Last month, Specialized launched the brand new Roubaix (and Ruby) to much fanfare – not least because the Californian company's original Roubaix bike originally brought the ‘endurance geometry’ concept to the masses back in 2004.
However, the new Roubaix and Ruby - as well as a number of other endurance bikes launched in recent months - neatly encapsulate many of the trends that have been coming through in the world of road bikes over the last few years.
After all, while we may think of ourselves as whippet-thin racers, the vast majority of us don’t ever race our bikes. Instead, the local bunchie, gran fondos or social rides is typically the limit of our competitive ambitions.
A super-stiff and steeply angled race bike isn’t necessarily the best tool for the job for these - and increasingly, it it's not what riders are looking for. Instead, we’re looking for bikes that tick all the boxes: which are comfortable throughout a long day in the saddle, which we can confidently take on the (dirt) road less travelled, but which also provide the handling, stiffness and outright speed we’ve come to expect from modern road bikes.
Until recently, it’s fair to say that no endurance road bike has quite captured this holy trinity: there’s always been a compromise made somewhere. However, over the last 12 months things have changed: the endurance bike has evolved beyond being a 'bike for old men' into a versatile bike that’s just as much fun to ride
The endurance bike could be about to become the road bike of choice for the ‘rest of us’, and here’s why.
1. Disc brakes
Disc brake road bikes have been touted as the future for a few years now, not least due to their significantly better braking performance. However, many riders have been put off by the weight penalty (roughly 800g), concerns about responsiveness and a mishmash of industry ’standards’.
We’re now at the point where most of these downsides have been ironed out. The current crop of road disc frames are being designed for disc brakes first, and are lighter than ever to offset the weight of disc brakes. Shimano’s road-specific Flat Mount caliper mount design also shaves grams and improves aerodynamics.
Thru-axles and 142mm dropouts have also become the hub standard of choice, meaning that wheel compatibility - a major concern for many riders - will be much improved going forward.
Sure, you won’t be able to use these bikes in your local club crib until the UCI ceases its handwringing about disc brakes, but that’s only a matter of time. The key point here is that these bikes have now advanced to the point where they are on equal pegging with a rim brake bike in terms of weight and ride quality.
2. A wider range of fit positions
Taller head tubes have always been a fixture of endurance geometries - principally to allow those of us who may not be as limber as your average pro to achieve a comfortable, neutral position without pointing a stem up to the sky at an angle that could result in significant ribbing from your riding mates. (nb: if your riding mates really care that much about stem angle, find new riding mates).
increasingly, though, we’re seeing endurance frames move towards being able to service a wider range of fit positions rather than just a more relaxed position. Want a smooth ride and wide clearance but also want to slam that stem? Go for the more aggressive H1 geometry on the Trek Domane, or replace the stock Hover riser bars on the Roubaix with some traditional drop bars to get low and aero.
3. Wider tyre clearance
Long gone are the days when you could barely squeeze a 23c tyre into a road bike frame. The current crop of endurance bikes pretty much all take a 32c tyre as standard.
There are a couple of reasons for this: it’s been proven over and over that wider tyres (up to 28c) on wider rims run at pressures around 80psi, are faster than narrow tyres on narrow rims at high pressures in most situations. Traction is better and rolling resistance is actually lower, and ride quality is better.
Second, it opens up opportunities for adventure. Taking a race bike on gravel or cobbled roads has always been something of a lottery where punctures and mechanicals are concerned. However, as riders seek wilder adventures, seeking to escape to the road less ridden, wider tyre clearance gives you more options.
Want to sling some 32s on for an epic gravel ride on Saturday, then rock up to the local fast bunchie on Sunday on some 23s? In theory, now you can.
4. Vibration damping – without compromises
The quest to isolate riders from that ‘direct road feel’ has been going on for years, and ranges from lengthening the wheelbase of bikes, fiddling with carbon layups to make them more compliant or using inserts to absorb vibrations.
Indeed, there have even been multiple attempts to bring suspension to road bikes as far back as the 90s, with Rockshox equipping the Paris-Roubaix bikes of Greg LeMond and Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle with mountain-bike style forks in 1991.
However, all of these techniques came with drawbacks - usually in terms of sapping speed, handling and/or stiffness – until now. The current generation of endurance bikes are increasingly employing some kind of suspension to iron out road buzz.
Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler, which debuted in the 2012 Domane and is now used in multiple frames across its range, including its aero Madone bike and its Procaliber hardtail mountain bike. The 2016 Domane uses the decoupler both at the seat post junction and the head tube.
The rear suspension linkage introduced on Pinarello’s Dogma KS-8 in 2015
Specialized’s FutureShock steerer, which provides 20mm of suspension travel at the handlebars in the Roubaix and women-specific Ruby.
These innovations are allowing frame designers to worry less about using the frame to absorb vibration, and focus on what’s really important - making a bike that handles well.
That’s the crux of the matter. We might want wider tyre clearance, better brakes, a smoother ride and a more relaxed position, but we still want a bike that handles like a weapon and leaps forward under us when we put the power down.
That's what the current generation of endurance bikes are giving us - and that's why you should seriously consider one the next time you upgrade your bike.