WHAT I HOPE CYCLISTS SEE IN 2020
Except for joyfully receiving whatever cycling gifts may come your way this holiday season, I expect most of you fellow road cycling enthusiasts will be “sitting up” on your cycling passions for a couple of weeks. Enjoy the break.
Having shared my favorite cycling things of 2019 with you last month, I’d like to tell you what I hope cyclists see in 2020. While I have no inside information, I think they are each possible and would add a lot to our ability as roadies to make the right buying decisions in the new year.
I’m a bottle half-full kind of cyclist. While writing angry or controversial missives about some aspect of cycling would probably lead to more clicks and follows, I’ll leave that to the ad-supported posters.
Bottle half-full cyclists tend to be hopeful even in the face of challenging situations. For example, we might think to ourselves “I’m going to enjoy the remainder of what’s in my bottle over the next 10 miles but I sure hope there’s a place to refill it before long.”
Or, “Man, getting that tubeless tire on the rim the first time was a b*tch but I hope that it will be easier the next time now that I know how to do it.”
At the same time, after observing how the cycling industry and some of its players work, I expect some of the things I hope cyclists see in 2020 are bottle-less-than-half-full kind of hopes. (Sorry if that came across as angry or controversial.)
At least an enthusiast can hope.
Here are 5 things I’m hoping to see as a cyclist. Add one or two of yours in the comments section below.
1. New Shimano 12-speed Dura-Ace Di2
Data shows the average roadie is getting older. As we do, we benefit from getting whatever assistance we can from our cycling gear as we continue to ride the variety of terrain we enjoy.
No, I’m not talking about eBikes.
Instead, I hope that Shimano can bring us a wider range of gear ratios without increasing the jumps between shifts. A new 12-speed Dura-Ace groupset in 2020 could do that.
Consider the gear ratio you might use going uphill on a regular ride. Using a 34-30 or 34-32 gear ratio available now from the current 9100 generation Dura-Ace with a 34/50 compact crankset and an 11-30 Dura-Ace or 11-32 Ultegra cassette makes a 7%-10% climb a heck of a lot easier than doing it with a 34-28 combination from the prior Dura-Ace groupset let alone the 39-25 many of us used 10-15 years ago.
The drawback of a wider range, of course, is that your chain has to make bigger jumps as you shift through the last few cogs on the steepest sections of your climb. If you are trying to maintain a consistent cadence on the road, especially going uphill, those bigger jumps work against you.
SRAM keeps pushing the envelope on ratios both with wider range cassettes and smaller or single chainrings. They and the cyclists who like their gear don’t seem to be too concerned with 3, 4 or even 5 cog tooth jumps at the top to get the benefit of a wider range and a 1:1 ratio between your small ring and largest cog.
Campagnolo was the first to go to 12-speed without increasing the range or as much as SRAM or requiring a different rear hub.
Shimano followed Campy and SRAM to more 11 cogs and wider ranges, albeit more conservatively and starting on their mountain bike gear a year or two before bringing it over to the road side.
With Shimano typically introducing a new Dura-Ace groupset every 3-years, 2020 will likely see the next generation one. And since they now have experience with 12-speed groupsets in their MTB line and with smaller rings and bigger cogs in their GRX gravel line, I hope they can easily bring all of that technology over to the next Dura-Ace groupset.
A 12-speed Dura-Ace groupset in 2020 (with Ultegra the following year) would be a good development assuming there is a relatively simple or no hub change required for our existing wheels and we can smaller jumps at the top end of their current cassette range (e.g. an 11-32 or 12-34).
SRAM won over a lot of road cycling enthusiasts by making their latest groupsets wireless. As I’ve written in my review of Di2 vs. eTap AXS, I don’t see a lot of value in wireless for those of us who aren’t trying to reduce the installation time by a couple of hours on a new bike build or actively moving components between our bikes.
And I see some drawbacks, the least of which was SRAM introducing the eTap AXS within a couple of years of the original eTap but not making it backward compatible.
Because of the considerable engineering effort and limited benefit of wireless (you don’t notice any performance advantage from wireless when you are out riding), I hope that Shimano doesn’t hold up a 12-speed groupset for wireless.
2. A good way to test out great bikes
Trying to keep up with all the changes in road bikes is tough. In the last few years, the best new bikes are primarily road disc ones, the lines between aero, climbing and road race bikes have blurred, and many endurance bikes have added suspension systems.
If you haven’t bought a new bike in the last 3 to 5 years, you might not be able to easily translate what you like about your current bike and what you want from your next one to the bike options out there now.
