Gerard Vroomen is arguably the cycling industry’s leading innovator.
Vroomen got into bike development as researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands), then at McGill University (Montreal). In 1995 he and Phil White founded Cervélo Cycles. Cervélo has since grown to be one of the world’s most prominent triathlon bike manufacturers. It’s currently owned by Pon Holdings, a Dutch firm that also owns numerous other bike brands. (Cervélo is a combination of “cervello,” the Italian word for brain, and vélo, the French word for bike.)
He co-founded OPEN Cycles after leaving Cervélo. The mission of OPEN is “working hard to stay small.” After his success with Cervélo, Vroomen felt he’d had enough of the “big company” thing, and wanted to focus on “the simplicity of nice bikes, nice rides, nice company, and nothing else.” You are probably seeing OPEN bikes on your group rides, especially if you are riding some gravel.
In 2015 he became a partner at 3T to produce their first bicycle line: the Exploro gravel racer, and the Strada road bike. 3T is an Italian company founded in 1961 and was originally known as 3TTT: Tecnologia del Tubo Torino (Turin Tube Technology). Until Vroomen brought his bicycle design expertise to 3T, it solely produced bicycle components that, no surprise, require tubular shapes.
The OPEN and 3T bikes all have a characteristic “fat tube” look that immediately sets them apart. Both brands utilize wider tires which provide a smoother ride, and the wider tube shapes paired with the wider tires result in optimal aerodynamics. The innovation that gets a double-take is the drivetrain: There is only one chainring and hence no front derailleur. Vroomen spent a short time during his talk evangelizing the demise of the front derailleur. The term of art for the new trend is a “one-by” or “1x.” To give approximately the same gearing as a standard double front crankset there are 11, 12, or 13 cogs in the rear. Maybe we’ll even see 14 in a few years.
Vroomen hinted at the logic of losing the front derailleur: It’s a pain for most riders. The directionality of gear shifting between the front and rear is non-intuitive and seems backwards to most. I asked category 1 racer and coach Heather Nielson about her thoughts on 1x and she agrees that doing away with the front derailleur would make her racing life easier. When I described the 1x concept to my wife, an avid bike commuter, she immediately responded “I hate front derailleurs!” So, there are two data points at two ends of the bicycle performance spectrum who love the idea of a 1x. Once again Vroomen is at the leading edge.
Read BikeHugger’s review of the 3T Strada.