All-Road Bikes are the Road Bikes of the Future

All-Road Bikes are the Road Bikes of the Future

All-road bikes with wide tires are the hottest trend in cycling. There is a level of excitement that we haven’t seen since the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s: These new bikes bring new people into the sport, who are enticed by the idea of cycling on small roads, away from traffic. The new bikes combine what people love about road bikes – effortless speed – and mountain bikes – go-anywhere ability – without the drawbacks. These bikes have the potential to transform the bike industry.
Like most trends, this one didn’t start within the industry. Bike manufacturers only reluctantly adopted wide tires on performance bikes. Even then, they called them ‘gravel bikes,’ in the hopes of selling one to every cyclist, in addition to the ‘road,’ ‘mountain,’ and ‘cyclocross’ bikes they already owned. But ‘gravel’ was too limiting a term for something that is much more than just a bike for the special condition of riding on gravel.
Recently, bike companies have adopted the name ‘all-road bikes,’ a term we coined way back in 2006, when we realized the potential of wide tires on performance bikes. It’s great to see cycling luminaries like Richard Bryne (founder of Speedplay) say: “The potential of this bike category cannot be underestimated.” He predicts that all-road bikes will “dwarf the previous road and MTB categories in scale and relegate them to the two margins of the market spectrum.” 
In other words: All-road bikes will becomes the go-to bike for most cyclists. Racing and mountain bikes will move to the fringes of the market, used for very specialized applications where all-road bikes reach their limits.

Bryne is not the only one to feel that way. Gerard Vroomen, the founder of Cervelo, sold his company – famous for its narrow-tire racers – to start two all-road bike ventures. Together with Andy Kessler, he started a new company, Open, and introduced the iconic U.P. (for ‘Unbeaten Path’). And he bought the former handlebar maker 3T and introduced the company’s first bike, the all-road Exploro. These bikes take the performance of modern carbon racers and add the ability to run ultra-wide tires. And both have had more influence on the bike industry than any other bike of the last decade. Vroomen’s characteristic dropped chainstay – to create room for wide tires between narrow road cranks, he moved the chainstay out of the way – has been cropping up on bikes from many mainstream manufacturers. The Open web site exclaims: “Go anywhere fast!”
We said similar things back in 2006. Our tire tests had shown that wide tires could roll as fast as narrow ones – provided they used a supple, high-performance casing. At the time, a road bike with wide tires seemed like a ludicrous idea to most. The very definition of a road bike was that it had narrow tires!
And yet, we became convinced that road cycling’s future rolled on wide tires. We coined the name ‘allroad bike’ (at first without a hyphen) to explain our vision: a new type of bike that was a road bike, but designed to go on all roads, not just smooth, paved ones.
The problem back then: There were no high-performance bikes designed for wide tires. Not even the tires themselves existed: The only wide tires on the market were heavy, stiff touring models – a far cry from the supple high-performance tires we envisioned. Our first task was to make the tires available. Then we asked the industry to build all-road bikes around the new tires.

Road Bike of the Future?
That was the title of our test of the Tournesol (above) in Bicycle Quarterly. We wrote: “Our test bike this month may well be one of the first of a new breed of ‘Allroad’ bikes: road bikes with wide tires that ride as fast as racing bikes on paved roads, and faster than cyclocross or mountain bikes on unpaved roads.”
That was in Autumn 2006. The first ‘allroad’ bike had a titanium frame, 650B wheels, and its disc brakes presaged the future. The brand itself was a short-lived collaboration between BQ reader Douglas Brooks and Seattle’s Steve Hampsten. With updated colorways and components, this 13-year-old bike could pass for a current all-road bike. Put some modern rubber on it, and its performance would be very much up-to-date, too.

And yet it’s not like we came up with something that had never existed before: We may have coined the name ‘all-road bike,’ but high-performance bikes with wide tires weren’t a new idea, even in 2006. Our research was inspired by mid-century constructeurs like René Herse – above on his amazing 7.94 kg (17.50 lb) bike during the 1938 Concours de Machines. Wide, hand-made tires; bags strapped bikepacking-style to a superlight rack; flared drop handlebars – Herse’s bike wouldn’t look out of place on a gravel adventure today.

René Herse wasn’t the first to discover wide, supple tires, either. Way back in the 1890s, bicycles became popular once pneumatic tires revolutionized their speed and comfort. The change was so profound that old bikes with narrow solid rubber tires were henceforth called ‘Boneshakers’! The whole idea behind putting air in your tires was to run wider, more supple tires. The first pneumatic tires measured about 43 mm wide – not very different from the tires many of us run on our bikes today!
So fast were the pneumatics that you couldn’t win a race without them. During the first Paris-Brest-Paris – back then still a professional race – all of the first three riders were on pneumatics, even though the technology was still brand-new! Never since has a change swept through the cycling world with such speed.

