The bikes are built. The WorldTour peloton has been in action and, for team mechanics, there’s been plenty to do in an off-season of change. SRAM is testing a wireless, electronic shifting system in competition and FSA is due to launch one later this year.
The race for better shifting
The component selection for WorldTour teams has had a significant shake-up prior to the 2015 season. Shimano remains the dominant supplier, sponsoring eight teams in the top tier of professional cycling but beyond that there are another three teams using Shimano products albeit without any formal agreement with the Japanese manufacturer.
Tinkoff-Saxo, Etixx-Quickstep and Lampre-Merida are mixing their components a little more than some of the other squads. An industry source told RIDE that the need to build so many bikes at the start of the season meant that there were times when mechanics were going from one bike shop to another to buy Dura-Ace Di2 ensembles because they couldn’t source enough in sufficient time directly from the manufacturer.
It doesn’t take long for the rumour mill to wind up and before the first WorldTour race of the season it was suggested that the groupset market was about to expand from three brands to four.
Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM will be joined by FSA in 2015.
Apparently the launch of a new FSA electronic shifting groupset is imminent, some saying it’s going to happen as early as this July… maybe earlier.
“It’s so nice,” Tinkoff-Saxo’s mechanic Alejandro Torraldo told RIDE two days ago. He wasn’t giving too much away but it seems obvious that the partnership between his team and FSA is about to expand significantly. If all goes to plan, we’ll see Alberto Contador and his team-mates shifting gears electronically – and without cables – at this year’s Tour de France.
“There’s no cabling,” said Torraldo. “When you make the bike, it’s so easy.
“If you make so many bikes, you need many cables and cable housing and this is a much easier solution.”
But it’s not yet been seen in competition, certainly not at the WorldTour level so it’s a gamble that FSA must be hoping will pay off even if they’ve not had much of a chance for prototype testing in races.
The other team that’s expected to race with FSA’s new groupset is Etixx-Quickstep. Like Tinkoff-Saxo, it was a SRAM-supplied team in 2014 but the riders of both these teams are competing this week on bikes with a mix of component brands. It’s also poignant to note that both are Specialized-sponsored teams so it’s safe to assume that there’s a collaboration between FSA and the American brand.
The Tinkoff-Saxo bike RIDE examined as part of its annual feature on products from the pro peloton, had an Shimano Ultegra cassette, FSA chain, and SRAM chainrings. (That was one that had a power meter attached, not the one you see in the photo below.) Torraldo explained that this is partly because there are refinements still required on the system that’s in development by FSA.
“In the beginning with FSA, when you shift down the chain was staying in the middle [of the two chainrings] and it was not working good,” said the experienced Spanish mechanic. “We use, for the moment, chainrings from SRAM and the new chain from FSA.”
The season didn’t exactly get off to a great start for FSA… at least not the chain that it supplied to Mick Rogers for the national championships. He was left stranded during the road race, without a chain at the top of Mount Buninyong, after a break on the final lap. Clearly launching products before comprehensive prototype testing can generate less than positive exposure even if the brand has bold ambitions.
SRAM is also set to launch a wireless shifting system. This has been years in the making and five riders from the only WorldTour team it sponsors, AG2R La Mondiale, have been issued wireless, electronic shifting ensembles. One of these is Dominico Pozzovivo who is racing the Tour Down Under this week.
RIDE has photographed all the team bikes in a studio in advance of the opening round of the WorldTour and Pozzovivo’s Focus bike was one offered by mechanics for scrutiny. This will be part of the regular feature on professional bikes that’s in the first issue of our magazine for the year.
“We’ve been testing this system for some time now,” said SRAM’s pro team liaison, Jason Phillips. “But the last thing we want to do is put it on the bike of one of the big stars and for something to go wrong. There’d be television cameras and footage and could potentially send the wrong message to our customer base. We are keen to have our groupset to market soon but we don’t want to compromise our product because we’re in a hurry.
“There’s a reason for prototypes. It allows us to perfect the product before putting it to market. And the pro peloton is the best testing ground – that’s where the strongest riders are and their feedback is particularly valuable.”
According to Phillips, the wireless system from SRAM hasn’t even yet got a name but there are new, black brake/shifting levers on some of the bikes at the Tour Down Under. Alas, there’s not date yet nominated for the launch to the public but it’s getting closer every race.
There’s still some fine-tuning to do but the groupset market just got more interesting. Shifting is not just electronic, it’s soon to be wireless. Stay tuned.