Fully Equipped Bikes – Follow-Up

A little while ago, we talked about how sports cars are equipped with lights and fenders, and nobody thinks they are less sporty for it.

Performance bicycles don’t have lights and fenders, because most “weekend warriors” don’t think they need them. After all, they usually ride during daytime and in sunny weather. Plus racers don’t use lights and fenders, either.

Racers may want to rethink the equipment of their bikes. Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (above) was stopped recently by the French police.

For once, the issue was not doping, but riding a bike without lights. Contador was checking out the route of this summer’s Tour de France. There is a long, unlit tunnel at the top of the Col du Galibier (see photo at the top of the post). The police did not accept Contador’s argument that his team car would illuminate the road for him. He had a choice of turning around or getting into his team car. You can read the full story here. I wonder whether the police will stop the entire peloton when the Tour de France comes through in July…

I doubt we’ll see generator hubs and lights on Tour de France bikes this summer. Can we even envision a racing bike with lights and fenders?

Just a few weeks ago, we did see race cars at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans fully equipped with fenders and lights. You see, the 24 Heures du Mans is a race for “sports cars.” They race at night and in the rain, and the rules require fenders and lights. Even with this equipment, Le Mans racers are the fastest race cars in the world, faster than the less aerodynamic Formula 1 racers.

Audi (above) competes at Le Mans and not in Formula 1, because people see the “sports cars” as more closely related to the cars they can buy. Winning Le Mans translates directly into selling more cars.

A similar “sports bike” category might reinvigorate bike racing, now that many teams are sponsored by bicycle manufacturers. Then manufacturers could sell city bikes with the sales pitch that a similar machine (more or less) had won the Tour de France.

And then we might see a new version of the 1954 Alex Singer below, with carbon-fiber fenders and integrated lights as part of a complete, lightweight package. Marketing aside, the real benefit would be to allow Contador and the weekend warriors to continue riding safely even if they encounter fog or a tunnel on their rides.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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24 Responses to Fully Equipped Bikes – Follow-Up

    • Harald says:

      Pretty bike. But no lights? That kind of contradicts of the claim that “[t]he Continental is all-weather, all-terrain, all-the-time steel bicycle.”

      • Tony Pereira says:

        Harald,
        Jan is clearly advocating for bikes with generators, but that is overkill for a lot of riders. For most of the people that buy carbon “race” bikes, I think the continental bike is more appropriate. Add a couple of blinky lights and you are covered when you get stuck out as the sun sets.

  1. Andy says:

    So my question is, how would I go about finding these types of bikes? Certainly most LBSs don’t have a wide selection of randoneuring bikes to select from, and spending several thousand on a custom bike that I can’t test out until it’s paid for and delivered isn’t a great option either. I just want a bike built by a trusted company or person, at a reasonable price, that meets my needs. I’ve spent some time searching around various websites from bikes mentioned in BQ and other magazines, but every time I start looking I keep finding more and more places. How do you know what places are good, or worth the premium?

    I think that’s partially why many people just walk into a bike shop with a price in mind, and get the “racing” bike with no additional features because that’s the easiest way to buy a bike that you know will fit.

    • As you point out, today, it’s easy to buy the bicycle equivalent of a Formula 1 race car, but very difficult to buy the bicycle equivalent of a sports car. I hope this will change in the future. A racing series could be of great help… (In fact, the Le Mans race started as a technical trial by a car club, whose members were unhappy with the cars they were able to buy.)

    • elykrod@gmail.com says:

      Here in San Francisco, it is becoming common to see bicycles with fenders, lights, and racks in most bike shops.
      Raleigh has a beautiful selection of this style, Masi, Trek, and more.
      The bicycle industry wants to make money and they will change their products according to consumer spending habits.
      The movement has already started, it’s just a matter of time until the majority of bicycles look this way.
      And that is a good thing.

    • Matthew J says:

      Why, pray tell, is having a custom bike made for you not a good option?

      After years of buying ultimately disappointing off the shelf bikes, I bought my first custom a few years back. It is so easy these days to get a custom. Between the many bikes shows, the internet, and magazines such as BQ, there have never been more resources to help you determine the best builder to make the best bike for what you want to do.

      Good builders spend time discussing your goals, explaining what different options mean to the end performance, take your measurements to build to your exact needs, and when the frame is done work out the build requirements with you. Depending on their build list, in a matter of months you have a bike that – in my experience anyway – is way beyond anything you could have hoped before starting the process.

      • I am all for buying a custom bike, but 99% of bicycles are bought in bike shops. It would be nice if the selection available “off the rack” was more useful for riding in the real world.

        It strikes me as odd that enthusiasts can buy bikes suitable for everyday riding, whereas average people are sold specialized sport bikes that are ill-equipped to ride on real roads and in real weather.

