Well, it’s been a weird-ass year, and so it’s only fitting that after years of aerodynamic plastic “modules” the “most exciting new road bike of 2020” is “not aero” and “not for racing:”
Yes, meet the Specialized Aethos, the bike with a name that sounds like a breath mint:
It’s got round tubing, no proprietary components, is nicely understated by modern road bike aesthetic standards, and it only costs…12,500?!?
Okay, before I go any further, I’d like to get a few things out of the way. Firstly, I have nothing whatsoever against companies that sell plastic bicycles, nor do I have anything against people who ride them. Despite the fact that I’ve recently dived beard-first into the world of merino clothing and lugged Rivendell foppery and continue to sink ever deeper into this morass of Proofide and beeswax, I myself continue to own and use a plastic racing bicycle, and I imagine I will do so until such point that I can no longer reach the bars, or I wear through all my Lycra clothing, whichever comes first.
Secondly, I also have nothing against people who are willing and/or able to pay $12,500 for a plastic road bicycle of limited utility, nor am I morally opposed to marketing that caters to such people. We live in a free, capitalist society (or at least we did until March), and I fully support the exchange of money for goods and services, especially when those goods and services are bicycle-related. Furthermore, when contemplating a $12,500 road bike, it’s important to consider that for every ludicrously-priced bicycle or bicycle part there’s also some screaming bargain you never could have imagined 20 years ago, like, oh, I dunno, the SRAM NX Eagle group that came on my Jones, which is a state-of-the-art 12-speed mountain bike drivetrain that works impeccably and costs about as much as the handlebars on the Mentos…er, Aethos.
Thirdly–and perhaps most importantly–I recognize that there’s fundamentally no difference between what Specialized and Rivendell are doing, in that both are essentially selling premium two-wheeled recreation to middle-aged people of means…though arguably Rivendell’s approach is far more dignified if, like most middle-aged people, you don’t have the fitness of a professional athlete. Even then, there’s still a sound argument to me made that an over-Riv’ed rider looks just as silly as an over-Lycra’ed one, because if you wear too much of that MUSA stuff at once you’ll wind up looking like Robin Hood:
Nevertheless, having issued the above disclaimer, it’s very hard not to marvel at the chutzpah of the company that only this past summer brought you the world’s greatest all-around road bike:
When we developed the Tarmac Disc, we didn’t just want it to be fast. We wanted it to be fast everywhere. Long climbs, windy flats, Grand Tour stages, local fondos—we built a race bike to be the most complete out there. How’d we do it? We started with our 500-piece, Rider-First Engineered™ frame with a perfectly-tuned ride quality for every size, added in some serious aero tech that makes it 45 seconds faster than the Tarmac SL5, and then made it 20% lighter. Nothing is lighter, faster, and better handling.
And, even more audaciously, acting like they just discovered the concept of round tubes:
That’s not just Bicycling, either–Specialized themselves describe round tubes as an “epiphany” they had after making “billions of calculations:”
“Not the material” indeed. From here it’s only a matter of time before they discover that round wheels also roll even when they’re not made out of carbon fiber. Other brilliant revelations along these lines include not using extra carbon fiber and instead using revolutionary technology such as non-integrated seat clamps in order to save weight:
Surely one day this will culmimate in a road bicycle that’s not made from carbon fiber at all, and instead meets its performance and comfort targets by utilizing a material that takes this radical “round tubing” concept to its inevitable apotheosis:
Of course, it’s easy to make fun of Specialized “inventing” round bicycle tubes, and seatpost clamps, and non-integrated cockpits, and threaded bottom bracket shells, but the real comedy is in the performance bicycle industry as a whole, which left them wide open for this layup of a marketing campaign in which they’ve essentially just reinvented the road bike. Cunningly, with everyone chasing gravel and aero and all that other stuff, Specialized remembered the poor (well, rich) forgotten Fred who wants a classic road bike with that comes with lightest-at-the-coffee-shop bragging rights and is willing to pay for it.
Still, I’ll wait for next year’s version. I hear it will come with rim brakes and quick release skewers and cost $15,000.