Irish Pro-Continental team Aqua Blue Sport has announced that it will be riding 3T’s revolutionary/opinion dividing/aargh! kill it now! (delete as applicable) Strada performance bike in the pro peloton next year.
Having the Strada in the pro peloton - something confidently predicted by Gerard Vroomen the bike’s designer when we spoke to him at its European launch earlier this year, is interesting on a number of levels. The most obvious being that it will be the first 1x bike to be raced on the road by the pros, the other being that this is a bike designed as a purely disc brake only machine plenty of disc braked race bikes have UCI approval, but the teams riding them also have a rim-braked option at their disposal too - that would appear not to be the case for Aqua Blue as 3T only make disc braked bikes.
So that’s either a tacit admission from the UCI that disc brakes are here to stay or that they don’t mind hanging a team out to dry should the powers that be in Aigle suddenly decide that they much prefer rim brakes thank you very much. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened and it will be interesting to see what noises the post-Cookson regime at the UCI make about the continued adoption of new technology in the pro peloton.
You can make your own mind up about the Strada by watching our First ride video and interview with Gerard Vroomen videos both below.
The Strada will be the first 1x road bike raced by the pros - 1x groupsets which have only one chainring at the front rather than two have become fairly stand fare on mountain bikes in the last few years and given the general trend for off-road technology to move on to the road it has been considered only a matter of time before 1x made it’s way on to road bikes too. The limiting factors to adoption of 1x for performance road bike to date are that only SRAM make a road a 1x groupset - a situation that Shimano are expected to rectify soon (although ‘soon’ in Shimano time doesn’t necessarily mean imminently… mind you, it usually means more imminently than Campagnolo - though maybe the Italians will surprise us); and the fact that no pro teams have so far adopted the set up. Well, until now.
The benefits of 1x
It’s lighter - only one ring at the front
It’s simpler - only one ring at the front
Less for your left hand to do (this is a marginal gain)
The downsides of 1x
Only one ring at the front means it has to be the right ring for the terrain you’re riding over
Ditto for the cassette at the back
Road 1x systems currently limited to 11-spd which means gaps in your gears at the back, ideal scenario would be a 12 or even 13-spd rear cassette
One of 1x’s benefits - the drop in weight - is of course negated by the UCI minimum 6.8Kg weight limit which pretty much all top end bikes have no trouble reaching these days - even with disc brakes. However, as Vroomen would no doubt point out the Strada isn’t about being super light weight - though it is light - it’s about being very aero, hence the integrated disc brake mount design of the front fork, super tight frame clearances, and those fat 28mm tyres, and removing the front mech and a chainring undoubtedly also aids aero optimisation.
According to one industry insider - who works a lot with pro teams - the big hurdle that 1x set ups need to overcome is are the jumps between gears on the cassette - pros, quite understandably are very careful about their knees. And while an 11-spd SRAM 1x 11-25 or 11-28 cassette gives the same run of gears with no jumps at the low end of the sprocket as the Shimano equivalent the Shimano cassettes are usually combined with a 52-36 chainset which helps smooth out the jumps between bigger cogs - obviously that option isn’t there on a 1x where you’ve got 3 tooth jumps from 19-22-25-28 on the SRAM 11-28 and once you get in to the realms of WiFLi cassettes there are more jumps and some of them are bigger. Plus one a 1x you may want to go higher than an 11t on the flat or descents.
3T have sought to address this issue with their - not yet available - Bailout and Overdrive cassettes which give you 9-32 two different 9-32 setups. Sprockets on the Bailout increase one tooth at a time at the business end with a big jump from 26 to 32 when you hit that horribly steep hill. The Overdrive meanwhile gives you evenly spaced jumps through the middle of the cassette with the 9t so you can keep the hammer down on descents.
That all sounds promising but clearly the idea solution would be to add more sprockets, something that is surely in the pipeline given that SRAM already do a 1x12 for mountain bikes and an extra one, or even two cogs could be accommodated in the 135mm rear spacing. Watch this space as it were.
Aqua Blue Sport are clearly satisfied that they aren’t going to be dumped out of the back at the first significant change in terrain having tested the Strada “to the limit’ before deciding to go with the bikes for next season. Stage wins at the Vuelta, and Tour de Suisse and the overall at the Tour of Austria suggest they are not an outfit who are there just to make up the numbers and if team owner, Rick Delaney’s comments are anything to go by they certainly believe in the 1x performance road bike concept.
“We at Aqua Blue Sport are very much attracted to innovation and people who are moving cycling forward. What Gerard Vroomen and 3T have designed is truly a step forward bicycle design. We are delighted to bring this bike to the professional ranks and ride it in the world’s biggest events.”
As part of the deal between the two companies Aquabluesport.com will become an official 3T online partner selling 3T bikes and components the bikes and kit aren’t on the portal yet, but no doubt they soon will be.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.