Bikes to make riding comfortable
Sportive bikes are designed to make the road a more comfortable and enjoyable riding experience. With more and more sportive and endurance rides on the calendar, the profile of endurance events has been raised to a level which was unprecedented just a decade ago.
There is no doubt that within the UK, as the sportive phenomenon gathers momentum with ever more exalted events like the Tour of Cambridgeshire’s closed road Gran Fondo and multi-day sportives like the three day Tour of Wessex, there’s still plenty of scope in which to grow.
Take into account the popularity of these events and the maturity of the riders themselves, and you can see that a shift has taken place towards bikes that provide the same requirements for both the weekend rider and pro alike. This balanced approach to bicycle design has also helped shape a market that now provides more choices of bikes than anyone would have dreamed of twenty years ago.
But what has the sportive or endurance-oriented bike really got to offer riders? Who is the sportive bike aimed at? If you thought it was just sportive riders: think again. Comfort is a buzz word in bike design, which leads us nicely into our first point...
Bike manufacturers are working overtime to ensure their bikes make the sportive journey as painless an exercise as possible. Relaxed frame geometry, wider tyres, greater tyre clearances and some effective and quirky frame innovations all make sportive bike development a designer's dream.
With the sportive boom in full swing, we’ve seen all shapes and sizes of riders hit the roads over the past few years. Sportive riders are not pro riders, and the level of fitness is completely incomparable, from power output all the way down to a rider’s flexibility to reach the handlebars. It can be a long way down to those brake levers if you’re riding the wrong size bike, or indeed the wrong style road bike.
Riders need to be looking for the correct bike to match their physical ability, and also keep in mind how much comfort they’re going to need when in the saddle. There are lots of concessions to comfort on sportive bikes, features like shorter effective top tubes, higher and tapered headtubes, longer and more stable at the wheelbase, all the way down to far more intricate technical details, like the IsoSpeed Decoupler suspension system on Trek’s Domane.
The IsoSpeed Decoupler is basically a pivot between the top tube and seat tube that allows the seat tube to move independently. It means as the bike hits rugged terrain (and the cobbles are a perfect example), the seat tube can move about and diminish the shocks coming through to the rider, which is helpful when you’re trying to maintain a smooth cadence over rough ground.
Adding that flexibility there also means power transfer won’t be affected as the bottom bracket can be as stiff as any other bike.
Specialized, on the other hand, have a different system. Their ‘Zertz’ dampeners have been around for a number of years now, and currently adorn their hugely popular Roubaix, Ruby and Secteur range of bikes. The Zertz inserts are visoelastic dampers in both seatstays and fork arms that release absorbed energy in a different form as the bike hits cobbles, diminishing the effects on the rider.
A completely different approach has been taken by Cannondale, who designed their Synapse frame in two parts: one designed for optimal power transfer and the other for comfort. The bottom bracket is a 73mm wide BB30 that required them to split the seat tube at the bottom end just to accommodate it, and is designed to be as stiff as possible. But they then flattened the profiles of the fork, stays and seat tube (the latter two are called the Save Plus rear triangle) to flex and increase the vertical compliance of the ride. They also redesigned the geometry of the frame, increasing the head tube and chainstay length as well as increasing fork length and this allows for a more upright position on the bike and a longer wheelbase.
The proof that these do make a difference can be seen in the fact that the pros ride endurance bikes at the highest levels of racing. Cannondale-Garmin, for example, have the choice of the SuperSix Evo or the Synapse when they race, but you can be sure the whole team will elect to line up on the Paris-Roubaix start line riding the Synapse.
Away from frame design, the change in attitude towards wider tyres is one obvious thing that has arguably had the greatest impact on rider comfort over the last few years. Once only found on touring bikes and those in the know when it came to the cobbled classics, wider tyres are now fitted across the spectrum of road bikes from the pro peloton downwards.
To the uneducated, the difference in design between a race bike and a sportive bike can be hard to distinguish. And yet the designs – and geometry in particular – can be almost chalk and cheese to those looking to get the best chance for success from their given road discipline.
