A pioneer of several bike design concepts and to this day ground –breaking bike maker, Gerard Vroomen is the mind behind some of the industry’s most imitated curves and aero profiles. CI.N caught up with him for a chat on what we may come to expect on the drawing board in the future, industry standards and what tricks the trade is missing to attract new customers…
On opportunities in design: More of us want to avoid the roads. For most of us it’s just not exciting being in danger and city dwellers want to get well out beyond the city limits and explore. For this reason multi-surface bikes are very exciting, in particular because they’re engaging for the duration of the ride, whatever the surface. Over simplifying trails is no fun. Pointing a gravel bike at mixed terrain grants you the best of all worlds.
For the bike dealer, this is an opportunity and for the customer it’s also a chance to re-use old componentry. Gravel is the opposite of a niche, it does it all.
On gearing: I think the greatest progress with 1X is yet to come and will be realised in the industry’s lower-end. A key fear bike buyers have is a bike with clunky shifting. I think that there’s also a tendency in some segments to laugh at people who perhaps don’t understand the controls. So from that point of view, making a product simpler, more accessible and less costly is welcomed.
There will not always be a place for 2X. We’re capable of designing out the front derailleur. The industry will find a way to add a cog. We’ll more than likely end up with 1×13 before long.
On road discs: It’s still early days here, the first generation were essentially glorified mountain bike brakes. For me though, the trend goes one way, there’s no going back to rim brakes now. I’ve nothing against rim brakes of course, they work and bikes I desire to own run them, but from a performance standpoint there’s no contest.
When road discs arrived on the scene we immediately began to rethink the possibilities. It’s an innovation you have to try to appreciate fully.
When it comes to wheels, there’s more progress to be had now on tyre and rim development. Some of what you’ll see will be pure marketing, but in the mix of things to come there will be genuine technical advances. No brake surface limitations opens up the potential of road tubeless, which can only grow.
On Gerard’s noteworthy designs: I always thought my legacy would be the curved seattube, but it might now turn out to be the dropped chainstay. We had enormous success at Cervélo in triathlon with our designs, but when others moved to catch up there was some misunderstanding of the fundamentals. A big part of the performance came from the geometry and not necessarily the curve benefits. In bike design it’s not enough to create something aesthetically nice, you must understand the process and reasoning. Where similar designs have emerged it has only legitimised what we are doing and helped the reputation.
This applies to the Strada. Why were people so drawn to it? Well it came to light alongside a sea of typically samey bikes. What is it to be “stiffer” and “lighter” now? This has come every year. Eddy Merckx performed fine without these innovations.
On how to draw new people into sport cycling: The bike business needs to work out events! It’s noteworthy that the fastest growing outdoor events are obstacle course style events. They’re engaging, not timed and inclusive. That natural draws people in; in a sense gravel riding is the same. We need more events that can be engaged in with groups of friends. Aspirational events too draw people in.
On the future: I have often thought about the transport and leisure bike segment; my ultimate goal is to do something here. Unfortunately, barriers exist and behaviours are incredibly hard to change. The product is the easy part.
When I talk to people about cycle commuting the pushback is almost always logical, especially when it comes to safety. If you asked an alien to look down on earth and identify the dominant life form they’d point to the car. The bike lobby hasn’t the sway of the motor lobby, but certainly a more united voice would benefit the industry at large. We cannot do nothing; sitting is the new smoking, so cycling has to be built into our current lifestyles to bring about meaningful change.