Why did tires become narrower over time? Already in the 1920s, Vélocio, the editor of the magazine Le Cycliste, joked about the ‘pneu crayon’ that most racers used: narrow, made from stiff rubber, and pumped up to the highest pressure possible. Even on the rough roads of the Tour de France (above), racers used tires that measured little more than 28 mm.
Vélocio brought back wider tires for a while, but by the 1950s, most riders were on narrow rubber again. That trend continued until recently. Why was the joy of riding on a supple cushion of air forgotten time and again?
I think the answer lies in a powerful placebo effect: Pumping up your tires harder makes your bike feel faster, even if it isn’t. Here is how it works: Your bike vibrates as your tires hit road irregularities. The faster you go, the more bumps your tires hit per second – the frequency of the vibrations increases. This experience conditions us to equate higher frequencies with more speed.
When you pump up your tires harder, the frequency of the vibrations also increases. You get the same effect as you do by going faster, except your speed is the same – but you feel faster. Conversely, a wide tire at low pressures feels slower because the vibrations that we equate with speed disappear.

In a group with well-matched riders, you realize that even though wider tires may feel slower at first, they actually aren’t. In fact, racers were among the first to put Bicycle Quarterly‘s research into practice: Soon after we showed our test results to a technical advisor who worked for several North American pro teams, the (Canadian) Cervelo team started riding on 25 mm tires. Other North American teams followed suit, and a few years later, even the European teams started to race on 25s. Now many are moving to 28s…
For racers, it’s easy to check speed. If you can hang with the group, even though you’re riding wider tires, you know that the wider tires aren’t slowing you down.

For the rest of us, the placebo of ‘high pressure = high-frequency vibrations = high speed’ can be unlearned. I no longer feel any slower on my Firefly with its 54 mm tires (above) than I do on a racing bike with 28s.

That brings us back to the original question: Are all-road bikes just a trend? Will their time come and go, like so many other bike categories that were hot for a while before the next big thing dropped? Will the joys of riding on supple, wide, high-performance tires be forgotten again?
I don’t think so. Unlike in the past, this time, the ‘wide-tire revolution’ is backed up by solid data. We won’t be tricked by placebo effects any longer! Smart people like Bryne and Vroomen are putting their money and effort into all-road bikes, because all-road bikes are transforming cycling as we know it. At Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles, we are proud to have contributed at least a small part to make this happen.
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Comments (60)

  • RayM

    Why do you say ” and faster than cyclocross”?
    Is it because rules for cyclocross competition limit the tire width to 33 mm?

    January 22, 2019 at 4:38 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes, back when I wrote that in 2006, cyclocross bikes rarely could accept tires wider than 33 mm. These days, many cyclocross bikes are becoming all-road bikes, and fit far wider tires.

      January 22, 2019 at 7:06 am
  • Julie jacobs

    This is so funny. The latest trend is all marketing! Allroad bike have been around for many many years as you mentioned. It’s just now that marketing sees an opportunity to make more money on something “ new”. The idea isn’t new at all. We are lead to believe we need the newest latest trend in order to ride wherever we want. What’s that motto? Any bike, anywhere, anytime. Just go ride. (In my humble opinion)
    Yes, I understand that some bike setups are better for some purposes than others. No doubt. But really, the marketers shouldn’t be the determiner of our routes and riding habits.

    January 22, 2019 at 6:32 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree that the big makers initially saw ‘gravel bikes’ just as a new bandwagon to jump on. The industry had a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that the oldest bike category of all, the racing bike, was going to be replaced. But I think that people like Bryne and Vroomen are seeing the potential of changing the bike industry for the better – and we shouldn’t discount that.
      I feel that we should welcome better bikes that can take us more places and be more fun to ride on all roads. As much as I love custom bikes, it’s nice to also test bikes for Bicycle Quarterly that you can actually buy, today, at a local bike shop.

      January 22, 2019 at 7:17 am
    • Jacob Musha

      Julie, can you please let me know which performance bikes from the past fit wide tires? I am not aware of any.
      My 2001 Surly Cross Check has been a great commuter. With a 26″ wheel/fixed gear conversion it will fit 52mm tires and fenders. But it is definitely not a spirited ride. Oversize tubing, very stiff. Lots of people have toured across the country on that frame. I also have a 1980s mountain bike that I converted to “road” use with drop bars. It’s perfect for touring and carrying heavy loads but not for going fast.

