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A pro race bike might look the same as the one you can buy in the shops, but there are some subtle differences that mark them out

I’ve been to a fair few professional road races over the years, from the Tour de France to Belgian classics, and in that time I've noticed that there are quite a few things you only spot on a pro race bike.

These are a few of those observations, so you know how to spot a pro race bike, or in case you want to emulate the PRO look.

The great thing about cycle sport is that you can (mostly) buy the exact same bike and equipment that any pro uses. In fact, you can buy a better bike if you’re not racing, as you're unhindered by the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit. But there are a few differences when comparing your shop-bought race bike to an actual pro race bike.

Top tube name sticker 

things pros do - 1 (23).jpg

things pros do - 1 (23).jpg

You always see a sticker with the name of the pro racer that the bike belongs to on the top tube of the frame. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a country flag or, and I've only seen it a couple of times, a Twitter handle. It makes it easy for spectators and mechanics to know which bike belongs to who when parked up against the team truck of cafe window.

A number plate

things pros do - 1 (4).jpg

things pros do - 1 (4).jpg

There might be calls for number plates to be required by cycle commuters, but pro racers already ride with a number plate. It's typically attached to the rear brake with a special adapter, but sometimes it's fixed to the seatpost. Along with jersey numbers, it makes it a bit easier to distinguish a rider in a bunch. It’s also useful for a team mechanic when arranging the spare bikes on top of the team car. 

Slammed and long stems

things pros do - 1 (15).jpg

things pros do - 1 (15).jpg

If there’s anything that sets a pro race bike apart, it’s the penchant for long and slammed stems. Pro racers like to get very low at the front, for aerodynamics, and they like to stretch out, too. In the olden days, racers would have steel frames custom measured to fit, but these days most pros (with some exceptions) have to fit a stock carbon frame size. That often means a racer will ride a smaller size frame and sort the reach out with a frankly ridiculous length stem, with 140mm quite common and even 150mm stem occasionally spotted, as in the picture at the top of the article.

It’s worth remembering that the colossal hours of riding a pro clocks up every year means they can maintain a position that might have us phoning for a chiropractor after 30 minutes in the same position. That’s why you should never emulate the bike fit of a professional, but instead get a bike fit that is right for you.

Super clean cassettes

things pros do - 1 (8).jpg

things pros do - 1 (8).jpg

Cassettes so clean you could eat your dinner off... not that you would ever want to. Pro bikes are cleaned after every single training ride and race so they’re always immaculately clean, there’s never the chance for grime and dirt to accumulate on any of the moving parts. During the bigger races, bar tape is sometimes replaced daily so the bikes always look like they’ve just rolled off the shop floor. Chains are frequently replaced, nothing is left to wear out.

Tubular tyres

things pros do - 1 (12).jpg

things pros do - 1 (12).jpg

Most regular cyclists use clincher tyres, easy to remove and change an inner tube when you need. All pro bikes are fitted with tubular tyres, though, which require the tyre being glued to the rim. A tubular tyre glued to a carbon wheel is currently the lightest setup, because the rim construction is simpler, and in a sport obsessed with weight (though limited by the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit) every little bit of weight can make a difference. 

things pros do - 1 (19).jpg

things pros do - 1 (19).jpg

It’s not just the weight. One of the key reasons that pros still use tubular tyres is because you can still ride with a flat tyre - a punctured tubular tyre won’t blow off the rim. An inner tube blowout with a clincher setup, whilst unlikely, can be potentially dangerous. So a punctured tubular tyre can still be ridden on,  at reduced speed, usually long enough to receive a spare wheel from the following team car or neutral support.

There are other reasons. Many racers will tell you they prefer the more supple ride feel of a tubular tyre as well. Tubular tyres also accommodate higher pressures and pro racers will run up to 140 psi if the road conditions are good enough.

