Fat Bikes, Gravel Bikes and More from the North American Handmade Bicycle Show 2014

Since the 2014 edition of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show was right down the road from our home office, as it was held only a few hours away in Charlotte, NC, we couldn’t miss out on the chance to see what this creative array of small and custom bike builders have been dreaming up. While many of their designs aren’t for everyone, that’s precisely the point! Having a small and nimble design and build team (of sometimes just one person) means that they can cater to niche markets and often anticipate new trends in the cycling industry.

So what did we notice while we perused the convention hall – well, quite a bit of creativity! But one of the big trends (pardon the pun) was the growing number of fat bikes on display, in a wide array of sizes, colors, suspension and utility:

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Gravel bikes were also on display from many builders, again in a variety of shapes and sizes. The line gets kind of fuzzy between gravel and cyclocross bikes, but the idea for a gravel bike is one that you can ride any where – on road, off road, and everything in between. Wide tires, lots of clearance, and disc brakes were common factors on these do-anything “road” bikes.

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But a lot of the fun of the Handmade Bicycle Show is just taking a look at the creative and sometimes wacky designs on display – all a direct reflection of the builder and the person that the bike was designed for.

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And finally, while we didn’t catch them all, we also loved checking out the headbadges that each bike builder used on their bikes – one last bit of personality to finish off a frame!

Do Wheels Really Make A Difference? We Put A Pair To The Test

Getting ready to climb, here are the new Assault Limited on a Fuji Altamira test bike

Getting ready to climb, here are the new Assault Limited’s on a Fuji Altamira test bike

For a minute I almost forget I’m on a video shoot. It’s a beautiful, cold morning, with the fog lying heavy in the hollows of the foothills around our office. To either side of the road, a dark forest of pine and hardwood echoes with early morning bird call and the scent of conifers fills the air. The sound of the tires on the pavement and my own breathing form a rhythm for my pedal strokes. The clothing I’m modeling has me far underdressed for the temperatures, but as I climb higher and higher up the hills, I kind of begin to enjoy the feel of the cold air on my skin, cooling me down from the effort.

Start up

Felt a little chilly, but I was excited about trying out the new Assault Limited’s.

I’m starting to find my climbing rhythm, and I shift my hands to the top of the bars and sit up a bit to breathe a little easier. My legs feel like they are turning in perfect circles, and I let my hands relax on the bars. Normally deeper dish wheels like the Assault Limited carbon clinchers don’t make the best wheels for climbing, but these seem to be an exception. They feel as fast going uphill as downhill, the stiffer build making up for the additional weight. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good on a 10.5% grade. A hawk swoops down from a powerline to my left and I turn my head to watch its flight. I begin to feel like I’ve reached that special place where the ride becomes easy and feels natural.

We’re out here to film some B-roll footage for product and brand videos, which means that nothing is mine. My heels keep coming out of these shoes, I’m still adjusting to the fit of the Fuji Altamira, I continually misshift the unfamiliar Shimano controls, and the fresh-from-the-box helmet doesn’t feel quite right after so short a time. Among a million different sensations vying for my attention, it’s the feel of effortless climbing and nearly free speed from the new Reynolds Assault Limited wheels I’ve been given for this shoot that really grabs hold.

Climbing with the Assault Limited's felt remarkably easy

Climbing with the Assault Limited’s felt remarkably easy

The Fuji Altamira is a great bike. It’s among the stiffest, most efficient, and comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden. But as you’ve doubtlessly read countless times before, a great set of wheels can drastically improve how any bike rides. I’ve been riding an older set of Reynolds Assault wheels on my personal Van Dessel Rivet for a few years now, but I can say without a doubt that the new Reynolds Assault Limited’s are stiffer, faster and lighter. The new carbon lay up on the rim, the stiffer bladed spokes, and the re-engineered hubs with new, upgraded bearings make this new set an amazing improvement over what was already an incredible wheelset.

