By John Marsh, Editor & Publisher
We had, as they say in the local TV news biz, triple-team coverage at Interbike this year. Product Review Crew member Paul Smith joined tech guru Jim Langley and me pounding the show floor in search of new, evolutionary, and revolutionary gear, and experiencing some of the latest in bike tech at the Outdoor Demo.
This week and next we’ll provide you the rundown of what we saw and experienced, what looks cool, useful and promising for your possible future use, and share with you our impressions of potential industry trends.
We’ll start today with articles from each of us highlighting what we took away as the “best of show” products and/or trends.
Next week, we’ll provide a rundown of a number of other noteworthy products that caught our respective eye.
My Interbike Best of Show
It doesn’t always happen that one product captures the collective imagination and interest at Interbike – a truly ground-breaking product that ushers in a different way of doing things.
SRAM Red eTap Wireless Shifting System
That product this year was SRAM’s eTap wireless electronic shifting system, the first (and surely not the last) of its kind.
It was THE buzz product, and it won the 2015 Interbike Best in Show – Road Award, deservedly so. It was high on all our lists. Jim said, “I was very impressed with how nicely it shifted and how nicely they incorporated the batteries. It’s super-fast and easy to shift on both front and rear shifts.”
Paul added: “Although I didn’t choose to highlight it directly, I believe the SRAM eTap technology will be a game-changer. Campagnolo and Shimano will have to move now to try to match the new market leader.”
Indeed, it’s such a noteworthy advancement – leaving even the very highly regarded wired electronic systems by Shimano and Campy in its wake – that most believe those two industry titans must be working feverishly to come to market with their own wireless solutions, something we can all look forward to.
The eTap system, which will sell for around $2,800 and is set for a spring 2016 retail launch, includes the shifters, derailleurs, crankset and bottom bracket, cassette, chain, brakes, battery charger, and USB stick, which is used to download firmware updates. It uses the same crank and rings as the Red mechanical group and will allow a maximum 11-28 cassette.
It’s a truly well-thought-out system with some real leaps forward, not just in technology, but also in approach. For starters, SRAM created a new wireless communications protocol called Airea and designed the system so that each shifter features its own unique, encrypted communication code – so there’s never any “bleed” between devices. Your fellow riders’ shifts can’t shift your bike, in other words, and vice versa.
Another leap forward is in the shift logic. It’s actually logical! Instead of just replicating the way their shifters have always worked – which is what both Shimano and Campy did with their electronic systems – SRAM decided to rethink it and came up with an intuitive solution: The right shift paddle moves the chain to the right on the cassette. The left shift paddle moves the chain to the left. Shift both simultaneously to shift the front derailleur – in either direction.
Of note is that the shift paddles have no “travel” or “sweep.” They move a millimeter or two to actuate the shift. Which makes shifting fast and crisp. And makes the simultaneous shift to move the front derailleur equally quick and smooth. If you hold either shifter in place, the chain clicks across the entire cassette one cog at a time.
The system also features little plug-in button shifters called Blips that can be placed strategically under the bar tape for shifting in the drops, etc.
Another neat bit is that SRAM designed both the front and rear derailleurs to run off the same rechargeable battery (each has its own, of course). This enables the rider to swap one battery for the other if one of them should happen to conk out on a ride. If your rear battery runs out of juice, say, you could just stop and quickly move the front battery to the back. You’d limp home without full use of the front derailleur, but you could at least shift in back.
The derailleur batteries are said to last for over 625 miles (1,000km) of normal riding per charge, while the CR2032 batteries in the shifters will need to be changed about once every two years, according to SRAM. Each component has LED lights indicating the level of charge. The derailleur batteries can be recharged in 45 minutes using the supplied charger.
Easy to Install and Use
The batteries themselves (see photos) are fairly small and light, and they snap on and off quite easily. It really takes just a second or two. I played with one at the show and easily snapped the battery off and on. (BTW, SRAM kept one derailleur, battery attached, in a full fish tank, letting bemused patrons shift it while standing on dry land. It was a pretty cool display of the system’s ability to withstand water.)
