Zipp Firestrike 202 disc wheels.
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Power Plays and Disc Jockeys

Sometimes, winter feels more like a three month period where cycling enthusiasts talk about the bike more than they actually riding it. Reminiscing on riding with a warm sun at their back whilst cursing the wretched headwinds and seemingly endless ‘chance of showers’ forecast. Dreary Tour de France eyes have spotted some of the latest gear and everyone wants to get some information on what the pros are riding.

From behind the counter, there are a number of themes that pop up with the dozens of conversations we have each week.  Here are a couple: 

Power Meters

You have finally bought that bike you have been saving a lifetime for,  you have kitted it out with carbon wheels, electronic gears, and all the bling you have ever wanted…or so you had thought.  All of a sudden, the post-ride cafe talk is no longer about the results of the ride’s concluding sprint or the treacherous new pothole on your favourite descent. It has turned to FTP, max wattage, various numbered ‘zones’, and even L/R balance. When did riding become so confusing and numbers based?

For better or worse, these phrases and acronyms are here to stay. The adage, “you don’t have to be a pro to train like a pro,” seems to be truer now than ever as the power meter market is booming. This means that power is now user friendly and affordable! Power numbers can provide some extra motivation, present myriad new challenges for you, and will scratch your consumerism itch.

There are a range of different brands and styles out there so, if you like numbers and measuring your training’s progress then take the power plunge. Do some research and decide which system suits you best.

In the shop, the most popular power meter we have seen to date is from Stages Cycling. It balances accuracy with an unobtrusive appearance and will only add around 50 grams. Installation is simple as Stages power meters are just a left hand crank arm – remove your old crank, fit a Stages, pair with your ANT+ device and ride off.

Stages are only available on aluminium cranks at the moment so for those running SRAM, you will have to use a Rival left-hand crank and it is bad luck for anyone using Campagnolo cranks as Stages are yet come up with something to suit.

SRM, Quarq, Garmin, Rotor, are all among a list of power meter manufacturers that are servicing cyclists’ needs across the world. There is, however an exciting new name that has surfaced recently. Pioneer, the Japanese electronics company has released its SGY-PM900H79 and SGX-CA900 – in other words, a power meter and matching head unit.

Pioneer has developed a sleek and unassuming meter which has the advantage of calculating left-right balance. There are two separate strain gauges that enable a twelve-point measure of pedalling efficiency on both sides. This 30 degree efficiency is displayed visually on Pioneer’s specific computer which is a $349 add on. If such in-depth analysis when riding does not excite you, then do not buy the computer and pair the Pioneer to your ANT+ computer.

The catch with Pioneer’s new design is that your crankset will need to be sent away to an approved installation expert where it takes about a week to delicately and deliberately apply a strong epoxy to fit the strain gauges to the cranks. As with Stages, if you have Campagnolo fitted to your bike then look elsewhere and if you have SRAM, buy another brand. Pioneer will only fit their power meters to Dura Ace 9000 or Ultegra 6800 cranksets.

The design is snug and the wifi-enabled computer seems to be best in class, but at $1999 for the whole set-up, proven brands at similar price points might still have the edge.

Disc Brakes on Roadies

The idea of hydraulic disc brakes on road bikes has been around for a while now but we are finally starting to see the ‘big’ brands confidently develop them and release them to the public. With the introduction of Shimano’s new affordable 105 hydraulic brake system, excitement is building as these bikes are getting exposed to the greater cycling throng.

Like everything in cycling, there are positives and negatives that must be weighed up when considering buying a bike equipped with the latest stopping power. Firstly, if you want to race, then forget discs until at least 2016. There is a raft of issues that the UCI need to legislate before allowing discs in races.

It seems that the riders’ safety at the forefront of the rule-makers’ minds. Discs are razor sharp (just ask any mechanic at your local shop who has put their finger in one when adjusting the brakes) and have the potential to be very dangerous in a bunch crash. There has also been talk that the different brake modulation between the current brands that produce hydraulic road brakes will mean riders will have to brake at different times when approaching a bend. This may not be an issue for two or three riders but could cause an issue for a big peloton of riders chasing wheels.

The potential for incompatibility in spares is also a challenge for race organisers. Rotors can be different sizes (between 140mm and 180mm for road) which would be a headache for the neutral support team when making quick roadside changes. The Service Course will have to ask more than the customary, “Shimano/SRAM or Campag” if discs are introduced. Some manufacturers have started building their frames with mountain-bike style through-axles rather than standard quick release which could also be logistically troublesome. With about 2mm clearance on each side of the rotor, even the smallest axle spacing variation could mean the difference between a free-spinning wheel and a dragging one – this could present itself as a disaster for an unlucky rider.

If you do not intend on racing, then hydraulic disc brakes will allow you to, as the advertising campaign suggested, “ride what the pros can’t”. They will provide a more consistent brake in all weather and will allow you to pull up faster. You do pay a weight penalty at this stage but as production becomes more extensive, weight reduction is a near certainty.

Maintenance wise, disc brakes should be easier to look after once they are set-up. They don’t need to be cleaned, and, contrary to what your friends have told you, they rarely need bleeding. The brake pads are quite hardy but you must be careful not to get any foreign fluids on them or else they will squeal. People often come into the shop with howling brakes after they have tried to polish them.

Disc brakes could be the biggest ‘game changer’ for road cyclists since the gradual eradication of down-tube shifters. In this progressive industry, performance is everything and once discs are regulated and manufacturers can confidently perform extensive research and development, then we will all eventually experience the benefits.

Zipp Firestrike 202 disc wheels.

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Triple threat! Froome, Nibali and Contador (seen here at the Tirreno Adriatico) are never far from the podium in recent years.

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