At every bike show, people constantly stop me in the aisles and ask, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen at the show?” Or, when I visit people in their booths, they’ll often say, “I’ve been stuck in my booth the whole show. If I can get out for a bit, what’s the one (or two or three) thing(s) I should see?”
Most years, my answers tend to be somewhat obscure things that are unique and innovative but don’t tend to be big-ticket items. This year, that’s definitely not true for my No. 1 pick. Here are my top-5 picks.
1. SRAM Red eTap wireless shifting system
SRAM’s electronic-shift system is probably the most highly publicized single item of the show season; Velo’s Caley Fretz already wrote a wonderfully in-depth piece on it. Beyond the hype, I believe it has the potential to be such a game-changer that it is my top pick for 2015. These are my reasons:
1. Easy setup
Unlike Shimano and Campagnolo electronic systems, there is no main battery, nor are there any wires to install inside or hang outside of the frame. You need not shove a battery into a seatpost (or, into the seat tube or down tube with Campagnolo) with a method to secure it that makes both installing it and pulling it back out a labor-intensive task. There are no wires to fish down through the frame to the bottom bracket and push out into the open (with the crank removed, of course) to connect, and no rat’s nest of wires and junctions to shove up into the down tube.
Setup of the bike then becomes ridiculously simple with eTap. Just bolt the derailleurs and shifters on, lining up the front derailleur properly, set the limit screws like on any derailleur, hold down little function buttons to get the parts to find each other, and go ride. It’s not only simpler and quicker than setting up Shimano or Campagnolo electronic derailleurs, but it’s also way faster and simpler than setting up cable-operated derailleurs.
2. Interchangeable, external batteries
Red eTap’s battery system makes it truly revolutionary; tiny, lightweight, quick-charging, removable, and interchangeable battery packs attach to each derailleur and can be removed simply by flipping open a catch on top. Front derailleur battery is dead, and you’re descending for a long time? Stop and plug the rear derailleur’s battery (or an extra you’re carrying) into the front derailleur. Climbing, and the rear battery is drained? Use the front derailleur’s battery on the rear. The batteries charge on a small charger nest, and the batteries in the shifters are standard coin-shaped CR2032 watch batteries that are easy to find, relatively cheap, and last “for years,” according to SRAM.
3. Great shift logic
Unlike Shimano and Campagnolo, who retained the same two shift positions and shifting ergonomics in their shifters, eTap has only a single shift paddle on each lever and uses paddle-shifting logic like in a racecar. While with Shimano’s eTube software and satellite sprinter shifters, or now, with Campy’s MyEPS app, you can reassign which shift button does what shift and create similar shifting logic to eTap, neither eliminates excess buttons like SRAM has.
Pushing the right eTap shift paddle shifts to a smaller rear cog; pushing the left shift paddle shifts to a larger rear cog, and pushing both shift paddles simultaneously shifts the front derailleur to whatever chainring the chain is currently not sitting on. This makes both mistaking an upshift for a downshift, which I constantly do when going back and forth between Campy EPS and Shimano Di2 bikes, and accidentally shifting by bumping a button much less likely. And gloved-hand shifting in the cold will be no issue.
4. Other details
SRAM also claims a near-zero chance for interference — that its encryption algorithm “is more secure than any cash machine.” That said, boy would it be funny if somebody can figure out how to shift other riders’ bikes from their own! Red eTap is also quite lightweight.
While eTap has been tested for a couple of years in professional road races, we may of course find out that, once it gets out in the field on thousands of bicycles putting in millions of miles on it, that it has major glitches. But assuming that’s not the case, if it performs as it has on the test bikes I’ve tried, it deserves this ranking as the coolest thing at the 2015 bike shows.
2. Magura Vyron eLECT wireless dropper post
This is a corollary to the SRAM eTap. A remote and wireless electronic switch on the handlebar controls this hydraulic dropper post. A small servo motor spins inside the seatpost when the remote switch is pushed. The servo motor moves a spiraling needle valve up and down, opening a hole for hydraulic fluid to flow through from one chamber to the other.
Response is not as fast as a well-adjusted cable-operated dropper post, since it takes about 1.5 seconds for the valve to fully open. And unlike a cable system, you don’t hold the button while you sit and push the post down; you just push and release the button. So while the response is slower, the effort required is far less.
And when it comes to setup time and simplicity, there is no comparison between a cable-activated (or even a hydraulically-activated) dropper post and the Vyron. You just install the seatpost and saddle, clamp the remote switch to the handlebar, and hold down buttons on the seatpost head and on the remote for 30 seconds. This pairs them (it’s an ANT+ wireless system), and then you just go riding! Compare this to routing a cable, especially one through the seat tube, and adjusting the cable tension to get the saddle to stay put yet go down when you want it to.
Like eTap’s shifters, the remote switch takes a CR2032 watch battery that lasts and lasts, since it is only sending a signal. The battery in the seatpost has a three-hour charge time with a micro USB port. And if the seatpost battery is dead enough that it won’t respond to the remote switch anymore (it’s supposed to get 400 ups or downs on a charge), you can still activate it about 20 more times with a button on the head of the seatpost itself.
This is one case where buying a brand-new electronic gadget won’t put you on the “bleeding edge,” making you an unwitting guinea pig in the manufacturer’s product development. That is because Magura has been using this exact same technology (same remote, same valve, same servo motor) in its eLECT electronically-controlled suspension forks and rear shocks for the past two years.
