Five Most Exciting Road Bikes For 2018

The 2018 model year bikes are now pretty much firmly released, so what better time to have a look and see what are the most exciting ones. Here, I will list my personal opinions of which bikes are the ones to have a look out for. This list will include a range of road bikes and some more off-road offerings.

Here we go:

Trek Emonda SLR Disc

This is a particularly significant bike as Trek have just proved that having disc brakes on a bike isn’t necessarily a weight disadvantage. The disc frame weighs a scant 665g, just 25g heavier than the rim brake SLR and 25g lighter than the first generation rim brake model. How Trek have done this is nothing short of amazing and it will be very easy to get one of these frames built up under 7kg. My only gripe with it is that Trek have decided to route the hose for the front disc brake externally down the fork with a zip tie – on a premium bike, despite the mechanical hassle, internal would look so much better.

Specialized Tarmac SL6 

The newest iteration of the Specialized Tarmac doesn’t really boast any big claims in the weight or aerodynamics department, but it does promise to do everything well. I’ve previously ridden the SL5 and own an Allez DSW SL which is based off the SL5 geometry so if they’re anything to go by, then the SL6 must be a winner. Even more exciting to look forward to is the imminent release of the new disc model – it’s been on the UCI approved list and there is talk of it being released during the Tour Down Under.

BMC Teammachine SLR01

I love the previous iteration of the Teammachine SLR01 and the new one looks even better. It borrows a lot from the Roadmachine, a bike billed as the ‘One-Bike Collection’ that released last year, such as the integrated cockpit and lack of exposed cables. I tested the Roadmachine and whilst it’s an ambitious bike, I don’t think it quite manages to accomplish what it set out – I have my problems with it. That said, I think my problems with it would work in the Teammachine’s favour. My only gripe with the new SLR01 is it is obscenely expensive.

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Image from Bike-Packing.com

Norco Search XR

Moving away slightly off-road, the new Norco Search XR is a radical departure from the previous model. An adventure road bike, the Search XR is capable of taking both 700c and 650b wheels, is suitable for bikepacking with a plethora of mounting points for bags and racks and as well as carbon models, also comes in a luxurious steel edition too. My only issue with it is the size of the Norco logo on the downtube, which just looks a little out of place.

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Image from Specialized website

Specialized CruX

Now onto full-on mud, Specialized make a second appearance in this list with their revamp of the CruX. The CruX has gone on a significant weight diet for 2018 and is now a dedicated cyclocross machine instead of the all-rounder the previous CruX was – the Diverge now fills in the gap. For me, this is easily the best looking bike of 2018 and the S-Works frameset with the hydrophobic paint job is a work of art.


What would your picks be? Let me know in the comments. 

The Evolution Of Road Disc Brakes

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“Disc brakes”, I hear you say, “not this petty argument again.” You would be right and I cannot agree enough how sick I am of people complaining that they don’t need them and that they are fine with rim brakes and vice versa. This isn’t what this article is about – instead, I am going to highlight how I feel they have evolved over the last couple of years and how we are getting even closer to a better set of standards. Rim brakes are still brilliant in their own right as they allow you to have a generally lighter bike and still offer excellent braking and it’s good to see brands such as Trek, who offer consumers the choice rather than forcing you into one type of braking. Looking at a lot of the 2017 model year bikes and the majority of bikes for 2018, it is clear that disc brakes have evolved a lot since their inception into road biking. Let’s take a look at this apparent path of evolution.

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When disc brakes were first announced on road bikes, many of them were mechanical disc brake systems (operated by a cable, not hydraulic fluid) which in my opinion, are lacking. I can see the benefits to mechanical for those who tour in that it is easier to get hold of a cable as opposed to specific hydraulic fluid. However, mechanical disc brakes are subject to cable stretch and require a lot more maintenance than hydraulics which self-adjust as the pads wear. You don’t get as much modulation and feel or bite compared to hydraulics. In my opinion, they’re not really good for anything and brand such as TRP introduced the Hy/Rd which is a part hydraulic system but to be honest, I would agree with Matthew Allen’s assessment in a recent BikeRadar article that this is a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Of course they’re cheaper than going the whole hog to a hydraulic system but as you will see, as is the case in the bike industry, now that disc brakes on road bikes are no longer in their infancy, they have been subject to trickle down to lower levels.

Hydraulics were introduced onto road bikes by SRAM and Shimano which instantly propelled this technology and improved the quality of braking on these various road bikes that came equipped with them. However, hydraulics were still in their infancy. Both Shimano and SRAM’s levers were considerably more bulbous in order to house the reservoir for the hydraulics.

Shimano weren’t confident from the outset of their hydraulics and didn’t incorporate them into their groupset line, instead labelling their levers with part numbers – R785 for the electronic-hydraulic lever, RS685 for the mechanical-hydraulic lever that was aimed at the Ultegra level, RS505 for 105, RS405 for Tiagra. The latter two are perhaps the most ugliest shifters I have ever seen (although this is personal opinion) and also affect fit of the bike as it means that your hands are further out on the hoods. As I work part-time in a bike shop, these two models do complicate the fitting process as you have to account for this. These later models have been introduced throughout the years and it’s refreshing to see Shimano offer hydraulics at the Tiagra level. Whilst these systems all worked well, it was interesting to see that Shimano weren’t confident enough to incorporate these levers into their official groupset line.

