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Patents, problems, disc brakes and helmet rows: road.cc's top 10 tech stories of 2021

Check out the most-read road.cc stories of the past 12 months, including the biggest product launches and quite a few unexpected entries…

With cycling booming but products still hard (or near impossible) to get hold of, 2021 has continued to be a strange year for bike tech, as it has been for pretty much everything else in the world... but there have been some big launches and major developments. Here's our top 10 stories of the year. 

How have we compiled the list? We've based it on good old page views, it's as simple as that. The more people who read a story, the higher it finished. 

There are some interesting omissions. Big bike and product releases such as Shimano’s Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupset launches haven’t even made it into our top 10, probably because the rest of the worldwide cycling media covered the story at exactly the same time.  

This allowed a couple of stories that you'd probably consider less significant to nip in ahead of Shimano’s launches... meaning that if you don't like our top 10, you've only yourselves to blame!

Just kidding, we’ll also be posting a round-up on the biggest product releases this year too so you’re in the know about all the latest tech you can get a hold of; or in a lot of cases, not quite yet… 

Anyway, I digress, click on each heading below to go back to the original story...

10 . Patent granted for chainset that “improves cycling efficiency by more than 4%”

Huron Cycling Impact chainset 2 - 1

First up, in October we spotted that a US patent had been granted for a chainset with a spring action that improves cycling efficiency by more than 4%, according to its inventors, by reducing the effect of the dead spot during the pedal stroke. 

Huron Cycling says that the spring action in its Impact chainset is comparable to that of the carbon plate used in recent record-breaking running shoes. 

“The crank arms are not directly attached to the crank spindle, but can rotate by up to a few degrees,” says Huron Cycling. “This rotation is counteracted by fibre composite springs inside the hollow crank arms.”

Not everyone will see the same improvement in cycling efficiency from using the Impact drivetrain as it depends on each rider’s pedalling technique, says Huron Cycling.

9. On-the-go blood glucose tracking now available with new Supersapiens Garmin integration

Supersapiens App

Blood glucose levels can now be monitored on your wrist as you exercise thanks to Supersapiens’ update to its smartphone app in May. WorldTour Pro teams, including Ineos, use the technology for dialling individual nutrition strategies.

The smartphone app pairs with Abbott’s Libre Sense glucose bio sport sensor that attaches to the back of the rider’s arm, and this data can now be streamed to Garmin watches for real-time visibility into fuelling by monitoring blood glucose levels for optimising training and recovery.

While Garmin watches now have this functionality, Supersapiens says a device built specifically for live-streaming glucose information is on the way.

The blood glucose tracking technology, according to Supersapiens, allows riders to experiment with different fuelling sources and strategies, analysing the effect that different energy products have on the blood glucose level and how long a certain product takes to cause a spike.

8. SRAM radically redesigns cranks with specialist software and 3D printing

SRAM Autodesk cranks - 4

SRAM has been enthusiastically embracing new tech this year as a means of improving the products it can deliver to consumers. Working with Autodesk software, generative design and additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, SRAM produced prototype titanium cranks with a lattice/beam structure that are said to be twice as strong and 20% lighter than those that use traditional techniques.

“For SRAM the end goal is to deliver cycling components that inspire the rider and make the bicycle faster and generative design is a tool that is allowing us to not only optimise performance parameters for the rider but also shorten our development time to try new ideas, evaluate them, throw them out or give them more merit and bring them to the prototype phase,” said the brand. “Then we're able to deliver those new ideas quicker to the end-user.”

The current design will serve as a mud trap, but some form of skin on a production version could easily solve that.

Will we see these cranks in the real world any time soon? Well, they’ve not been released yet,  we’re waiting to hear more…

7. An end to the global bike component shortage? Shimano invests £216 million in expanding production

Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 Groupset 2

Hallelujah, Shimano announced in July that it was investing around 20 billion yen (£131 million) in building a new plant in Singapore following a surge in demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Nikkei Asia has reported.