      January 22, 2019 at 9:08 am
      • internetcoolie

        To Jacob, and Julie,
        I agree that it’s hard to find performance bikes from the past 20-30 years that fit big tires, but go back 40 years. I’m measuring an 80’s Holdsworth Special (Reynolds 531 DB) right now and I think I can slip in the 35mm Bon Jovis. And I’ve been searching for the Raleigh International that I sold in 1974 – it had a long wheelbase which I think would fit 35s or perhaps even a 38. A Peugeot PX10 of that era is another candidate. Most top racing bikes of that era would fit the 30mm Clement Campionato Del Mundo Seta tires, an incredibly fast and comfortable tubular.
        It is unfortunate that marketing determines what is available to us, but realistically, marketing determines what can be made affordably (by amortizing the design/tooling/manufacturing costs across volume). The trick is to convince the marketers of what we need sooner.

        January 24, 2019 at 3:41 pm
      • Functionele Fietser

        Peugeot PX10 (and alike), Gazelle Tour de France, Koga-Miyata grand touring series,… Not as wide as now, but most of them could take 32mm or more (often with fenders).

        January 25, 2019 at 1:04 am
    • larryatcycleitalia

      Agreed. And when the marketing-mavens have decided no more of these bikes can be sold, a new category will be “discovered” and the cycle repeated. The period usually called the Dark Ages should be an example of how knowledge and improvements can be lost as easily as they are gained. Make no mistake, the bike industry wants to make whatever you are riding at present obsolete as soon as possible. Right now the best ways to do this are disc brakes and wide tires, no? The hundreds of bici d’epoca events here in Italy each year prove one does not need the newest-latest of anything to have fun on two wheels, even on unpaved roads. May it ever be so.

      January 22, 2019 at 10:40 am
      • Jacob Musha

        Let’s keep things straight here… Allroad bikes are not another pointless planned obsolescence forced on us by the mainstream industry like 9/10/11/12 speed, new bottom bracket “standards”, new axle designs, etc. They were a re-discovery of a type of bike forgotten for decades, with the effort coming from the tiniest corner of the bike world. Sure, the industry is jumping on the bandwagon now, and they’ll jump to something else in a few years, but that doesn’t diminish the lasting usefulness of this type of bike. Especially since it’s based on science and research rather than made up trends or fads.
        And yes, you can use any type of bike for (almost) anything. I’ve ridden a road racing bike with 25mm tires on singletrack and ridden a MTB on the pavement. But that doesn’t mean it’s ideal. If I understand Bicycle Quarterly’s philosophy correctly, they want to make the bike the best tool for the job. Personally I will never go back to using narrow tires on gravel roads again.
        Finally, the great thing about today’s bike world is that you can ride whatever you want! You can buy a 1970s Italian racing bike, fit it with narrow tubulars, and enjoy it like you would have decades ago.

        January 23, 2019 at 11:55 am
  • Bob Marley

    Yup, I loved my “hybrid” in the mid 90’s. And every magazine said hybrid was the category that would revolutionize the industry. Can you buy a hybrid now?

    January 22, 2019 at 6:38 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Hybrids were the first attempt to combine the best of road bikes with the best of mountain bikes. Unfortunately, back then, we all believed that meant narrow tires and sturdy frames (plus knobby tires). At least the low gearing was going in the right direction!

      January 22, 2019 at 7:19 am
  • Mike

    Come on, no shout out to Grant/Rivendell in this post? Grant has been championing all-rounders for years. And let’s not forget the Surly Cross Check which debuted around 2001 with it’s clearance for 45mm tires. Sure it has more in common with a cross bike than one of these but that bike has a cult following due to it’s versatility. Newer versions are even more versatile thanks to additional braze-ons I get it that these newer bikes are more refined and I’m glad they exist, but let’s give credit where credit is due. And certainly, without a doubt, you and many BQ readers are also responsible for this new wave of bikes.

    January 22, 2019 at 7:45 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Totally, Grant and Surly have been incredibly influential. Their focus was a bit different. Where we said “wide tires can be as fast as narrow ones. Even racers should ride wider tires!” Grant and Surly said: “Slow down and stop caring about performance. Wide tires are fun!” Neither is right or wrong, just different.

