Sam Challis

6 Jan 2023

Will we see a rebirth of the Specialized Venge, new top-end SRAM groupsets and power meter-equipped 13-speed from Campagnolo?

As I briefly discussed in my 2022 Gear of the Year article, after two years of COVID-19 induced disruption, the world of cycling tech finally felt like it got back into gear in the second half of last year.

It turned into a vintage year for bikes. Aero bikes in particular, with the Trek Madone, Giant Propel, Scott Foil RC, 3T Strada ICR and Cervélo S5 platforms all seeing significant revamps thanks to a relaxation of UCI rules concerning the profiles of certain frameset tubes.

The all-round race bike category was well-spoken for too, thanks to the new Canyon Ultimate, Enve Melee and Cervélo Soloist.

Some interesting new gravel bikes were released as well, including the Specialized Diverge STR, BMC Kaius, 3T Exploro Ultra, Pinarello Grevil, and Trek Checkpoint.

Even bike components and accessories didn’t let the side down. We saw Garmin introduce solar charging to its new 1040 Edge computer, Shimano release 12-speed Di2 at the 105 tier, Specialized and Shimano bring out race shoes that actually fit people’s feet, Enve overhauled its entire SES wheelset line and Zipp finally rounded out the ‘Total System Efficiency’-inspired update of its road wheel range too.

It was more than enough to keep the Cyclist tech team busy, yet I’m predicting even more of the same in 2023. Based on market trends, product lifecycles and/or just good-old gut instinct, here are a few of the highlights I think the road and gravel market can expect to see in 2023.

1. A phoenix-like re-emergence of the Specialized Venge (or at least an aero-focussed Tarmac SL8)

The Specialized Venge was a high-profile casualty of the brand’s last update to its Tarmac all-round race bike.

As a campaign to market the well-balanced capabilities of the new bike, it worked superbly. However, the relaxations to the UCI rules concerning certain frameset tube profiles and angles that triggered the abundance of aero bikes in 2022 may have created a problem for Specialized.

If the goalposts had not been moved, other brands might have unquestioningly followed Specialized’s lead in combining its aero race bike with its lightweight all-round race bike.

However, the recent changes have effectively saved the aero road category from sliding into obsolescence by allowing designers recreate a clear distinction between aero bikes and lightweight all-rounders.

Aero bikes have ostensibly got heavier, but are apparently significantly (take that word with a pinch of salt) faster as a result of enlarged tube profiles.

Unless Specialized blindsides everyone with a truly remarkable bit of design in the Tarmac SL8, I don’t see how the brand will occupy the middle of the aero/lightweight/comfortable Venn diagram quite as successfully as it did with the Tarmac SL7 within the redefined boundaries set by the new rules.

Therefore, I believe we might see the reintroduction of the Venge to once again take up the aero race bike mantle.

Specialized has dug themselves into a bit of a hole with the ‘One bike to rule them all’ message it pushed with Tarmac, but if any marketing department can negotiate its way out of it, it’ll be the guys from Morgan Hill: they’ve already successfully positioned the Aethos to sit alongside Tarmac after all, so you wouldn’t bet against them going for it again.

Whatever may or may not happen with the Venge, a Tarmac SL8 is all but a certainty in 2023.

2. More all-round race bikes than you can shake a stick at

If 2022 was the year of the aero bike, then it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that 2023 is when we’ll see a plethora of new all-round race bikes.

As I mentioned above, a revamp of the Specialized Tarmac from SL7 to SL8 seems inevitable regardless of whether the brand relaunches its Venge platform.

Specialized aside though, spy shots abound of Team EF Education-EasyPost riding what looks like a revised Cannondale SuperSix Evo. Given how overtly it’s being used, that’s likely to be one of the first major launches to kick off the year.

One only needs to idly consider the all-round race bikes from other big brands to see that plenty of those are looking similarly long in the tooth.

Trek’s existing Émonda is now almost three years old, and the brand has more recently overhauled all its other road and gravel platforms, with the Madone, Domane and Checkpoint all receiving comparatively recent revamps.

Scott’s Addict RC is in a similar position, having seen the brand’s Foil RC and Addict Gravel revised in its current lifespan. Could the Addict’s frankly ridiculous £15,999 asking price reflect that a new one might be on the way without bringing with it much of a price increase?

It isn’t unreasonable to suggest Giant’s existing TCR is on shaky ground too, given how well-rounded the new Propel is as a race bike.

The TCR is still a touch lighter and offers wider tyre clearance, but I’m not sure those attributes are enough to meaningfully differentiate from the brand’s new aero bike, so it could be that Giant released the Propel in the knowledge that the TCR would be taking its next step in the not-too-distant future.

For the record though, I’d say this revamp is one of the more unlikely releases we’ll see this year, but would move to the top of my list for 2024.

3. Refinement at the top-end from SRAM

Photo: Matthew Loveridge

It’s now been almost eight Years since SRAM moved into technological clear water with the release of its eTap wireless groupsets. Red and Force were both given the 12-speed AXS treatment in early 2019, and SRAM’s third tier Rival followed their lead not so long ago.

