We all love road cycling, but let’s face it: No sport on the planet is less encumbered by the straightjacket of tradition than this one. The new is the enemy of the old. Always has been. Always will be.
Triathlon is not shackled to convention; its culture is to embrace what works. Not so road race. I remember in 1986 when Kestrel first introduced the monocoque carbon bicycle. Every Saturday in South Orange County, California, a couple of hundred riders would queue up for the Como Street ride and there were 5 Kestrel road bikes in that ride, all owned by triathletes. (These were road bikes, set up as road bikes, the aerobar was a year away from development.) The roadies scoffed at our bike until one day Wayne Stetina showed up on a Kestrel. Then it was okay. Wayne-blessed. Carbon had its permission slip. That’s how tech flows in the world of road.
I want to talk about storage because it’s just high time the road market got past its attachment to carrying food and sundries in a pocket sewed into the back of a shirt. Better storage options have made their way into road-adjacent cycling sub-specialties, and it’s notable how top tube storage jumped from triathlon right over road and into gravel. There is absolutely nothing preventing bike brands from placing a pair of bosses on the top tube, which would be barely noticeable if not used. But no! That would be so… Fred. Much better to fish the Clif Bar out of the jersey pocket, open the wrapper while riding, eat the Clif Bar, reach back and place the wrapper back into the jersey pocket. Even the facilitation of potential top tube storage, in the form of a set of bosses, signals to any serious roadie that this is a bike that might be used in a… gag me… gran fondo. (The bosses above are on a gravel bike, so can be proudly displayed; but they can be tone-on-tone, covered by a plastic piece flush with the top tube, barely noticeable, for those easily offended.)
A jersey pocket is fine for extra clothing layers. but when food, phone, wallet and layers all fight for space, that’s just dumb. Let’s talk just for a moment about better places to place your stuff, during a road ride, on a road bike, or even in a road race. Yes, we’ll still keep our tools and inflators in a bag under the saddle, nothing wrong with that.
I’ve been using a lot of apparel from different brands and yet again it’s gravel to the rescue. You may have noticed this. The cargo short found its way into cycling quite a few years back, but as an MTB and then gravel baggy, hairy-legged, granolahead apparel piece. More recently the classic cycling bib short and that cargo short mated and had a baby: the road race style cycling bib with side pockets. Some with zippers, some without. This is just so much better for things that aren’t that bulky, like your wallet, money, phone. What you see above and below is a pair of pockets, one on each side, and this is MAAP’s Alt Road Cargo Bib.
This is a fully functional road cycling bib from this Australian apparel maker, but it just got more functional. Rapha makes a similar bib with both leg pockets and pockets that sit on the low back.
Below is a bib from Eliel, one of my favorites because it does everything a bib needs to do but has that pocket for my phone. There just is no negative to this design. In the case of this Eliel bib, its Endurance Cargo Bib Shorts, it’s the same design, silhouette, pad as the Laguna Seca pattern, it just has that side pocket, as well as – like the Rapha Cargo Bib Short – a light mesh pocket on low back.
This is all about gravel. Absent gravel, these bib pockets don’t exist. (Well, except for the tri-adjacent apparel companies making cycling bibs – like De Soto – where those side pockets have been a bib feature for many years.) Yes, these cargo bibs are gravel-inspired, but a lot of gravel tech (most notably handlebars) are re-informing road and I expect this bib feature to become a road staple.
But all this is small potatoes. Let’s get to the heart of the matter: proper storage on the bike. I do feel that the bento – proper – is problematic in road cycling, because it’s too easy to hit one’s knees on the bento when out of the saddle. Top tube storage has always been fabric or soft-sided tech and that’s not a requirement. The problem with taller, fabric-based bentos on road bikes is knee clearance when out of the saddle. Bikes don’t maintain a straight line when you’re out of the saddle. They snake from side to side, especially when climbing, and the steeper the grade the more the snaking. Knees contact bentos at the top of the pedal stroke if those bentos are too tall or too fat.
But there is nothing written that says top tube storage need be tall or fat or, more importantly, all bunched up at the front of the top tube. Nor does that bento need to be made of fabric. A lower profile, thinner, hard plastic bento, and longer front to back, may be more appropriate for road cycling. But there’s another solution that’s already been deployed in triathlon.
Above are two bikes in the workshop right now. One is a Trek Speed Concept, which is of course a tri bike. The other is a Cervelo R5. One of the most advanced features in that Speed Concept is top tube storage inside, rather than on top of, the top tube. Part of why that’s possible is – as you can see – the top tube is deeper on that Speed Concept. But not much wider. Max width of that top tube on the Speed Concept is 54mm, and on the R5 it’s 48mm. Yes, you can get away with a wider top tube on the Speed Concept because tri bike top tubes sit lower, by about 4cm to 5cm on average, than they do on road bikes. But I’ve never come that close to hitting the top tube with my knees on that R5.
Road bike culture has survived and – eventually, begrudgingly, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth – absorbed carbon as a frame material, deep carbon wheels, hard shell helmets, 6 speed, 7 speed (and so on), electronic shifting, disc brakes, and tubeless (that last battle is still being waged). As technology goes, storage should be easy, both in apparel and on the bike. My advice to the road biike brand who solves this first? Put Wayne Stetina on it. Problem solved.