      January 22, 2019 at 7:51 am
      • Mackenzy

        The country rambler sentiment seems to be the case with later Rivendell Grant and I appreciate that push in marketing as well. But research into earlier Grant’s work such as the Bridgestone X0-1 (and early Rivendell bikes such as the All Rounder and Saluki) seems to point that early on there was a large push into bikes that can be quick, fun, AND anywhere spirit. Larger clearances for ample tires and fenders, partially limited to production bikes to use anything other than 26″ such as the X0-1 and MB-0. They put a lot of emphasis on ability of X0-1 with 24-hour off road record achieved on the with mustache bars. Also with early Rivendell’s with 650b capacity and Reynolds 753 seem like they were designed around an “all road” trajectory.

        January 22, 2019 at 12:29 pm
      • Conrad

        I have always liked Rivendell and Surlys approach but most builders of steel bikes have admitted defeat with respect to a steel bike being a legit competition machine. Its unfortunate because the right steel bike will not slow you down. Waterford and Richard Sachs are maybe the biggest proponents of steel competition bikes?

        January 23, 2019 at 9:38 am
  • Bob Burns

    Thank you! I have been arguing that “gravel bikes”, “allroad bikes” or whatever you want to call them will just become the standard for road bikes.
    It’s not that it’s a totally new idea, it’s just that today’s typical road bikes became too limited in the chase to copy road race bikes. The typically road bike today has a slammed stem, which is way too low for the average rider; ridiculously limited tire options; and uncomfortable stiff frames. As gravel road bikes become the norm, I am betting light, aero, road bikes start being referred to road-racing bikes or some other name to differentiate themselves from the everyday road bikes we now call gravel bikes.

    January 22, 2019 at 8:34 am
  • bryan willman

    I suggest there are two more explanations for this history (in addition to the vibration placebo effect you note.)
    The first is what I’ll call “extremes of goodness”. A flat tire does not work, it must have some air. More air is better up to a point. So as much air as we can possibly stuff in the tire must be best, right? (And likewise, for any application there is a point where wider tires or lower pressure cease to help – fat tire bikes with 4″ or 5″ tires and 5 psi are not taking over the world…)
    The second I will call “emulating irrelevent glamour” – so people see and read about race bikes optimized for some pro road race, or race cars, and think “I want a bike/car as much like that as possible” – not realizing how specialized and unruly such equipment may be.
    For me personally, I was for decades even heavier than I am now, and with the tire widths available I *HAD* to have very high pressures to not mash the side walls to death or pinch flat.

    January 22, 2019 at 8:40 am
  • John Clay

    I would have stopped riding 15 years ago if not for VBQ’s presentation of these machines and their array of applications. Regardless of the current marketing and industry attention, irrespective of the fact that I fully subscribe to riding pretty much any bike on pretty much any surface if needs must or want, and given my disdain for marketing that says you gotta buy the “must have” du jour, I think it’s great that the big guys are building these sorts of bicycles. That can be nothing but beneficial across the cycling spectrum, from serious competitor/enthusiast on one end to someone who just needs a bike that works well for activities of daily living on the other. A high performance bike with fenders, lights and load carrying capability that can handle nearly any surface is a remarkable thing. What’s not to like, including the marketing which this time is advancing a bike that works well for the 99%, rather than the racer 1%?

    January 22, 2019 at 8:42 am
  • PK

    I rented a Peugeot 205 (Honda Civic) in 1990 and drove 125 mph on the Autobahn. Wow, it felt like 250 mph. A week later rode in a big floaty BMW sedan. It felt like we were going 75 mph but the speedometer read 175 mph.

    January 22, 2019 at 8:55 am
  • Sukho in PDX

    A family member just bought a “real” bike for herself; some kind of Specialized carbon “road” bike. Then just this morning I see an IG post of her (or somebody) shouldering the bike on some rough, rocky gravel with the caption “I brought a lemon to a knife fight”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her new bike is obsolete (at least in my book). She’ll learn though; especially when she sees my three “road” bikes; one with 42mm wide tires, one with 44mm, and one with 52mm tires.

    January 22, 2019 at 9:48 am
  • babslev

    Some of us have been riding this way for decades..Remember the Bianci Volpe? I still ride my Specialized RockCombo, though it is retired from its heavy duty Alaska bike touring days…and people gaze at it in wonder(finally)…bought it half price in 1989…thinkin $350.00, because the shop couldn’t unload them. Nice to know there will be something to buy when I decide to update. Best money on a bicycle I ever spent.

    January 22, 2019 at 10:05 am
    • Conrad

      My Bianchi Volpe has well over 100,000 miles on it and its still going strong. Its not a racing bike but it is reasonably zippy and fun to ride.