Over the same time, the bike business has changed to where you can often get a wider range of choices and better prices buying a really good enthusiast-level bike from an online shop or direct from the bike brand.
Because of the economics of the business, you’ll also likely find fewer brands and lower spec builds available to check out at your local bike shop than in the past. And since “checking out” a new bike at an LBS usually means getting to ride whatever demo is available around the shop for a few miles or an hour at best, that’s never been a good way to decide between bikes in the first place.
Even Trek admits on their bike demo page “The best way to find the bike that’s right for you is to spend time riding a few different models. Sure—you can stop into any of our stores and take a bike out for a quick spin—but a true test ride goes beyond the parking lot.”
Bottom line, it’s probably harder to know that you are choosing the right bike now than it ever has been. And if you are an enthusiast planning to spend $/£/€5000 or more on a new road bike, you really want to feel confident that you are making the right decision.
In 2020, I hope some smart cycling entrepreneur or group of bike brands can figure out how to bring a comprehensive bike demo service to many more road bike enthusiasts.
While it will take serious capital commitment and business planning, it shouldn’t be too hard to pull off. There are enough elements of both already in the works to make it happen.
Bike industry trade shows like Sea Otter and Eurobike open their doors on the last day of their events for consumers to see and test out their gear. They bring a wide range of their models and sizes to these events, so the investment in demo bikes has already been made. Individual brands and distributors already do one-off demo days for select bike clubs around the US.
Shops at popular enthusiast cycling destinations rent out good bikes and wheelsets. Major metro areas certainly have enough bike shops selling the range of leading brands and enthusiast-level cyclists looking to buy them to justify coming together for a testing day or weekend. Businesses like Bike Exchange in the US and Australia and Bikesy in the UK connect LBS/IBD and their inventory. Major brands and distributors have stronger relationships and financial relationships with the shops.
My fellow tester Nate has been trying to decide between four different high spec racing bikes to buy for a while now but hasn’t been able to do an extended test ride on any of them.
I joked with him that the only way to do that now is to become a writer for one of the handful of high-circulation, ad-sponsored bike publications. They go on different all-expenses-paid product introduction events during the year where each brand serves up product presentations, food and beverages, and extended rides on new model bikes from which the writers file their reviews.
There has to be a better way for enthusiasts to fully test the right bike. It would seem to be a win for both cyclists and bike brands. Hopefully, we’ll see that happen this year.
3. More comprehensive training apps
A host of rich training apps, advanced communications protocols, and new smart trainers have given regular enthusiasts like you and me new and better ways to ride and train year-round.
Or, at least, fewer excuses not to.
If you are into it, using these tools as part of a structured training plan will make it a hell of a lot easier to accomplish whatever in-season mix of fitness and competitive goals you have. It sure beats starting your training from scratch every spring using your own witts about how to get faster.
However, even with the progress that structured training has enabled us roadies to make each of the last several years, my hope is that training platforms, apps, plans, and technologies develop further this year to where we can more simply pick between them and meet our full range of training needs.
Right now, I feel like I’m combining and paying for too many over-featured and overlapping yet incomplete training components to create my own Frankenplan.
Let me describe a few I’m familiar with to better express this hope for 2020.
Training Peaks is the granddaddy of training measurement platforms. You likely use it if you are at all interested in tracking how well you are improving your power and the other performance metrics that are key to accomplishing your goals.
There are other measuring platforms with similar functionality including Today’s Plan and Golden Cheetah. Training Peaks is so far ahead of these and others both in how many popular apps you can upload data from and the analysis you can do of that data that it’s hard to justify considering another platform.
Strava and Garmin Connect are also popular trackers of your results. Strava is more about sharing your rides with friends and measuring your ranking against others on segments of the rides you like to do. Garmin Connect is a Garmin-centric Strava imitator that falls short of Strava’s capability and popularity.
While Training Peaks and Strava both give you access to training plans, plans aren’t at the heart of either’s offering. Training Peaks helps you find packaged training plans written by others or directs you to personal coaches, both of which you pay for in addition to the Training Peaks subscription fee. Strava has only a limited number of month-long plans.
Online apps like Sufferfest and TrainerRoad provide you a large library of training plans to choose from. You pick your preferred discipline (e.g. road, gravel, mountain bike, triathlon) and then subsets within that discipline such as your specialty (e.g. climbing, crits, centuries), performance goals, event timing, hours available for training, skill level, etc. and they give you a dedicated plan of workouts that align with those preferences.
While both of these apps capture metrics, the design of their training plans is what they build their business around. Many (most?) of us will upload our workouts from these plans to Training Peaks for a more complete analysis of ride performance.