Precise bike setup

things pros do - 1 (13).jpg

things pros do - 1 (13).jpg

This isn’t the most obvious thing you spot on a pro race bike, but the position of the saddle and handlebar is measured to absolute precision. There’s no guesswork with saddle height, stem length or handlebar drop, it’s all based on professional bike fits at the beginning of the season, along with a dose of personal preference based on the many hours of training and racing a pro does.

Aluminium and classic round handlebars

things pros do - 1 (20).jpg

things pros do - 1 (20).jpg

Most pro race bikes are fitted not with carbon handlebars, but aluminium handlebars. There are two reasons. The first is that, often, a bit of extra weight is needed to ensure the bike doesn’t dip below the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit. Adding a metal handlebar might be enough of a difference.

An aluminium handlebar is more durable as well, and should take the knocks from a few crashes and being transported between races better. That’s not to say you don’t see carbon bars, they’re just outnumbered by aluminium bars, at least based on my experience of looking at hundreds of team bikes over the years.

things pros do - 1 (21).jpg

things pros do - 1 (21).jpg

Handlebar shape is another noticeable thing that sets a pro bike apart. Despite a wide range of handlebar shapes and the popularity of ergonomic and compact  bend handlebars on production bikes, a large number of pro racers still favour the classic round bend handlebar. The deep drop and long reach won’t suit everyone, but will if you’re a sprinter and want a super aero tucked position.

Custom saddles

things pros do - 1 (22).jpg

things pros do - 1 (22).jpg

This isn’t something you see on every pro race bike, but custom saddles are popular by sponsors keen to honour the success of a particular rider on a team. The saddle is ripe for customisation as it’s a large canvas for a bit of creativity, and it’s relatively easy and cheap to do. And it's a good way of getting a bit of exposure in a cycling magazine because for some strange reason we always photograph the saddles.

Which way is it?

paris roubaix 2013 - bmc course markers

paris roubaix 2013 - bmc course markers

Pros race on closed roads so don't have to worry about navigation, but you very often see small bits of paper marked with notable hills, cobbles, sprints or feed stations, taped to the stem or top tube. It provides the racer with a quick glance at any upcoming challenges so they can be in the right position in the bunch to serve their duties that day, whether it's leading coming into a cobbled section of the foot of a climb. But in a sport packed with cutting-edge technology, it does look a bit odd. There must surely be a better way?

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

57 comments

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Ghisallo [38 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

Maybe Chris Froome has a mechanic that follows him around and cleans his bike after every training ride, but I'm pretty sure most pros have to clean their own bikes when not racing. And some of them don't do it very often.

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dave atkinson [6329 posts] 1 year ago
6 likes

Ghisallo wrote:

Maybe Chris Froome has a mechanic that follows him around and cleans his bike after every training ride, but I'm pretty sure most pros have to clean their own bikes when not racing. And some of them don't do it very often.

hm, this article's specifically about race bikes though. as evidenced by the title, "Things you only see on pro race bikes"

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dafyddp [442 posts] 1 year ago
6 likes

good lunchtime read  3

Maybe follow up with a 'Things you never see on a pro race bike' would be pretty good, too? Bell, reflectors, missing bar plugs...

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Rapha Nadal [638 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

With exception to the precise set up and custom saddles, you'd see all of these on a club ride.

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ajmarshal1 [417 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

'Things you only see on Pro Race bikes.'

Not really.

As noted above: Race numbers and custom saddles aside (and even custom saddles / helmets are becoming more popular), you see the majority of these all the time.  Even route markers taped to top tubes / stems. I like the picture of the 'slammed' stem with a spacer under it especially.

I remember a brief period when Road.cc had some pretty good articles. It seems so long ago......

