The Incredible Tech Behind This Year’s Tour de France Bikes

A motorbike is a motorcycle, proper? Wrong. Especially for those who’re knowledgeable bike group. With margins for the winner of a stage of the Tour de France typically right down to lower than a hundredth of a second (a tire width), and with the general profitable divide being underneath two minutes on final 12 months’s Tour de France throughout the complete 3,351 kilometers, each marginal acquire the groups can eke out of their riders and bikes is completely important.

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This story initially appeared on WIRED UK.

Design innovation and materials science in bike design is on a par with sports activities reminiscent of F1, and Grand Tour bikes are constructed with pure efficiency in thoughts. But a motorcycle that excels at “climbing” on steep mountain levels will lose beneficial time in a time-trial the place aerodynamics are the whole lot and even bike dealing with is compromised for pure pace. Take that very same time-trial bike on a mountain or a flat stage with a giant group of riders jostling for place and its twitchy dealing with would make it at finest unwieldy, and at worst harmful.

Of course, riders might trip one “do-it-all” bike, the “Aero” and “Climbing” bikes are versatile rides accessible to and ridden by biking fanatics the world over. However, time-trial bikes are specialist beasts, the correct instrument for the job in heads-down timed efforts solely.

Here’s our information to the three essential varieties of bikes raced by the professional peloton on this 12 months’s Tour de France.

The Aero Bike


Early aero bike improvement (within the mid 1980s) was born out of experiments in altering the profile of a motorcycle’s body tubing for aerodynamic profit—identical to racing automobiles. The higher the bike slips by way of the air, the extra vital the financial savings in vitality used to propel it (and time saved in a race).

By the time Greg Lemond gained the 1989 Tour de France by simply 58 seconds, in a now legendary remaining stage solo time-trial (carrying an aero helmet and with aerodynamic—or tri—bars), riders might see the instant benefit. “Aero” as a design goal was right here to remain.

Thirty years later and aero continues to be the buzzword in bike design. Whether you’re a pro-tour rider or weekend warrior, the final 5 years have seen an acceleration in each the technological improvement and the sheer selection of aero bikes now accessible to the general public.

Modern aero bikes nonetheless function these tell-tale “sculpted in a wind tunnel” carbon-fiber profiles, including tighter tolerances between frames and wheels and infrequently sport one-piece handlebar and stem combos (the place a clear front-end of the bike cuts by way of the air extra effectively).

They additionally combine cable routing hidden contained in the body for gears and brakes (extra clear traces and fewer drag) or have executed away with cabled gearing fully, switching to programs reminiscent of Shimano’s Di2 digital shifting (that includes a skinny wire sending alerts from the shifter to the rear mech) or SRAM’s eTap wi-fi shifting (by way of their proprietary wi-fi protocol Airea).

These rides might also “drop” the entrance finish of the bike barely to place a rider in a extra aerodynamic place (allowing for the rider will trigger “drag” as properly and the bike). There’s been a dramatic rise within the recognition of skin-tight aero clothes, too.

Aero bikes typically function a “deep section” wheelset the place the rim can run between 40–90 mm in depth—the bigger, smoother profile aiding easy air journey over its floor.

The tradeoff for this “aero” construct? Aero bikes typically weigh greater than their featherweight climbing equivalents—and are sometimes much less snug than common/all-day/endurance street bikes, because the frames are designed with profile and stiffness for energy switch as a precedence.

Pro riders will use the aero bike in races such because the Tour de France for longer, flatter levels as outcomes present that an aero bike might be as much as 4 minutes sooner over a flat 40-km course (if using situations are favorable) in addition to in dash levels the place the aerodynamic form and uncompromising stiffness is an asset in getting you over the road in first place.

The Climbing Bike


What do professional riders need after they’re climbing impossibly steep mountains, typically for hours at a time? Something gentle. Easy. Well, it is virtually that simple. Grand Tour Climbing bikes are gentle, however they have to be no lighter than the UCI’s (biking’s governing physique) 6.8-kg minimal weight rule, and so they should deal with properly—using out and in of the saddle.

The tube profiles on a climbing bike body gained’t usually be as excessive as aero bikes—including the additional carbon fibre for these outsized deep-profile tubes takes additional materials and provides weight. The wheels gained’t be as deep part as an aero bike or time-trial bike, both, the minimal weight drawback isn’t value it. In a world the place gramme-shaving might be the distinction of first and second place on a mountain stage, riders will 9 occasions out of 10 choose the lightest bike potential (keep in mind it’s additionally a psychological benefit).

When does a rider selected a climbing bike over an aero bike, although? This is one of the most well liked matters in aggressive using proper now—each within the professional tour and on the café-stop-on-a-weekend membership run. Yes, there may be benefit to a extra aerodynamic bike, however solely usually on grades of as much as six per cent. On grades over six per cent – the long-lasting Tour de France climb of Alpe d’Huez averages eight to 11 % and Mont Ventoux additionally averages Eight %—a climbing bike continues to be the weapon of alternative. The weight at all times beats aerodynamic benefit at these speeds and gradients.

The Time-Trial Bike


In a time-trial race, a rider (or group of riders) are pitted towards the clock to be the quickest round a set course. It’s one of the purest sorts of racing, and one the place the strongest rider, in essentially the most aerodynamic place, ought to win the day.

Yes, there’s a specific amount of skilled bike dealing with concerned (and at pace), however the self-discipline could be very completely different from jostling for place in a busy peloton on a flat or dash stage, or the cat-and-mouse competitors of a protracted climbing stage.


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The holy grail of pro-tour design is clearly to engineer a motorcycle as gentle, stiff, aerodynamic and as snug as potential. Unfortunately, some of these aims find yourself competing with one another: aero bike design provides weight, Climbing bikes compromise on aerodynamics. What about time-trial (TT) bikes? They are gentle, stiff and aero, however consolation (and maneuverability) take a success.

TT bikes are a specialist aerodynamic instrument, and for good purpose. As quickly as a rider breaks 15 kph the most important power to take care of is drag, and the sooner you go, the larger the drag (not very best for those who’re a professional rider touring at 60 kph). These bikes are designed for predominantly flat racing the place the distinction between the highest ten locations might be simply seconds.

Looking at TT bikes, essentially the most distinctive factor is the stretched out place they put the rider in: low, aerodynamic and aggressive—good for flat-out racing. The bike achieves this with a extra excessive geometry, (the body angles which dictate rider place and using traits), most notably the steep angle of the seat-tube, pushing the rider ahead and on to aero-bars (made fashionable once more by Lemond’s well-known ‘Tour win) protruding from the entrance.

The physique can be moved from the standard place, with the rider sitting on the saddle simply behind the underside bracket (the place the entrance chainrings are mounted) to over or in entrance of the underside bracket, thus partaking completely different muscle teams for an elevated energy output. Look out for TT bikes on levels two (on Sunday, July 7) and 13 (on Friday, July 19) of the 2019 Tour de France.

This story initially appeared on WIRED UK.

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