With 2011 behind us, it’s worth taking a look at the technological high points of the season in the first annual Best of the Year review for the Cycling Gear Examiner. In looking at the top five innovations for the year, there is an overarching trend developing, one of a further shift from accepted conventions for equipment across the three major disciplines of competitive cycling. Without further a due, here are the top five developments in cycling gear from the past year.
5. New treads on offer from established and new tubular cyclocross tire manufacturers
2011 seemed to be the year when established ‘cross tire producers realized the need to up their game and bring some tech to the scene without relying on treads initially pioneered in the seventies. Dugast and Challenge each debuted new tires for the season while a variety of treads emerged from new (to cross tubulars, anyway) manufacturers Specialized and Clement. The new variety means more options for all conditions and racers can now pick the right tire for their region and riding style. While not quite to the level offered mountain bikers, the new developments in ‘cross treads are promising.
4. Shimano XTR rewrites the book on high-end MTB componentry… again.
Under threat from Sram’s XX group, Shimano came out swinging in 2011 with its new offering of long time flagship XTR line. An abundance of gearing and braking options to suit all riding styles with both a race centric and trail centric offering, the new XTR leaves no detail overlooked. Flawless shifting with more usable gears via the company’s Dyna-Sys shifting system and unmatched braking modulation, Shimano have reestablished the bar for high-end mountain bike components.
3. Disc brakes and V-brakes begin to make their appearance in UCI cyclocross races.
Like the stale tread designs offered for cyclocross tires, the brakes for ‘cross bikes have been stagnant until this season as well. However, with the UCI ban on disc brakes reversed last year, elite racers are now dipping their toes in the waters of increased stopping power. Belgian Champion Niels Albert ran a set of mini V-brakes early in the season and domestic stalwart Tim Johnson has taken out of couple of UCI races stateside on his prototype Cannondale with disc brakes. While a while sale shift is likely years in the making, pending availability of legitimate hydraulic options for drop bars and competitive weights, it is exciting to see these breakthroughs beginning to trickle in…
2. 29’ers come of age on the international stage by taking numerous World Cup races, the World Cup overall, the Marathon World Championships and the XC World Championships.
If ever there was a year where the 29’er truly came of age, 2011 was it. While many riders have long extolled the virtues of the bigger wheel, it had larger been shunned at the highest level of the sport. That all changed this season as newly minted world champion Jaroslav Khulavy went on a tear winning almost everything in sight on the big wheels while teammate Christoph Sauser retook the Marathon World Championships. It gets harder every season to deny the performance on offer from 29’ers and it might be all but impossible after this year.
1. Electronic shifting begins to make inroads to a variety of price points in road components.
The promise of electronic shifting is huge. No need for adjustment, impervious to the elements, the ability to shift under load. With the arrival of Ultegra Di2 from Shimano, it is clear that the company is going to take the electronic shifting all the way with hopefully more trickle down in the future making it available for riders of all budgets. To add to the mix, Campagnolo announced their first production run of an electronic group to offer competition at the high end. While Sram seems to be left out at the moment, there is little doubt that this is a development that is here to stay. There are certainly some early production glitches to work out across the board, as with all components, but look for more and more electronic options as the seasons progress.
With all these changes on the technological map happening in 2011, the tide is definitely shifting against accepted convention. No longer must a road bike feature caliper brakes and cable acctuated shifting. No longer must a cyclocross bike stop with brakes and roll on treads each stuck in the seventies. And no longer must an XC race bike have 26 inch wheels with only a front suspension fork to be fast. These new developments are exactly what the sport of cycling needs to progress and it assures that the rest of us mortals will be able to continually tap in to the latest in technical innovations to improve our everyday rides. With promising developments on the horizon from two of the big three road component manufacturers for completely redesigned approaches to their time tested groups, expect this trend to continue. By pushing more out of the box thinking and design, there is no limit to what is possible for cycling equipment in the coming seasons.