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Tech Tidal Wave

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Technology is transforming cyclocross. Now, road cyclists of all types are mulling many of these same innovations.

Cyclocross bikes are changing, fast. For much of the history of the sport – which traces its roots back to 1902 in France – that wasn’t the case. Racers took old road bikes and installed CX tires, cantilever brakes, and bar-end shifters to tackle mud, barriers, and ruts.

Now cyclocross is on the leading-edge of road-bike innovation. The changes – primarily a switch to single-front ring drivetrains (1x) and hydraulic disc-brakes – have come quicker than a Wout van Aert bunny hop.

These changes extend beyond the pros. A look at equipment choices at this month’s USA Cyclocross National Championships in Reno, Nevada, reveals the wide scope of tech changes in recent years. Among competitors in a dozen categories including Men’s and Women’s Elite, U23, Master, and Junior categories:

  • 87 percent on disc brakes
  • 73 percent on 1x drivetrain
  • 69 percent on carbon wheels

For a specific example, at the U.S. Nationals among the Master’s 35-39 Women, an astounding 95 percent of competitors were on disc brakes and 81 percent were on 1x. Among the Master’s 35-39 Men, 85 percent were on disc brakes and 1x. 

In the ranks of the pros, consider that in 2014 Zdenek Stybar of the Czech Republic won the Elite Men’s World Title in Hoogerheide riding mechanic SRAM RED with a traditional two-chainring setup with cantilever cabled brakes. His setup was typical. Now that setup is rare.

Two-time defending Elite Men’s Champion Wout van Aert, Jeremy Powers of the United States, and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot of France are riding SRAM RED eTap HRD with wireless electronic shifting and hydraulic discs. The rest of SRAM’s sponsored pros are riding Force 1 HRD, which features the SRAM X-SYNC™ 1x single chainring paired with the SRAM Force 1 rear derailleur with ROLLER BEARING CLUTCH™ for secure chain tension and consistent shifting. 

“The biggest thing we’ve noticed was just simplifying everything. Going 1x, it’s just making everything easier,” said Tom Hopper, head of equipment for the U.S.-based Aspire Racing cyclocross team. He cited reduced issues with dropped chains and shifting in muddy conditions. “The same can be said of disc brakes. Once you go with the disc brakes, it’s more control and confidence in your braking.”

That nature of cyclocross made it ripe to be an early adopter of new road bike technology. A ‘cross race take competitors over pavement, mud, sand, and dirt with highly technical sections. In the end, the changes in cyclocross provide a model for many road riders to look at when evaluating the best equipment for their riding needs, especially if they’re looking at mixed surfacing riding.

“Cross bikes were pretty static for a long time,” said Stu Thorne, director of the Cannondale p/b team.

That era is clearly over. It's a whole new road ahead. 

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