  2. Something problematic about comparing cars to bicycles particularly in the United States is that bicycles are still seen as either an enjoyable pass-time or a piece of work out equipment. This makes sense because infrastructurally speaking, commuting and daily transportation needs are built around cars. Thus people relate to cars as a necessity to survive whereas bicycles are luxuries–or stepping stones to a car. As with the Audi above, there is a financial incentive to include lights and fenders. With bicycles, it’s the complete opposite. To contradict that would mean taking a piece of the auto industry’s market, which of course there is a lot of money in. How much more money is another question…
    If you drive everywhere during the week and want a bike during the weekend, you want ‘THE’ bike. For most people, that naturally means the ‘fastest’, and of course fenders and lights can only slow you down from your absolute best. These sociological factors which are based on transportation infrastructure problems are fed by cycling and auto industry dollar…

    I think seeing a bicycle version of the Audi R18 as marketable would be tantamount to the collapse of the auto industry, though too bold of claim that may be! Perhaps I am just too pessimistic.

    • Matthew J says:

      So it does not get dark or rain on the weekends where you live?

      • I was pointing more to a line of logic that seems to flow with the current of the industry, not something I nor most of the readers of this blog subscribe to. If we were to stay in the realm of performance, I understand the bicycle and car comparison. But the two vehicles separate drastically when looking at the historical and societal attitudes both of these implicate, which seems to be important about Jan’s predictions regarding marketing and popularity of certain types of bikes. But maybe you disagree?

  3. heeltoer says:

    I think a more apt comparison comes from the motorcycle racing world.
    Difference between a racing-ready motorcycle is lack of headlights, turn signals and no provisions for a rear license plate. But thats it, modern street-legal sport bikes are incredibly close in silhouette to their race versions. Sure they have fendors, but so do the race bikes.

    Many AMA amateur classes require converting a street bike (removing the above components). This makes for a stronger connection between street and race motorcycle and is the more apt parable between racing bicycles and weekend warrior bikes. There is the appreciation that our machinery is incredibly close to what the professionals use.

    Loosing this connection has already happened in the four wheel world. Le Mans cars may have lights and fenders (even AC is required now) but the disparity in level of performance between a race car vs. a street car is large and growing. The lower class LeMans cars that look like a porsche or ferrari are only so in sillouette, they can only be purchased directly from the factory with upgraded chassis, engines drivetrains and suspension. Even in race classes where race cars must start from the street version, every major component must be upgraded or completely changed out in order to make it race worthy.

    The performance disparity between a race motorcycle vs. street motorcycle is much less. For the bicycle world, lets follow the motorcycle model and not the car model.

  4. From my perspective, the most complete and readily available bike would be the Boulder Bicycle All Road model. With the addition of pedals and a swap-out of the saddle for my Brooks B72, it is high on if not at the top of my list for a “lifetime investment” bike. Thom J.

  5. W. M. deRosset says:

    Dear Andy,

    I think the availability of these machines varies depending on where you live. Right now, these bikes aren’t a mass-market commodity (unlike, say a road-racing bike at an “ultegra” pricepoint or whatever), so there is a cost to integration, many bike shops just don’t want to/can’t deal with getting one together, and there aren’t many builders (let alone production bikes) that’ll do the work of integration for you.

    I’d seriously suggest you look for one that is local to you that does the full package–integrated bike building is not for the faint of heart, or for those looking for a large profit margin, even at the awe-inspiring retail prices for these bikes. They aren’t easy, or cheap, and right now, you can’t go to the LBS and ride away with a new, fully-integrated sporting bike.

    Right now, the closest production machines are the Boulder Bicycle (really a semi-custom at this point and fully integrated out of the door) and the Velo-Orange frame and fork (which is relatively inexpensive and mostly set up for integration. However, the non-trivial exercise of building the machine is left to the buyer).

    Here in Fort Collins, CO, I live within easy riding distance (50mi) of the René Herse/Boulder Bicycle shop, and it is straightforward to arrange to go down there to test-ride one of Mike Kone’s machines. He’s got a number of machines in medium sizes, and is as knowledgeable about the history and design of these machines as anyone in the USA.

    Or I could visit Renold Yip, another local up-and-coming builder and friend, at his shop in Fort Collins proper. I’m sure there are builders in Portland and Seattle who happily open their doors to prospective clients.

    Finally, integrated bike builders have clients throughout the world, and some of those clients are willing to discuss their experience at length with others. Because there isn’t a mass market for these machines yet, this may be your best approach to finding a builder with the experience and philosophy that matches your needs best.

    Good luck.

    Best Regards,

    Will

    William M. deRosset
    Fort Collins, CO

    P.S. I put my money where my interests are and order integrated bikes. The first one, a made-to-measure machine, was shipped from France (with Jan H’s help) and took two years to get. It came out of the box in 2004 fully assembled and ready to ride. The second one, also a made-to-measure 700C bike, was built in Longmont in 2009. I did the build on that one to save money–It took over 40h to assemble including the wheelbuilding and internal wiring. The third one, my Allroad 650B machine, took sixty days from when I ordered it, and was a small-batch production item. Integration and careful assembly was an available option. A good Constructeur earns his/her wages.

  6. TSW says:

    Another way of thinking about this is to draw analogies to the rides. A velodrome race is like the Indy 500. A criterium: the Monte Carlo? And what car road race is analogous to the TdF?

    Stated differently, what is the auto equivalent of the Sunday club ride? Or the after work ride? The charity century? A brevet?