The hill ticks up a grade again, and I can hear the engine in the camera car rev up. My legs burn, and I debate whether to downshift or stand. I’m still forgetting which Di2 levers to hit, so I decide to stand. The bike feels stiff and light underneath me, pure power transmission. The wheels feel incredible. Not once do I hear a brake pad hit the rim, there is no quiet ticking of spokes or the eerie silence and sudden BANG! of a stuck pawl suddenly reengaging. The wheels are silent and powerful, stiff enough to respond without question to every watt of power I put into them. I pedal and the bike obeys.

Later suckers. The Assault wheels enabled me to drop the camera car on the downhill.

Later suckers. The Assault wheels enabled me to eventually drop the camera car on the downhill.

Finally we hit the summit. I take a drink of water cold enough that it seems to drill straight into my forehead and reminds me I have a cavity that needs filling. We begin to descend. I shift into the big ring, the Shimano Di2 controls effortlessly shuttling the chain onto the big ring. I depress the right upshift lever and hold it, feeling the chain slide across cogs. The resistance feels huge at first, my cadence low. My quads rebel for a moment after the long slog up. But as the hill disappears below me, the resistance evaporates, and my cadence climbs. I reach the bottom of the cassette, and have no place left to go. I am flying down the hill. The deep carbon rim of the Assaults knife through the air. I go into a tuck over the handlebars and begin to drop the camera car. The camera man yells at me to slow as I slide past, but I ignore him. This is too much fun. With my chin near the handlebars, I can hear the wind sliding past the wheel rim, and I chance a look at my Garmin. This is the fastest I’ve ever descended this hill, and I know it’s the wheels. The bike isn’t an aero design, and I’ve ridden in a tuck here dozens of times before. These wheels are giving me free speed on the descent, and I wish I could have a chance to try them out on a flat. Or during the Thursday evening group ride. Or even just take them out for a day and see what else they can do.

I later found myself preferring the new Assault Limited's to my older edition Assaults

I later found myself preferring the new Assault Limited’s to my older edition Assaults

But the video shoot is over, and I have to turn them back in. The next day I take my personal bike out. I love the familiar controls, the professionally-tailored fit, the stiff and responsive frame, but something is missing. My bike just doesn’t seem to have that pop to it, the liveliness from the test bike yesterday. It’s a small thing, almost imperceptible, but after the joys of yesterday’s ride with those new Assault Limited’s, nothing really quite feels the same.

And lest you should think that these wheels are only for carbon fiber super bikes, remember that a wheel upgrade can have massive effects on pretty much any road bike. Wheels can confer a huge advantage when you want to make your bike more aerodynamic, lighter, or just perform better. We’ve tested the Reynolds Assault Limited wheels out on many different road bikes, and found that they were faster, stiffer, and looked 247% cooler than most other wheels. We were especially impressed with the aesthetic and riding performance advantages they conferred on our new special project with GT bikes.

gt_strike_reynolds

Before & After: The Assault Limited’s made this GT Strike faster, stiffer and more nimble. Plus, it looks fantastic.

Product Profiles: The Scattante CFR LE and Scattante CFR Race

The Scattante CFR Race

The Scattante CFR Race

The Scattante CFR Race

When the guys over in the bike division heard about the new Ultegra 6800 group, they realized they had to build a bike around it. And it couldn’t just be any bike. No, it had to be something extra special– like no other bike we’d ever done before. It took a few iterations, and lots of emailing back and forth with our suppliers, but we did it, and the result is exceptional. Behold: the Scattante CFR Race. This incredible new bike features our pro-level ScMT carbon fiber frameset, an Ultegra 6800 11-speed drivetrain, and a compliment of high end components from Deda, Selle San Marco, and Fulcrum.

The Scattante CFR Race features the same Scattante Monocoque Technology (ScMT) that was used in the CFR Black bike. ScMT carbon fiber technology is incredibly stiff and lightweight, but also nice and compliant in all the right spots for a buttery smooth ride. It’s stiff yet springy, and is incredibly responsive to pedal input. It’s got plenty of compliance to make it both comfortable and surprisingly agile and easy to handle.

