Last year, when SRAM introduced Red, I observed that Shimano and Campagnolo would need to keep on top of their game to face the threat SRAM represented. OEM spec for Force and Rival hadn’t been too strong, but the boost in perception that SRAM got with the introduction of a group to compete with Dura-Ace and Record really elevated SRAM in the mind of many, if not most, consumers.
Normally it is harder to shift a company’s identity toward quality rather than away from it. Anyone can dumb down a brand, but elevating Ford to the status of Ferrari would be harder than finding an atheist in a foxhole. However, Stan Day and company introduced a group of parts that got as complete a response from the competition as has been seen. Shimano and Campagnolo have both taken notable steps forward.
While I heard many people say that this year’s show was not particularly notable, I think the introduction of Shimano’s new Dura-Ace (7900-series) as well as the coming introduction of the electronic Dura-Ace (Di-2), as well as the introduction of Campagnolo’s new Super Record, were significant introductions and represent a major change for both manufacturers. That so much media attention was given to each group prior to Interbike blunted the force of their introduction at the show. Most attendees had seen photos and descriptions if not actual parts, so by the time they arrived at the show, it was more, “Oh yeah,” rather than, “Oh wow!”
Di2 works so well the experience is shocking. After trying it, you won't have to ask, "How come?" An early media introduction notwithstanding, the introduction of the three groups was easily the most significant news at the show.
The big news in wheels was the near ubiquity of carbon fiber rims. From Shimano to SRAM’s Flash Point, to Edge, to Easton and Fulcrum and more, the concentration was less on light weight than increased aerodynamics. The finish quality and molding of carbon fiber rims have come a very long way as well with Zipp and Edge leading the way.
Which brings me to the real watchword of the show: Aerodynamics. There was hardly a major company present at the show that wasn’t showing off either a new aero frame or a revised design of some sort. Cervelo had the P4, Felt had the AR and TK1 and there were new models from Time, Fuji and more. While wind tunnel numbers can be fudged (test a bike with no cables and it will seem VERY fast), a few of the bikes did look like they had been designed over the course of multiple wind tunnel visits.
More and more research is bearing out the Cervelo assertion that an aerodynamic bike will save more effort than a super-light bike will. Their slideshow “Col de la Tipping Point” is worth checking out. Felt's research has led their engineers to determine that more time can be gained with significant aerodynamic design than can be lost through an addition 200g of weight.
The new frontier will be trying to maximize aerodynamics while keeping weight low without losing torsional rigidity. The unfortunate reality of aero designs is that they tend to be very rigid vertically while suffering in torsional stiffness. As you pull out material to reduce weight, torsional rigidity suffers yet again. The 2008 Interbike show may be remembered as the year when the industry acknowledged for the first time the incredible role aerodynamics play outside of the time trial.
If nothing else, the 2008 show demonstrated that the bike industry is in a period of great innovation and change. This may be a transitional year, but the transition is plenty fascinating in its own right.
Images courtesy Shimano.