Every year we see tons of next gen tech pop up on the road at pro races, casually hidden in plain sight at gravel events, or covered in mud in UCI cyclocross pits. These prototypes give us a good clue as to what to expect in the next year. But sometimes it’s simply whispers and educated guesses to predict the future of drop bar tech for road, gravel & cross…

12 Speed Shimano Dura-Ace Road Bike drivetrain?

It’s been a while since Shimano’s top road bike group has been in the spotlight. The current 11-speed R9100 Dura-Ace group first appeared in mid-2016. We got our first rides on it and weighed the mechanical and Di2 groups in early 2017. Prior to that, the R9000 series hit the streets in 2013. That puts it on a roughly 3.5 year development timeline, with the gap years being filled with Ultregra and then 105 trickledown updates. And both of those groups are full updated now, with virtually similar tech and shifting performance. So, if things stay on track, could 2020 could be the year of Dura-Ace R9200? And would it be 12-speed?

shimano dura-ace 9100 11-speed road bike group

Here’s what we think: Yes, the next generation Dura-Ace will basically have to add a cog. Maybe two. SRAM and Campagnolo’s top groups are all running 12 speeds in the rear (for now…keep reading), and even Shimano’s own mountain bike groups have cranked it up to 12. So, it can’t be long until DA makes the jump, right?

Well, maybe. Truth is, the current groups work amazingly well. The reason they’re not bringing out a new XTR Di2 is that (in their words) they’re figuring out what would set it apart and make it worth the upgrade. Could be they’re taking an extra year for Dura-Ace to see where things are headed, like gauging the reaction to SRAM’s 12-speed gearing, then stretch the envelope. Or, perhaps their production is at full capacity getting the new mountain bike groups out…afterall, they do manufacture the high end groups inside their Japan headquarters.

Recent conversations with Shimano’s folks were focused on the off-road groups, too. As well as their shoes, and sister brands PRO Components and Lazer. We haven’t seen any prototypes at late season races, though, typically, those don’t show up until early Spring races like Tour Down Under. So, while development timelines almost guarantee they’re working on something, this one’s a tough call as to whether the next generation Dura-Ace will come in 2020 or 2021.

Image courtesy Shimano.

Micro Spline for the Road

When we do finally see a 12-speed (or 13-speed!) Dura-Ace group, it would stand to reason it’ll use the Micro Spline freehub standard. Currently, Micro Spline is MTB only, but it’s what allowed Shimano to squeeze a 10t cog onto the end of their 12 speed cassettes. Hopefully, if this happens it will be the exact same freehub for both road and mountain. Perhaps we’ll see Hyperglide+ shifting tech glide over to the road side as well.

campagnolo 10-tooth cassette prototype could mean 13-speed Super Record groups

13-speed Campagnolo road bike drivetrain?

While it doesn’t always feel like Campagnolo is the first to new technologies, they were in fact the first to debut both 10-speed (in 2000) & 11-speed (in 2008) road groupsets, the first 11-speed electronic group, then the first to deliver 12-speed road gruppos. (But not the first 10-speed electronic which was Di2 in 2009 or first 12-speed electronic which was AXS earlier this year.) Rotor then launched their 1×13 13-speed a full year and a half ago, with real availability this past spring.

We think Campagnolo likes being first on the road. And while they prioritize smooth cadence & gearing steps with their 2×12 setup, we fully expect them to go 13-speed to put themselves back on the forefront. They’ve already filed patents that push the smallest cog off the end of the freehub body, allowing them to drop to a 10-tooth (or even 9-tooth!) cog. More important than the tooth count, though, is the extra room this buys them on a standard freehub body and axle spacing…assuming the frame’s dropouts allow for such things.

While unsubstantiated so far, we’ve heard murmurs they’re working on a 13-speed group. If it pans out, we suspect we’ll see both mechanical and electronic EPS versions, letting them claim “first” on both a 2×13 and 13-speed electronic. And maybe that opens the door too…

1x road racing bike setups

sram red 12-speed 1x chainring for TT time trial and triathlon has a built-in Quarq power meter

3T launched the 1x only Strada road bike ahead of it’s time back in 2017. Even raced it the next pro season. It was, in fact, so ahead of its time they later had to add a 2x version to silence the skeptics (or boost sales). No longer only the purview of gravel & cyclocross, we are starting to see more riders racing time trials and triathlon on 1x setups in big part thanks to AXS 1×12. And now Rotor has gotten on board with a road race ready version of their 1×13. Without a front derailleur, complete groupset weights can drop.