For components, we outfitted the CFR Race with mechanical Ultegra 11-speed. The all-new Ultegra features improved front end shifting thanks to a redesigned derailleur pivot arm, Shimano’s new distinctive crank arm design, and, of course, the addition of an 11th cog. Rounding out the package is a full Deda cockpit, and a set of Fulcrum wheels.

If you’re the type of cyclist who takes your riding seriously and are looking for an 11-speed upgrade that delivers pro-level performance, it’s tough to beat the Scattante CFR Race.

Hurry though…these bikes won’t last long.

11-speed Ultegra 6800 takes performance to a new level

11-speed Ultegra 6800 takes performance to a new level

The distinctive 4-arm crank design sets Ultegra 6800 apart from the crowd

The distinctive 4-arm crank design sets Ultegra 6800 apart from the crowd

Improved lever ergonomics take cues from Shimano's Di2 systems

Improved lever ergonomics take cues from Shimano’s Di2 systems

Deda provided components for the cockpit on the CFR Race

Deda provided components for the cockpit on the CFR Race

Fulcrum wheels are lightweight and fast

Fulcrum wheels are lightweight and fast

ScMT carbon technology gives the CFR Race a ride feel like no other carbon blend out there

ScMT carbon technology gives the CFR Race a ride feel like no other carbon blend out there

The Scattante CFR LE

The Scattante CFR LE

The Scattante CFR LE

But we don’t just have one new bike on the docket. The CFR Race is more geared toward the racers out there, but we don’t want you to think we forgot about the long distance riders, right? That’s why we’re also rolling out the Scattante CFR LE.  So what’s the story with the Scattante CFR LE? The Scattante CFR LE (Limited Edition) road bike is a new road bike that is built for all-day comfort and amazing performance.  We took the same Scattante Monocoque Technology (ScMT) carbon fiber construction technique that we used in the CFR Black and CFR Race,  but reworked the geometry to make it a little more relaxed and forgiving. ScMT carbon fiber technology is incredibly stiff and lightweight, but allows us to adjust the compliance in all the right spots for a buttery smooth ride. The fork is custom tuned for quick, predictable handling. The bike is all-dressed up for the holidays with a 10-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain, FSA compact crank and some Kenda Kadence tires.

The CFR LE is the perfect road bike for the distance guys and weekend group riders. It deliver’s excellent performance that’s perfect for charity rides, fast weekend group rides, or gran fondos. And don’t worry, it’s a great value, but it can hang with even the most expensive bikes on the course.

It’s a value you won’t believe…but these bikes won’t last long, so get yours today.

ScMT technology gives the frame and fork an unparalleled ride

ScMT technology gives the frame and fork an unparalleled ride

Shimano 105 component provide excellent shifting performance

Shimano 105 component provide excellent shifting performance

The frame delivers race-ready performance that is a joy to ride

The frame delivers race-ready performance that is a joy to ride

Wordless Wednesday

summer_rides

Our Take: 10-Speed vs. 11-Speed

11_speed_shifting

In the last few years, Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM have moved to 11-speed and the technology is becoming more main stream. Lately when we’ve discussed 11-speed bikes, many of you have had some questions and concerns about the new systems. To answer some of them, we found one of our employees who has been riding both 10- and 11-speed groupsets for a while. Here’s his take on things.

I’ve been riding both 11-speed Campagnolo and 10-speed SRAM  for several years now, and I switch between the two often enough to be able to tell you there are some definite differences between 10- and 11-speed drivetrains. Generally, adding an extra cog means you have more gear ratios to choose from which can make your riding more efficient. But I’ve been asked to address the 6 most common questions we get about 11-speed, so here it goes. (And please remember, this isn’t a Campy vs. SRAM article– it’s 10-speed vs. 11-speed).

Is 11-speed less durable?

Answer: There’s not really much difference. I currently have about 2500+ miles on an 11-speed cassette and chain, and neither is worn out yet. I also have yet to break an 11-speed chain while riding. So far my Campagnolo chains and cassettes have lasted about as long as my SRAM 10-speed ones. I guess the thinner cogs and chains make people nervous, but I haven’t had any issues so far. I haven’t ridden the new Shimano stuff, but I’ve read that their new PTFE chain technology actually makes the chains stronger than their 10-speed chains.

