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…

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS - Words Si­mon With­ers Pho­tog­ra­phy Dave Caud­ery

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).

Ma­te­rial sci­ence

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.

Sprocket sci­ence

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

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