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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 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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.

63 comments

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wazgilbert [9 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
700c wrote:

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!

or you have a bike with a huuge headset and find that as you get fitter, you can go lower and eliminating first the tall top cap, follwed by a slam that stem washer to cover the bearing with 3mm space on top, is the way to keep a bike frame that you enjoy riding, because now the fit is ideal?

 

 

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700c [1267 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
wazgilbert wrote:
700c wrote:

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!

or you have a bike with a huuge headset and find that as you get fitter, you can go lower and eliminating first the tall top cap, follwed by a slam that stem washer to cover the bearing with 3mm space on top, is the way to keep a bike frame that you enjoy riding, because now the fit is ideal?

Er..sounds like your frame is too big..?

(joking, of course).

A 'slammed' stem is no indication of fitness or flexibility on its own.

The point is you should run what you like without judging others on some arbitrary 'rule' about not having more than x cm in spacers.

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Rapha Nadal [1013 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
fenix wrote:
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 !

No, I'll add those to the list too!  Missed them out the first time.

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TelemarkTumalo [16 posts] 3 years ago
3 likes
jackseph wrote:

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.

 

Right On!  We are talking about bikes here and something that is supposed to be fun and recreational.  The article never mentioned that you can't put customizing stickers on YOUR bike, or that you have to ride with a shorter stem or a dirty cassette.  Ride what you want.  Nobody said that you have to conform.

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philtregear [135 posts] 3 years ago
5 likes

I have attached my bars to the forks,  retro russian tt  style and welded an extra 18inches to my saddle stem to achieve the right street cred look. boy does my bike look cool as i walk it along the pavement.........

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LarryDavidJr [392 posts] 3 years ago
2 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"

 

Mine says "eat sausages"

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pedalpowerDC [380 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Sounds a lot like amature stage racing racing in the US at races like Killington Stage Race or Green Mountain Stage Race. Tubulars? check. Number plates? check. Route notes on stems? check. Name stickers? Lots of people get them. Precise setups? Include me in that one. Clean bikes? Always. Slammed stems? If you need it.

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andyp [1599 posts] 3 years ago
2 likes

You lost me at 'slammed stem'. File along with Brexit, Polkraine and Boswelox.

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agnello [5 posts] 3 years ago
1 like
David Arthur @davearthur 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'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

 

Not particularly interested in this argument but an oddly, disrespectful, petty and patronising response from the executive.

Saying 'chill' is just an attempt to wind him up.

You may want to rise above the unworthy proles that respond to your flawless prose rather than piss them off or wind them up.

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Bruvva74 [3 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

So much hate and sarcasm in the comments. Unfortunately becoming the norm these days.

It's just a light hearted 5 minute article - get over it.

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StraelGuy [1638 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

When I did my first Manchester to Blackpool night ride on my steel winter bike, I christened him Awesom-O after the robot Cartman made on Southpark and had a sticker made in his name (because I'm not a pro):

//www.micrak12.com/web_links/awesom-o.jpg)

Just shows you don't have to take anything too seriously!

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RGRHON [12 posts] 2 years ago
0 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.

Actually, I see this stuff on lots of club rides. There is a pro secret weapon though: Custom shoe lasts made specifically for their feet...check out the Gaerne last library sometime...

http://cyclingshoesonline.com/road-cycling-shoes/professional-cyclists-g...

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RGRHON [12 posts] 2 years ago
0 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.

Actually, I see this stuff on lots of club rides. There is a pro secret weapon though: Custom shoe lasts made specifically for their feet...check out the Gaerne last library sometime...

http://cyclingshoesonline.com/road-cycling-shoes/professional-cyclists-g...

Avatar
JohnnyRemo [289 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

A guy in our training group called "Eric" adorned his top-tube with "Rik"  (as in Van Steenberg/ Van Looy) Naturally this was quickly suplemented with an additional "P"

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MacMasore [1 post] 2 years ago
0 likes

About the tape with info on it

"But in a sport packed with cutting-edge technology, it does look a bit odd. There must surely be a better way?"

