We’d all but spit it out as a withering description of slow, heavy bikes for old people. Serious riders knew to prefer stiff, harsh machines. Now, well, that just seems stupid.
Paris-Roubaix has long been a venue for the weird and outlandish, specifically because the conditions of that Queen of the Classics are weird and outlandish. And while most of us will never race cobbles, we can relate to getting jarred around on our local roads — and appreciating a bike that can mitigate said jarring. So while we might not triple-wrap our bar tape, most of us enjoy a bit of padding in it. Similarly, we might not.
The 2017 Specialized Roubaix has cartridge front suspension for added comfort on the bumps Robert Smith
Speaking of Roubaix, the new Specialized Roubaix still seems weird to me, with its suspension cartridge under the stem. We have seen front suspension come and go a few times, whether with a RockShox road fork or various sprung stems. But hell, I’ve been wrong about scores of other things in the past, so who knows? Maybe next year road bikes will pop up with suspension fork and rear shocks — and the Roubaix will start looking pedestrian.
Speaking of weird, I’ve got a cyclocross race this weekend, so if you’ll excuse me I need to go glue knobby tires onto 700c wheels and practice carrying a perfectly rideable bike on my shoulder.