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2021 tech trends: how next year's bikes are shaping up – plus emerging cycle tech trends for 2022

Changes to frames, wheels, tyres and more coming to a bike near you in 2021… and 2022 too

The 2020 launch season is in full swing with Specialized, Trek, Giant and loads of other big brands having introduced cool new bikes over recent weeks, and here are some of the key trends that we've seen so far.

Not all of these trends are new, of course. That's the thing with trends – they develop. With more launches planned for the next few weeks, it'll be interesting to see which ones are taken further by other brands.

Lightweight bikes get more aero

Over the past few years, all of the big brands have had a lightweight race bike and an aero race bike in the range, although the distinction has become ever more blurred: aero features have been added to the lightweight models, while the aero bikes have been lightened to offer you the best of both worlds.

These developments have continued with major launches in 2020. Giant, for example, hadn't incorporated aerodynamic features into its lightweight TCR range before, figuring that if you wanted to reduce drag you'd opt for its Propel aero bike. 

2021 Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc - riding 6.jpg

When the 2021 TCR Advanced was announced back in April, though, Giant said, "The new TCR takes a major leap forward in aero performance. This is where its most quantifiable gains, compared to the previous generation, can be found. 

"Every tube shape was analysed, engineered and tested to create an overall structure with significantly lower drag at a wider range of yaw angles. The result is a TCR that’s faster than ever, especially in sprints and solo efforts."

2021 Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc - seat tube junction.jpg

Read our review of the Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc 2021

The tube profiles are truncated ellipses and the shaping of the down tube is designed to work aerodynamically with a water bottle in place.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro - riding 5.jpg

Then in June Trek added aerodynamic features to its lightweight Émonda for the first time.  

"The obvious goal was to get more aerodynamic but we didn't want to end up just designing another Madone or something really close to it, so we picked a famous climb, Alpe d'Huez [8.6 miles/ 13.85km at an average gradient of 8.1%, a frequent feature of the Tour de France], and made that our target," said Trek aerodynamicist John Davis.

Read our review of the Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro 2021

Trek's engineers concentrated on the front end of the bike – the handlebar/stem, head tube and down tube – because that's where most gains can be made, and tested with and without a water bottle in place.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro - head tube.jpg

"In the wind tunnel, the new Émonda is about 60 seconds per hour faster [than the previous version] at high speeds, and with our Alpe D'Huez target it's about 18 seconds per hour faster," says John Davis.

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - riding 7.jpg

Just this week, Specialized has launched a new SL7 version of its lightweight Tarmac, which it says is so aerodynamically efficient that the Venge aero road bike is now superfluous.

"We have the technical ability to create a bike that's as aero as rules allow and as light as rules allow in a single package," said Cam Piper, the product manager behind the Specialized Tarmac SL7. "Anything else would be forcing riders to make a compromise on race day, and we just weren't okay with that anymore.

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - head tube.jpg

"By targeting the tubes that truly impact the aero performance of the frame, whether it's the seat tube, the seatstays, the head tube or the fork blades, all with shapes from our FreeFoil Shape Library [the collection of airfoil shapes that Specialized has developed], and then mating them with the fastest components that we have at our disposal and integrating the cabling, we created a package that is 45secs faster over 40km than the Tarmac SL6." 

It's only Specialized that says the time for separate lightweight and aero bikes is over, but the brand's claim that you no longer need to choose between them does make you wonder whether we've entered a new era in road bike development.

Tyre clearance gets ever larger

Tyres have been getting wider in the road bike world for years, and this trend continues.

2021 Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc - stays.jpg

Although 25mm tyres are fitted as standard, there's enough clearance to run 32mm tyres from most brands on the disc brake bikes in the new Giant TCR Advanced range, for example. That's wide for a road race bike.

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - clearance.jpg

The new Specialized Tarmac SL7s ship with 26mm-wide tyres, but there's enough clearance to fit 32mm-wide tyres here too.

2020 Open Cycle MIN.D. - seat stays.jpg

The same goes for Open's new MIN.D road bike. 

2020 Merida Scultura Endurance 7000E - riding 2.jpg

You'd expect a comfort-focused bike like Merida's new Scultura Endurance to take wide tyres, and it does – you can fit 700 x 35mm slicks comfortably, although 32mm is standard.

2021 Cervelo Caledonia action 2.jpg

Cervélo says that its new Caledonia is 'race bred' and designed with the Paris-Roubaix cobbles in mind. Again, you'd probably expect a generous amount of clearance here; 28mm tyres are fitted but you can go up to 34mm if you like. 

