OLD VS NEW
How does a bike from 2000 compare with today’s equivalent? We pit the cover star of Cycling Plus issue 100 against a modern equivalent to find out…
How does the 18-yearold Cinelli Unica bike stand up against a modern equivalent from Canyon?
At the turn of the century Donald Trump was still in real estate, Tony Blair was Prime Minister, the term Brexit hadn’t been coined and bicycles were very different beasts. Granted, they still consisted of a frame and two wheels but compared to today’s bikes, they seem like relics. But are today’s bikes actually any better or has the marketing spiel just conditioned us to assume so? And in what ways are they different than the bikes from yesterday? The answers to those questions are many and varied, but by comparing bikes from each of those periods, we hope to clarify at least a few of them.
The bikes we have chosen are good representatives for their respective eras – my Cinelli Unica even appeared on the cover of Cycling Plus issue 100. It looked unloved and forlorn when I retrieved it from the shed where it had sat ignored and unloved for years. Its yellow paint had become dull and the once-vibrant red parts were now hidden under a coating of muck. But 90 minutes of cleaning and lubing was all it took to get it gleaming once again. It originally cost around £750 and we’ve cheated a bit by putting it up against a Canyon Endurace that’s quite a bit higher up the cycling food chain. We
“Aluminium was king for a brief spell around the turn of the century – and for many riders, it still is”
picked the Endurace because all the things that have changed in road bike technology since the turn of the century can be found on it – wider tyres, tubeless capability, carbon fibre frame and fork, disc brakes and an 11-speed drivetrain (compared to the nine-speed one on the Cinelli).
Aluminium was king for a brief spell around the turn of the century – and for many riders, it still is– and the Cinelli is a fine advert for it, even down to the skinny, curved fork. The super-classy and superstiff Alter stem is something of a masterpiece that uses the metal and is still available today – as are the top-covers featuring pin-up girls (Google ‘Cipollini, Pamela Anderson’ if you’re under 35). The Canyon, in contrast, has not only a full carbon frame and fork, but also a carbon cockpit and seatpost. And while the Cinelli is very much a racing machine, the Canyon is an endurance bike, another new development that’s appeared and flourished in the last two decades.
The rides that these bikes deliver are very different. I used to race on the Cinelli when I was a half-decent triathlete and would hit 50mph downhill. Riding it again now I can’t imagine how. The frame’s
stiff enough but the handlebar feels slight and skinny, and the wheels seem insubstantial. Its original tyres had perished so we fitted a pair of 23mm Vittoria Rubino Pros. Getting the original tyres off the FIR wheels was a struggle and although the Vittorias went on easily enough, they were barely able to inflate to their specified width on the narrow FIR rims. This, combined with the stiff aluminium feel, made for a ride that’s somewhat less insulated than those offered by today’s bikes, but if you like to feel the road under your wheels, the Cinelli gives you the full sensation .
The Canyon’s ride, on the other hand, is lovely – there’s simply no other word for it. Carbon bikes from the German company are renowned for their stiffness and, despite being an endurance bike, the Canyon certainly lives up to this reputation – the sense of control you get from the way its frame works with the oversize cockpit is excellent. Importantly, however, this stiffness is counterbalanced by the smoothness provided by the 28mm tyres (which inflate up to 30mm), the buffering of the flattened handlebar tops and the shock-absorbing flex in the seatpost, which all combine to offer excellent comfort without diminishing the bike’s ability to go fast.
The tyres aren’t just wider, they’re tubeless-ready too, allowing you to run them at lower pressures for even more plushness. Tubeless tyres are common on mountain bikes and are slowly making beginning to make their presence felt in road cycling. As is becoming increasingly common, our Canyon came with inner tubes fitted, but supplied with tubeless valves. If you want to run it without inner tubes, just remove them, fit the valves, add sealant and inflate.