A full-on race bike is often unashamedly twitchy and exciting to ride. It will sport a shorter wheelbase and have a long reach to the handlebars for that all-important ‘aero stretch’. But as mentioned earlier, we mortals are not so blessed when it comes to the positions and ride techniques adopted by elite riders; we need more comfort to get us around our big loop.
The sportive bike with its high head tube coupled to a shorter effective top tube enables riders to adopt a more comfortable and sustainable upright position. This allows for ease of access and position on the hoods of the shifters, and it also means that the drops of the bars are higher up, so when it comes to adopting a more aero position against a headwind or descent, riding is an altogether more pleasant experience.
If you look at the Giant Defy and it’s 100.7cm wheelbase on the M/L frame as against a measurement of 98.6cm on the same sized Giant Propel, you can see the geometry differences in action. Longer wheelbases help provide a more stable and easy-to-live-with ride for less experienced riders as the front end won’t feel quite as lively.
There’s almost certainly no component to have made such an impact, or create such a stir in the last few years, as the introduction of disc brakes into the notoriously traditional realm of road cycling. So much so that the UCI (the cycling world governing body) is still yet to sanction the use of disc brakes at the sharp end of professional road racing.
Bike manufacturers across the world have had no so such issues when it comes to putting disc brakes on their creations however. Depending on your target price point, sportive bikes either come fitted with cable disc brakes, like Cannondale’s Synapse 105 5 that retails at a penny under the magic thousand pound mark, while at the other end of the scale is the Trek Domane 6.9 disc that sports Dura-Ace Di2 in conjunction with Shimano’s R785 hydraulic disc brakes. The big brands have also clearly identified sportive riders as their target demographic as far as disc brakes on the road are concerned, and the bikes they’ve appeared on are testament to that: Trek have a disc Domane, but not Madone; Specialized have a disc Roubaix/Tarmac but not Venge and Cannondale have the Synapse disc but the SuperSix remains untouched. Plus, there are no UCI restrictions in the real world, so brands are free to go to town with innovations on bikes for consumers.
The benefits derived from disc brakes are well documented: greater all-weather stopping power, better modulation, won’t gradually wear away your wheel rims and any added weight is minimal and held centrally at the hub anyway avoiding any rotational penalty. All of which arguably have more ‘real world’ applications than benefits for the professionals. And from a functional point of view, what’s there not to like? Aesthetically, the clean look of disc brakes doesn’t look all that out of place on a road bike and once the pro peloton gets their hands on them, the die-hard cantilever brigade will soon be left out in the cold.
Perched high at the top of the disc brake tree sits Shimano’s Ultegra hydraulic system as found on Cannondale’s Synapse Disc Black-Inc. Bikes like these are part of the new stock of sportive steeds that tick all the right boxes when it comes to finding that sweet-spot compromise in in both frame design and componentry.
Changing trends in sportive and endurance cycling have led the way to new developments across the whole spectrum of road cycling. From pro level all the way down to the weekend leisure rider, comfort and ease of riding are the new trends.
But endurance-oriented bikes should not necessarily be seen as an easy option in road riding. Yes, they may be easier to control and offer higher levels of comfort, but that’s just the point. Sportive bikes are there to be used (and abused) by all levels of riders. Just check out who’s won what on a sportive bike when it comes to the spring classics over recent years and you’ll see how good these bikes really are.
Cervelo, Specialized, Cannondale, Trek and more have found fame on the cobbles with bikes that have already been mentioned in this article. The advent of the Endurance bike has categorically blurred the lines between race and sportive bikes that used to be so clear. No longer is there one bike for racing and one for training/leisure, you really can get something that’s designed for both purposes. If you wanted even more proof as to why you should purchase a quality sportive bike over a pure race bike, then here it is!
Compact chainsets driving cassettes with ever increasing larger spacings are designed to help get us up those challenging hills without enduring the walk of shame. Gearing systems like SRAM’s highly acclaimed WiFli boasts a rear cassette that includes an impressive spread of usable gears from 11 all the way up to 32t. And if compact gearing has been good enough to help Alberto Contador up the toughest of Alpine ascents in the past, then it’s got to be ok for the rest of us, surely?