    As others have remarked, as long as bikes are more about recreation of a certain type instead of utility, then making them more useful (fenders, etc.) will continue to be an uphill battle. Of course, there are exceptions, that perhaps prove the rule: Public Bikes and Civia are attempts to create the Honda Civics of the bike world.

    • The auto equivalent of a Sunday club ride is an SCCA race. Competitors use cars they can drive during the week and race on the weekend. Or a track day, where people can go on the track and enjoy their cars to the limit in a safe environment.

      A charity century is like a classic car rally. Go out, enjoy your bike/car among like-minded enthusiasts without overt competition.

      A brevet is more like a traditional car rally, with an emphasis on navigation and maintaining prescribed average speeds. It used to be that you got “Coupe des Alpes” and similar trophies for finishing the rally penalty-free. Today, rallying has changed with more emphasis on outright speed during the special stages.

      In most of these, the cars have to be road-legal and fully equipped.

  7. encep says:

    …some would rather install a battery-powered light like a dinotte and some crud fenders or race-blades. not everyone wants an integrated machine even though that’s your preference and style (and even though they may lose out on a few degrees of effectiveness).

    some prefer disintegration — use/purchase/remove/install/replace when needed or necessary.

    I dont see why one is better than another. both options have their place in cycling.

    • I think for enthusiasts, the Do-It-Yourself approach of clipping on fenders, bolting on lights, etc., can be fun. It gives them something to tinker with, and they feel ownership in the end product.

      For the average person, buying a ready-made solution that works better than the DYI project is very appealing. Cars became popular only once they provided this ready-made solution and the ease of use that goes along with it. Imagine if you went to buy a car for commuting, and the salesperson offered you one without fenders and lights!

      I agree that both approaches are valid, but currently, only the DYI approach is easily available, when one could argue that the opposite makes more sense: Ready-to-ride, integrated bikes in all shops, and DYI supplies available from specialist retailers for the tinkerers.

  8. Couple of things:

    As far as I understand, most amateur racing teams (at least here in the Boston area) require cyclists to have clip-on battery operated headlights and tail light on training rides that take place in overcast weather or in the late afternoon. That is certainly the case with the team hosting the paceline rides I’ve started doing. No lights? Can’t ride.

    Not to be argumentative, but I don’t entirely understand why advocate replacing the current flavour of racing with randonneur-style racing. Why not have both? One category where the bike is stripped to its lightest form, and another category where the bike must include all the essentials of “real life” riding. Variety is good; I can see the merits of both types of racing.

    • The “stripped to its lightest form” bicycle can be limiting, as Contador found out. Basically, it assumes a best-case scenario. It’s like leaving your house with neither a patch kit nor a spare tube, because you haven’t had a flat in months.

      In the end, modern racing bikes aren’t “stripped to their lightest form.” For example, they use derailleurs that add a lot of weight… A fixed gear without brakes might be a bike “stripped to its lightest form,” but it’s not the most performing bike. What we advocate is redefining performance so it includes riding through fog, tunnels and even rain.

  9. Alan Bergamini. says:

    Well done Jan, you have expressed my thoughts exactly on the similarity of today’s road racing bikes to F1 cars. Exhillarating perhaps, but very limiting. Living in a small town in a small country far away on the other side of the world the custom bike is out of the question, DIY bikes can be made to work quite well. Pity all the people here who want to cycle but exit the shop with a road racing bike when all they want to do is enjoy a brisk ride in the country by themselves at weekends.
    They would be better served by the cycling equavalent of a Mazda MX5, Nissan 350Z or Porsche Boxter. Would they think a sports car “good” if it sprayed water all over them, had no lights or luggage space and required them to wear special shoes?

    Hopefully, the revolution is coming….. Alan Bergamini. Motueka, New Zealand.

  10. Garth says:

    I appreciate the 37c tires, fenders, racks and saddle bag on my bicycle. Being a person with a family, my riding time is often limited to my commuting time. I also ride nine miles each way. An upright city bike would be too slow. A race bike would be hell on all the Chicago potholes, not to mention the inadequate fender issues, or even racks. Backpack? Sweaty backs are no fun!

    Mine is a touring frame. A lot of commuters have traditionally taken to touring frames because they allow the fatter tires and will readily mount racks. This makes them “semi-integrated”. Where they come up short is on internal wiring for lights as well as an overly stiff frame and too much fork trail.

    Kudos on the Boulder Bicycle! Fat, supple tires, properly “planing” tubing that’s not too stiff, correct low trail fork blades, and the internal wiring. Did I mention minimal toeclip overlap? (I don’t understand the threadless fork, though!).

    Though Boulder Bicycle is definitely on the affordable side for such a bike, think about other similar projects like the Kogswell Porteur which was even more affordable. If trends continue, IMHO, it won’t be long before a decently performing integrated frame could be had for $4-500.

  11. ranieri says:

    I think Contador got lost on the way to the top of the mountain, to get to the summit of the Galibier you should not enter the tunnel, but take a little road on the side. Maybe a cue sheet is in order for racing bikes along with lights?
    Ranieri

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