Arguably Rival moved the needle a little further on than either of its two bigger siblings as well, particularly in terms lever ergonomics. Rival’s controls are smaller and generally considered to be more comfortable, as well as being better looking.

This is conjecture, but surely they are more aerodynamic too – Force and Red’s current large lever bodies can’t be too dissimilar to sticking Coke cans to the tops of your bars.

Shimano’s top-end hydraulic groupsets lead the way when it comes to svelte lever size, so it’s about time SRAM caught up in this area, having proved it can be achieved with Rival already.

Admittedly, Rival’s levers lack certain functionality that Red and Force levers possess, but I can imagine with the extra development time SRAM has had, this could be incorporated into the Rival levers’ form factor.

SRAM has historically introduced extra sprockets on the mountain bike side first, so I wouldn’t say a move to 13-speed on the road alongside the ergonomic overhaul is likely.

I’d say what is more likely is that SRAM will expand the capabilities of components like the rear derailleur, so it can homogenise the derivations it currently has within its groupset families: namely Red and Force sub-categories such as Wide and XLPR.

Those derivations take different cassette sizes and create different chainlines, but must be a logistical and practical headache at all stages of the supply chain. Having components that can be used in a wider range of setups has to be preferential, and therefore might be in the list of updates.

I’d expect smaller derailleur batteries too, or at least more range from batteries of the same size.

Patents suggest that SRAM may be bringing wireless electronic shifting down to its Apex tier soon. While I think that is an inevitability in the long term, I don’t think the ability is there to make it work from a price-point perspective just yet, which obviously would be a key selling point in a fourth-tier groupset like Apex.

4. Significant developments at Campagnolo

The release of Ekar back in 2020 breathed life back into Campagnolo. While the brand unquestionably still made fantastic products, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest it was beginning to stall in terms of innovation and development compared to the other two big groupset manufacturers.

Yet Ekar re-established Campagnolo’s position in the company of SRAM and Shimano. For a brand so focussed on high-end road performance, producing a 13-speed, 1× gravel-specific groupset was an uncharacteristically bold move, but one that unquestionably paid off.

The groupset has been almost unilaterally favourably received, and it is genuinely great to see Campagnolo back with a prominent presence at OEM level.

Now that Ekar is over two years old though, and all of the brand’s road groupsets are at least four years old, the question of where the brand goes from here looms larger than ever.

One avenue would be to bring its 13-speed technology onto the road. It’s something I predicted might happen in 2022, but Campagnolo had an unusually quiet year and it didn’t.

I’d sooner blame that on the disruptive after-effects of covid rather than admit it was perhaps a ropey call to make on my part. Nonetheless, I’ll look to make up for it by saying it’s likely to happen this year.

Do we really need 26 gears on the road? We absolutely don’t. However, if Campagnolo can incorporate the extra gears without any compromises to existing attributes, then bring it on, I say. Riders either get closer steps between gears in the same range, or wider range gearing with the same jumps in between.

Patents have recently emerged showing Campagnolo is working on a crank-based power meter, so this 13-speed road groupset may be power meter-equipped too. Will the brand go the whole hog and make it at least semi-wireless too? I wouldn’t say that’s out of the question.

Another direction that doesn’t seem inconceivable is to bring out an electronic version of Ekar. Adding a proven technological development (Campagnolo has shown it can do electronic shifting very well in its existing EPS systems) to a proven groupset concept is a no-brainer in my opinion and will be a case of when, not if, it will happen.

5. Necessary steps forward from Shimano

2021 saw Shimano introduce semi-wireless 12-speed updates to both Dura-Ace and Ultegra, and given that both of those generally work on four to five year product cycles they can be expected to stay as they are for some time.

Both groupsets moving onwards and upwards left a gaping hole in Shimano’s mid-range, nomically filled by previous generation Ultegra for a while.

However, in a similar way to SRAM with its Rival eTap AXS, Shimano’s third tier, 105, was brought in line with the updates to its two bigger siblings in 2022, gaining all the same main technology as Dura Ace and Ultegra.

Yet even this update didn’t balance Shimano’s road range, it merely shifted the gulf in tiers further down. 105 R7100 is significantly more affordable than Dura Ace and Ultegra, but at around £1,700 it’s not the cheap but solid workhorse it’s mechanical 11-speed predecessor was, and the jump down to 10-speed Tiagra is ostensibly larger than Ultegra R8100 was to 105 R7000.

If even entry-level electronic groupsets aren’t realistically accessible for the time being, that has to mean a mechanical update to Shimano’s range is due to serve the high-volume mid-market.

I expect to see a 12-speed update to mechanical 105 sooner rather than later this year, a prediction that’s seemingly already been confirmed by the latest leaks.

Speaking of 12-speed, Shimano GRX remains the only groupset strand in the brand’s portfolio with no 12-speed option.

Given the groupset family’s age (it was released in 2019), the prominence of 1× options in range, and that the work must be being done on mechanical 12-speed solutions for 105 (which could be easily ported over), I could foresee a complete overhaul of GRX this year too, with its mechanical options going 12-speed and its electronic options going semi-wireless on top of that extra sprocket as well.

Looking forward to some racing in 2023? Read our pro cycing predictions

Main image: DT Swiss / Campagnolo via Google Patents / Matthew Loveridge

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