It's taken a while, but finally bike companies are looking towards fun rather than the ultra-high-end of racing when designing bikes. Whether it has been in response to people using bikes outside of their intended discipline (I'm looking at you gravel road bikes) or the realization that fun bikes have as much to offer as pro-racing replicas, there's a new crop of bikes out there and I'm thankful.
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For decades the bike industry has strictly followed the mantra originated by Soichiro Honda, "racing improves the breed." It's true, through racing and pushing the ragged edge, technology absolutely evolves.
Most innovation gets tested and proven at the race track, too — nothing will abuse a product or an idea more diligently than doing whatever's possible to win. From bikes to trophy trucks, racing has merit.
But not everyone wants maximum speed, which typically is what racing caters to. Sure there are endurance events where a component's longevity plays a crucial role, but the bike industry rarely pursues that path, instead focusing on the lighter and faster end of the market.
A new definition of performance
Recently, however, completely new genres of bicycles and gear have been introduced that focus on fun, and have little or nothing to do with racing.
Bikes with plus-size rubber come to mind. Their 2.8 – 3.0in tires have huge grip, cushion the trail and arguably are making hardtails relevant again. But can they be raced? Yes of course, anything can, but not many sponsored mountain bikers are choosing plus bikes.
What plus-size bikes do excel at, though, is making entry- and medium-level riders more confident, and you know what comes hand-in-hand with confidence? Fun.
On the road
Fun is infiltrating the road world as well. The ever-rigid road hierarchy is slowly crumbling to the everyday improvements of thru-axles, disc brakes and consequentially fatter tires — since tires don't have to squeeze between tiny rim brake calipers. Even suspension is sneaking in, with Specialized and Pinarello offering a little cush.
With these innovations, geometry is moving away from the type that suits six-foot tall men weighing 120lbs and having cat-like spines, towards more useable, ride-all-day comfort. Even with these 'concessions' these bikes are still plenty fast and allow riders to ride farther and more often, which sounds like fun.
The gravel road
Then there's the whole gravel road bike movement where exploration, seeing beyond the horizon, and figuring out who makes the dankest IPA are the major goals. Extreme saddle to bar drop, gram counting and power meters aren't part of this genre, but having fun on sturdy bikes built for big mileage is.
Finally, bikepacking. In what could be the antithesis to high-end, featherweight racing machines, bikepacking bikes and gear are built to (gasp!) add weight (and cargo capacity) to the bike.
Whether it's a drop bar bike or a mountain bike, speed is not the priority, braze-ons, room for big rubber, and stable geometry are the hallmarks. All of these things are designed to see you through to your destination and back, not at the fastest pace, but hey, the fun's in the journey.
Racing is awesome and important, but it's not the be all and end all for a lot of riders. Riding a bike that makes you want to ride again and again is where it's at, and fun bikes are the answer. Thank you bike industry for injecting some fun back into the recipe.