      January 23, 2019 at 9:41 am
  • Curtis

    Thank you BQ. Like many others, I have followed then adopted your tire revalations. From Deda Tre,Challenge, GranBois,then Compass, I have rediscovered the joyful ride previously reserved for the venerable silk DelMundo tubulars. Yes, I have even bought bikes specifically to mount your tires. So I await your next new tire rollout. 700c x 55mm or 26” x 55 mm knobby or even old school 27” x 1 1/4” ? Bring it on!

    January 22, 2019 at 10:52 am
    • Ints (Chamois Davis Jr.)

      another vote for 27″ x 1 1/4″ here!

      January 24, 2019 at 10:18 am
  • SteveP

    While all-road bikes are trending among internet-savvy cyclists, it seems that brick&mortar bike shops still don’t know what to make of them or how to sell them. There may be one or two gravel bikes among a sea of road and mountain bikea, but sales people rarely have the enthusiasm or vocabulary to articulate why an all-road bike is compelling as a primary bike. …relegated to the fringe while too-skinny or too squishy bikes are peddled to ordinary consumers. When non-niche shops start selling any kind of 650b gravel tire, and one that isn’t max-inflated, then it will be a mainstream thing.
    The vanguard of gravel still Compass and a few others.

    January 22, 2019 at 11:10 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Perhaps the Northwest is more trendy? Around here, you’ll have a hard time finding a racing bike with 25 mm tires in most shops. It’s all all-road, adventure or some permutation of the above. Only triathletes still seem to be shopping for bikes with narrow tires…

      January 22, 2019 at 12:50 pm
      • Timothy

        I think Metier would beg to differ. Plenty of Cervelo’s and Factor’s and Colnago’s

        January 22, 2019 at 7:14 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Currently, at the boutique end of the market, there aren’t many all-road bikes available. However, the floor models don’t give you sales numbers. When I talked to the guys at Metier (a local high-end shop), they told me that their most popular bikes are the Open U.P. and the 3T Exploro.

          January 23, 2019 at 8:14 am
  • jon h

    hiroshi iimura from jitensha studio in berkeley, california (founded in 1982) has much influence here – to grant petersen and a lot of builders & companies (velo orange is named after jitensha’s signature orange color) this is a great article and i know you can’t mention everyone but jitensha is a cornerstone to the progression of all-rounder performance bikes taking off in the united states 🙂

    January 22, 2019 at 11:24 am
  • Andy Goodell

    I have a lovely all-road bike, but I can’t seem to find the “effortless speed” you mentioned. Should I return it for a new one?

    January 22, 2019 at 11:49 am
  • Nik

    Wouldn’t wide tires create a huge advantage at Paris-Roubaix ? Why hasn’t someone won that race with 40mm tires, floating over the cobbles while everyone else gets beaten up by the endless vibrations ?

    January 22, 2019 at 12:18 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’ve been thinking about that. I’d go with 54 mm tires – a bike like my Firefly would be much more efficient on the cobbles, and just as fast as the narrow-tire bikes on smooth sections. That said, you really would want to go with smaller wheels to make the bike sprint the same way when you’re out of the saddle. That brings up the biggest issue – pros don’t have bikes like that available. They are limited by the bikes and tires their sponsors make. Many now ride cyclocross models in Paris-Roubaix, but a 700C x 44 mm tire (if it fits) will change the bike’s feel too much for a pro racer’s liking. Still, if I had a few millions, I’d sponsor a pro team and put them on really wide tires and see whether they can ride off the front on a cobble section, never to be caught…

      January 23, 2019 at 8:04 am
      • Ian

        What would be the appeal of Roubaix if it were easier?
        Also, they need to be able to get a wheel from neutral service.

        January 23, 2019 at 5:44 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          What would be the appeal of Roubaix if it were easier?

          I agree, it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the event to ride a bike that smoothes out the cobbles. I once raced my Firefly with its 54 mm tires in a (dry) cyclocross race, and I won with such ease that I decided it wasn’t fair. Back on my Alan with 33 mm tires, the wins have been elusive ever since…

          Also, they need to be able to get a wheel from neutral service.

          Regarding neutral support and odd wheel sizes: If you are certain to win if you don’t flat, then being out of the race in the unlikely event of a flat – with super-wide tires, you aren’t likely to have issues – is a risk worth taking.

          January 23, 2019 at 10:37 pm
  • jasonmiles31

    Have you seen data from the BPSA that backs up these claims? I did see this article that seems to support your claims.
    It seems like e-bike sales have had similar growth. I would guess that both all road bikes and ebikes will steal sales from Road and MTB sales categories but I highly doubt these sales will dwarf both MTB and Road sales.
    I attribute a lot of all road sales growth to hydraulic road disc brake development. Bikes with disc brakes have little downside to allowing larger tire clearance.
    What do you think is the min tire size required to be considered an all road bike? Say larger than 35mm?

