Somewhat general question. Could someone give me an idea of how much of a 'technology gap' there is between annual models of high-end road bikes (~$2000)? Specifically:

  • Which components generally see the biggest improvement each year?
  • In what sense is carbon fibre technology improving? What does this mean for your average non-pro (but enthusiastic) rider?
  • Some sort of guestimation of when we can expect to see electrical gears on high-level road bikes as standard.
  • Do like models necessarily improve every year?
  • 2
    I am not an admin on this site but you need to split this up. Even split the questions are pretty broad. – paparazzo Jul 22 '14 at 15:35
  • 1
    $2,000 will buy you an entry-mid level performance road bike. You may get full 105 carbon bike (if compromising on brand) but are likely to get a 105/ Tiagra mix. – DWGKNZ Jul 22 '14 at 19:45
  • 2
    @Blam If you consider a question inappropriate for the site, you always have the possibility to "flag" it (see the "share edit flag" line below the tags. A moderator will then have a look at it. – Benedikt Bauer Jul 22 '14 at 20:28
  • 1
    The only advancement in technology for the past 5 years or so has been electric shifting. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 22 '14 at 21:59
  • Sales cost for product lies somewhere between what it costs to supply and what customers are prepared to pay. Its been a long time since the bicycle manufacturing industry worried about what it costs to build when working out sale price, especially for high end road bikes. I can buy a new car for the same as a new high end bicycle, because the new car is a cost plus sales model and the new high end bicycle is a value added pricing model. Any discussion on price dropping is pointless when patents protect monopolies and cashed up 50 yo execs are prepared to pay whatever is asked. – mattnz Jul 23 '14 at 3:41

While not disagreeing with the first answer above I think there are a few more complexities that haven't been addressed.

Changes in bike technology are not linear but rather generational. Component improvements don't happen each year but rather every 3-4 years. Aside from pro and sponsored riders most riders would not see any value in replacing a bike for the next years model and the industry recognises this. Better to sell a new frame together with other new tech as it's released so people actually are getting something new.

Di2 was first used in the Tour in 2009 and it became commercially available in the same year. In 2011 it was released on Ultegra, which marked the first trickle down. In the last 3 years it has still not been released on 105. Until they are released in 105 it won't be available on mid range bikes and they will sit in the $2,000-$3,000 price range. That change should be due in the next year or two, unless for other commercial reasons Shimano sweat the Ultegra Di2 line and the new 11 speed 105 line for a few more years. 1 year after releasing 11 speed 6800 they released the 6870 Di2 version for Ultegra. They released 105 5800 in 2014.

It's worth noting that in electronic shifting they have no real competition from SRAM or Campi's EPS (as opposed to mtb where after Shimano released shadow+ SRAM quickly followed and released type 2 and then 1x11) so will continue to milk their mid range Ultegra until they see sales of that dwindling.

Electric gears will never be standard because there is a cost/ weight/ don't care ratio to consider. There's a point where most people won't be willing to pay (or maintain) an electric shifting system.

  • Slight difference - They don't "apply" the technology to the lower tier, they upgrade the top tier and move everything down. So the current Dura Ace group will become Ultegra, the current Ultegra will become 105, etc. Much the same happens for bikes, for example the Felt B2 layup became a couple lower tier (B12, B16) models when the B2 was upgraded. – JohnP Jul 22 '14 at 21:13
  • 3
    @vclaw - I don't think you will ever see a Di2 in a series lower than 105. They will be standard for serious road bikers but for no one else. – DWGKNZ Jul 22 '14 at 21:52
  • 1
    Progress is inevitable. 20 years ago, you only got STI shifters with DuraAce, now they are available on Sora or even Claris. Electronic shifters will become cheaper to manufacture than mechanical, and the older mechanical parts will be discontinued. There already is a Di2 Alfine hub gear, which will make it more popular on commuting/touring bikes. – vclaw Jul 22 '14 at 22:15
  • 1
    There's plenty of technologies that won't make the jump from serious to everyday riders. Very few bikes that are bought will ever be serviced, they are brought to ride and replaced when things other than the odd puncture go wrong. Yes people who are serious about bikes will buy Di2 (or similar), and maybe a Walmart will run a BSO or two with a bastardised version for a year, but it won't become standard. – DWGKNZ Jul 22 '14 at 22:54
  • 1
    It's worth noting that The UCI rules article 1.3.007 states that all parts must be commercially available. So by having Di2 used in the tour in 2009, it would have to be available commercially that same year or before. I think that's part of the reason you see these $15,000 bikes for sale. A bike isn't race legal unless it's sold commercially. If there wasn't that requirement, you probably wouldn't see manufacturers trying to sell these bikes. Just like you can't buy an F1 or NASCAR car. – Kibbee Jul 23 '14 at 20:01

Pretty broad but it has not been shut down

  • Components
    High end road bikes are marketed to racers. UCI and other racing organizations have rules on what can and cannot be on a bike. Biggest changes will come from rule changes.
    UCI allows electronic gears.
    There is currently a minimum weight for road races and pro level bikes get under this limit so there is not much incentive to reduce the weight.
    Currently disc brakes are not allowed in UCI road races. You still find some road bikes with disc (e.g. the Specialized Roubaix has some models with disc, Salsa Colossal 2, and the Colnago CX Zero Disc). UCI does currently allow disc brakes on cyclocoss and that is why you find them more standard on clyclocross.
    If you look at the few road bikes not marketed to race you will find more incremental changes year to year. I am surprised there are not more road bikes that are designed for the non-racer.
  • Cabon fiber
    Carbon fiber has not changed much. They are getting better at forming it. For the average rider it is a lighter bike with a nice ride. Some people would say a more fragile bike.
  • Electric gears standard
    When the price comes down to make it economical on a $2000 bike. Given the electric gears alone are in the $2000 range it is not going to be standard on a $2000 bike any time soon.
  • Do models improve each year
    Come on, clearly there are years in which nothing changes on some models but the color.
  • 3
    As far as electronic shifting goes, the price is kept artificially high. There is nothing inherently expensive about the components necessary to create electronic shifters. Some parts actually become simpler, as the brake lever can go back to the old style of being just an actual brake lever and only need to move along 1 axis. Maybe once Shimano's patents on electronic shifters run out you'll see them lower their prices. – Kibbee Jul 22 '14 at 17:12
  • @Kibbee When do you expect to see electronic gears standard on a $2000 bike? – paparazzo Jul 22 '14 at 17:21
  • 1
    Probably never, or once they've abandoned mechanical shifters altogether. There's nothing inherently expensive about them. Maybe once they cost $1000 bought seperately. But then the same level of mechanical shifters would have to cost less, maybe around $500. But at that price, you'd start to see DuraAce\Ultegra on $1000 bikes, which they really don't want either. They want electronic shifters and DuraAce/Ultegra components to be expensive, how else do you convince people to spend $5000 on a bike. They won't abandon mechanical because some people will refuse to have batteries on shifters. – Kibbee Jul 22 '14 at 18:06
  • @Kibbee Don't agree there is nothing inherently expensive about electric gears but I don't want to ague with you. You have electronics, battery, and motor. – paparazzo Jul 22 '14 at 19:12
  • 1
    @DWGKNZ - What R&D cost? The R&D was done by hobbyists. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 22 '14 at 22:04

I like @DWGKNZ's answer, especially where he's saying about things tending to move forward in big bangs, rather than some gradual linear progression. You will of course find small-scale enhancements year-on-year, but these would not be big enough to convince you to get a new bike, say. I just wanted to add something about hydraulic brakes.

But also I'd say your description of a $2000 bike as "high-end" is not quite there. My definition of high-end would be more like $10-15k or so. Or, putting money to one side, I'd define "high-end" simply as the bikes the teams use.

Innovations, without doubt, will appear on higher-end bikes first. You'll have already read that the last big bang, electronic shifting, appeared in the Tour de France in 2009. But you still won't find electronic shifting on most road bikes. This is simply because it hasn't been made cheap enough yet. So if you really are looking at a $2k bike, you're still waiting for this development to trickle down.

Nobody has mentioned brakes yet, but hydraulic brakes will be the next big bang for road bikes. A very few road bikes have this right now, but once the UCI approve them for competition use (apparently pretty imminent), the floodgates will open. And hydraulic brakes will trickle down more quickly that electronic shifting, simply because the technical issues with hydraulics have already been cracked in the mtb world.

Now, you can judge for yourself how much of a technical advancement electronic shifting or hydraulic brakes will be to you. But certainly the marketing people need to use things like this to try to convince us all that the bike we bought two or three years ago is actually no good, and we need to shell out once again. There is a lot of this hype goes on in the cycling world - at the most cynical it's change for change's sake - and I think recognising the things worth shelling out for becomes a judgement call.

  • 1
    I think it's really hard to define "high-end". Some might say a Corvette is high-end even though you can get one for $60K. Meanwhile, a Ferrari Testarossa costs around $220,000, and there are other super cars that cost over $1,000,000. A $2000 bike it still quite a high performance bike. The amount of advantage you'd get from a $10,000 bike compared to a $2000 is really only something you'd notice at a highly competitive level. The biggest difference you'd notice is the drain on your bank account, both at purchase time, and when you need replacement parts. – Kibbee Jul 23 '14 at 13:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.