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The cycling tech trends to look out for in 2019

From super-light bikes with an aero flavour to gravel wheels, here are Cyclist’s tech predictions for the year ahead

George Scott
7 Jan 2019

The turn of the year gives us the opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and, more importantly, gaze into cycling’s crystal ball to see what’s in store for the year ahead.

Bike tech never stands still and that proved to be the case in 2018 - the year of the disc-equipped aero bike. Last year also saw Aqua Blue Sport’s ill-fated experiment with 1x in the pro peloton, the arrival of Shimano’s gravel-specific Ultegra RX rear derailleur and the launch of Continental’s long-awaited GP 5000 TL tubeless tyre.

But that’s enough of the old. What tech is set to fly in 2019? What products can we expect to see rolled out in the pursuit of marginal gains? And what gadgets will arrive to tempt everyday riders into parting with their hard-earned cash?

Cyclist caught up with a range of industry experts to deliver six tech trends and predictions for 2019.

Lightweight bikes return to the fore (with improved aerodynamics)

Bike designers work years in advance - by the time one machine is launched, they are well underway with the next project. It’s a cyclical business, too, and in 2019 we can expect to see a host of lightweight launches.

‘2017 was the year of the endurance road bike, gravel really started to become big in 2018 and for 2019 there were lot of new aero bikes with disc brakes,’ says Sebastian Jadczak, Canyon’s director of road development.

We’re talking model years here, so this summer’s launches will be considered 2020 bikes. (We know; 2019 has just begun, right?).

‘For model year 2020 we can expect to see a lot of lightweight road bikes, with much more of a focus on aerodynamics,’ says Jadczak, who (naturally) believes the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX, with its aero-inspired tube profiles and cockpit, set an early standard.

The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6 and the new Focus Izalco Max, launched in November 2018, also provide a flavour of what’s to come this year.

‘When I look at Trek (Emonda), Cannondale (SuperSix Evo), all of these performance bikes are used in competition, but they are a long way behind in aerodynamic terms,’ says Jadczak.

‘Sometimes up to 40 watts more drag at 45kph compared to an aero bike.’

If you’re expecting movement on the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit any time soon you’re likely to disappointed, according to Jadczak.

He also predicts most new climbing bikes to feature rim brakes (or, unlike many new aero bikes, for there at least to be the option). ‘It’s the only category where it still makes sense to have a rim brake bike,’ he says.

Bike clothing gets smarter than ever before

Wearable technology has filtered into cycling over the past couple of years, led by companies like Métier and POC, with the aim of increasing a rider’s visibility on the road. The technology is evolving quickly, according to POC’s Damian Phillips, and is here to stay.

‘The tech is getting smaller and more advanced,’ says Phillips, ‘but it’s also a case of how you use it.’ Key to the future success of wearable technology in cycling is the integration of safety-enhancing features without sacrificing performance or style, he says.

‘The safest product is the one that someone chooses to wear,’ adds Phillips. ‘It needs to be designed in a way that people make an active choice to say, ‘That’s what I want to wear’, so it becomes a no-brainer.’

POC’s current commuter range includes a jacket and gilet with a reversible, reflective pocket that can be turned into a rear light using the company's See Me app.

Magnetic lights can also be placed elsewhere on the garments. Métier, on the other hand, has recently expanded its range of performance-minded clothing to include a rain jacket and lightweight gilet with integrated LEDs.

Wearable technology for cyclists is smarter than ever before. Expect to see more in 2019.

Gravel bikes need gravel wheels

You don’t need us to tell you that gravel is big right now - 2018 saw gravel bike launches across the board, from some of cycling’s biggest players (like the Giant Anyroad) through to niche builders testing the boundaries of design (the Lauf True Grit Race Edition, anyone?), via established mountain bike manufacturers dipping into the drop-bar world (take a look at the Ghost Road Rage 4.8).

‘When you look at the new bikes that came out last year and what’s in the pipeline for 2019-20, gravel is the biggest development in the market,’ says Alex Schmitt of DT Swiss.

Gravel bike launches are unlikely to slow any time soon, but Schmitt also expects the choice of gravel-specific wheels to grow almost just as quickly.

What makes a gravel wheelset? Durability and comfort are key, Schmitt says, with particular focus on rim width and the interface with the tyre. ‘That’s super-important. Designing a wheel that offers a perfect fit for super-wide gravel tyres,’ he adds.

