Sad fact: there’s a lot of snobbery and traditionalism in cycling. Even Sir Chris Hoy jokingly makes an admission to being ‘a bit poncy’ in his love of Shimano Dura Ace – but when it comes to braking he’s well and truly happy to drop the conventional approach and welcome discs as the future.
Having founded his own brand, HOY Bikes in collaboration with Evans Cycles in 2012, Sir Chris proudly showed us the new 2016 models at an event held at the retailer’s HQ yesterday. The bikes are all unisex, and come with a ‘fit kit’ – meaning the saddle, handlebars, and crank are specced to the rider’s needs at purchase, and sizes go right down to cater for a woman of around 5ft2.
For 2016,the range has been overhauled – with the Sa Calobra road bike being replaced by two new models: the caliper braked Aomori and the hydraulic disc brake equipped Alto Irpavi - which features internal cable routing and 25c tyres. HOY are known for offering great value for money, and the top end model boasts Shimano Ultegra at £1800.
The hybrid Shizuoka’s have had their load slightly lightened, with thinner tubing, but it was the disc brake Alto Irpavi that Sir Chris seemed most excited about, proudly standing next to it with a grin like that of a new father (a smile he’s probably grown quite accustomed to now having become a dad last year).
Sir Chris hasn’t always been a disc brake fan, he explains: “I never thought I’d be here advocating road bike disc brakes - but I love them."
“I’m not a big fan of technology for technology’s sake – but I honestly think this is where it’s going to go. It’s like anything else in cycling, we’re quite a traditional bunch so I’m not expecting every single person to read your article and go ‘well, I’m totally sold!’, there will be skeptics.
“I recommend people try riding a bike that’s been built from scratch to be a disc brake road bike - not just a standard road bike that’s had disc brakes stuck on - try it, and go back to your calipers and see how you feel."
Sir Chris says the discs are great for a heavier rider when descending, and he doesn't think they would need much more maintenance than a caliper braked bike.
The Alto Irpavi will be available late November, and though it’s not being marketed as a ‘winter bike’ Sir Chris admits with its 25c tyres and comfortable geometry, it would “fit the bill perfectly."
He explains: “This to me could be a bike for someone speccing up for the first time to get a really high quality bike for sportives next year, or someone who currently rides a hybrid, buying a road bike for first time. Or, someone who already has a race carbon bike and is looking for an all-rounder, that they could use any time of the year."
Describing the slightly relaxed geometry, he says: “This is not a generic frame, this is custom, and everything is basically spot on. We’ve gone for a little more comfort in terms of the position, but you can still get low where you want to – I’ve slammed mine right down, put a 140mm stem on it with narrow bars, but if you want a shorter stem you can get a more upright, comfortable position. It’s hard to describe how it’s neutral, but actually quite lively. You can feel confident throwing it into a corner, but it doesn’t feel sluggish."
He loves the 25c tyres, too – and tells me: “I think sacrificing the weight and the aerodynamics is minimal compared to the comfort and the confidence when cornering and the grip you get."
The wheels, made by Novatec, look pretty smart for the price and feature thru-axles as opposed to quick release skewers. Bikes at this price point often come with cheaper wheels, under the expectation the rider will upgrade – but Sir Chris is pretty confident people won’t feel the need unless they’re after mega performance – he says: “It was a challenge to try and find the right wheels. James [Olsen, the bike designer behind HOY and Pinnacle] suggested Novatec. I was trying to go in completely neutral, to be as objective as possible – and I just really liked them. It’s hard to fault them in terms of the ride, they’re sprightly, they accelerate really well, they’re not harsh on the road, but they’re not spongey." They look pretty cool, too.
On his own model, Sir Chris has changed the saddle, swapped in a carbon seat post and upgraded the rear mech, front mech and chainset to Dura Ace as well as adding a 140mm stem – he says: “There’s nothing that jumps out to me as needing an upgrade , except for pedals and saddle [to suit personal preference]. You don’t need to – the difference from Ultegra to Dura Ace is minimal – it’s just because I’m a bit of a ponce" he jokes. We reckon with six Olympic Gold medals to your name, that’s quite alright.
Of course, there are still caliper brake option in the line-up with the Aomori – to cater for those who aren’t bowled over by discs, with the 105 model coming in at the £1,000 price point perfect for Cycle to Work vouchers.
The popular hybrid Shizuoka, with its nimble and fast geometry, hasn’t changed much, slight tweaks including marginally narrower handlebars for traffic weaving, and slimmed down tubing for a lighter overall weight – because “why not?"
The accessory range has seen a dramatic growth, too - with bright coloured bells, new tools and track band colour tyre levers among a host of matching delights.
And what’s next for the HOY brand? The world is Sir Hoy’s oyster, and he and designer Olsen have discussed various options from carbon to electronic Di2 shifting. He explains: “I had Di2 it on a team bike and I must admit I did like it. I don’t know if it would be on this model, on this frame, or on potential carbon in the future. Di2 is cool. A bit like disc brakes, until you’ve tried it it’s easy to slag it off – then you try it and it’s like… [he makes a mechanical shifting noise and smiles broadly]."
The bikes are all made in Taiwan – and Sir Chris has been to the factory to see them being built. He even proudly shows me his favourite video, of a bike box being sealed, ready to go to one happy owner.
Of course there will be those who fight for British built bikes, but much of the industry agrees with the Olympic champion when he says: “Whether you like it or not, that has become the place to go to build a bike – that’s where the expertise is," recalling with enthusiasm watching a woman building a wheel to perfect standard in seconds.
The thing I love the most about discussing the range - kids and adults bikes included - with Sir Chris is his sheer enthusiasm for providing people with good quality bikes, that they’ll enjoy countless adventures on over the years. And really, I can totally understand – it’s got to be an incredible feeling, and just as rewarding as inspiring a nation’s passion for a sport by proving we’re at the very top of the game on the World stage.