We've reported on how the global demand for bikes - and consequently components –has soared, at the same time as there has been disruption to the supply chain, leading to massive shortages and bike manufacturers quoting unprecedented lead times.

The new plant in Singapore isn’t scheduled to begin production until the end of 2022, and so we’re still experiencing shortages; but at least measures are being put in place to satisfy demand. It would have been sooner, but construction has been delayed by measures taken to curb the spread of coronavirus.

6. What’s the deal with the Canyon Aeroad right now? Owners of 2021 Canyon Aeroad told “reinforced” handlebar on its way... but don’t ride your bike until July

Image: SWPix.com

Canyon’s Aeroad has not only been heavily in the spotlight this year for stage wins, its bars have also been very much at the centre of attention, ever since the aero cockpit of the new Aeroad - which was updated in October 2020 - snapped under Mathieu van der Poel while he was racing Le Samyn in March.

2021 Canyon Aeroad CFR Dura Ace Di2 - bar adjustment.jpg As a result, Canyon issued a ‘stop ride’ notice to owners of the 2021 Canyon Aeroad models that featured the CP15 and CP18 cockpits and said new reinforced drop bars will be sent as a replacement. But as Canyon provides bikes for the Movistar, Arkéa–Samsic and Alpecin–Fenix pro teams, a quicker solution for the pros also needed to be found, and initially that was to use the Aeroad with an older handlebar and external cable routing.

The new Aeroad frameset is designed for fully internal cable routing, the cables entering at the top of the head tube directly from the cockpit, so there are no ports for the cables to enter. That meant the framesets had to be drilled to get the cables inside. Still, at least it allowed the pros to race on sponsor-appropriate bikes.

But what this story was all about was the latest development at the Tour de France. We spotted some of Canyon’s pro riders using a new bar that allows the cables to run internally again for some “final testing”. When Mathieu van der Poel stormed to victory on Stage 2 there wasn’t a cable in sight, and the yellow bike he rode on subsequent days as race leader also had fully internal cable routing.

Fast forward to November 2021 and we noticed Canyon had dropped the prices of some models in the Aeroad range, with the CF SL 8 Disc, for example, now priced at £3,699 after previously being £4,149 in January before the snapped bar issue… coincidence or not? 

Prices rose in November 2020 and then again in January 2020 due to coronavirus complications and Brexit, but the Aeroad is still £100 cheaper than when first released in October.

5. Strava goes 3D with new Terrain Mode feature

2021 Strava 3D_Heatmap_Clubpost_Global

On World Earth Day, Strava went live with its new 3D Terrain Mode within its personal heatmaps to bring a “fresh dynamic to heatmaps and the visual terrain experience” by better depicting the terrain completed. 

Personal heatmaps is Strava’s feature which brings together all the rides you have completed, and this 3D extension was added for subscribers to reflect the terrain covered in each ride. 

> Review: Strava Premium (annual subscription)

Satellite map imagery was also updated across all of Strava’s surfaces, including routes, personal heatmap, and activity uploads – on both mobile and web.

The new satellite images are, on average, from the last two years or newer, and Strava says this provides more accurate context and more seamless exploring from place to place and across zoom levels.

4. Shimano denies design problem with Hollowtech cranks despite reports of cracked arms

shimano crank failure - via HawkinsPeter on rodcc forum

An image of a fully snapped off Shimano crank certainly got your attention. There was more than a little reaction to our story about Shimano denying a design problem with its Hollowtech cranks... you lot had your say in many, many replies, and with photographic evidence too.

What was all the fuss about? Well, Shimano says that there isn't a design issue with its cranks despite reports of a pattern of failures stretching back a loooong way – although its engineers are continuing to investigate other factors or a specific cause.

The cranks have a hollow design which makes them light; decreasing the rotating mass helps with acceleration, but the issue with them came to the fore again recently when road.cc reader hawkinspeter shared his recent experience on the road.cc forum, complete with a photo of a Hollowtech crank arm cracked and completely and split in two.