Details: 150mm of travel, 446mm total length, 595 grams including the remote (quite light), $460, 30.9mm and 31.6mm diameter.
If parts like the Vyron eLECT and eTap keep coming along, the installation sections of my maintenance books could become very short!
3. Ultra Cycle Brake Safe
This is a little $20, 32-gram unit that could very well save your neck or the neck of someone you love. It has a pre-loaded spring inside it that prevents locking up the wheel. Its inventor claims that the bike retains 95 percent of its braking power, but it prevents a rider from going over the bar, no matter how hard he or she pulls the brake lever. If the rider slams on the brake with full force, the lever pulls all of the way to the bar by compressing the spring inside, but the bike continues to slow consistently, rather than stopping the front wheel. The spring pre-load means that up until maximum-force braking, the spring gets further compressed only minimally.
While experienced riders avoid pulling the brakes so hard that they go over the bars almost 100 percent of the time, occasionally even current and former professional riders can panic and slam on the front brake too hard and go over the front. The video that Ultra Cycle showed at Interbike was of a weighted dummy on a bike with wide outrigger (training) wheels. A remote system pulled the front brake full force, and the dummy, when on the bike without the Ultra Cycle Brake Safe, went straight over on its head every time. Ouch. But with the unit installed on the front brake, you could see the rear wheel and training wheels come up a bit off of the ground, but they went right back down, and the bike came to a stop upright. Especially for rental fleets at resorts, this could save a lot of people some serious injuries.
It comes with two factory spring preload settings, one for V-brakes and one for disc brakes. Currently, there is not a version for standard road brakes, although I’d be interested to see how it worked on one as is. It is intended for use just on the front brake, but bike rental fleets using them have put them on the rear, too, to prevent clients from burning the rubber off of that tire. I couldn’t find it online yet, but KHS Bicycles distributes it to bike shops.
4. Ritchey Phantom-flange hubs
Ever since Tom Ritchey was a teenager, he relied on product advice from Jobst Brandt, a famous engineer and author of The Bicycle Wheel, the definitive guide not only on how to build great wheels, but on what makes a wheel great. Much of the logic in Ritchey Logic grew out of long conversations between the two of them.
Brandt explained to Ritchey 40 years ago that “These are great wheels,” he said, referring to his own, “because I’ve rebuilt them so many times that the shape of each spoke has been forged (pounded) into the hub flanges.” Four decades on, Ritchey has now come out with Phantom-flange hubs that do just that. Built into a number of Zeta and Apex wheel models the superlight hubs incorporate the superior strength, durability, and easy replaceability of J-bend spokes with the sleek profile and efficiency of straight-pull spokes.
The standard, easily-obtained J-bend spokes make for easy replacement, yet have the low stress normally only seen on straight-pull spokes (which have other problems, like availability and the fact that they spin when the nipple is turned). On the Ritchey Phantom-flange hubs, each hole in the flange has the shape of a spoke head and its bend forged into it, so the spoke nestles in perfectly along its path from the hole toward the rim (no changing spoking patterns here!) with a minimum of additional stress.
Phantom-flange hubs are built into the $850, 1561g/pr. Apex 60 carbon clincher wheel. Inside the rear hub, it has premium-quality, sealed load-specific bearings measuring 28mm on the drive side and 24mm (lighter) on the non-drive side, connected to a 6-pawl, 12-point micro-clutch engagement system.
The Apex 60’s aerodynamic 60mm-deep matte UD carbon rims laced with 20 radial front and 24 radial/2x rear spokes are designed for both low drag and consistent handling in crosswinds. The 17mm internal rim width increases lateral stiffness and widens the tire profile for a smoother ride, better cornering grip, and lower rolling resistance.
5. Outsiders, Photo Book of 20 Classic De Marchi Jerseys
Like many other young Italian women at the time, Elda De Marchi had a crush on Fausto Coppi and adored his sad eyes and hooked nose. The one thing that Il Campionissimo had yet to accomplish at the time was to win the world road title. In a dream shortly before the 1953 UCI Road World Championships in Lugano, Switzerland, Elda had a dream of Coppi crossing the line with his arms upraised.
Being the daughter of De Marchi clothing company founder Emilio De Marchi, and having already worked in the factory for some time, she quickly whipped out a wool world champion jersey in Coppi’s size.
Traveling alone from northeastern Italy, she snuck away from home and made her way to Lugano, even crossing the border without proper identity documents. Indeed, Coppi did win the race, and Elda managed to get to him and give her the jersey she had made. At the awards ceremony, he pulled it on rather than the one supplied by the UCI, and he wore it the entire following season, in races all over the world.
At some point, the jersey disappeared without a trace, but just this year, on De Marchi’s 70th anniversary, it was rediscovered. Turns out, Coppi had given it as a gift to an acquaintance who had provided him shelter in Novi Ligure during his military service; this acquaintance recently donated it to the cycling museum on the Madonna del Ghisallo above Lake Como, where it remains today.
This jersey of Coppi’s is the 20th in a delightful book by Francesco Ricci detailing the history of each of 20 jerseys and the rider who wore each one. It is currently only available in Italian, but an English version is underway.