Hydraulic disc brakes are now regularly specced and after riding these two bikes one after the other you can see why. The braking is world’s apart. The Cinelli’s Campagnolo Veloce rim callipers, with non-cartridge brake blocks, will stop you but they’re far from confidence inspiring. The Campagnolo hydraulic brakes on the Canyon, however, are just about perfect. Once the morning dew’s come off them they make no noise at all, but provide a reassuring balance of smoothness, power and beautifully controlled stopping with minimal effort.
Disc brakes have necessitated further changes in frame and fork designs, partly to accommodate the disc callipers and rotors, but also the thru-axles to attach disc-brake compatible wheels. Thru-axles add a little weight but allow for consistent alignment of the rotors for more consistent braking. It can make wheel changes marginally slower, but unless you’re competing this isn’t really an issue. Meanwhile, the ability to brake better in the wet and later on descents makes for riding that’s maybe safer, maybe faster, but certainly more enjoyable either way.
The revolution in gearing is less obvious but equally welcome. It’s not the step up from nine- to 11-speed that’s the major benefit, though; it’s the greater ranges now being offered. The Cinelli’s 53/39 chainset is now the province of racers and with its nine-speed 13-26 cassette you get a slightly restricted 40-120in range. (Essentially, these ‘gear inches’ indicate how far you’ll move for each turn of the pedals). The 53x13 is fine for sprinting and fast descending, but that 39x26 bottom gear is challenging on steep inclines, resulting in more out-of-the-saddle climbing and strain on your knees.
Now compare that with the Canyon’s 52/36 chainset and 11-32 cassette. This 11-speed set-up provides a massive range, with a super-high top gear in the 52x11 (126in) to a hill-friendly bottom gear of 36x32 (30in). Believe me, if you’re unlucky enough to have arthritic 55-year-old knees, the difference between the two bottom gears when you hit a steep incline
“The Cinelli’s Campagnolo Veloce rim callipers will stop you but they’re far from confidence inspiring”
is the difference between riding and walking. So who wins this battle? The Canyon again, by an arm and a leg, although the Cinelli’s shifting still has Campagnolo’s reassuring crispness with clear feedback.
The increased comfort, braking and gearing actually have more of an effect on day-to-day riding than the reduction in weight. Yes, you notice the Canyon’s roughly 1.5kg lower weight, but more so when you’re accelerating and climbing. The Cinelli ticks off the miles at pretty much the same lick as the Canyon but with nowhere near as much comfort, and the more aggressive riding position also makes it less friendly for big days out.
Okay, so it wasn’t an entirely fair fight, as the Canyon is hardly a price match, but you could find most of the features it carries – carbon frame, disc brake, tubeless tyres – on bikes costing around £1400, a near equivalent for £750 in 2001. For example, the Giant TCR, our 2018 Bike of the Year, has a carbon frameset and wider, tubeless tyres and retails at £1399.
The Canyon’s ‘endurance’ geometry isn’t actually that extreme but the longer wheelbase and taller head-tube make it a fine all-round machine that represents all that is good about today’s road bikes. Its brakes and gears absolutely lord it over the Cinelli’s. Did I really race on this bike all those years ago? Yes, albeit slowly.
Wider tyres are another of the Canyon’s boons. The difference in road feel between skinny 22mm and voluminous 30mm rubber is night and day, chalk and cheese. You’re aware of every imperfection when you’re riding on the Cinelli, each bump and crack in the tarmac is amplified by the narrow tyres’ higher pressures. The Cinelli’s 25.4mm diameter bar also transmits more of those bumps through to your hands, even with the elastomer padding under the tape on the drops.
But it’s not all bad news for the Cinelli. If you want to impress your local hipsters, its style wins hands down. It still looks gorgeous and goes like a bomb. Nevertheless I know which of these two I’d rather ride most of the time, so it’s the Cinelli that I’ll be selling, albeit with a tinge of regret and a tear in my eye.
Bars and stems are becoming increasingly integrated and aero-pro led Cables and hoses are more likely to be hidden away within tubes on today’s bikes
Braking is increasingly moving from the rim to the hub