We think it’s time for Shimano, Campagnolo, and maybe even FSA to embrace dedicated single chainring drivetrains for their top-level road racing teams, too. Shimano’s testing the waters with the GRX group, which should be an excellent testing ground for moving the concepts to the pavement.

More 700c x huge tires for Gravel

We’re already seeing it, and it’s probably going to continue. Some of our favorite gravel bikes of the year have massive tire clearance for 700c wheels and tires. We’d guess that  there will still be plenty of bikes available with 650b wheels and tires (especially for the smaller sizes), but look for more companies to figure out how to cram in massive tire clearance for up to 50mm tires on 700c wheels. And with that, look for the “standard” gravel bike tire clearance to edge closer to 700c x 45mm.

evil bikes chamois hagar gravel bike with the slackest geometry
The new Evil Chamois Hagar takes the angles to extremes.

More progressive Gravel Bike geometry

Going right along with clearance for larger tires, expect more companies’ gravel bike geometries to evolve. They may not all push it to the limits like Evil’s Chamois Hagar, but frames with longer top tubes that are designed to be run with shorter stems which claim to offer better handling off road. But that also places the front wheel farther out from the rider, eliminating potential toe overlap issues with big tires.

Increased use of Dropper Posts for Gravel

We’ve tried a number of different dropper post configurations on gravel bikes, and a lot of them have left us feeling, “meh.” But more integrated, ergonomic designs like the KS Drop Lever and PRO dropper lever made specifically for drop bars work quite well and left us wanting the set up on more bikes. Look for more companies to introduce both lever options, and for bikes to use them, in the near future.

is cyclocross dead or just declining in the usa

Cyclocross will have a near death experience

We love cyclocross. Like, really love it. But we saw zero new cyclocross bikes at Eurobike this year. Literally zero. The only news was a few tires. Meanwhile, models that used to be pure ‘cross, like the Santa Cruz Stigmata and Ibis Hakka, have morphed into gravel bikes. Simply put, no one was talking about it. It’s all about gravel, and we think we know why: Cyclocross is way too expensive.

For Pros, the UCI isn’t helping matters by screwing around with the calendar. And even they seem to be racing on gravel bikes. For amateurs, a one-day license and race entry fee is easily $35. Too often more like $50. For a 30-minute race. That’s usually an hour or more away from home and held in crappy conditions. OK, so those crappy conditions are actually part of the appeal, but still. It’s becoming harder and harder to justify when you can spend about the same to do an all-day gravel event that’s every bit as much (if not more) fun. Cyclocross racing will always have a special place in our hearts, but organizers need to shake things up to get people stoked on it again in the U.S.

A made-in-Italy carbon 3T aero road bike

Inside 3T Cycling Factory Tour, How 3T Torno carbon cranks are made by hand, 100% made-in-Italy

When we toured 3T’s in-house Torno carbon crankset production facility earlier this fall, we noticed a large empty space in the production hall, just waiting for some new manufacturing machinery to get installed. We also saw some interesting new tooling being developed that was nothing we’re used to seeing in frame (or crank) production. 3T was super tightlipped when we noticed some partial prototype carbon frame elements that weren’t Exploros or Stradas lurking in a conference room as we went by. Clearly they don’t have a new bike ready to go yet. But 3T wasn’t shy about saying that they have hoped for a long time to bring frame production back to Italy. And a job posting for an internal composites engineer at the time, suggests they are working on how to do that in the short term. We think it will be a new automated method of construction that will reveal the next lightweight aero carbon road bike from 3T.

What do you think?

What’s your best guess for what’s coming for drop bar bikes? Do you think we’re right? Wrong? Don’t care ’cause you just want to see our Mountain Bike predictions on Thursday? Let us know in the comments!

50 COMMENTS

  1. Re cross racing. In my opinion USA Cycling has made racing more expensive with annual fees raising and only offering 1 day licensees for Cat 4. Why can’t it be more like mtb racing where no license is required? Most people don’t need the points, they (me) just want to have fun.

    • As with road racing, the price keeps going up and the experience keeps staying the same. I really like ‘cross, too but I get it. If the cost of entry is too high, it gets easier and easier to blow it off for other things.

        • It’s about $30USD for 1st entry where I live, you can race a 2nd field for $10USD. That’s on top of an annual license, or +$10/day for that with limitations to which classes you can enter.

    • USA Cycling is interested in developing the sport and racers. First step is to entice people into buying a licence – then they tend to get more involved. One day licensees do little for the sport. Just as important – one day riders claim on insurance at a much higher rate than licence holders.

