Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a series of interviews RoadBikeReview.com is conducting with various thought leader’s in the cycling industry. The mission is to discover what trends and technological developments they think will drive the two-wheeled world in 2013. Read part one here.
Here we continue our conversation with Mavic Communication Manager Zack Vestal, who brings the unique perspective of being a U.S.-based employee working for a distinctly European company. Prior to joining Mavic in 2010, Vestal spent two years as the technical editor for VeloNews magazine. Before that he was team manager for the Trek-Volkswagen mountain bike squad. And way back when, he was an aspiring domestic pro road racer.
Vestal can still get up a hill faster than most, as witnessed by his 6th place overall Strava time (among 1,122) on Boulder, Colorado’s menacing Super Flagstaff climb segment. Among those behind him in the standings are pro racers Tim Johnson, Timmy Duggan and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski.
On whether road bikes can get any lighter:
Right now it seems like the answer may be, no. At least that’s what you hear from product managers. The bike business is reaching the physical limits [of how light bikes can me made] unless new construction materials are discovered.
Right now everyone is trying to skin the same cat, making bikes light, stiff, strong. And carbon fiber is carbon fiber. Sure there are different recipes, but everyone is really dealing with the same general parameters. Same goes for all the other materials we use. It may be that we have reached the extreme end of the curve, because at this point people are really just fighting for grams.
This is where I think some convergence will come into play. Rather than going for the outright lightest bike possible, I think bike makers may start reincorporating features that have been stripped away. So instead of shaving, shaving, shaving, you’ll see features added back. Maybe that’s disc brakes, maybe that’s aero profiles, or integrated power meters.
On the viability of disc-equipped road bikes:
I think the jury is still out. I just read an article where one of the brake makers studied the issue and brought up some of the thorny problems around heat management, weight, and the other technological barriers. That said, I do think we are going to see more and more road bikes with disc brakes, but these first few years may be a little rocky.
I think when people discover how much heavier they are, and how much they detract from the aesthetic of what we have come to envision as the ideal form of a road bike, that is going to be tough for a lot of people. I honestly think it is going to be more niche for more years than everybody is willing to admit at this point.
On the problems of road disc:
Speeds are higher, tire grip is higher, so you have more energy to dissipate. That energy becomes heat and you have to figure out where to put that heat. With road bikes everybody wants small, sexy little rotors and calipers. But those things won’t do the trick with the high amount of energy that has to be dealt with.
We see that mountain bikes are already pushing the 180mm rotor size, and I can only imagine that a road bike is going to need something more than that. That’s a lot of weight. So yes, road disc is on the radar screen of any company that is making wheels, Mavic included, but as far as how many people will use those type wheels is yet to be seen.
On an innovation he’d like to see:
It would be really cool if you could co-mold Di2 wiring into road frame so you just have little plug ins top and bottom, no wires. Just pre-molded plug-ins for electronic drivetrains. I just fished a bunch of Di2 wiring through a time trial frame and that is not an experience that I want to have to repeat. They’ll need to figure out the heat and pressure issues, but it seems like it’s possible.
On what we can expect to see from Mavic in 2013:
One of our big pushes continues to be the idea of road wheels and tires that are matched together. We believe this has to be the future in road on the aero side because aero rim profiles have already been taken to the edge. There are only so many ways to skin that cat. So it’s gotten to the point where rim widths and rim shapes have basically been settled on, and I think you’ll even start to see designs from the different companies starting to merge.
But at the end of the day air is air is air, and it flows over surfaces in defined ways. You can optimize the rim shape all you want, but if the tire and the rim shape don’t fit well together, they will never work well aerodynamically. So adding the tire to the equation is the next level of aerodynamic progression.
And it’s not just the shape of the tire, but also bringing the shape of the rim up to meet the tire and utilizing specific tread patterns on the tire to help manage airflow. This is a case where Mavic has been at the cutting edge. We’ve acknowledged that it’s basically gotten to a point where the wheels are just about as good as they are going to get. Now you have to start considering the tire because it has a huge influence.
This is also important when you start talking about achieving a standard level of performance. We know that if you have a Mavic tire on a Mavic wheel it’s going to behave a certain way in certain conditions because we can test that.