Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Retro Vs. Modern

I recently watched a fun little video from Global Cycling Network on YouTube comparing modern to retro racing bikes. In it, two guys go for a ride together -- one with a new Ridley carbon fiber w√ľnderbike that represents the top-level performance of today, while the other is riding what was probably the peak of performance in 1987. In fact, the 1987 bike is actually one of the very bikes ridden by Stephen Roche to his triple crown victories in the '87 Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and the World Championships. The history of the bike, as well as the close-up shots of the bike itself, alone made the video worthwhile viewing.

The '87 Stephen Roche bike was a Battaglin built with Columbus SLX tubing, and equipped with Campagnolo C-Record components, including the coveted-but-questionable delta brakes. Here are some shots:
About as good as things got in 1987. Campy C-Record had a smooth, aero look, and that crank is a real thing of beauty. The delta brakes, with their modulating mechanical advantage (it increased through the lever travel, which sounds like a great idea but really isn't) were a hot item at the time. 
I can't tell from this picture if these are the regular friction C-Record shifters, or if they are the retrofriction version. Either way, they are still friction-only, non-indexing levers. The retrofriction levers, with their smooth clutch action, had a feel somewhat similar to the very nice Simplex levers, which is to say, superb. 

There's Roche, quite possibly on this very bike, on his way to winning the '87 Giro.
One thing they never mention is where or how they got one of Stephen Roche's actual bikes. That was something I'd be interested to know.

The video occasionally shows some then/now comparisons, like these shots as the guys prepare to set out for their ride:

Notice the modern KAS helmet vs. the 80s vintage Cinelli leather hairnet that was still popular among racers at the time, even though more effective helmets were definitely available by then. Funny thing, as they're putting on the helmets, Matt (the guy with the vintage bike) has trouble getting his helmet secured. I'd forgotten how fussy the little buckles on those old hairnets could be.
Classic Campagnolo C-Rec pedals with clips and straps, vs. Look-type clipless pedals. The guys make a point of mentioning how long it takes to get your feet into the classic pedals (I disagree there completely) but that once the straps are cinched down, there's no loss on the power transfer. I'm really liking those classic black Sidi shoes with full leather soles.  
Notice that the rider on the vintage bike even put on 80s style gloves. I remember those colors and patterns. What were we thinking? Note the SRAM Red integrated brake/shift levers, and the Garmin computer on the new bike. The vintage machine has downtube shift levers, and a less-cluttered, cleaner-looking cockpit, if you ask me.
"Straight away, just picking the bike up, it's remarkably heavy. Compared to the Ridley, you're probably looking at 2, 2-1/2, maybe 3 kilos heavier." Well, that's probably true -- but that weight is more noticeable when "picking the bike up" (but who actually rides a bike like that?) than when you're actually out on the road. After acknowledging the craftsmanship of the lugged frame ("It really is a thing of beauty") the guy also points out how "fragile" the bike looks with its "skinny" tubes in comparison with the fat profiles of today's carbon fiber bikes, then remarks how surprisingly "rugged" it actually is when putting power to the pedals. This is a guy who is old enough to have started out on steel frames, so I'm not sure why that's so surprising.
"Retro vs. modern, retro wins!" I'm not exactly sure what happened here, but I'm thinking the rider on the modern bike must have dropped his chain after a bad shift. Even modern bikes aren't immune. About shifting, the riders describe integrated brake/shift levers as the "biggest revolution in shifting aside from the invention of the derailleur." About the down tube shift levers on the vintage bike, the rider describes them as "self-trimming" because "you have to trim them yourself." Clever. Nevertheless, he remarks that the shifting, at least on the chainrings, is pretty fast and effortless. I'd go further and say that front shifting with friction systems is at least as fast as any modern shift system, if not faster.
Here, the vintage bike rider discovers his limits on a seriously steep climb (they estimate it might be in the neighborhood of 30%). Probably the biggest practical drawback of the vintage race bike turns out to be the gearing. The Roche bike has a "small" chainring of 42 teeth, while the largest rear cog is only about 19 or 20 teeth. Of course, one could always get lower gearing, but in the days of 6 or 7-speed freewheels, one pretty much had a choice of high gearing with closely spaced ratios, or lower gearing with big jumps between gears. The advantage goes to the modern racer with a compact double crank, and a 10 or 11-speed cluster which can give a wide range and still have closely spaced ratios for racing.
After remarking on the riding position of the vintage bike, which has less drop from the saddle to the bars, the rider claims he feels like he could "tour all day without compromising any comfort." Now there's something a lot of us retrogrouches can get behind. "It feels remarkably comfortable. . . it's actually a pleasure to ride." 
Ultimately, the rider proclaims that with the comfort and feel of the vintage bike, despite all the technical advancements that have been made in the past couple of decades, he'd consider riding a classic-styled bike just for the enjoyment of the sport -- as long as he isn't looking for all-out performance. I suppose that's fair enough.

Anyhow, agree or disagree - it was a fun 8-min. video.

You can go to the Global Cycling Network channel on YouTube, or watch it right here:



  1. The guys make a point of mentioning how long it takes to get your feet into the classic pedals

    Quite the contrary. I ride those classic pedals most of the time, and in group rides I'm regularly the one who is already accelerating when the other guys are still trying to click in their clipless pedals.

    1. Totally agree with you. I rarely have trouble getting into traditional pedals, but even in the odd occasion where I do, I can still get going easily enough. I've had lots more trouble with clipless -- and with most clipless systems, it's almost impossible to get going until your feet are secured.

    2. Speedplay Zeros never fail for entry for me. Or exit, for that matter. Double-sided for even the clumsiest stoplight getaways.

  2. I do mostly gravel riding, and always ride cages. About the only time I wished for clipless was when doing some grass track racing before the Almanzo 100 in 2014.(http://fourquartets.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-almanzo-100-howling-for-you.html) The combination of a standing start, bumpy terrain, and a race that was basically full sprint meant I could only really get one foot in the cages. Still fun though, when you have a schwinn banana seat bike sprinting against a pair of fatbikes, its hard to get too serious.

  3. Replies
    1. yeah - agree with it or not, it's pretty fun.