  2. “The reason they’re not bringing out a new XTR Di2 is that (in their words) they’re figuring out what would set it apart and make it worth the upgrade”

    Answer: How about never having to adjust cables again, Electronic shifting is snappier, Electronic shifting is better…Pretty much the same reasons you did it on the Road Shimano.

    You guys already dropped the ball ignore 1x, how many more “trends” you want to wait out?

    • the only thing that Shimano didn’t make that was 1x was a crank set and in case you didn’t know you can just remove one ring on a double and POW!!! you have a 1x. Or just use a race face or something crankset. the crankset make basically 0 difference in shifting performance on a 1x. So for all intents and purposes they have been making 1x group sets the whole time.

      • There’s more to it than that. Chain line with 11 and 12 speeds is pretty particular, add to that, Boost spacing and well, it’s Shimano and they’re pretty detail oriented.

        They’re also very proud of their front shifting quality and probably the factory that makes front derailleurs, too. I imagine they probably didn’t want to stop making them.

    • Fair, but I’ll never have electronic gears on my bike but will always be willing to pay for top-end parts. Depends whether I become the minority or not.

  3. Anyone know what the green & grey bike is in the title picture?

    I’ve been looking for frames with sliding dropouts for SSCX… LONG LIVE CROSS

  4. Entry fees for major gravel events are >$150 and half the time they are in remote places that require overnight travel. Cyclocross stacks up pretty well cost-wise.

    IMO gravel is popular because it’s participatory. You can race at the front end if that’s your thing or ride your own pace. Either way you can have a great adventure in some beautiful spot.

  5. E-scooters, despite being terrible, will hit hard. Motorcycle and car manufacturers will invade the e-bike market. Campy will come out with a gravel drivetrain. SRAM will come out with a pivoting front chainring to offer better chain alignment on 1x systems. Shimano will come out with more great stuff and then engage in some heavy-handed, monopolistic business practices.

    • I really hope you’re correct with Campy going into gravel. 1x, direct mount chain ring, clutch and hydraulical disc brakes. I would definitely do that upgrade on my bike!

  6. I’m hoping for a Di2 dropper post that can be activated by the top button on the newer shifters…well if I need a dropper at all.

  7. Agree with the Cx. Hard to justify dragging the family and paying those fees. Fees alone, if I include my family for a race day, will be $100+. 30-40 minutes going in circles.

  8. “More progressive Gravel Bike geometry
    ..But that also places the front wheel farther out from the rider, eliminating potential toe overlap issues with big tires.”
    Which is OK, if you don’t go too far. If you do it usually means your drop bar bike corners badly on road or like an awkward-bar MTB off-road. Evolutionary dead end, perhaps.

  9. I can do a gravel event and have fun for like a $10-$20 donation. And drink beer and have good weather and a long ride of mutual suffering with new friends. Cross will always have a niche (like crits) but racers, enthusiasts, etc do gravel events like all sorts of runners do half marathons.

  10. Sram wireless shocks.. A bike with one spoke size made possible by hub flange dimensions.. More ‘bar/stem hidden brake set-ups, common items ‘rebranded as “Gravel” specific.. More ‘adventure’ gravel specific items, as opposed to ‘racing’ . …rambling…

  11. The problem with cyclocross bikes are the silly narrow 33mm wide tyres. You’d be silly to invest thousands of euros/dollars into a bike that has no proper tyre clearance (let’s face it, the only reason to ride 33mm is because the UCI won’t allow wider in races).

    Even if you love CX racing, most people are better off buying a gravel bike so they can fit wider tyres so you can have much more fun and better performance during all your other rides.

    In my opinion current CX bikes could be compared to a road bike that fits no wider tyres than 23mm or an XC mtb that fits no wider than 1,95″. It’s just pointless not to have the extra clearance.

    • Word. (agree, strongest point about cx bikes… aka: all gravel bikes are cross bikes, and have so much more versatility beyond the CX course. 99% of CX racers will do fine, and won’t notice the difference in a CX race — maybe only paid pros will care (and even some of them will do fine. Matheau VdP on gravel bike with 32m tires will still woop 99% of the field — so what’s the point of dedicated CX bike?)

  12. Hoping for a TRUE wireless Shimano system that won’t require running wires period. Bolt on and go. Given up on SRAM after having so many R2C shifters break/rebuilt, rear cages exploding and pulleys cracking. Would like to see a 13 speed microsplined wireless Shimano system.

  13. Gravel is destroying regular racing. Events turning into expensive bucket list rides that riders train for for months and ignore the local scene. In the same way Ironman has destroyed local triathlon. Leadville, DK200, SBT are killing local road events.

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