In this post I’m going to look at what features go to make up a ‘sportive bike’ as opposed to a bog standard road bike.
You can participate in a sportive using any bike you want. On most sportives you’ll see the odd hybrid commuter or mountain bike. In many cases, those bikes are ahead of me (and remain ahead of me for the duration).
Halfway round RideLondon I passed someone clothed in full hipster gear riding a Brompton. Boris rode a hybrid. Talking of the blond buffo… London Mayor, I’m pretty sure I saw a photo of someone doing the ride on one of his ‘Boris Bikes’.
[Whispers into the wings, “I think I got away with it. No one noticed that it took me 50 miles to catch up with someone on a Brompton.”]
But A Sportive Bike IS a Road Bike Isn’t It?
Ok, so most sportive participants ride a road bike. They have dropped handlebars, narrow tyres, spokey dokies.
But not all road bikes are created equal.
The geometry of a road bike frame can be altered, along with the components and other features, in order to suit a particular type of rider. Some people just want speed and to get it they’re prepared to sacrifice comfort. They go for an aggressive (read: painful) body position and a super-stiff frame that allows them to feel every piece of gravel.
Then there are people like me. We look for comfort (albeit without sacrificing too much speed). We ride a sportive bike.
What Are The Defining Features Of A Sportive Bike?
The frame of a sportive bike is designed to make for a more comfortable ride than a ‘racing’ road bike. This makes sense.
Sportive rides can be over 100 miles in length, which can equate to 6-8 hours in the saddle. A few minutes gained in the first hour by adopting an aggressively-aerodynamic position can be given back (with interest) when that same position makes hours three to seven a living hell.
A sportive frame is designed to give the rider a more upright (and therefore more comfortable) position. The head tube angle is slightly shallower (i.e. the top of the head tube is pointing more at the rider – a technical description). The head tube may also be a bit taller.
You might recall from my post about getting a bike fit, my back angle on the Trek Domane (a ‘sportive’ bike) is 48 degrees when my hands are on the brake hoods. This is very much a sportive/endurance/comfort position.
My back angle on my (ill-fitting) Dawes was originally 40 degrees. We managed to increase that to 43 degrees by changing the handlebars and the stem. A back angle of 40-43 degrees is much more of a racing position (not that you would realise it from my performance).
Sportive bikes are designed to be less stiff that than pure racing bikes. A bit more give = more comfort over rougher road surfaces = less fatigue = better times (you’d like to think).
I’m sure that the exact way that frames are ‘de-stiffened’ (flacid-ified?) differs from bike to bike. In some cases it’s down to having longer chain stays or narrower seat stays. Frame building remains a dark art to me.
Some manufacturers of sportive bikes throw in design features that try to provide a little bit of suspension or vibration-dampening.
In the case of my Domane, the seat post is (cunningly) not attached to the top tube (or rather it is, by an ‘Isospeed Decoupler, it’s just not fixed in place). Aparently this means it bends twice as much as its ‘nearest competitor’ without losing pedaling efficiency. This is important since I don’t have much pedalling efficiency to lose in the first place.
For their Roubaix series of bikes, Specialized has ‘Zertz’ (rubber?) inserts in their front forks and seat stays in order to absorb road vibration. For the same range, they make a point of highlighting the gel pads within the tape on the handlebars.
You can obviously choose pretty much any gearing combination for your road bike. That said, bikes marketed at the sportive end of the market tend to have compact chainsets (the big gears near the pedals – read my post here if you’re unsure) with a cassette that ranges up into the high 20s (teeth) for the bigger sprockets (this post talks about gear ratios).
Without wishing to blow my own mini-pump, my Domane has a compact chainset (so 34 teeth on the smaller ring) and the largest sprocket in the cassette has 30 teeth. This makes for almost a 1:1 ratio in my lowest gear. It’s not something that you’d normally reveal in cycling circles (the – correct – implication is that my legs are weedy), but I love being able to spin up even the steepest of slopes.
Which Makes and Models Are ‘Sportive Bikes’?
This is not a comprehensive list. I’m not a bike shop (yet).
As we’ve discussed, Trek has the Domane and Specialized have the Roubaix. Both manufacturers dress up their sportive / endurance range by aligning them with the bikes ridden by the hard men that compete in the spring classics. Clever.
Focus have an Izalco Ergoride (I guess the clue’s in the name); Cannondale have the Synapse range; Bianchi make the Infinito (and beyond); and Scott’s sportive model is the CR1.
(Both the Scott CR1 and the Bianchi Infinito feature ridiculous ‘faux-suspension features’ – “clever lay up of carbon fibre”; “viscoelastic materials” – which I’ll let you explore on your own).
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