By Nicole Formosa
SUN VALLEY, ID—In a product development timeline of bicycle innovations, Adrian Montgomery thinks the hash mark for 2011 will signify the year aero road bikes arrived for good.
Montgomery is so confident in the viability of the up-and-coming category that he believes aero-shaped tubes will replace round tube bikes in the future.
“I think aero road is here to stay. Right now it’s at the high-end, but it’s going to trickle down to lower models over the next couple years,” said Montgomery, PR and marketing director for Scott Sports, which debuted its Foil aero road bike this year after testing an earlier version in the 2010 Tour de France under then Scott-sponsored pro Mark Cavendish.
Although Cervélo is credited with initially putting aero road bikes on the map, a bevy of brands have logged countless hours in the wind tunnel developing aero road bikes of their own in the past several years, bringing the concept to the forefront.
With mainstream companies like Specialized and its newly minted Venge, Scott and Felt with the AR series now in the market, aero road has been validated as a legitimate road sub-category.
Montgomery believes the interest of late speaks to the progression of engineers’ carbon fiber expertise. It used to be aerodynamic tube shapes had a lateral stiffness that caused a harsh ride.
“Now that we’ve gotten so good at working in carbon fiber we can essentially make any tube shape we want. We’re not limited by any means,” he said. “Carbon fiber is still maturing and in its maturation, people are learning to use it better.”
Doug Martin, marketing director for Felt, which launched its AR series of aero road bikes in 2009, said aerodynamics have become a selling point for end users.
“Aerodynamics is a new characteristic that I think people are willing to shop for and potentially even willing to pay for,” Martin said. Felt cut its teeth making solo effort TT and track bikes, and translated that knowledge into a road format for its AR series.
Two years into that effort, aero sales are robust and Felt considers aero to be a standalone sub category under its road bike umbrella. It’s anecdotal to be sure, but perhaps one gauge of the acceptance of Felt’s aero road bikes can be found on its Facebook page.
“More aero road bikes are posted on our Facebook page than any single other road bike,” Martin said.
Still, he says it’s early to say how many consumers will migrate toward aero instead of traditional round tube bikes. For one, an aero road bike may offer a speed advantage, but there’s also a weight penalty because a teardrop tube requires more material than a round tube. It’s slight, but to some every gram counts.
“There’s no way at this point to make shaped tubes or aero types light enough and still retain the stiffness you need for the bike to ride properly,” said Chris Pic, manager of product development for Blue Competition Cycles. Blue also released its first aero road bike in 2009 with the AC1, a frame that tested 16 percent faster in the wind tunnel than its previous road frame.
Pic said aero frames are ideal for road racers, especially those who may find themselves off the front of the pack looking for an edge to hold the lead, as well as enthusiasts riding gran fondos or centuries.
Consumers, he said, seem to be latching on to the concept of an aero advantage.
“In the road category, we’re actually selling better on the aero road than on the Xcino (Blue’s high-end round tube frame), even though we’re selling out of both,” Pic said, adding that aero sales make up 65 percent of the road category. By volume and dollars, triathlon remains Blue’s top category.
Pic said he sees a strong future for aero road and plans to release an updated version of the top-end AC1 SL this summer, a frame that’s been in development for about a year.
In another testament to the viability of the category, its creator, Cervélo, will debut a new version of its S3 aero road bike this month at the Tour de France. The bike has been fully reworked, tapping into everything the company has learned since the original SLC-SL aero road bike hit the market six years ago, said Phil White, co-founder of Cervélo.
The result is a faster, lighter, stiffer iteration of the S3, a frame that’s already touted as the lightest on the market.
“There are a lot of aero improvements,” White said. “It’s the biggest jump we’ve made on the road bike from previous generations.”