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SRAM did however incorporate hydraulic braking into their line of groupsets but then famously suffered a widescale recall in late 2013 due to some quality control issues. Although the replacement was still considerably more bulbous, it was a lot smaller than the original iteration.

It is very interesting to note Shimano’s recently announced Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets and Shimano have now totally revamped the levers, rotors and callipers and have branded them into these levels. It is astonishing to see, the Dura-Ace version in particular, maintain the same shape as the cable-actuated version and this is proof that you can get these levers to the same size in order to get the same feel. If you’re going to go for Shimano disc brakes, I would say now is the time where you can finally feel confident.

SRAM haven’t yet announced their next generation groupsets but I am confident that they will follow suit with the way that Shimano have done. This just leaves Campagnolo alone in the water, who are only just beginning to bring out their own hydraulic systems.

The actual brake itself though isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to disc brakes. You also need to consider the size of rotor, how the calliper attaches to the frame and how the wheel attaches to the bike. This is why disc brakes have been quite a complicated affair over the years and why they haven’t yet been introduced into the pro-peloton. If you needed a spare wheel from neutral service, how would you know if the wheel you were getting would fit the same standards as your bike?

When it comes to rotor size, the bigger the rotor, the more powerful the brake. With road bikes, you don’t need anywhere near as big a rotor as you would on a mountain bike and at first, the standard seemed to be 140mm. However, other brands spec 160mm and some brands spec 160mm front, 140mm rear such as my Norco cyclocross bike. This standard still isn’t set in stone but with brands releasing adaptors to convert between the two, this certainly helps and I suspect 160mm will be the preferred size as time goes on.

In terms of mounting, the two types are flat-mount and post-mount. Post-mount pretty much follows the IS standard it replaced from mountain bikes whereas flat-mount discs sit flush against the frame and make hose-routing (particularly when the hose is routed internally through the frame) better. Again, you are able to convert between the two depending on what standard your frame is but in my opinion, this makes the bike look quite ugly. Each to their own though.

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(Left) Post-Mount, (Right) Flat-Mount             Images from BikeRadar

Keeping in tune with how disc brakes have evolved over the years, it looks very much like flat-mount will be the main standard and is much more predominant on 2017/18 bikes than it has been before. Shimano, who invented the standard, only sell callipers for their new Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupset in a flat-mount configuration.

The final thing to consider is how the wheel attaches to your bike. At first, quick-releases (QR) were used which are good enough but there is always an element of adjustment with them which means you need to position the wheel perfectly so your disc rotor doesn’t rub. There is also the very small risk that the forces exerted by the disc can cause a QR to loosen.

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Image from BikeRadar

Thru-axles (TA), carried over from the mountain bike world, are now popular on road bikes with disc brakes as it makes the frame much stiffer as TA’s only go into the frame in one direction and it also reduces the risk of disc rub. It is also more difficult overtighten them as a lot of them come with a preloaded torque. Systems such as Focus’ RAT system make this process even easier – the RAT system requires a quarter-turn to undo which makes wheel changes even quicker.

In terms of standards, at first there were many. On the front, 100×12 and 100×15 for example (and on the back, 142×12 and Specialized’s infamous 135×12 (more on that in a minute). These dimensions refer to the size of the thru-axle and the frames that manufacturers released were also specific to these sizes. You can’t change between them because the thru-axles need to be specific to the frame. Looking to the present, it now looks as if manufacturers have settled on 12mm front and 12mm back. However, wheel manufacturers such as Zipp give you different end-caps with their wheels so you can swap between them all and also QR.

You also need to consider how the thru-axle is removed from the bike. Some have a lever-design with a ratchet, some require an allen key to remove them, some such as DT Swiss’ lever can do both. Carrying around an allen key to take your wheel off is a bit of a faff but it does make the bike look cleaner and of course, the industry is always chasing for integration and aerodynamics. When you look at how this aspect could be a dilemma in the pro peloton, it could mean that certain riders can get their wheels changed quicker than others which is a little unfair. But for the likes of you and me who presumably don’t race professionally, surely the added security and stiffness of a thru-axle is a better benefit than a faster wheel change.

So taking all these standards into account, it looks like the industry will go for 140/160 disc rotors, flat-mount disc brakes with 12mm thru-axles front and rear. This would make sense and would mean that because these are all the same, if neutral service were to carry wheels of this spec or if you were to buy or swap your disc-brake wheels from bike to bike, they would interchange together.

Now that we’ve looked at the actual disc brakes, the models and the various standards that go with them, we finally need to have a look at the frames that manufacturers have made to accommodate disc-brakes.

Frames in most cases, need to be specific to the braking. A disc frame needs to be able to react well to the different forces a disc brake exerts compared to a rim brake. Generally, they are a bit beefier and a little heavier to accommodate this. When you look at geometry charts, it’s often quite telling to see how in most cases, manufacturers need to change the geometry to suit.