    January 22, 2019 at 2:11 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I think 35 mm is a good starting point. But it’s not necessary to carve up the segment into smaller and smaller pieces. To me, and all-road bike is a drop-bar bike with a road position for the rider, wide tires and road cranks for a narrow Q-factor. Compare that to a monstercross bike, which has a more upright position and often wider cranks – more a drop-bar mountain bike.

      January 23, 2019 at 8:06 am
  • Dennis D Ketterling

    As much as Compass touts wide tires, all of my Compass/Grand Bois tires measure narrower than the nominal size. My latest purchase, Chinook Pass 700×28’s extralights, measure 27.1mm.
    That’s been my experience with all 700c Compass 26mm and 28mm tires.

    January 22, 2019 at 3:05 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Tire width depends on your rim, tire pressure and a number of other factors (even how you measure). Fortunately, we offer tires in many widths, so if you find one to be smaller than you like, you can get the next size up when you replace them.

      January 23, 2019 at 8:08 am
      • Greg Parker

        Here’s our experience, fwiw:
        700 x 26 runs 25-25.5
        700 x 28 runs about 28-28.5
        700 x 32 runs 30-31
        Testing the 35 soon.
        Very consistent, but rim width does affect tire width slightly. Less than one millimeter, in my experience.
        We love those three tires. Maybe four, soon.
        We are all vintage steel, all the time.
        Running ELs typically, and that will very slightly affect width as well.

        January 23, 2019 at 8:48 am
      • Mike M

        The Rat Trap Passes (lovely tires, like rolling along on a turbo-charged cloud) are 55-559 nominally, but measure at 52 mm at 30 psi. That’s good for me as I need as much clearance as I can get between them and the Honjo mudguards/flaps. If I inflate the tries higher then they do approach 55 mm. I do that only when fitting the tires to the rims as the higher pressure tends to “pop” the beads into place. I roll on 25-30 psi typically.

        January 23, 2019 at 11:32 am
  • John C. Wilson

    A few words from someone who was admiring race bikes in the 1950s and who has been riding them since 1967. When I began the narrowest common tubular was 25mm and a #1 seta extra was 24mm. It was normal and common for racers to use tires up to 29mm. As late as spring 1973 I watched Jim Ochowicz win a cold, wet, partially paved, partially graveled Old Town Criterium on Elvezia tutto copertos. I believe those were about 32mm. Jim was about to start the race with 70psi, Othon saw he was riding the most sensible tires in the field that day and got him to let out a lot of air.
    Later that year I saw my first narrow tires, Clement Strada 66 @ 22mm. Introduced I believe in 1966 for the Italian 100k TTT squad. Few if any had been previously imported. The old hands looked at that bundle of tires and scratched heads, saying “what are these for?” We knew immediately they would ride rough and would require excessive pressures. Another cohort took one look and said “F-A-S-T”. That group won. Within two years tubulars all got narrow and the broad diversity of tires was gone. Well, not entirely. When the Soviet squad came through they sold us winter tubulars that were plain fat for $5 each. I only used the ones at 33-35mm, they had bigger ones. We have gone so far backwards it is not possible to imagine the Russian squad wandering across America,.
    The stable here is a 1950 Bates B.A.R., a 1958 Rivetts, a1960 Bernard Carré. The Bates and Rivetts max at 32mm in rear, the Carré will take 35mm. Bates and Carré are unambiguously race bikes, the Rivetts a gentleman’s allrounder. When I say will take I mean will take with plenty of clearance. Some of the bikes I see pressed into allroad service have 2 or 3mm clearance, which is not half enough.

    January 22, 2019 at 3:10 pm
  • Ian

    As you illustrated, all-road bikes are the road bikes of the PAST. “All-Road Bikes” is only the NAME of the future. Call it what you want, so long as it puts more butts on saddles.
    As the trends continue towards wide, I hope the 25 mm doesn’t eventually get relegated to the vintage/NOS market. I have a bike that I love that will fit nothing wider. Sure, wide is fun, but mostly BIKES are fun, and I want to keep riding that one for a few more decades.

    January 22, 2019 at 3:18 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      There are enough bikes like yours, with limited clearances, that the tires will remain available for a long time.