2020 Specialized Diverge launch action  - 23.jpg

Of course, gravel bikes are always going to have wider tyres than road bikes, but even compared to most other platforms of its genre, the updated Specialized Diverge has a lot of clearance. You can fit a 700C x 47mm tyre, or a 650b x 2.1in, with 6mm of space around it. Specialized incorporates a 15mm-long flat section of carbon-fibre into the driveside chainstay in order to provide the room. 

3T Exploro RaceMax 8-2

3T's Exploro RaceMax gravel bike has more clearance than previous Exploros too – 700C × 40mm or 650B × 54mm.

Not every new bike has space for huge tyres – the new Trek Émondas have conservative clearance for 700C x 28mm, for instance – but the trend is definitely upward.

Threaded bottom brackets return

Several new bikes launched this year have featured threaded bottom brackets, in a move that's going to please many.

Pressed in bottom brackets have ruled the mid to high-end bike market for the past few years, but they've never been universally popular. Some systems are prone to creaking and installation/removal can be difficult.

Fed up of pressfit bottom brackets? Find out if something better is on the way 

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro - bottom bracket 2.jpg

Whereas previous Émondas featured Trek's BB90 bottom bracket system with the bearings pressed into the BB shell, all the new Émonda SLR and SL models use T47, which is a design that the brand began using on its Domanés last year. 

First introduced by Chris King and Argonaut Cycles, T47 bottom brackets thread into a wide shell. Trek says that you can expect to see T47 used more widely across its road range in future.

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - bottom bracket.jpg

All new Specialized Diverge models have a 68mm BSA threaded bottom bracket and the same is true of the new Tarmac SL7s

Pressed in bottom brackets are still hugely popular, but with Trek and Specialized moving back towards threaded systems, we wouldn't be surprised to see other brands following suit.

More power meters specced on complete bikes

It wasn't so long ago that power meters were exclusively an expensive aftermarket upgrade – and they still are, in many cases. However, we're seeing more of them specced on complete bikes .

Each of the three SRAM eTap-equipped Trek Émonda SL and SLRs is fitted with a Quarq power meter, for example, the least expensive of these models being the £5,250 Émonda SL 7 eTap. 

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - crank.jpg

The S-Works Tarmac SL7 Red eTap gets a Quarq power meter too, and the S-Works Tarmac SL7 Dura-Ace Di2 features a Specialized power meter, although each of these bikes is priced £10,500. 

Cervélo specs power meters on some of its new Caledonia bikes too. The £6,399 Caledonia-5 Force eTap AXS comes with a Quarq power meter, for instance. 

2021 Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc - crank.jpg

Several new Giant TCR Advanced bikes come with power meters. The £3,299 TCR Advanced Pro 1 features Giant's own crank-based PowerPro system, for example, while the TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc we reviewed had a Quarq design.

Cables on show are a no go

Cables and hoses routed inside of the frame have been de rigeur for years, and there's nothing new about hiding them inside the handlebar and stem either, but it is becoming ever more popular.

It raised a few eyebrows when Giant decided to leave cables/hoses exposed between the handlebar and the down tube and fork leg with the new TCRs, with some road.cc readers commenting that it looked old fashioned. Giant said that it made the decision in order to keep adjustments simple.

2021 Trek EmondaSLR7Disc_21_32565_A_Alt5.jpg

Trek hides the cables on the Émonda SLRs thanks to Bontrager's new carbon Aeolus RSL VR-C integrated handlebar/stem. 

BontragerAeolusRSLRoadBarstem_32627_A_Alt1

The cables/hoses don't run internally but are positioned in a channel underneath the handlebar section while a carbon clamp sits under the stem. This allows you to swap the bar/stem without having to re-route the cables/hoses. Trek says the design is optimised for electronic shifting, but that it works with mechanical setups too.

The headset spacers are a split design. You can separate the two interlocking parts to remove them, meaning that adjusting the handlebar height is relatively easily.

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - head tube badge.jpg

The higher end Specialized Tarmac SL7s feature the S-Works Aerofly II handlebar first introduced on the Venge. Both the brake hoses and gear cables are fully hidden and you don't need to re-cable in order to adjust the fit.

2021 Cervelo Caledonia stemandbar_profile.jpg

Although the Cervélo Caledonia has partially external hose/cable routing, it's fully internal on electronic versions of the new Caledonia-5.

Cervélo has evolved the design from its S3 road bike, using a D-shaped fork steerer with a split ring that allows brake hose and Shimano Di2 cable routing from Cervélo's existing AB09 carbon handlebar into the body of the stem and down into the frame.

2020 Merida Scultura Endurance 7000E - stem.jpg

The cables aren't completely hidden on the new Merida Scultura Endurance – you can see them underneath the stem –but the bike features a new ‘Wire Port’. This is where the shifting and brake cables are routed through the headset for a less cluttered front end.

Most brands like to say that concealing the cables isn't just an aesthetic matter, it reduces drag too.

