Tour de France Tech

Tour de France Tech

 

Tour de France Tech

 

Simon Whiten

 

A beginners guide to Tour de France Tech

 

This article is a beginners guide to bicycle technology in response to all of the questions we get asked by those newly introduced to road racing by the Tour de France. This year, due to the Tour’s Yorkshire start, we’ve had more questions than ever, so here’s our answers to those most commonly asked…

 

Frame Materials

 

First off, let’s deal with the materials used to make bike frames. All of the Tour Peloton’s bikes are made of carbon fibre, engineered to provide the stiffest possible pedalling platform laterally (resisting side to side forces), whilst having a degree of compliance in the vertical plane for the sake of comfort over less than perfect road surfaces. Bike manufacturers are keen to promote the qualities of their frames – as in this example from Giant the main sponsors of the Giant Shimano cycling team – and it’s this ability to precisely engineer each tube that makes carbon perfect for racing bicycle frames. You may be riding perfectly good frames made from steel, aluminium or titanium, but don’t expect to see those materials back in the Tour anytime soon.
 

The Tour is like human powerd Formula1 with cutting edge carbon frames fitted with electronic gears, carbon wheels, and aero helmets and clothing
The Tour is like human powered Formula1 with cutting edge carbon frames fitted with electronic gears, carbon wheels, and aero helmets and clothing

 
Contrary to popular opinion, carbon has revealed itself to be one of the best materials to repair as well, as we learnt recently when we visited Surrey Carbon Repair; not that this is a major issue for pro team riders who presumably have an unlimited supply of frames available to them. Still it is nice to know that if you wreck a carbon frame, such as Alberto Contador’s spare Specialized in this year’s Tour, it can be repaired to be even stronger than it was before.
 
It is true that, even though of very different design and branding, many of the pros’ carbon frames you see in the Tour are made in the same Taiwanese or Chinese factories. Cheaper production costs and a concentration of carbon fibre manufacturing expertise make these parts of the Far East the ideal manufacturing base for the bicycle industry.
 
It seems to be that fewer pro riders now ride made-to-measure frames and most try to ride the smallest frame they can get away with in search of the extra stiffness that small triangular shapes provide. Some manufacturers will still make special frames to match a rider’s particular needs and an extra layer of carbon, wrapped around key areas such as the bottom bracket and head tube, may be used to add extra frame stiffness.
 
Most frames used at Tour de France level have aerodynamic features though the emphasis on aerodynamics varies between manufacturers and, with some teams, stage topography, employing aero frames on flatter stages. Garmin Sharp are a good example of this, using the slippery S5 on flat stages and the lighter R5 on hillier stages. However, note that there is still a minimum weight limit for bicycles imposed by the UCI and, quite ridiculously, some teams have to employ weights to bring their bikes up to this outdated, ‘safe’ limit of 6.8kgs.
 
The slippery aerodynamic S5 is used for flat stages by the Garmin Sh
The slippery aerodynamic S5 is used for flat stages by the Garmin Sharp team

The Cervelo R5 is generally used in the mountains
The Cervelo R5 is generally used in the mountains

 
Gears
 
There are three groupset (gearing and braking component) providers at the Tour. Pros are making more and more use of electronic gears and they are so commonly used now that it’s the norm rather than the exception to have an electronic gearshift for riders sponsored by either Shimano or Campagnolo; much was made of the fact that Swiss star, Fabian Cancellara, still uses cable operated Shimano Dura-Ace even though it’s a bit of a non-story being down to personal preference. SRAM who sponsor three of the biggest teams at the Tour, Tinkoff-Saxo, Omega Pharma Quick Step and Cannondale, still only have cable operated gears but are rumored to be working on a new electronic system.
 
Handlebars
 
Though they love new kit, pros can be slow to adopt new materials in certain ‘key’ areas. One of these has been handlebars and stems. Consequently many pros still use aluminium bars clamped in place by an aluminium stem for ease of adjustment and in the belief that this is a safer option than using carbon. However, a look around the 2014 Tour peloton clearly demonstrates that more and more pros are moving over to integrated (one piece) carbon fibre handlebar stem units, such as the new Canyon Aerocockpit CF, one piece bar and stem used by Alexander Kristoff for his sprint stage win into Saint-Etienne.
 

Canyon are sporting a new integrated carbon handlebar at the Tour
Canyon are sporting a new integrated carbon handlebar at the Tour

 
Continued overleaf…
 

%d bloggers like this: