Inside #RIDE71 we feature 40 pages about equipment from the WorldTour. We examined, weighed and photographed at least one bike from every squad in road cycling’s top-tier category. There’s a lot of lovely stuff, but it got us thinking about the state of the cycling community of late…
Team Bike Introduction • Products for the professionals
(As published in #RIDE 71 – volume 1, 2016, p.62)
Considering the limitations that are imposed on racing cyclists, we wonder: is there more bicycle product exotica in a local social ride bunch than in the professional peloton?
In the days before the first race of the 2016 WorldTour season began, an annual project was being enacted in a studio inside the Hilton Adelaide. At least one bike from each of the 18 teams in the UCI’s top-tier road racing category was photographed, measured and appraised. The pages that follow illustrate what products will be used by the pro peloton in 2016. There are 14 bike brands and three groupset manufacturers. There’s a lot of carbon-fibre, a good dose of aluminium components, a wide range of tyres, saddles, handlebars, power meters and the sundry items that make up a modern racing bike. There’s a growing presence of electronic shifting… and even a couple of bikes without gear cables or wires.
The bikes of the pro peloton were once considered true cycling exotica – items that were unique, tailored for a specific rider for a real purpose: to win races.
Yet in 2016, for all the tech that exists at this level, the collection of bikes examined prior to the Tour Down Under is… ah, quite ordinary. Don’t be confused: there is immense innovation and there are amazing cycling products on display. There is a reason why so many pages are devoted to the bikes of 18 teams: we want to show readers what the best riders in the world use in competition.
This is the fourth successive year in which we have photographed and examined the bikes of WorldTour teams and in that small span of time the evolution is considerable. Still, there are limitations imposed on the teams, mechanics, riders, bike suppliers and component makers which mean that the professionals are no longer racing on the best possible products.
It’s an odd scenario but, frankly, there are numerous bunches in Australian cities on a weekend morning which boast bikes that are arguably better than what is used in the peloton. There are certainly lighter bikes being sold.
Weight isn’t the only thing that turns a bike into a piece of performance sporting equipment. The tradition of product testing in the peloton means that racers are using ground-breaking products long before the rest of us get a chance to even see it. Still, there would be many bikes parked outside coffee shops that are less than the 6.8kg limit imposed by the UCI.
For the team mechanics, talk of ballast is common. For the everyday rider, however, there are options for how they can drop weight and still have a safe, reliable, perfectly functional bike that weighs considerably less than 6.8kg.
In 2016, when five of the WorldTour teams are named after the bicycle company supplying products, it’s obvious that there are strong commercial agreements between the industry and the peloton. Beyond the quintet of brands with naming-rights team sponsorship – BMC, Cannondale, Giant, Merida and Trek – there are long-standing relationships between teams and suppliers that foster business allegiances rather than genuine product innovation.
We go back inside the peloton to find out what is being used by the pro riders but the introduction for this annual review needs to state the obvious: there is nothing featured in this collection of product that is customised for pro use. Furthermore, if a rider is willing, they are able to source cycling products that perhaps even have better functionality than what’s used in the peloton.
The most obvious omission is disc brakes. We spoke to mechanics from all the teams and only a couple conceded that adopting technology that is now common in social bunches will be considered for the pro peloton in 2016.
In recent years, disc brakes for road bikes have become refined. Of the five test bikes that appear in our review pages in this issue, two are spec’ed with disc brakes – complete with thru-axle technology and direct-mount fixings that some say improve the overall riding dynamic.
The debate about disc brakes will roll on for years to come and ultimately the customer will decide if it’s worth the industry’s effort to continue with a trend which has only recently emerged. But the take-home point that comes from this topic is that The Everyday Rider has far greater options of choice than The Professional Cyclist.
Herein lies a conundrum about this annual feature. Are we better off selecting 18 bikes from enthusiasts around the country and showcasing them instead of the products used by pro teams? Would this offer greater insight into the evolution of bicycle design, product innovation, and even an overview of trends in colour and style?
It’s possible, but we’ve been doing that for years already.
The ‘Bikes from The Bunch’ feature at the back of every magazine since 2001 has displayed bikes of all shapes and sizes in a range of materials and with a vast collective of components from a wide range of manufacturers.
The Everyday Rider is ultimately the one who determines what products are worth buying. The Professional Cyclist simply has to use what’s on offer from the team’s range of suppliers. The racing peloton is full of hi-tech innovation. The bikes are built by professional mechanics who take great pride in the presentation and functionality of what gets raced. And manufacturers constantly strive to improve the products that can be used… by everyone.
What makes this year’s collection so special is, perhaps, the introduction of wireless shifting to two teams. SRAM’s eTap is the biggest innovation for a new racing season.
Beyond that, not one particular paint job is prettier than all others. Rather, what else makes this collection interesting is the reality that these bikes are used by professionals who not only ride a lot – they do so in a manner which is extreme. Fast, powerful, fearless and determined, the cyclist on the teams that ride these bikes puts products through a range of testing protocols that The Everyday Rider can’t.
The mechanics see what works and what fails. They are an integral part of the product development chain and their feedback is invaluable for the brands that want to create faster, stronger, more functional items that win races… and inspire others to ride their bikes.
There is no such thing as the perfect bike. Trends come and go. Products evolve. And no single ride characteristic is more important than another. Weight, comfort and sizing are all important aspects of bike design but so too is durability, functionality and serviceability.
We consider the 2016 WorldTour collection and present it as part of the big feature of this issue. This is how it was at the start of the season… but we also acknowledge that much of it will be replaced several times before the end of 2016. Products emerge, ‘good’ inevitably becomes ‘better’ – and this tech passes down from pro to consumer – but there will never be ‘best’. There will always be innovation and that’s part of what makes the bike so beautiful.
– By Rob Arnold