Disc brake-only road bike models are more common

Not so long ago, the thought of offering a new road bike only in a disc brake option would have been unthinkable, but this has become increasingly the case over the past couple of years.

2020 Merida Scultura Endurance 7000E - rear disc brake.jpg

The new Merida Scultura Endurance and Cervélo Caledonia are designed to tackle broken roads as well as smooth tarmac, so it's not surprising that they're both made exclusively for disc brakes.

2020 Specialized Tarmac SL7 - fork.jpg

However, the Specialized Tarmac SL7 is designed with road racing in mind and the same goes for the new Trek Émonda SLR and SL models. You can't get rim brake versions of any of them.

Trek made clear when launching the 2021 Émondas that rather than foisting disc brakes on an unwilling public, it was responding to demand. When disc brake and rim brake versions of the same bike have been available in the past, discs have been far more popular.

The new version of Merida's Reacto, launched just this week, is disc brake-only too.

On the flip side, Giant does offer its 2021 TCRs in both disc brake and rim brake models.

Wheels are still getting wider

Now that bigger tyres are more popular and rim brake callipers are less of a limiting factor – because there are so many disc-brake bikes around – wheels are getting wider than ever.

2020 Roval Rapide CLX wheelset - logo.jpg

Roval's new Rapide CLX wheels have different profiles front and rear; the rear one is 60mm deep with a 30mm external width while he front one is 51mm deep and a colossal 35mm.

"Since the front wheel induces the vast majority of instability from gusts, we made the front rim shallower and wider than the rear," said Roval. "This shape boosts stability, while boasting impressively low drag. Since the rear wheel impacts stability much less, it is deeper and narrower, optimised more singularly on minimising drag."

parcours strade disc launch.PNG

Parcours launched the Strade aero wheelset back in January, aerodynamically optimised for use with 28mm tyres. These have wide rims too.

Parcours Strade wheelset -4.jpg

Parcours set out to offer a new kind of aero wheelset that wouldn't sacrifice ride quality or comfort for speed. It reckons it has achieved this by creating different profiles for the front and rear wheels (like Roval, above) – something it concluded was necessary after conducting analysis of real-world wind conditions and the impact of yaw angle on wheel design. 

The wider, U-shaped front rim – 49mm deep with a maximum external rim width of 32mm – is designed for more stability while the rear, which is less affected by crosswinds, is deeper and narrower – 54mm deep with a maximum external width of 30.5mm – with a V-shaped profile.

Zipp 303S wheels.jpg

Compared with the models mentioned above, Zipp's new 45mm-deep 303 S tubeless wheels don't seem that chunky, but the hookless 700c rim is 27mm wide – 2mm wider than that of its predecessor, the 302 Disc Brake – with an internal width that has increased by a whopping 7mm to 23mm. 

The wheels are said to be fastest with 28mm-wide tyres fitted, but the extra width means that they're cable of supporting gravel tyres up to 50mm wide. For once with Zipp, it's not all about aerodynamics.

"The wide rim optimises tyre profile to allow lower tyre pressure, especially with tubeless tyres," says Zipp. "That helps to reduce rolling resistance and provides a more compliant ride with fewer vibrations."

Read our Zipp 303S wheels review 

Trends to watch for 2022 

Long top tubes and shorter stems on gravel bikes

Merida introduced the Silex gravel/adventure bike back in 2017, giving it a long top tube and a short stem – features borrowed from the world of mountain biking. The idea was to provide a balance between stability and nimble handling.

2020 Specialized Diverge Pro - Futureshock.jpg

The new version of Specialized's Diverge takes a broadly similar approach with a slacker head tube angle than previously (by almost 1°), a longer reach and a shorter cockpit. Specialized is looking to increase stability while keeping the saddle-to-handlebar distance similar to before. The shorter stem can also make the steering more lively.

It'll be interesting to see if this mountain bike-inspired approach gains further ground over coming months.

Sub-compact chainsets

Although 1x (single chainring) systems are extremely popular, sub-compact 2x chainsets – ones offering lower gear ratios than a 50/34-tooth compact chainset – continue to become more common as gravel and all-road bikes grow in popularity.

Shimano's GRX RX800 gravel groupset offers a 48/31-tooth chainset, for example – as found on Specialized's Diverge Comp Carbon (£3,600) – while GRX RX600 is available with 46/30-tooth chainrings.

Your complete guide to Shimano’s GRX gravel groupset

SRAM Force eTap AXS Wide chainset.jpg

SRAM offers 48/35 and 46/33 chainsets, plus a new 43/30-tooth option in its Force eTap AXS Wide groupset.

Interestingly, British brand Chater-Lea has introduced a 46/30 chainset recently, along withe two 1x options.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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