Over the past year, cycling technology has seen great gains—from aerodynamic helmets that actually make riders faster, to sexy hydraulic rim road brakes that offer super modulation and stopping ease. Now that the Tour de France is well under way, the public is getting its first glimpse of the latest in tour tech. This week, some of that same gear will likely pop up in Bend at the 34th annual Cascade Cycling Classic (July 16-21)—both on bikes and competitors. I checked in with tech wiz John Frey, manager at Hutch's Bicycles, to get the latest and greatest in sexy cycling trends.
Specialized S-Works Evade, $250 and Giro Air Attack, $200: Keen cycling fans likely have noticed the odd-looking, '80s-era throwback helmets tour riders have been wearing the past two seasons, like something from the movie Tron. While funny-looking, those rounded, near-ventless helmets are much more than a fashion statement. The new offerings from Giro (Air Attack) and, just this spring, Specialized (Evade), improve aerodynamics in everyday riding and racing—not just in time trial events.
Pro cycling teams and amateurs alike long have agonized over aerodynamic bikes, wheels and riding positions; helmets are finally getting their due. After years of adding more and more vents for cooling purposes, manufacturers now are going with a less-is-more approach. And the new designs are creating significant gains. Aerodynamic helmets, like the two pictured above, are 12 percent more aero than a traditional, top-of-the-line road helmet, like the Giro Aeon. Over 40 kilometers, that kind of efficiency will shave off 17 seconds.
Don't be fooled by the lack of vents. Riders will stay cool with the new lids, too. The six openings on the Giro model have internal channels which pull air past the rider's dome, creating a cooling effect. Additional bonus: Unlike the even more humorously beak-shaped dedicated time trial helmets, which can only be used in time trial events, the helmets listed above are road race legal. This year, Mark Cavendish is wearing the Specialized Evade; it's already helped net him one Tour victory as of July 4.
Rapha Pro Team Jersey, $210: "It can get balls hot during the race," Frey said of the six-day Cascade Classic. And just because riders are covering their twiggy arms and legs with glorified underwear, don't think those body parts are totally protected from the sun. Enter bike jerseys with SPF. The latest jerseys not only have special under-arm venting, some also have built-in SPF (the Rapha jersey listed above has an SPF rating of 50-plus). Rapha's classy black jersey (a similar version is worn by Team Sky, home to assumed Tour winner Chris Froome and Bend's Ian Boswell) also boasts "coldblack technology," which is said to be 9 degrees Celsius cooler than non-treated black fabrics, making it just as cool as light-colored jerseys. Whoa. Science.
Other outdoor clothing, like fishing shirts and "adventure travel wear" (zip-off pants? shudder...), have long incorporated SPF into clothing. It's good to see sun-intensive sports like cycling jump on board the skin cancer-prevention boat.
Continental Grand Prix 4000 S, $70: Look for teams at this year's Cascade Classic to be running wider-than-usual, clincher tires (the traditional tube-and-tire pairing, rather than tubulars, or glue- or sewn-on tires). Central Oregon's chip-sealed roads are annoyingly slow and bumpy. Today's modern clincher tires, once thought inferior to tubulars because of their heft and ride quality, are comparable to the expensive and impractical glue-on jobs the pros often use. Tires like the Continental Grand Prix 4000 S are lighter and roll better than any earlier variety of clincher.
Frey said conventional wisdom is to put road tires up over 100 psi and go for it. But new data shows that, as far as rolling resistance is concerned, that's just not the case. Frey expects CCC riders to choose "wider, floaty-er 25 c tires" rather than the razor-thin 21 and 23 c tires of old. Around Bend, especially given all the awesome gravel-road riding available, 25 c should be the smallest tire riders consider buying.
Shimano Di2 Dura Ace Rear Derailleur, $760: While a $750 derailleur is nothing more than a pipe dream for most riders, Shimano's new digital shifting (read: cable-less) is worth lusting after. Electronic shifting is precise and remarkably easy to tune—if need be, riders can easily make adjustments on the fly. And, Frey said, "the new Dura Ace is unbelievably reliable." It better be for $750. Frey estimated 20 to 30 percent of the Tour de France pros are using new digital shifting. Expect a big jump over the next couple of years and, as technology improves, look for prices to drop.
Speaking of drive trains, 11-speed rear cassettes are becoming the norm as every major manufacturer is now making just such a gear cluster. Now everyone, from the Tour's top climbers to Bend amateurs, will have access to an even greater number of gear combinations.
SRAM S-700 Hydraulic Rim Brake, $572: Hydraulic brakes are perhaps the most exciting new trend to debut at this year's Tour. Mark Cavendish is using the new SRAM rim brake version (rather than a disc brake version, still illegal in pro road races) to great success (his post-race stage six hissy fit aside).
"The industry really wants to go to disc brakes," Frey said. But compatibility, tradition and antiquated rules are blocking the path of innovation. Hydraulic brakes are gaining in popularity because they're safer and require less effort to actuate. The ease of modulation and lack of brake-fade and cable stretch make them more desirable than traditional mechanical brakes. One more thing to note: They're not exactly more powerful than the brakes on most bikes. If they were, riders would lock up their wheels and lose control—a decidedly undesirable scenario. Hydraulic rim brakes also weigh about 100 grams more.