I can remember a video a while back where the vaunted (and often hot-air-filled) Durian Rider stated a Shimano Sora equipped bike was enough to keep up with the fastest of cyclists, even the pros. He then managed to find the likes of Chris Froome and Team Sky to latch on the the back for a couple of miles before they dropped him. Keep in mind, pro training rides rarely top 20 or 21-mph for an average. In other words, a fair bit slower than our Tuesday Night Club Ride B Group average.
The newer generation of Sora components are fantastic and I can absolutely vouch for them as I have a gravel bike with Sora components. The operation of the shifters and drivetrain is every bit as good as the Ultegra on my Specialized Venge or the 105 drivetrain on my Trek. I curse trying to keep up with my friends on more expensive gravel bikes, though. I have to cheat by using slicker tires, otherwise their leisurely ride on a 17-pound gravel rig has my tongue dangling by my spokes on my 24-pound rig. Now, there’s a lot I could do to lighten my gravel bike up, and I may yet (a new set of decent wheels, better disc rotors, etc.), but there’s no way I’m keeping up comfortably with the B Group on Tuesday night (let alone the A group) the same I would on my 16-pound Specialized Venge or 18-1/2-pound Trek 5200, on the gravel bike in its current configuration unless I’m sucking wheel and hiding all night.
On the one hand, “the faster you want to go, the more expensive the bike you’ll need” has some truth to it. On the other, there are ways to cheat this; the problem is you have to make it up with “want to”.
Let’s start with keeping up with the fast groups, 20+mph average (aka 32-km/h). First, like lunch, there’s no such thing as free speed.
Now, my Specialized Venge at $6,000 and just barely 16-pounds (I can get it down to 15.6 with a costlier/less comfortable saddle and Dura-Ace or SRAM Red cassette) is just shy of tip-of-the-sword top-of-the-line. My 25mm x50 mm wheels are light (1,470 g for the set) and I’m running Ultegra components. The Venge is enough bike that the bike isn’t an excuse. If I can’t keep up, it’s the engine, not the bike.
My Trek is a little heavier at 18-1/2 pounds and it requires a little more effort to get around the block but it’s still quite the capable bike. I can do everything on my Trek that I can on the Venge, though watt for watt, the Trek is about 1-mph slower, give or take. The point with my Trek is that I can hang on that bike, but it’s a little harder to do it. We could get into the technical aspects of this, but this would be a much longer post.
Where this gets fun and exciting is with my 24 pound gravel bike. Even with slicks on the bike, I’d have a tough time keeping up with my normal Tuesday night group. Riding the bike is just harder. There’s no question I could keep up with the C Group on the gravel bike, but I’d be at a serious disadvantage with my friends.
So, here’s the breakdown: For the E, D & C groups you’ll be able to get away with anything from entry-level up for a road bike. For those groups, the main issue in keeping up is the engine… you. For the B group, we start getting into the need for a better steed. Something with Shimano 105 or the Campagnolo or SRAM equivalents. Also, upgrading the wheels from those 25 mm alloy rims to something a bit more carbon fiber will be helpful. Those deep-dish wheels aren’t a big deal at all when you’re looking at slower speeds but above, say, 23-mph the difference is huge. Having ridden excellent alloy wheels, 38 mm carbon and 50 mm carbon, I’d go with the 50s. The 38s are great but the 50s are a little better.
Finally, you’ve got the A group (and in our case, the A Elite group). I don’t know too many with top of the line pro rigs, but there are a couple. My Venge is somewhere in the middle and like I wrote earlier, it’s enough. It’s light enough and sleek enough that I have no excuses if I can’t keep up. As road bikes go, if your goal is to get into the A group fast rides, entry-level won’t do unless you’re Peter Sagan. In that case, your sister’s steel bike will do. At 51-years old, I need all the help I can get… and a decent bike makes fast just a little more attainable.