After years of slow evolution in the road bike world, 2015 ushered in a few big trends.
This year we saw aero bikes that delivered that elusive mix of speed and great ride quality. We were swept up in a tidal wave of gravel/adventure/still-don’t-have-a-singular-term-for-them bikes, which in turn celebrate two other big trends in road bikes: disc brakes and wide tires. Finally, 2015 was the year of digital quantification — witness the slew of power meters, cycling computers, integrated heart-rate monitors, fitness tools, etc. — as well as virtual cycling, with Zwift having entered the roadie lexicon.
Here we take a look back at the six big stories of 2015.
Aero road bikes
Cervélo can be credited with the first major aero road bike, dating back to the 2002 Soloist. But Trek and Specialized stole the show this year, with the Madone and the Venge ViAS, with impressive wind-tunnel numbers and equally impressive ride quality. The Madone and the ViAS have very different road manners, the former being eerily smooth and the latter feeling just like a Tarmac.
Scott thoroughly overhauled its Foil this year, ramping up the comfort (hooray!) but tucking the rear brake under the chainstays (boo!). And Cervélo’s latest S5 hit shops this year as well.
Other 2015 road bikes of note:
Disc brakes on road bikes
After years of hang wringing and furrowed brows, the UCI tested the mystic waters of disc brakes in the professional peloton in at test events towards the end of the 2015 season. Questions surrounded their use. Will 140mm or 160mm rotors be used? What axle standard will be employed? Would crashes be caused? And would the sky, in fact, come crashing down?
We now have answers to three of those questions.
For 2016, UCI racing will feature disc brakes with 160mm rotors, 12x100m front thru-axles and 12x142mm rear axles. Teams and thus neutral service will use these standards.
“It is an agreement that has been agreed to ensure the trial will run as smoothly as possible,”UCI press officer Louis Chenaille told BikeRadar.
While driven by racing and not written in stone forever and ever, it is likely that this working standard will drive decisions for the bikes and wheels that the rest of us will see for sale in 2016.
Related reading: Road disc brakes – everything you need to know
Gravel / adventure bikes
Our wish for 2016? That the bike industry comes up with a better name than gravel / adventure for this new category of fat-tire, super-slack, disc-brake road machines. We vote for adventure, as very few folks actually ride full-on gravel roads. But having an adventure on a bike, now who can’t get behind that?
This year brands big and small unleashed a torrent of G/A bikes, with the wildest of them all award going to the Cannondale Slate, with its one-legged suspension fork up front, 650b wheels and its unabashed ability to generate double takes from mountain bikers and roadies alike.
Other bikes of note in this category:
Fat is fast: 25mm FTW
The 25mm width wasn’t created in 2015. But this was the year the pros, the bike brands and most everyday riders finally seemed to agree that 25 is generally better than 23. Why? Lower rolling resistance and a little more comfort.
Related reading: Bicycle Tires – puncturing the myths
The digital, quantified cyclist
How many miles did you ride this year? How many feet did you climb? Chances are, you have an app on the smartphone in your pocket that will tell you this plus a lot lot more.
Polar founder Seppo Säynäjäkangas invented the first wireless heart rate monitor in 1977 to aid with cross-country ski training. Uli Schoberer made his first SRM power meter in 1986.
Fast forward to 2015, and we have heart-rate monitors built into watches, undershirts and even helmets. Power meters are seemingly everywhere with brands challenging each other on lowering prices. (PowerTap will start at $599 in 2016.)
Other digital tools available to cyclists include scales with body-fat measurements, sleep monitors, muscle-oxygenation monitors and of course the ubiqitious Garmin computer.
What brings all these together in a meaningful way are sites or apps like Strava, TrainingPeaks or GarminConnect that crunch the numbers for you and deliver bite-sized graphics letting you know totals, averages and how far you are towards a goal.
As with quantified measurement, virtual cycling did not begin in 2015. But, similarly, this year was where it hit its stride with a single brand redefining what riding a trainer alone can mean.
Zwift took the basic concept CompuTrainer created years ago and launched it into the modern era, allowing a solitary rider with a trainer and a computer or tablet to ride with people around the world in an engaging videogame.
Many other options exist for driving the visuals on your screen with the pedals of your trainer-mounted bike. Some, like CycleOps Virtual Training, pair videos shot from bikes with GPS profiles, allowing you to ‘ride’ Alpe d’Huez and other iconic routes. Others, like Bkool, offer the head-to-head competitive model. But many of these are extensions of trainer brands.
With its trainer-agnostic platform — and a seemingly unlimited supply of engineering muscle and investment cash — Zwift has redefined indoor riding.