I will add that both Sufferfest and TrainerRoad plans were designed around the more precise intervals possible with indoor workouts on trainers. Each has recently added outdoor workouts that are modified versions of the indoor ones and can used as part of the same plan when you are able to get outside.
And then there are packaged training plans you can get from individual coaches or coaching teams like FasCat Coaching or Peaks Coaching Group. These are similar in training methodology and specificity to what the online app training programs offer but are designed around outdoor workouts. You can certainly do them inside on a smart (or dumb) trainer and they also sync up with Training Peaks to capture and analyze your performance.
When you are riding inside, one of the key challenges is keeping yourself challenged or at least engaged the way you are riding outside with others or on your own. That, of course, leads to many of us using Zwift when we want a simulated outdoor challenge or when we’ve watched one too many videos and music won’t get us by long enough.
If you’ve tried Zwift, you know it can be incredibly stimulating. While I’ve not become addicted to it or use it when I could be riding outside as some have, I do find I can get a great workout indoors on my trainer because of the way a Zwift experience motivates me.
Zwift has a huge offering of group rides and race events but a limited number of one-off training rides and training programs. Fortunately, through the Zwift connection with Training Peaks, you can call up whatever training program or app workout you have put on your Training Peaks schedule and ride it on a Zwift course.
Confusing? It can be. Expensive? It also can be.
In my case I use Training Peaks as the foundation for scheduling, capturing, and analyzing my rides. They have a free version but you don’t get the metrics you need to see if you want to make real progress. It runs $20/month if you set up monthly billing or the equivalent of $10/mo if you buy the annual plan.
I also use the free version of Strava merely to keep up with and needle some of my riding buddies. If I saw value in their “Summit” plan which has a bunch of added route, analysis, and training features that all look either uninteresting or subpar to me, it would be $9/mo billed monthly or the equivalent of $6/mo billed annually.
Sufferfest is the first training app I subscribed to when it came on my radar 3 or 4 years ago. Each of the workouts in their training plans has a licensed UCI pro-race video that you see as you ride that aligns with the timing of the intervals you are doing. Very coool. Zwift was just getting going at the time when I started with Sufferfest. Racing with Contador and friends on famous courses seemed like a lot more fun than riding around as a multi-player game avatar on a computer generated course.
And, Sufferfest adds a very effective set of yoga, body-weight strength training, and mental toughness programs that no one else offers. They sync up with the riding plan and come at no added cost. $13/mo billed monthly and about $8/mo billed annually.
After a couple of years, however, I found that I wasn’t make progress doing the Sufferfest plans. It only had inside workouts until recently, which was great in the winter but didn’t offer me anything when I went outside. My outdoor riding performance wasn’t getting any better.
I don’t know if it is the science behind their plans, the sarcastic tone of the on-screen commentary that accompanies each workout video, the inside only workouts or something else that didn’t work for me.
And I for sure didn’t want to totally abuse myself every 3 months or so doing their “4DP” test that includes an all-out sprint followed by 5-minute, 20-minute and 1-minute full gas segments in one 60-minute ride that you need to do to get the numbers that set the power levels for each plan. Heck, I have trouble getting psyched to do a standard 20-minute FTP test.
But the 15-minute yoga workouts and slightly longer strength workouts which you can do at home easily justifies the $8/mo subscription compared to the time and expense of a health club.
Sufferfest, which Wahoo bought this year and I assume is putting development funding into, just added a scheduling capability that is similar to what Training Peaks does and added outdoor workouts. It doesn’t capture metrics other than training time but I expect it will license many of the Training Peaks metrics and communicate with head units and Zwift.
I bought a couple of 6-week sweet spot plans, a specialty climbing plan and a 10-week resistance training plan from FasCat Coaching in 2019. I’ll likely add another sweet spot and a gravel training plan this year.
With discounts, each of these plans runs about $36 but you can use them as many times as you want. For me, that will come to about $18/mo for the first year; half that amount if you use the plans twice.
TrainerRoad is one that I’m thinking about trying out. They are training plan based and have a ton of plans and workouts. Each week they do an info-rich podcast which speaks to how scientific they are in their training plan design and how tuned in they are to the range of on and off the bike issues facing enthusiasts and race-oriented cyclists.
The TrainerRoad app uses some of the key metrics used by Training Peaks and some of their own analytical tools, introduced outside workouts this past summer, and has just added the functionality for you to create a customized plan based on your inputs and their standard workouts.
Unlike Zwift and Sufferfest, TrainerRoad doesn’t have any engaging video content, unless you consider watching a graph of your ride entertaining. I’m also not sure how effective their outside workouts are.