      January 23, 2019 at 8:08 am
  • Larry Leveen

    All-road bikes have a _potential_ to not fade away because they have actual benefits, unlike many bike industry trends. The industry’s usual orientation is to convince existing cyclists to get something new (e.g. a wheel size, a handlebar diameter, a crank bearing design). It could instead grow cycling by offering practical, efficient, and comfortable all-road bikes and courting new folks to join the activity. But that would require ceasing to emulate pro racers (whose riding style has nothing to do with that of 99.9% of folks, ironically), having more inclusive, friendly, and welcoming shops with personnel who understand and promote all-road benefits, among other things. Industry momentum at all points of the supply chain poses obstacles to all-road bikes becoming even more mainstream. So does our built environment, frankly. We might be willing to bike on busy streets, but many are not, and more pleasant roads (like those often pictured in BQ) are not always right out our front doors. We need good and affordable products, good information, and good access to roads/paths on which to enjoy them. Let’s hope that the industry doesn’t ditch all-road bikes when the next new-and-shiny-thing comes along (e-bikes?). Thanks for being oriented on stuff/techniques that actually improve cycling. It’s a form of advocacy.

    January 22, 2019 at 4:27 pm
  • Casey

    Thanks for all the great info. I wonder…can one still reduce suspension losses with other technologies, such as mechanical suspension? Specialized Future Shock and Trek Isospeed, for example. This would allow a rider to minimize suspension losses while still getting the benefits of narrow tires (ie. Lower weight, aerodynamics). Thoughts?

    January 22, 2019 at 4:33 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      To reduce vibrations, you need to limit the unsprung mass. If you have half the bike moving up and down, there is too much inertia (and energy) to smooth out the vibrations. Our tests of suspension losses show that suspension forks help a bit, while padded bar tape doesn’t damp vibrations at all. Beyond that, the benefits of narrower tires are often overstated. Wind resistance is mostly affected by the bike-and-rider’s frontal area, and as long as your tire isn’t wider than your top tube, it doesn’t cause a significant increase in wind resistance. And the best wide tires are quite light – not much heavier than a narrow one, especially if you go to smaller wheel sizes (lighter rims, shorter spokes, etc.).

      January 23, 2019 at 8:12 am
  • Dennis D Ketterling

    Actually, I checked the Chinook 700×28 extralight again. At 5.5 bars, it measures 25.7mm!
    At the same pressure, GB Cerf blues (700×26)
    measure 22.64mm with my Park digital calipers!

    January 22, 2019 at 8:48 pm
  • Greg Parker

    Mr Bryne got his wording wrong!
    “Cannot be underestimated” is exactly the opposite of what he apparently wanted to say, which would be “cannot be overestimated.”
    Or maybe he meant to say “should not be underestimated?”
    Anyways, Jan, you folks are an overnight success, after fifteen years! 😉
    Well done, all.

    January 22, 2019 at 10:40 pm
  • marmotte27

    I’m not so happy with the “road” in “all-road bike”. It has made bikes without fenders, racks and often without lights fashionable again just when real world randonneur bikes had finally been reestablished as the ultimate bike they really are. I’m not sure the ability to go on rocky forest roads and single trails was worth the trade off.

    January 22, 2019 at 11:15 pm
  • George

    One thing that should not be forgotten, is that the quality and surface of the roads in the US North West is very different (rough) from the roads we gave here where I live and ride; the Netherlands. Almost every road and cyclepath is smooth as glass and Well maintained. No need for extremely wide tyres on a road bike here. The same conditions for most of the European continental Countries. Even on my packed travelbike I do not need tyres wider than 37mm to ride in all comfort. Wider wouldn’t be worse though, on my travelbike, but I would consider tyres wider than say 32mm on a light weight road bike too wide for still “feeling” like a road bike. Placebo? Perhaps, but feeling is what’s it all about, not exact measurements, when out on a bike.

    January 23, 2019 at 12:08 am
  • Francisco

    The all-road is the type of bike that best serves the enthusiast and the consumer but I do not think it will become the road bike of the future. Firstly because of what William Morris said more than one hundred years ago: the mass market always leans towards cheap. Cheap kills the advantages of wide tyres on the road very quickly (heck, I even know many dedicated cyclists who run cheap tyres because they cannot see the point, the mass market will be worse). The second reason is that professional road cycling has adopted slightly wider tyres but will not go much further because acceleration is just as vital as rolling resistance in competition. A large fraction of consumers will continue to buy based on what they see the professionals using.
    These behaviours, that bracket the lower and upper end of the market, will ensure that the all-road will not become the road bike of the future.