Yet another appealing feature is this: the system is said to be incredibly easy to install – taking about 15 minutes for a novice, andas little as 5 – 10 for a pro mechanic.
Finally, how does the weight of this system compare with the top-level electronic systems of Shimano and Campy? A complete eTap Red road groupset (shifters, derailleurs, crankset, brakes, bottom bracket, cassette, chain) has a claimed weight of 2,096g (GXP) or 1,992g (BB30). Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 has a claimed weight of 2,047g, and the Campagnolo Super-Record EPS comes in at 2,098g.
We (along with the rest of the world) are hoping to get an eTap system to test. And we’ll keep tabs on any movement we hear about from Campagnolo or Shimano regarding their own possible wireless systems.
Increased Focus on Safety-Oriented Products
Among the significant – and most welcome – trends I took note of this year is the apparent increase in focus on safety-oriented products.
It was the first Interbike I can recall in which I heard the word “safety” used repeatedly and to describe the approach of a number of different types of products – from clothing to helmets to lighting and car-detection systems.
Among clothing items featuring safety elements, Pearl Izumi is making a big push with its new line of BioViz gear. Pearl has put some serious research and out-of-the-box thinking into this new line (you can see details at the link). I’ll talk more about it next week, and I’ve already got some gear on hand to test.
I also saw safety-forward jerseys from Louis Garneau, and POC’s Light-Flex technology (what it calls “printed light”) is incorporating lighting systems into garments.
MIPS’ Growth Accelerates
In an interview with MIPS CEO Johan Thiel, we were told that the company’s slip-plane helmet tech is now in approximately 40 different helmet brands, and is expected to be in around 60 next year. I checked out just about every helmet maker I could find at Interbike, and with very few notable exceptions (Kask and Catlike among them), nearly all the big helmet companies now have at least a couple of MIPS models.
Many have MIPS across their line, from top-of-the line to entry-level (many costing less than $100), along with numerous kids’ models as well. We’ll continue to test both MIPS and non-MIPS helmets, as not everyone is convinced that MIPS is an ideal solution. But Thiel made the point in the interview that the company has been around since 1999, is a “safety-oriented company focusing on brain safety,” and “we will not release something that’s not science-based and tested.”
He absolutely stands by the efficacy of his product and the science and testing behind it. In fact, he said MIPs tests each helmet model a brand rolls out to ensure that the tech functions properly in that particular design. And that each helmet is tested both with and without MIPS inside. In the absence of any competing technology, MIPS seems to be well on the way of becoming the de facto standard in the industry.
Strides in Lighting and Related Systems
Finally, lighting and related systems continue to advance the cause of safety as well. Coming later this year is the front light/camera from Australian maker Cycliq (the Fly12), the mate to the company’s Fly6 rear light/camera that’s been on the market for a little over a year now.
Just as the Fly6 (click to see our review) was designed to keep watch on what’s happening behind you on a ride (your “6” being military parlance for yourrear), the Fly12 will help keep tabs on what’s in front you. New safety features will include the ability to overlay “guidelines” 3 feet or 1m out from the rider on both sides onto the video that’s captured. We’ll hope to test a 12 when it becomes available later in the year.
Another very promising new product is Garmin’s Varia Cycling Awareness system. It includes a rear-facing radar unit/tail light to detect oncoming cars and motorcycles, with a head unit that displays their closing proximity to the rider, a “reactive” smart light system that integrates with a Garmin computer to cast the front light beam farther down the road as speeds increase, or closer in as the bike slows down, and the lights get brighter as the ambient light dims, among other features.
The Varia Rearview Radar, available now, works with higher-end Garmin computers and sells for $199 on its own. If you add in the head unit, the price is $299. The new Varia Smart Bike Lights headlight sells for $200, the Smart tail light for $70. The Smart lights will ship in about five weeks.
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