The marketing-speak kicks into full gear as the racing calendar takes cycling fans through the cobbled classics. A new category of frames that are now both comfortable and performance-oriented is all of a sudden miraculous and the rage amongst the cycling press and big brand PR campaigns. So, what does this say about the previous "laterally stiff/vertically compliant" frames which were both fast and comfortable and the choice for the pro racer and the buying public alike?
The new strata of framesets designed to take some of the edge off of their uber-stiff race bikes are certainly a great move and we applaud the effort to present more rideable bikes to those consumers who aren't young bike racers lucky enough to have a massage and rest after each ride. We are of the opinion that most of the "race" bikes offered to the public are too geared to the stiff/light criteria and not focused enough on rideability and comfort. If you have the stiffest frame, the stiffest drivetrain, the stiffest wheels, and the stiffest soles to your shoes, we can pretty much guarantee that there will be a stiff back, arms, and shoulders to follow (and that's if the bike even fits). New products that don't beat the you-know-what out of the rider are great. But, is this just more marketing blah-blah-blah?
We know that even pros can lament their super-stiff bikes and that they, who are at the summit of the sport, still want to be comfortable for all of the hours, days, and months that racing and training demand. In every other sport, there is a much greater understanding of the impact equipment has on the athlete. In cycling, the criteria for good has been stuck on stiffer=better so it's good to see something of a change in this calculus.
"Comfortable" has been turned into a bad word in most of the bicycle world, suggesting that this quality somehow makes a bike less capable of performance and that someone looking for a ride that is less like sitting on top of a jackhammer isn't a hard-core rider. That needs to change. Last we checked, aches and pains, numbness, and discomfort tends to detract from any sport. Products that provide for comfort set the best stage for performance -- a rider is less fatigued, fresher, and better able to deliver energy to his or her performance.