Performance shouldn’t be overlooked either. ‘Gravel riding’ encompasses everything from road riders wanting a bike or tyre capable of taking a bridleway detour, through to long-distance races like Dirty Kanza. Expect gravel wheels to cover the full spectrum, including a growing range of hoops for riding fast on the rough stuff.

‘When we’re talking about performance for off-road riding, we can also consider aerodynamics and rolling resistance - two factors that are currently underestimated in gravel,’ says Schmitt.

Road tubeless gets a long-awaited industry standard

Tubeless and gravel should go hand-in-hand, in the same way tubeless was quickly adopted by mountain bikers. Schmitt is unequivocal on the subject: ‘Tubeless is especially important for gravel. There’s huge potential.’

Road tubeless has been a slow burn, however. Some road riders may be traditionalists but the relatively cautious uptake has also been driven by the perceived difficulty of setup, itself the result of no industry standard for a tubeless rim and road tyre.

‘Our colleagues from France [Mavic] showed you can produce a really good system that works,’ says Schmitt. ‘That must be the goal for all of us, to ensure that different wheels and different tyres can fit easily and securely, so there’s no more hassle in setting up a tubeless system.’

Mavic certainly wasn’t the first wheel or tyre manufacturer to move into road tubeless - far from it - but when the French firm launched its Road UST line-up in 2017, the precisely engineered wheel-tyre system came with the promise of easy mounting (enabling inflation with just a standard track pump) and secure bead seating (that would remain locked to the rim in the event of a serious and sudden drop in pressure).

‘There are a lot of things going on behind-the-scenes, with wheel and tyre manufacturers working closer together to find the perfect solution for road tubeless,’ says Schmitt.

Could 2019 be the year we see a genuine industry-wide standard adopted for road tubeless?

1x is dead, long live 1x!

If 2018 was meant to be the year single-chainring drivetrains made a splash on the road (we speculated as much in November 2017), 3T’s failed experiment with Aqua Blue Sport put paid to that. In a sport where product adoption has traditionally been driven by the professional ranks, Aqua Blue’s public criticism of the 3T Strada’s 1x setup poured cold water on the idea of widespread uptake on the road, according to Mark Robinson, European general manager for Praxis Works.

‘One-by for road never took off like we thought it would do,’ says Robinson. ‘It just never happened. After what happened with Aqua Blue, people realised it can’t currently offer the range of gear ratios required for all-round road riding, particularly racing. I don’t think much will change there.’

While Robinson believes 1x for performance road riding is ‘dead in the water’, he expects its popularity on gravel and adventure bikes to only increase, alongside the use of sub-compact (48-32t) chainsets.

In fact, the fast-evolving gravel scene has accelerated product development at a far quicker rate than road riding (dominated by the ‘big three’ groupset manufacturers) and cyclo-cross (a limited market with a short race season), according to Robinson.

‘Gravel has been a massive motivator in product development,’ he says. ‘Different tyre choices, different wheel sizes and different gearing options, from one-by and dinner plate cassettes to sub-compact chainsets. Cyclo-cross was never big enough to drive some of these developments alone.’

Virtual racing takes off

Since launching in October 2015, Zwift has established itself as the indoor training platform of choice for sportive riders and professional cyclists alike.

While competition has existed within Zwift’s online worlds since day one, with mass start events categorised by fitness levels, 2019 will see rapid expansion into virtual racing, with officially-sanctioned events featuring professional teams.

‘When we started, racing wasn’t a priority,’ says Charlie Issendorf, director of events at Zwift. ‘At the time, we wanted to build a platform for all cyclists, not necessarily targeting racers. We feel like we’ve accomplished that over the past couple of years. This will help us take Zwift to the next level.’

Zwift’s first dedicated eSports competition, the KISS Super League, will launch on 23rd January, with four UCI Continental teams already signed up, while a British Cycling eRacing Championships is expected to take place in February or March.

With $120 million of additional funding to support Zwift’s move into eSports, 2019 could be the year virtual racing vies for your attention alongside pro racing’s traditional calendar.

‘Our hope for 2019 is to prove that Zwift is a legitimate platform for racing,’ adds Issendorf, who says a range of new features will be introduced to support virtual racing.

‘The goal is to show that e-racing is not going anywhere and also that the pros are going to embrace it.’

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