 

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Carton [391 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
dave atkinson wrote:
Ghisallo wrote:

Maybe Chris Froome has a mechanic that follows him around and cleans his bike after every training ride, but I'm pretty sure most pros have to clean their own bikes when not racing. And some of them don't do it very often.

hm, this article's specifically about race bikes though. as evidenced by the title, "Things you only see on pro race bikes"

Yep. The sort of stuff you see on pro training bikes:

//www.bikehacks.com/.a/6a0120a7ed5f9d970b01a511b5705c970c-pi)

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lbmxj560vr46 [9 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Wow, impressive stuff.  If only there were somewhere you could buy some of this stuff... you know, some electronically linked form of communication.  If only someone could think of such a thing.  For the record, I am not a pro, not anywhere near, but I have a name sticker (with my national flag on it) on each of my bikes and helmets, I run tubular tyres for my race wheels, slam my stem (and it's pretty long), have aluminium classic bend handlebars and my cassette is usually immaculate.  

Quality writing there...

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fukawitribe [2002 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
lbmxj560vr46 wrote:

Wow, impressive stuff.  If only there were somewhere you could buy some of this stuff... you know, some electronically linked form of communication.  If only someone could think of such a thing.  For the record, I am not a pro, not anywhere near, but I have a name sticker (with my national flag on it) on each of my bikes and helmets, I run tubular tyres for my race wheels, slam my stem (and it's pretty long), have aluminium classic bend handlebars and my cassette is usually immaculate.  

Quality writing there...

 

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ecycled [19 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

 

ajmarshal1 wrote:

I like the picture of the 'slammed' stem with a spacer under it especially.

Don't think so. Zoom into that picture kiss. No spacer below. Now there is one above and since 2010 that has become more common amongst many pro and non-pro riders who are familiar with what happened with Trek (they had a few carbon steerer tubes fail when used with what they claimed were incompatable stems).

Since that series of failures Trek has recommended the following regarding stems when and carbon steerer tubes (Reference this 2010 VeloNews piece: http://alturl.com/5rpxx)

  1. Always use a torque wrench, and never over-tighten stem clamp bolts.
  2. Always use spacers above and below the stem. Although less obvious than correct torque, a minimum of 5mm and a maximum of 40mm spacers under the steerer, plus a 5mm spacer above the stem are required. Riders should factor in these spacers when sizing their bike.
  3. Use only the stem brand and model that came with the bike, because not all stems will work with carbon steerers. Often the lighter the stem, the less chance it will be compatible with a carbon steerer. Weight-relieving cutouts on the stem clamp and steerer interface can create stress risers.

Bradley Wiggins bikes from the past few years certainly exhibit this.

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hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

heard a phrase in an article many years ago that stuck in my mind about the placement of name/country decals on amateur's road bike "c*nt tags"

what the originator of this comment meant, to my knowledge from his article (not to defend or promote his view) was that it takes an egositical c*nt to get a decal/sticker made with their name and nationality to be stuck onto their bike - he said "no one cares...you are not a professional"

 

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barbarus [497 posts] 1 year ago
8 likes

The stems have to be that long to fit all of the route on.

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harragan [216 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
dave atkinson wrote:
Ghisallo wrote:

Maybe Chris Froome has a mechanic that follows him around and cleans his bike after every training ride, but I'm pretty sure most pros have to clean their own bikes when not racing. And some of them don't do it very often.

hm, this article's specifically about race bikes though. as evidenced by the title, "Things you only see on pro race bikes"

Hm, did you read what you wrote in the article, Dave?  It does say, "Pro bikes are cleaned after every single training ride and race..."  You could take exception at the assumption that a mechanic does it for him after a training ride but you can't argue with what you actually wrote.

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Mountainboy [98 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes
ajmarshal1 wrote:

I like the picture of the 'slammed' stem with a spacer under it especially.

I remember a brief period when Road.cc had some pretty good articles. It seems so long ago......

 

 

Gosh, so cynical, so anti- why?

 

No spacers under those stems, top caps yeah, spacers no.

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David Arthur @d... [814 posts] 1 year ago
10 likes

harragan wrote:

dave atkinson wrote:

Ghisallo wrote:

Maybe Chris Froome has a mechanic that follows him around and cleans his bike after every training ride, but I'm pretty sure most pros have to clean their own bikes when not racing. And some of them don't do it very often.

hm, this article's specifically about race bikes though. as evidenced by the title, "Things you only see on pro race bikes"

Hm, did you read what you wrote in the article, Dave?  It does say, "Pro bikes are cleaned after every single training ride and race..."  You could take exception at the assumption that a mechanic does it for him after a training ride but you can't argue with what you actually wrote.