    January 23, 2019 at 4:47 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It really depends where you live. In France and Japan, riders want exactly the bikes that the pros ride, down to the pedals. Here in North America, we’re much less focused on the pros these days.
      Regarding the acceleration of lighter wheels, it makes less of a difference than most cyclists think. If it did, all racers would be on the smallest wheels the UCI allows – currently 55 cm in diameter. That they ride wheels that are 10 cm larger (hence heavier) shows that other factors are more important. Smaller wheels have been tried numerous times, but never made a breakthrough.

      January 23, 2019 at 8:19 am
      • Vince

        “In France ../.., riders want exactly the bikes that the pros ride”
        Alas, you’re right Jan. 🙁

        January 23, 2019 at 10:26 am
    • Eli

      > I even know many dedicated cyclists who run cheap tyres
      I do, too, and it confounds me. There is a thread right now on a popular forum devoted to custom bicycles seeking alternatives to Compass tires because of their cost. It’s not uncommon for people on that forum to have five figures invested in a single bike, but they will give up ride quality to save $20 a tire. I have never regretted putting good tires on even my clunkiest gaspipe bikes.

      January 25, 2019 at 4:19 pm
  • Al Kumnick

    Jan, do you agree with Bryne’s comments on disc brakes in the link you provided ? I think he is saying disc brakes have improved stopping performance over any rim brakes but more importantly allow frame builders, wheel builders and tire manufacturers more options in bicycle construction. From reading bicycle reviews in BQ, I don’t see rim brakes as such a limiting feature.

    January 23, 2019 at 2:15 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It depends on how you view it. From a rider’s perspective, I don’t agree. A good cantilever brake offers better stopping power than the mechanical discs you find on most affordable all-road bikes. Centerpulls are even better, but the current models max out with a 50 mm tire (without fenders). Hydraulic discs have more power, but there is only so much you can use. Once you lift the rear wheel, any more stopping power doesn’t really help you. And on gravel, front wheel traction limits stopping power even further.
      However, from a manufacturer’s perspective, Bryne’s comments may make sense: Disc brakes mean that manufacturers no longer have to think carefully about how wide a tire they want to fit and how to make the brake pads line up with the rim. With discs, you can use the same frame for skinny 700C wheels and wide 650B ones. That may have been part of what has made all-road bikes popular among manufacturers.

      January 23, 2019 at 10:07 pm
  • Axel Reichert

    Once many all-road bikes have been sold, sales could slump for years: Customers might not buy the promised advantages of the industry’s “next big thing”, because they will have experienced that all-road bikes have no real drawback (except on what you rightly call “fringes”). In contrast, in the last decade, an “endurance” or “gravel” bike was an easy sell against the real drawbacks of a racing bike (big gears, narrow tires).
    What is missing from your great write-up is the chain of arguments that shows how all-road bike can also stand in for MTBs very well (you just state the fact): Most MTB riders think of knobbies and suspension forks as as must, even though few ride in conditions that really require them.
    On a critical note, I do not completely agree with your explanation of the “placebo of ‘high pressure = high-frequency vibrations = high speed’”: From an engineer’s point of view, road buzz is not a free vibration (high pressures give a HIGHER FREQUENCY), but a forced vibration (steady-state response of the tire will have the SAME FREQUENCY as the excitation by the road).
    Could you comment on my doubts, please?

    January 25, 2019 at 12:40 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The bike industry tries to sell “new and improved” bikes to the same people who already have a very nice bike, or several. And in the last few years, that has not been working well, because there has been a lot of “innovation fatigue” among cyclists. However, less than 5% of North Americans own a decent bike. If the industry can increase the pool of riders, there are a lot of bikes that could be sold. I think all-road bikes are one way to do that. And as an added benefit, they’ll actually get ridden, which is better than selling a million bikes that rot in garages and show up at yard sales in the future…
      As to the placebo effect, it’s something I’ve experienced myself. I once inflated a set of 32 mm tires to 120 psi for a BQ test, then forgot about it. The next day, I went for a ride with my friend Mark. I commented to him: “We’re riding pretty fast today.” He looked at me, puzzled, then glanced at his computer: “We’re going the same speed we always ride here.” Then I remembered the ultra-high tire pressure. I let out some air, and the bike felt normal again. My effort didn’t change, I kept up with Mark as before (same power, same speed), but the “super-fast bike” feeling was gone. Try it yourself!

      January 25, 2019 at 6:52 pm
    • Samuel Atkinson

      A more accurate statement might be that tires at lower pressure attenuate high-frequency road vibrations more aggressively. So high-pressure tires aren’t shifting a low-frequency vibration to a higher frequency, but they do result in the rider experiencing more high-frequency vibration.

      January 25, 2019 at 9:45 pm

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