The subscription is $20/mo billed monthly or the equivalent of nearly $16/mo if you go with the annual plan. Gulp
They do use a “ramp-test” protocol to figure your FTP, a far less soul-crushing experience than either the standard 20-minute FTP or 4DP test. A similar ramp test is available on Zwift.
Zwift itself costs $15/mo. Depending on the weather and my training, I’ll use it 4-6 months a year from either November or December through March or April. The rest of the time, I’ll do most of my training outside. If I do need to do a few days a month inside during the rest of the year, I’ll find a video or some music to ride with.
After my end-of-season rest break, I grabbed my FasCat resistance training program and went to a health club for 3 months to use heavy weight-training equipment I don’t have at home – a squat rack, hamstring curl and leg press machine. Not a fancy club and they offer lots of discounts in the fall. It came to about $35/mo.
So Training Peaks ($10/mo billed annually), Strava (free plan), Sufferfest ($8/mo billed annually), FasCat Coaching (the equivalent of $18/mo worth of programs in the first year), Zwift ($15/mo for about 5 months), and health club ($35/mo for 3 months) make up my Frankenplan. All in it comes to $36/mo for 7 months of the year, $51/mo for another 2 months, and $86/mo for 3 months.
(I hope my wife doesn’t get this far into the post. Very likely she doesn’t.)
I do consider it money well spent and far less than the $250/mo that personal coaches typically charge.
Still, my hope for 2020 is that some parts of my Frankenplan like Sufferfest or Zwift or others like TrainerRoad can advance further this year to offer a more comprehensive training solution. If so I can drop one or two others, perhaps Training Peaks, Zwift or FasCat and have a more comprehensive and less expensive training plan solution.
4. Gravel tire recommendations
Gravel riding has become popular among the more adventurous and less traditional road cycling enthusiasts among us. My post about roadies and gravel cyclists included a survey about reader interest in gravel cycling.
About 10% of those of you who read the post filled out the survey. While that is a very high response rate in its own right – thank you, thank you – 92% of those who responded said you would like to see In The Know Cycling do reviews of gravel cycling gear.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m on it.
Not surprisingly, 74% voted for gravel tires as one of the things you’d most like to see reviewed, topping the list above gravel wheels (54%) and bikes (51%).
I say “not surprisingly” because gravel tires are both key to enjoying gravel riding and perhaps the most foreign part of gravel gear to us roadies.
Most road cycling tires these days have little to no tread and are ridden on generally smooth and predictable pavement. While I’m a fan of tubeless tires, I believe most roadies are still riding tubed ones. And a lot of us choose tires based on price and our prior experience with them.
Roadies get all excited deciding between 25mm and 28mm tires and finding one that has a few watts lower rolling resistance.
In comparison, choosing gravel tires may seem like entering the twilight zone. (Sorry. OG reference. Great TV series. More about it here.)
To start with, gravel tire widths run from 32mm to 40mm+ and you inflate them to what seems like a flat tire pressure.
Gravel ride surfaces range from regular pavement to loose deep gravel with a half dozen other types of surfaces in between. Some rides have a mix of surfaces from one end of the spectrum to the other. Other rides have a far narrower range.
And there seem to be a dizzying number of tread patterns designed for each type of gravel surface. I can’t tell if they are designed by engineers or modern artists smoking who knows what?
Worse yet, there seem to be new gravel tire models with different patterns being introduced by more tire companies every month. Arrghhh!
So how many different sets of gravel tires do you need for the range of rides you plan on doing with their range of surfaces? And which types and models are best for which of the better-known rides?
Yes, I’m not surprised 74% of you want us to review gravel tires.
My hope for 2020 is that we can figure this all out and provide you some guidance and recommendations.
Stay tuned. Or in 2020 speak – follow, like, sign-up, etc. I hope to start posting about gravel tires early in 2020.
5. New US president
Regardless of what you think of President Trump personally and politically, he is undeniably bad for cyclists.
His views and policies on climate change make the environment less hospitable for cyclists and everyone we know and love.
At the same time, his trade policies have increased the costs of cycling gear and a lot of other things we buy for no likely near or long term benefit.
So what I hope to see in 2020 is a new US president with policies more favorable to cyclists and everyone else.
Ah, and I almost got all the way through this post without writing something controversial.
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What do you hope to see for cyclists in 2020? Let me and your fellow readers and cyclists know in the comments below.
Happy holidays. Happy New Year. And may all your cycling (and other) dreams come true in 2020.
Enjoy your riding safely,
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