The Road Bike Is Dead, Long Live The Road Bike

This past weekend I undertook a spirited ride on my Rivendell:

My lack of foot retention, drop bars, or form-fitting Lycra garments did nothing to inhibit my riding; if anything, it only enhanced the cycling experience, further eroding my faith in the traditional Fredly tenets to which I have long subscribed. Increasingly, I find myself thinking that I should probably just defect from race-oriented road bikes and all the silly clothing that comes with them once and for all.

Even so, this morning, when the sun rose upon a misty meadow its golden rays revealed me to be in full-on roadie mode, complete with plastic bicycle:

And as a new day dawned so did it dawn on me that my plastic road bike is basically a Peloton:

Here is why:

  • Both are marvels of engineering that nevertheless fail to stir the soul
  • Both machines are essentially fitness tools that are designed flogged, and neither is particularly conducive to noodling or meandering
  • Because these machines are at their best when ridden vigorously, one must always wear workout gear when using them
  • When using both machines, data is integral to the experience. Sure, you could ride a plastic road bike without a computer or a power meter, just as you could pedal a Peloton without turning on the screen (at least I assume that’s mechanically possible), but really nobody every does.

And yes, I’m being overly simplistic here. Of course some people find beauty in plastic road bikes, and absolutely you can undertake a meandering ride on one that is deeply fulfilling and profoundly inspiring on a metaphysical level. Long ago, when my only bicycle was a fat-tubed aluminum Cannondale, I cherished it deeply and embarked on many such rides with it, even though aesthetes at the time dismissed such bikes as cold, ugly, and soulless. Still, now that I’m an old beardo with lots of different bike, the simple fact is that I choose this one specifically because it’s a piece of fitness equipment that I can use vigorously in the early morning without having to shower first. (You really, really should shower first when you’re riding in regular clothes, but with Lycra you can get away not showering provided it’s a short ride and you don’t marinate in your chamois too much afterwards.) When I want to ride–like really get into it–increasingly it’s on a more upright bike and in “regular” clothes. (Yes, I’ve deluded myself into thinking fancy merino accessories count as “regular clothes.”)

Anyway, I was contemplating all of this during my ride this morning, and it occurred to me that, while popular opinion holds that the gravel bike has undermined the erstwhile primacy of the road bike:

Perhaps its actually the Peloton and contraptions of that ilk that are the road bike’s true successors. When I see the newly-minted Pando Cyclists on their new disc-braked, pie-plated steeds, I wonder how many of them will conclude that the hostile drivers and the exposure to the elements are not challenges to be confronted, but pointless impediments to an efficient workout? As Zwift gets better, even longtime riders now forego the outdoors for much of the winter, because why layer up when you can get a “better” training ride indoors? It’s not hard to imagine a future in which “real” bikes become increasingly off-road and adventure-oriented, whereas the sorts of people looking for fast, efficient, fitness-oriented bikes inevitably conclude that all this fussing over drag coefficients and rolling resistance and paying lots and lots of money to minimize them is silly when the you can just ride in a digital environment where none of these things even exist.

About halfway through my ride I’d pretty much reconciled myself to a near future in which road riding is dead and cycling consists entirely of lugged outdoor nostalgia pieces and indoor virtual trainers. Then, I hit a downhill, put my hands in the drops, and experienced that incomparable sensation of effortless speed, at which point I changed my mind and decided the old-fashioned road bike was in no immediate danger of disappearing anytime soon.

I do still think there are going to be a lot of lightly-used Pando bikes on the market though. When it happens, I recommend picking up a nice road bike.

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