It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time for the year-end best product lists. Bicycling’s best products lists have been out for a bit now, but I always find myself reflecting on the gear I rode this year. Nothing I rode was as significant as the Specialized Aethos.
The Aethos Comp Rival was our bike of the year. We hosted a live video event that was about it, as well as the Aethos-influenced Crux. I’ve considered whether the Aethos is better than a custom bike. But despite all the words spilled and video minutes dedicated to the Aethos, I still don’t feel like I’ve said enough about it.
I like technology. I like sleek integration and seeing companies cast aside common standards to try new things to eke out every bit of potential speed. But—but—a lot of what has happened to modern road bikes is mostly for the benefit of the top pros. Integration can save weight and watts, but it makes repairs and replacement more difficult. Aerodynamics improves efficiency but can also add weight, make bikes handle funny in the wind, and sometimes suck the liveliness out of a bike’s ride. Plus, the UCI’s equipment regulations drive everyone toward the same answers, resulting in a whole lot of bikes that look, and ride, rather similarly.
While these bikes are incredibly cool and engineering marvels, much of this “innovation” is arguably of little benefit to riders like you and me. The problem is that bike brands need to sell a lot of bikes that are primarily designed for top pros in order to subsidize their engineering and development. Plus, the UCI’s regulations require that the equipment used by the pros be made available to the public. As a result, a whole lot of bikes that are designed for the incredibly specific purpose of professional road racing are being pushed on the general riding public as the “best” bikes for everyday riding, when they’re just not.
The Specialized Aethos is what can happen when a company makes a road bike designed for everyday riding and not top-tier road racing. I will admit that the Aethos is still a high-performance bike with long and low race fit. But it is a small, though significant, step away from the big brands’ insistence that the best road bike formula is the one they use to build bikes for pro racers.
The Aethos uses common standards (with the exception of the front caliper mount)—there’s no integration and no pursuit of marginal gains through aerodynamics. It’s just a (relatively) simple, elegant road bike from a big brand that rides and handles well. Which, unfortunately, seems revolutionary right now. One reason I keep talking about the Aethos is because I want Specialized, and other brands, to take this concept and run with it. I want to see bikes in the vein of the Aethos be the road bike, and bikes like the Tarmac, Trek’s Emonda, and the rest shoved into a niche. I don’t want race bikes to disappear, I just want them to be positioned and sold for what they are: equipment designed primarily for use in competition by top-tier athletes.
I’d also like to see Specialized make the Aethos more useful by giving it (hidden) fender mounts, and to be more inclusive by offering models with upright/endurance geometry. But that’s really it. One of the great things about the Aethos is its minimalism—that’s a major reason why it works so well. I think all road riders like a light, lively bike with a comfortable yet sporty ride, so I don’t want to tart it up with a bunch of features that dampen its essence.
My hope for 2022 is that Specialized and the large brands recognize that the best road bike is not the one designed exclusively or primarily for pro racers. That these brands use the best technologies and tools to make more road bikes like the Aethos; great riding equipment designed to be the best bikes for us: the real riders.