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I recently bought a 'sportive' bike, i.e. very much like a road bike but with a taller head tube to give a slightly more upright, more relaxed, less 'heads-down' riding position, and a triple chainset rather than a compact double.

I think this is a great bike (I'm not telling you its make or model as I don't want to discuss the pros and cons of this specific bike), but the US-based manufacturer produced it in 2010 only. I happened to meet a UK-based employee of theirs at the weekend who told me although this bike was designed specifically for the UK market, its (worldwide) sales turned out to be too small to justify continued production. This surprises me, as I have the impression that only a small proportion of the (lower-end) road bikes sold are ever used for road racing or time trialling, with more used for fitness and day rides, including the sportive events that give this style its name, and that this style of bike is ideally suited to such uses.

Can anyone explain why such bikes aren't popular outside the UK?

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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

That site's basic definition of sportive boils down to:

  • more upright riding position
  • more comfortable for distance riding
  • longer chainstays, taller head tube
  • softer forks (though many brands have gone to carbon forks across the board)
  • yet still with drop handlebars and quality components

And I think nearly every brand in the US has entries in that realm, though they often call them things like "endurance / sport / performance" as compared to "race / competition". Basically it comes down to "comfort geometry not race geometry"; components, materials, and even gearing choices are often similar or identical. Of course their race models often extend up into exotic carbon frames and top-end component groups, where sport models may only go up to basic carbon frames and mid-level groupos.

Some examples (aluminum frames):

Brand          sport geometry     race geometry
-----          --------------     -------------
Cannondale     Synapse            CAAD 10
Felt           Z series           F series
Giant          Defy               TCR 
Specialized    Secteur            Allez
Trek           ?                  2 series

These are all drop-bar road bikes, but the first column has a little more forgiving ride for long distances, while the last column has racier / faster handling. But both kinds are raceable if you want (they're not all that far apart). Both can usually be had with your choice of triple or compact double crank gears; a standard double seems more available in race models.

So 'sportive' bikes are available in the US, just by different names.

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what's the logic of "taller tube" plus "drop handlebar"? ...those brits :) –  gcb Dec 11 '11 at 8:24
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Simple answer is, they are. See the Scott CR1, the Trek Pilot, the Specialized Roubaix, and a dozen similar bikes marketed, and very popular all over the world. All are Sportive style bikes, marketed under their own local market category names.

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My suspicion is that you're missing some search terms or the manufacturer is missing a marketing opportunity. Or perhaps their bike is not what that market is after. I suggest looking at randonneur and audax rides as well as sportive to get a feel for just how many of those riders are out there.

In my experience a lot of commuters ride upright bikes that are not racing bikes. There's everything from drop bar touring bikes like the Long Haul Trucker (with or without the short stem/long steerer combo) through to the very common flat bar road bike (usually with the short top tube, long chainstay combo your salesperson is so fond of). Claiming that the ¨sportive" bike is somehow special because it has those features suggests ignorance rather than a giant gulf in the market that somehow everyone else has missed. It's more likely that the randonneur market is so specialised that it's impossible to target as a single entity, so the bike fell through the gaps.

If you got yours cheap because the manufacturer couldn't sell them but it suits you perfectly, then well done, you got a bargain.

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In recent years, we've seen a lot of bikes which are set up to cater to the increasingly-older market. Where you once had "hybrid" bikes (a road frame with MTB components) you now have "fitness" and "comfort" bikes which tend to have an upright riding position, cushy saddles, and some sort of minimal suspension.

There have always been subdivisions in roadsters... I currently ride a vintage 1972 "Cilo/Swiss" roadster which was obviously not intended for fast or sporty riding, yet it has a Columbus double-butted frame and Shimano 600 components... Pretty high-end for what you'd think was intended as a commuter.

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