Isn’t the shifting compromised?

Answer: Shifting performance isn’t really  affected by the addition of another cog. Aside from the different shifter designs, I have noticed very little, if any, difference in performance between 10 and 11. If anything the 11-speed shifting feels smoother and crisper than 10-speed. My 11-speed bikes do need to be put into the stand a little more often (about once every two weeks) for some basic rear derailleur adjustments, especially after high mileage weeks, but it’s a quick 2-minute cable tension adjustment, and that’s it.

Do you need new wheels?

Answer: Yes*. Contrary to what you read on many bike message boards, you do need a new rear wheel; the reason being that the new wider cassettes require a wider axle than a 9/10-speed wheel. If you look at an 11-speed wheel, the drive-side spokes are nearly in-line with the hub flange. I have converted a set of Mavic and a set of Reynolds wheels from 10- to 11-speed Campagnolo, but it was a pretty involved process and each conversion required the wheel to be re-dished and trued. And, of course, the manufacturer cannot guarantee how a wheel will perform with a converted freehub. Your best bet is to get a new wheel.

 *with the exception of Mavic wheels with an M10 freehub body, which technically should work with Shimano 11-speed if you leave off the Mavic spacer

Are 11-speed wheels less durable?

Answer: Maybe, but that kind of thing really depends on your riding style. For folks who really beat up on their wheels, you might notice a difference. I’m not very tough on wheels, and rarely need to have them trued, but I do have a set of 11-speed wheels that need to be trued more often than their 10-speed counterparts. However, I also have another set that has gone almost 2 years without needing to see the truing stand, so it’s hard to tell.

Is it worth it?

Answer: That all depends. In my experience, I love having the extra 11th gear. And yes, I definitely do notice that it’s not there when I switch back to a 10-speed bike. The biggest benefit to me is that the shifting is smoother and more progressive, since there are fewer big jumps in cog size. I don’t have to keep two different cassettes around anymore (one for the usual riding, one for climbing), since I can still have an 11-25 cassette, but with a 27t or 29t cog tacked on that makes it perfect for climbing as well. 11-speed cassettes also offer a bigger range of gearing options that make it easier to find that comfortable cadence in any variety of conditions, whereas when I switch back to a 10-speed bike, I sometimes struggle to find the right gear.

Why upgrade? Won’t they just go to 12-speeds soon?

Answer: Don’t quote me on this, but no, I don’t think they will go to 12-speeds any time soon. I know Tiso has a 12-speed gruppo out there, but they had to scrounge up some breathtakingly expensive stuff to make it work (i.e. all titanium cassettes), so I doubt it’s ready for mass market appeal. As you read above about wheels, it seems to me like 11 cogs are about as many gears as they’ll be able to cram into the standard 130mm rear spacing. To fit in any more gears without sacrificing wheel durability, I believe that road bikes would need to adopt the MTB standard 135mm rear spacing, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. But then, nobody really saw disc brakes for the road coming either, so anything is possible.

What Would You Do With $1,000?

We all have a dream cycling list in mind. Whether it’s the carbon fiber-everything bike we’ve been eyeing for months, some new clothes, or the ultimate upgrade kit, there’s something that every cyclist dreams of having. For a limited time, we can help you make that come true when you enter online for your chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree at Performance Bicycle.

When word about this contest got out around the office, it got us thinking about what we would do with $1,000 to spend at Performance. We asked some folks  and got some pretty interesting answers.

So how about it? What would you spend $1,000 Performance Bucks on? Tell us in the comments section.

