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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!