 

I'll clarify especially for you, what I meant was team training rides, when the whole team rides together with all the support of the mechanics etc. I'm not talking about the riding Alex Dowsett or Chris Froome get up to in the depths of the off-season. You're taking this all a bit literally aren't you? Chill

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SteppenHerring [348 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Article never mentions: Pro Racers.

Interesting about the spacer above the stem. Thinking about how it's clamped, having one 5mm spacer above does make sense from a structural integrity point of view.

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harragan [216 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
David Arthur @davearthur wrote:

I'll clarify especially for you, what I meant was team training rides, when the whole team rides together with all the support of the mechanics etc. I'm not talking about the riding Alex Dowsett or Chris Froome get up to in the depths of the off-season. You're taking this all a bit literally aren't you? Chill

 

Thanks for the clarity - and the sarcasm - Dave.  It was your pointed response to @Ghisallo that prompted my  comments. I wasn't un-chilled, but as you started on the pedantry train, I thought I'd join you, thus the rather literal comments.  

Much love, peace and ice cold chilliness x

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PaulBox [677 posts] 1 year ago
7 likes
hampstead_bandit wrote:

heard a phrase in an article many years ago that stuck in my mind about the placement of name/country decals on amateur's road bike "c*nt tags"

what the originator of this comment meant, to my knowledge from his article (not to defend or promote his view) was that it takes an egositical c*nt to get a decal/sticker made with their name and nationality to be stuck onto their bike - he said "no one cares...you are not a professional"

I don't have any, but I do quite like them. Comments like the above make it very likely that I will now get some. I just love it when you can do something so meaningless and still p!ss off people like that... It's like "The Rules", I know that they are meant in a light hearted manner which is great, but some people really do take them far too seriously, I therefore always break as many of them as possible.

Theese type of stickers are also common in motor racing, on a trip to the Nurburgring a few years ago I saw a couple of English lads in a Golf gti with the union flag next to B. AFRAID and V. AFRAID, it made me smile.

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jackseph [21 posts] 1 year ago
12 likes

The Road CC comments have sadly fallen to the level of the 14 year old playground bully. Does it make you feel good to attack someone else's opinion? Chill out people. Be nice, or be quiet.

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vbvb [621 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes
PaulBox wrote:

I will now get some.

I had my signature on my top tube on my road bike ("racer", as was) back in the 80s. It was very cool. Black marker pen, I was like a 10-year-old Merckx or LeMond. One of the bike shop staffers near me has "The Duke" stencilled on his top tube. Life's short and this stuff is fun!

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Jimbomitch [162 posts] 1 year ago
7 likes
hampstead_bandit wrote:

heard a phrase in an article many years ago that stuck in my mind about the placement of name/country decals on amateur's road bike "c*nt tags"

what the originator of this comment meant, to my knowledge from his article (not to defend or promote his view) was that it takes an egositical c*nt to get a decal/sticker made with their name and nationality to be stuck onto their bike - he said "no one cares...you are not a professional"

 

 

Whilst I totally get the point of the originator, I was thinking of getting some stickers made for my bike with my Italian Step Father's name on them, he has been a keen cyclist for 20 years, but was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer and his Chemo means he cannot ride anymore (the prognosis is not good, so maybe that should read he cannot ride ever again). I thought it would be a nice gesture to 'take him on all my rides'. 

I fully understand that this is not especially your view, and most of the time I would agree with the originator, but there are always exceptions........