Ben from our bikes division is clearly already looking forward to the start of CX season:

Ben's 'cross-inspired picks

Ben’s ‘cross-inspired picks

Johnny, one of our in-house product developers, has had the chance to test out a lot of the latest and greatest mountain bike equipment. Here are some of his favorites:

Johnny's picks for mountain biking

Johnny’s picks for mountain biking

Robert the copywriter is getting ready to head out for some bike touring this fall. Here is some of the gear he’s going to be taking with him (this is also some great stuff for commuting):

roberts_picks

Robert’s commuting picks

Kyle, who’s one of our designers, is a pretty dedicated tri-guy. When you’re doing three sports in one day, having the right equipment is important. Here’s some of his favorite triathlon stuff:

-OR-

Kyle's picks for triathlon

Kyle’s picks for triathlon

Erik, one of our buyers, is kind of our go-to in-house authority on all things road racing. Here’s some of the stuff he finds essential for training and racing:

Erik's picks for road racing

Erik’s picks for road racing

For your chance to make your own dream cycling list come true, make sure that you enter now!

Find the Right Fuji For You

If you were looking for the oldest bike brands, it might surprise you to know that Fuji would be among them. Fuji Bicycles has been helping riders conquer their mountains since 1899, and to this day they’ve continued to develop some of the most cutting-edge bikes on the market. The Fuji stable of products is enormous, with everything from high-end road bikes, to race-winning mountain bikes, cruisers, comfort bikes and everything in between. A blog article that dealt with all of it would probably be more like a text book, so for the moment we’ll just stick with their road bikes. Fuji makes some of the best road bikes out there, but with so many to choose from it can be difficult to figure out which model is the right one for you.

Never fear, we took a look at the whole Fuji road bike line-up, and broke it down for you to help you think about what kind of rider you are, and decide which bike is for you.

Fuji Carbon Fiber Bikes

Fuji Altamira 1.1

The Altamira

Best for: riders who push themselves and their equipment hard, and demand the very best

This is Fuji’s flagship road model, and is designed with the racer or serious enthusiast in mind. In 2011 Juan Cobo won the Vuelta a Espana aboard an Altamira, and for the last two years the German-based NetApp team has been riding them in races from the Tour of California to Paris-Roubaix.

Every model of the Altamira features a full carbon fiber frame and fork, making this a lightweight, stiff and fast bike. The Altamira was created for long, fast days in the saddle, and can climb with the best of them. The geometry is more aggressive than the Gran Fondo, but doesn’t sacrifice comfort in the name of speed. Make no mistake though, this is a pure, unadulterated race bike.

  • Altamira SL: Pro-level specialized climbing bike shaves every possible gram with SRAM Red and carbon tubular wheels
  • Altamira 1.1: Pro-level bike pulls out all the stops in the name of speed with Dura-Ace 9070 Di2 and aero carbon fiber clincher wheels
  • Altamira 1.3: Pro-level bike is designed to win races with a Dura-Ace 9000 drive train
  • Altamira 2.1: delivers cutting-edge performance with Shimano Ultegra Di2 drive train
  • Altamira 2.3: take any town-line sprint with Shimano Ultegra drivetrain
  • Altamira 2.5: features Shimano 105 for riders ready to graduate to a new level of riding

Fuji SST 1.3 C

The SST

Best for: the rider who has an unabashed need for speed

The Fuji SST first debuted under the riders of the Footon team (to see the notorious team kits, click here…if you dare) during the Tour de France. The swoopy, graceful carbon fiber frames looked fast and aggressive, and indeed they proved to be.

The SST is Fuji’s straight up speed machine. The arched tubes and compressed geometry are a sprinters delight, and will best serve criterium racers and enthusiasts who like to go fast. These are not bikes that will keep you comfortable during an 8 hour day in the saddle, but with the Fuji SST, the town line sprint or the top of the podium are yours for the taking.

  • SST 1.3: Pro-level bike delivers all-out sprinting performance with Ultegra Di2 drive train
  • SST 2.0 LE: take the top of the podium with Ultegra mechanical drivetrain
  • SST 2.3:  features Shimano 105 for those looking to get lots of speed at an exceptional value
  • SST 3.0 LE: get ready to move on to competitive riding with this Shimano 105 equipped bike


Fuji Gran Fondo 1.1 C

The Gran Fondo

Best for: the rider who likes to go fast, and demands performance, but doesn’t mind sacrificing some speed to be more comfortable

There are some who say that comfort and performance aren’t good bed fellows, but those people obviously haven’t seen the Fuji Gran Fondo. These bikes use the same blends of carbon fiber found in the Altamira and the SST, but with a geometry that won’t push your body to the limits. For sure, these bikes don’t have an aggressive race geometry, but when you’re spending 6-8 hours in the saddle during a Gran Fondo this is a bike that’s nice and forgiving on the back.