Matthew Schieferstein commented that "there's a whole Instagram page dedicated to the failures of your [Shimano's] components....yeah, there's a design flaw."

We even had a principal lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Greenwich, Grahame Baker, chip in: "I would argue that is a design issue — either the product hasn't been designed for the process available, or the process has been designed to be incapable of manufacturing the product. Splitting hairs, I know. But important in my world as a manufacturing engineer." 

Shimano’s full response on the issue can be found on the article here.

3. Strava adds location details in users’ activity feeds

Strava location

More changes were introduced on the route planning and activity recording app, this time Strava made updates to how locations are added to posts in user's feeds, as well as improvements to the search functionality on mobile.

What’s new? Well, users don’t have to click on an activity and zoom out from the map to work out the location anymore. Now the town or city where the activity took place is being pulled and displayed next to the time and date of the activity in the feed.

Strava says this new feature was included to make it easier for athletes to see where their friends, family and those they follow are exercising.

You can now also search for particular races or activities on the mobile app without scrolling through your feed. Uploads can be found by typing in keywords or filtering by sport type, distance, time, elevation and date range.

2. Is Chris Froome still unhappy with his disc brakes? Four-time Tour de France winner switches out Shimano callipers for mountain stage

This year Chris Froome made it very clear he isn’t the convert to disc brakes that many pro riders are, and you wanted to read all about his complaints with the braking system. He wasn't "100 per cent sold" on disc brakes despite having used them for a couple of months on the Factor Ostro VAM that his Israel Start-Up Nation (ISUN) team uses.

While the performance across wet and dry conditions impressed him, it was concerns over rubbing, overheating and the potential for rotors becoming warped on long descents that left him unconvinced. 

As part of our coverage of the Tour de France on the double Ventoux stage, we spotted Froome taking one more step in an attempt to stop the annoying rotor noise that can follow heavy breaking. He was using what we think is Magura’s premium MTB SL FM two-piston flat-mount calliper.

Heavy braking is often required when blasting it down twisty descents in the Tour at high speeds, and this hard braking can cause heat to build on the rotor and also within the brake calliper, where the heat can cause the pistons to expand slightly. This prevents the brake pads from returning to their ‘off’ position - with the brake pad still slightly touching the rotor, you then get that annoying noise.

With Froome being given the green light to use rim brakes should he wish, this set-up must have been good enough to keep him on discs.

1. Swedish safety research recommends three helmets out of 23 tested

Folksam Testing 2020 2

The biggest-hitting story of the year? What could top Chris Froome’s disc brake quibbles, failing components from big brands, patent-digging, Shimano shortages and big shiny bike launches? Helmet safety, of course -  an obvious one for getting you lot talking!

A test of 15 cycle helmets for adults and eight children's helmets available to the UK market was carried out earlier this year, and resulted in recommendations for only three of them for safety.

Folksam Insurance Group in Sweden was funded by the Road Safety Trust to complete extended safety tests on a selection of helmets available in this country.

Scott’s Arx Plus (£89.99) and Specialized’s Align II (£45) were the two adult helmets that received the ‘recommended’ label following the five physical tests that were performed by the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), which is accredited for testing and certification in accordance with the European standard.

The tests included two shock absorption tests with straight perpendicular impact as well as three oblique impact tests, and computer simulations were subsequently carried out to evaluate the risk for concussion.

To be recommended, a helmet had to be more than 15% better than the average in the test round – both for direct and oblique (angled) impact.

With the two adult helmets priced comfortably under the £100 mark, the Road Safety Trust concluded, “this confirms that good safety performance does not require high expense”.

That concludes our list... what were your favourite cycling tech stories of the year? Let us know what you think has missed out in the comments. 

Anna has been hooked on bikes ever since her youthful beginnings at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. As an avid road and track racer, she reached the heady heights of a ProCyclingStats profile before leaving for university. Having now completed an MA in Multimedia Journalism, she’s hoping to add some (more successful) results. Although her greatest wish is for the broader acceptance of wearing funky cycling socks over the top of leg warmers.

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