Why do we have so much crap strapped, bolted and otherwise temporarily fixed to our road bikes? Imagine your car with the speedometer zip-tied onto the steering wheel, the headlights held on with gummy rubber straps, and the spare wheel held onto the bumper with Velcro. That would be ridiculous. So why can't our bikes be more integrated? Well, because integration is often a nightmare.
Being a somewhat pretentious roadie, I like function that is tucked neatly into form, such as a tiny Stages power meter on the inside of a Dura-Ace crank or electronic satellite shifters from SRAM or Shimano all but hidden under the bar tape. Contrast those things to, say, a GoPro mounted atop a helmet, sticking out like an airplane's landing flap, or a giant saddle bag swinging in the wind like a bull's undercarriage.
My ideal road bike would have all the bells and whistles neatly incorporated into the design. Internal cabling is a start. But I want a GPS computer flush-mounted inside my stem, front and rear lights built into my frame, and flat-fixing supplies stowed out of sight.
INTEGRATION DONE RIGHT
- Brake/shift levers
- ANT+ sensors built into the frame, à la Trek and Giant
- Specialized SWAT storage
INTEGRATION DONE WRONG
- One-piece bar/stems
- One-piece saddle and seatposts
- Helmets with built-in sunglass shields
INTEGRATION THAT CAN WORK WELL BUT OFTEN DOESN'T
- One-off axle widths
- One-off brakes
- Most anything designed to pair with a smartphone
I do appreciate the problem-solving inventiveness of brands like Knog or K-Edge, making add-ons as pretty and functional as possible. A Garmin mounted low and flush with the stem on a machined K-Edge mount looks pretty good, and certainly worlds better than a homemade nest of electrical tape like I've seen more than once on pros' bikes.
But what if a mount wasn't needed at all? What if Garmin and a stem maker collaborated to make a single unit? I'm not talking about those mounts from Enve or 3T that bolt to their stems, although those are headed in the right direction. Imagine a wide stem like the PRO Vibe Sprint Cavendish with a Garmin inside it.
What if all this stuff was part of the bike?
With my kids' bikes, it's nice to be able to pop a Knog light on or swap it to another kid's bike when they somehow lose the first one I put on there. A better solution? An integrated light set that never needs to be charged, and cannot be lost or stolen.
What about the power source, you ask? Better city bikes have integrated lights, often using friction from a wheel to power the beams. This obviously won't fly with high-end road bikes, but perhaps the lights and GPS computer could be wired into the central Di2 battery on electric Shimano bikes. Cannondale has made a small step towards integrated lights, with a rubbery LED collar mounted on the steerer tube of the Synapse like a tall spacer.
Similarly, power meters should just come as part of a high-end bike. Raleigh offered three 2015 bikes with a stock PowerTap, and Specialized's über-expensive 2016 Venge ViAS S-Works comes with a Quarq power meter. These are the only examples I know of; there should be more.
While you can chalk some of this up to the business model – shops and brands want to upsell us on additional bits and pieces – there's a simpler answer, too: integrated stuff by definition is incompatible with a lot of other stuff. And for integrated stuff to be successful, it's got to be good enough to render incompatibility a non-issue. Like Shimano STI kind of good.
Aero bikes are great examples of the compromises made in the name of integration. The new Trek Madone, for instance, is an incredible bike: fast and super smooth. But the damn one-piece handlebar/stem is what it is. Hope you like the angles! Specialized opted for some adjustability in the separate bar and stem on its ViAS – but as the folks at Trek will be pleased to point out, the one-off integrated brakes on the ViAS are not the easiest to service.
There are two hurdles to a built-in computer: structural design and a computer that's good enough to forego a Garmin
Other ideas that sound good but don't work well in practice include one-piece saddle/seatpost combos and helmets with built-in sunglass shields. Give me a good pair of sunglasses any day.
Some early attempts at integration were close, but not close enough, like Shimano's Flight Deck computer that you could control with buttons on the STI levers and see your gear selection as well as other traditional information on the screen. Now ANT+ is making that type of clean integration possible. SRAM engineers, for example, have some prototype gear-selection screens on their Garmin Edge computers that they are using with eTap, and Shimano already has this dialed with the latest Dura-Ace Di2.
Specialized has a few great examples of functional integration with its SWAT line, such as a chain tool that fits inside a headset, or tool compartments inside the bike frame. Triathlon bikes from a few brands like Trek, Scott and Giant show promise, too. Obviously huge bolt-on boxes are impractical and just plain ugly for road bikes, but many of the basic integration ideas could transfer.
Clean integration can be done. Get cracking, road bike engineers!