  • Gran Fondo 1.1 C: features 11-speed Dura-Ace 9000 for the serious Gran Fondo rider
  • Gran Fondo 1.0: features 10-speed Dura-Ace 7900 for those who demand the best
  • Gran Fondo 1.3 C: take your ride to the cutting-edge with Ultegra Di2
  • Gran Fondo 1.5 C: features mechanical Ultegra for those who desire high-end performance but prefer mechanical shifting
  • Gran Fondo 2.0: cutting edge Ultegra Di2 and a beautiful Italian-themed paint job
  • Gran Fondo 3.0 LE: for the rider looking for a great new road bike that won’t break the bank
This geometry chart compares the Altamira with the Gran Fondo

This geometry chart compares the Altamira with the Gran Fondo


Fuji Aluminum Road Bikes

Fuji Roubaix 1.0 LE

 The Roubaix

Best for: the rider who wants to go fast on a budget without sacrificing performance

The Fuji Roubaix got its start in life as a specialized frame built to take pros through the murderous Spring Classics of Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The hellish cobblestone roads of those races have long sent pro-racers begging to their sponsors for a new kind of frame, and Fuji responded with the Roubaix—an aluminum bike that was built with enough compliance and high-tech features to tame the horrific roads of the northern Classics.

Times have changed though, and so has this venerable aluminum bike. While many riders have moved on to carbon fiber, the Fuji Roubaix continues to be one of the longest and best selling bikes in the world thanks to its impressive mix of comfort, performance and handling. The Roubaix is the perfect bike for the beginning racer, someone looking for a first road bike, or even the veteran racer who needs a durable yet fast bike for crit racing.

  • Roubaix SL: this race bike is equipped with a carbon fork and Shimano Ultegra mechanical shifting
  • Roubaix 1.0 LE: features a fast, durable alloy frame and dependable Shimano 105 shifting
  • Roubaix LE: equipped with Shimano 105 shifting for optimized performance
  • Roubaix 1.5 C: Shimano Tiagra 10-speed shifting and a pressfit bottom bracket for a high-end feel and dependable performance
  • Roubaix 2.0 LE: features Shimano Tiagra 10-speed shifting
  • Roubaix 3.0 LE: road bike with Shimano Sora 9-speed shifting is perfect for the beginning road cyclist

Fuji Sportif 1.1 C

The Sportif

Best for: the rider who wants to stay fit and have some fun on the road

The Fuji Sportif was created to answer the needs of the everyday road cyclist. Traditionally, Sportifs are non-competitive organized rides that don’t recognize winners, but celebrate the joys of the road. In America we now know these rides as gran fondos, but the tradition is an old one, and it demands a certain kind of bike. A bike just like the Fuji Sportif.

If you’re eager to discover the joys of the road, but don’t have much interest in racing, then the Fuji Sportif is for you. These bikes are built with the same high quality standards as the Roubaix, but with a more relaxed fit and geometry to suit riders who believe road rides are more about the journey than the suffering. Think of the Sportif as an aluminum version of the Fuji Grand Fondo. If you want it to go fast, it will, but this bike is more about staying fit and having fun.

  • Sportif 1.1 C: road bike with Shimano Tiagra 10-speed shifting is ideal for the long distance rider
  • Sportif 1.3 C: Shimano Sora equipped bike is great for someone looking to stay fit
  • Sportif 1.7 C: Shimano components make this a great value for a first road bike
This geometry charts shows the difference between the Roubaix and the Sportif

This geometry charts shows the difference between the Roubaix and the Sportif


For more information and an in-depth model comparison, check out these videos from our The Performance Bicycle Learning Center.

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