4 Important Road Bike Innovations
Since the invention of the safety bicycle in 1885 that used two same-sized wheels as opposed to the big-wheeled penny-farthing, there have been a plethora of innovations to make road bikes lighter, faster, safer and more comfortable. For those in the market for a new road bike or those in search of their first road bike who want to get the most performance possible, these innovations should be on every buyer’s short list.
Clipless pedals have been around for more than 30 years, and whether your plans are to race or just go for some casual road rides, learning to use clipless pedals will dramatically improve pedaling efficiency. Similar to a ski boot and binding, clipless pedals feature a cleat on the shoe and a spring-loaded mechanism on the pedal that secures the shoe. This enables the rider to maintain contact on the upward pedal stroke for more effortless and efficient performance.
Clipless pedals are also considerably more low profile than traditional pedals or pedals with clips or “baskets”, reducing the likelihood of a pedal strike with the ground when pedaling through a corner.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle with clipless pedals is adapting to being locked in with the bike. Everyone who’s ever learned to use clipless pedals has fallen at least once trying to clip out at slow speeds. But spring tension can be adjusted for easier release, and once used to them, using clipless pedals is as second nature as tying a shoelace.
For nearly a century road bikes were primarily made using steel tubing, and although road bikes with steel frames are still popular today, the rise of composite carbon fiber road bike frames have never been more capable, durable and affordable. As opposed to metallurgic materials like steel, aluminum and titanium, carbon fiber enables frame builders to “lay up”, or orient, each ply of carbon cloth in the direction that the stress or load will be applied to the frame.
In other words, while a metallurgic frame has uniform load properties across the entire tube, composite frames can be customized to be thinner and lighter on one part of the tube and thicker and stronger on another. This custom tube construction enables carbon fiber bikes to be lighter, stronger, stiffer, more responsive and more shock absorbent than frames using metallurgic materials.
Composite carbon fiber bikes aren’t perfect though, as they can still be very expensive and very sensitive to impact. Although a carbon fiber bike can withstand incredible stress loads, it can crack or break easily if crashed or impacted, requiring its owner to use extra caution. But thanks to mass production, entry-level carbon fiber bikes are more affordable than ever, offering significant advantages for those in search of a high-performance road bike.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Hydraulic Disc Brakes for road bikes is a relatively new innovation within the last five years, but their inclusion represents perhaps the biggest leap for future road bike performance. Road cycling is steeped in tradition, and although some still disagree that hydraulic disc brakes are better than rim brakes, one ride on a road bike with hydraulic discs will quell any doubts.
Contrary to what some think, hydraulic disc brakes on road bikes are not too powerful and don’t suddenly “lock up” the wheel under heavy braking. Hydraulic discs offer outstanding power modulation for one-finger braking, and because of their improved power and modulation, allow a rider to brake later with more control than a traditional rim brake design.
Mechanical disc brakes for road bikes are a more affordable option, but hydraulic systems offer superior braking power, modulation and lower maintenance. Because the braking surface is removed from the rim, disc brake systems are also helping wheels become stronger, lighter and more aerodynamic, especially in regard to composite carbon fiber rims that have been more problematic with traditional non-disc braking systems.
Although bike fitting isn’t technically a product innovation, being properly and professionally fitted to whichever bike you end up purchasing is one of the best performance investments a cyclist can make. Most cyclists overlook the benefits of being properly fitted to their bicycle, but you wouldn’t buy an expensive suit or dress without being properly fitted, so why would a bike be any different?
Not all bike fitters are created equal. Be sure to do adequate research, get some referrals and find a bike fitter that has been in the business a long time. Spending a couple hundred dollars to be properly fit to your new bike will maximize performance and comfort while reducing the likelihood of injury due to improper body positioning. While it’s possible to fit a bike yourself, an experienced bike fitter has fit hundreds, if not thousands, of different body types and has far more knowledge in making your bike fit just right.
It might even be a good idea to visit a trusted bike fitter before you even purchase your new road bike, as the fitter can properly give you recommendations on what frame size will fit best and what brands will best match your height and weight, as brands often measure their frame sizes differently.
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