Have a look at chainstay length for instance. Generally, the shorter the chainstay, the more nimble the bike will handle on the back end and it’ll mean a shorter wheelbase too (distance between the axles, a longer wheelbase means a more stable bike, a shorter wheelbase means more nippy). However, this affects the chainline and the groupset brands specify a chainstay length of 420mm needed to ensure good performance of the gears. You don’t really need to worry about this on endurance bikes as they tend to have a longer wheelbase anyway as they are designed for comfort. However, when brands such as Specialized made disc-brake versions of their Tarmac and CruX for instance, typically bikes designed for racing, you don’t want to change the properties of the frame as if you have longer chainstays than their rim-brake counterparts, this then affects how the bike handles as it’ll have a longer chainstay which will mean more stable.

Specialized infamously tried to combat this by introducing SCS (Short Chainstay System) and to do that, it had to change the rear thru-axle size to accommodate this to 135x12mm. This received uproar as it meant that many wheel brands didn’t support this size and you were only tied to Roval (Specialized’s in-house brand) and a few others for wheels. Cannondale have managed to do this in a slightly more friendly way and additionally create further mud clearance on their cyclocross SuperX bikes by redishing the rear wheel 6mm to the right.

As you can probably tell, there is a lot to consider when it comes to the method of braking you go for when it comes to picking a road bike. But I now feel that with a solid set of standards seemingly set, now is a much better time to make the jump if you’re unsure as it looks like you will be supported in the years to come. My next road bike will certainly be disc as I feel that the manufactures have reached a high-enough level. The manufacturers will only further improve and now that they all seem to have more confidence in their own product and have managed to make the levers an almost indentical to their cable-actuated counterparts, it shows that this technology is being taken seriously.

New Releases for Campagnolo

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Campagnolo have certainly had quite a good day today releasing 3 new products to the cycling world. They have announced a new groupset to rival Shimano Ultegra, an update to its Shamal wheelset and have finally announced prototypes for their entry into the disc brake world. I won’t go into too much detail as that is all online but here I’m just going to explain the most important aspects to these systems and offer my views on them.

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Hmmm, Shimano pedals with a Campagnolo groupset…???          Image by Matt Wilkstrom, CyclingTips. Article – https://cyclingtips.com/2016/12/campagnolo-potenza-mid-range-groupset-review/

New Groupset

Campagnolo have announced a new groupset that sits above Veloce and Athena but below Chorus, Record and Super-Record. It is called ‘Potenza’ and as you would expect is 11-speed. It’s mostly made of aluminium and now has the option to be used with an 11-32 cassette, something which Shimano and SRAM have offered for a while. The complete weight of the entire groupset is 2,303g which is pretty competitive. However as a groupset that is designed to rival Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Force, it costs £200 more. In terms of performance, I doubt this being able to beat its competitors in this respect and both groupsets perform fantastically. I like how Campagnolo are sticking with the four-arm spider used in Chorus, Record and Super-Record to give it more exclusivity into the upper regions of their groupsets and of course, looks are very aesthetically pleasing. However, if I were to build a bike up I would definitely opt for Chorus over Potenza simply because you get a lot more (namely carbon exotica!) and its performance is similar to Shimano Dura-Ace.

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New Wheels

First developed more than 20 years, Campagnolo Shamal’s have been a popular wheelset and the upgrade to this latest iteration is the increase in rim width to 17mm to better accommodate 25c tyres to increase comfort when riding, similar to what Mavic have done with their wheels recently.

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Image from Campagnolo copy

Disc Brakes

Campagnolo have finally unveiled prototypes for their disc brakes which they are going to be trialling. Unfortunately for all you Campag lovers, you won’t be able to get your hands on this just yet but it’s reassuring to know that it will be released in the not-too distant future. Of course, it’s hydraulic (would you ever expect Campagnolo to release a mechanical disc brake?!) and Campagnolo have been able to preserve the ergonomics of their existing shift levers although they are slightly taller like Shimano and SRAM to house the hydraulic fluid reservoir. Whilst I am happy that Campagnolo have finally entered the disc brake market, I was expecting the shift levers to look a little nicer aesthetically. Although it’s only a prototype at the moment, it looks a little bit like a MicroShift shifter (pictured below) and that’s not a compliment!

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Mechanical Doping

Although mechanical doping has been hinted at for many years, now there is finally a case. Belgian Cyclocross rider, Femke Van den Driessche has been caught using a motor at the World Championships although at the moment, she denies having used the affected bike in the race. The motor was found in the bottom bracket region of the bike. Ironically, she abandoned the race due to a mechanical fault. Whilst we will see if she is telling the truth and if she ever will be allowed to race again, this is very serious for cycling as a sport.

I don’t understand why people feel the need to cheat. Cycling is a sport, and sport is something that can be done recreationally or competitively but cheating makes the sport look like a business and isn’t a testament of natural talent. Undoubtedly, the UCI will be cracking down on checking bikes and will hopefully catch anyone else cheating. But the notion of motorised cheating has been something that for years has been dismissed now is very much a reality.