Cycling’s insatiable appetite for engineering advancement is no better illustrated than by the ever-increasing number of sprockets found on the humble cassette. The Italian maestros at Campagnolo made the first move to 12-speed, just as they did with 11, and were swiftly followed by SRAM. Over to you, Shimano.
When Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle won the 1992 edition of Paris-Roubaix, he did so on a bike equipped with a RockShox suspension fork. The veteran Frenchman repeated the feat a year later, before Andrei Tchmil made it a hat-trick of RockShox wins in 1994. Fast-forward 25 years and Philippe Gilbert went back to the future by winning this year’s Hell of the North on Specialized’s new S-Works Roubaix with Future Shock suspension.
How could we put together this special edition of Rouleur and not mention gravel bikes: the ultimate N+1 or the do-it-all quiver-killer? Whatever way you look at it, you can’t get away from gravel right now – we’ve got a whole section dedicated to those Frankenstein drop-handlebar, knobbly-tyred, disc-equipped machines. The bottom line is this: gravel bikes are damn fun to ride.
The bicycle is a beautifully simple invention but compare the machines of the 1960s with today’s racing bikes and they are very different beasts. Twelve-speed, not five; carbon fibre, not steel; electronic gears, not downtube shifters. The advent of gravel, however, has seen the return of 650b, a wheel size popular with French touring cyclists in the ’60s and now back in vogue on fat-tyred gravel bikes.
Aero is everything, apparently. Or rather, aero is everywhere. Of course, riders intent on saving every watt will be drawn to dedicated wind-cheating machines, but the influence of aerodynamics now stretches well beyond those bikes designed solely for the cut-and-thrust of racing. After all, just because you value a little more comfort in your ride, or you’re heading off the beaten track on gravel, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to ride fast.
Cycling kit has come a long way. As iconic as the Peugeot, Molteni and La Vie Claire jerseys of Simpson, Merckx and Hinault were, the scratchy, sweat-laden wool did little for comfort, while the sponsor-spattered, early-era polyester jerseys of the ’90s belong to a decade best forgotten. Today’s style-conscious rider is spoilt for choice with an array of technical kit also sure to turn heads at the café.
Wide rims, wide tyres, tubeless
It was only a few short years ago that 23mm tyres were standard issue in the peloton; now any bike shod with skinny rubber (pumped up to 120psi, of course) looks like a relic from another era. Just as tyres have become wider, so have wheels, with the 15mm internal width of old now extending to 20mm and beyond, helping to improve comfort, rolling resistance and grip in the process.
This article was originally published in Rouleur’s Desire special in 2019. For the month of August you can download the whole issue for free via the Rouleur mobile app. Download it from the Apple App store or via Google Play