Avatar
hawkinspeter [1038 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
Jimbomitch wrote:
hampstead_bandit wrote:

heard a phrase in an article many years ago that stuck in my mind about the placement of name/country decals on amateur's road bike "c*nt tags"

what the originator of this comment meant, to my knowledge from his article (not to defend or promote his view) was that it takes an egositical c*nt to get a decal/sticker made with their name and nationality to be stuck onto their bike - he said "no one cares...you are not a professional"

 

 

Whilst I totally get the point of the originator, I was thinking of getting some stickers made for my bike with my Italian Step Father's name on them, he has been a keen cyclist for 20 years, but was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer and his Chemo means he cannot ride anymore (the prognosis is not good, so maybe that should read he cannot ride ever again). I thought it would be a nice gesture to 'take him on all my rides'. 

I fully understand that this is not especially your view, and most of the time I would agree with the originator, but there are always exceptions........

That's a lovely idea.

I don't get why the haters are against someone customising their bike wth stickers (or anything else). Lots of cyclists form deep attachments to their bikes and what's wrong with spending a bit of time and/or money to make your steed a bit more personal?

I always thought that it's a positive sign if cyclists want to emulate the professionals (despite all the problems with doping etc) even when they aren't that fast. Why hate on people slower than you - either overtake and forget them or let them ride on your rear wheel for a while to encourage them to go quicker.

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The _Kaner [1146 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
ajmarshal1 wrote:

 I like the picture of the 'slammed' stem with a spacer under it especially.

 

I see two longs stems in the article...I see no spacers..only top caps of the headset bearings...

The image directly below the heading shows a labelled stem -142mm...no spacer...

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dave atkinson [6329 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

harragan wrote:

dave atkinson wrote:

Ghisallo wrote:

Maybe Chris Froome has a mechanic that follows him around and cleans his bike after every training ride, but I'm pretty sure most pros have to clean their own bikes when not racing. And some of them don't do it very often.

hm, this article's specifically about race bikes though. as evidenced by the title, "Things you only see on pro race bikes"

Hm, did you read what you wrote in the article, Dave?  It does say, "Pro bikes are cleaned after every single training ride and race..."  You could take exception at the assumption that a mechanic does it for him after a training ride but you can't argue with what you actually wrote.

i can certainly argue that i didn't write it

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harragan [216 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

@Dave Atkinson, I can see that was my mistake.  Sorry.

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Rapha Nadal [638 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

dave atkinson wrote:

harragan wrote:

dave atkinson wrote:

Ghisallo wrote:

Maybe Chris Froome has a mechanic that follows him around and cleans his bike after every training ride, but I'm pretty sure most pros have to clean their own bikes when not racing. And some of them don't do it very often.

hm, this article's specifically about race bikes though. as evidenced by the title, "Things you only see on pro race bikes"

Hm, did you read what you wrote in the article, Dave?  It does say, "Pro bikes are cleaned after every single training ride and race..."  You could take exception at the assumption that a mechanic does it for him after a training ride but you can't argue with what you actually wrote.

i can certainly argue that i didn't write it

 

FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!!!!!!

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fenix [802 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Rapha Nadal wrote:

With exception to the precise set up and custom saddles, you'd see all of these on a club ride.

 

Race number holders ? Your club runs are serious affairs !

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ajmarshal1 [417 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
The _Kaner wrote:
ajmarshal1 wrote:

 I like the picture of the 'slammed' stem with a spacer under it especially.

 

I see two longs stems in the article...I see no spacers..only top caps of the headset bearings...

The image directly below the heading shows a labelled stem -142mm...no spacer...

That headset bearing cover / bearing cap is a spacer, however much people like to claim they aren't.  There are people rolling around on 1cm headset covers claiming they've slammed their stem, they haven't.

It's not slammed.  Fit something less than 2mm , then we're talking:

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fukawitribe [2002 posts] 1 year ago
10 likes

FFS this is beyond sad...

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J90 [418 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

So much BS.

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700c [1167 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes

Lol. The 'Slam that stem' brigade do make me laugh!

You've got to have a bike that fits you. No point doing yourself an injury to try to look pro, or 'slamming' the stem only to end up riding on the hoods everywhere!

And anyway, some of the photos people post with their 'slammed' stems conveniently overlook the fact they're running about 3cm of seat post!

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