There is no,w albeit a beta-y

https://apps.garmin.com/nl-BE/apps/807dbfcf-ff13-4b45-ac3b-f801186dfa68 

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Bigfoz [169 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

The bit about tubulars isn't true though is it...

https://roadcyclinguk.com/gear/tony-martin-rides-clincher-tyres-to-uci-r...

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DaveE128 [1009 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I have proper pro (aluminium) handlebars then!  3

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FatBoyW [270 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

What a trolltastic response this article has got!

As for the name stickers - I haven't got them - but what fun!!! I did put my name on the car when racing, and it is just as silly on them too no regulations or anything require them just good old FUN (you have to have a number on, which you must NOT when not competing).

Interestingly it can be useful to have names on bikes in amateur clubs if you are in europe - I noticed on holiday (I pretend it was a training camp) that a lot of the Danish clubs in the sports resort all rode the same bike! So it would help in bike selection after the tea stop.  

I have seen the number holder on club runs too - I would love it if sportives started to use these AND it would be a useful addition to Triathlon competitions not least it would stop all those bloomin stickers on your best TT frame.

Hate the C word and would hate to be called it because of being a sad old git dreaming of being a 'proper' cyclist gosh the world does need to get over itself!!!

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therevokid [1023 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I had a "name" sticker on mine ... said "Fuck Cancer" .....

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MarkiMark [99 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

If people are only going to make stupid childish comments about these articles then a) why the hell are they still reading this site and b) why are you so unhappy, I thought cycling was meant to make people happier. So many moaners. Go get Theresa and make some positive use of your anger....

 

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mrml [38 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Just saw this ad on another cycling website and thought the picture was apt for this thread...

 

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huntswheelers [171 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Love the clean cassette/chain combo.... always a priority for me.... as are Aluminium bars... nowt fancy....   Many of my customers need not follow suit with the clean cassette/chain, helps keep the bills topped up.... 

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Martin1857 [21 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

re Having your name on your bike.

Years ago I subscribed to one of the monthly bike mags and the offer was a saddle with your name stitched on it. Having got it, I then felt that I'd not got a bike good enough to put it on. 

Kept it for years until I I was left some money and had Condor build me steel frame "classic" with a custom paint job. Bingo, the saddle now has a suitable home and I have to say I don't feel like c**t in any way shape or form. Agree with previous comments, it's fun and distinctive. I also wonder if it would make it easier to identify if it ever got nicked.

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fenix [1148 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Martin1857 wrote:

re Having your name on your bike.

Years ago I subscribed to one of the monthly bike mags and the offer was a saddle with your name stitched on it. Having got it, I then felt that I'd not got a bike good enough to put it on. 

 

I think I got the same mag with the saddle deal. For the life of me - no idea what it was.  I've not seen anything like it since. Quite classy I thought.

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don simon fbpe [2873 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Pro riders?

What do I win?

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BarryBianchi [418 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I just changed my name to Mr C Arrera.

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madcarew [948 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
ajmarshal1 wrote:
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:

Any bearing cover is a spacer. That is the headset bearing cover provided. Whether it is 2mm or 5mm is really un important. What the article was actually referring to is the drop from the saddle to the bars, and the reach of the bars (clue words, aerodynamic and reach), so if your 5'10 club racer  rides a 55 cm frame with 80 mm drop and 400mm reach, but your 5'10 pro rides a 52.5 cm frame with 130mm drop and 440mm reach, the stem is both slammed, and provides lots of reach and it is precisely the difference between club and pro bikes that is the topic of the article.  

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Jetmans Dad [133 posts] 11 months ago
0 likes
BarryBianchi wrote:

I just changed my name to Mr C Arrera.

Hey, that’s a really good idea, I might have to look into that.

Mr B. Twin

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mingmong [316 posts] 11 months ago
0 likes
Jetmans Dad wrote:
BarryBianchi wrote:

I just changed my name to Mr C Arrera.

Hey, that’s a really good idea, I might have to look into that.

Mr B. Twin

 

Me too.

 

Mr C.Laris

Avatar
davel [2718 posts] 11 months ago
0 likes
mingmong wrote:
Jetmans Dad wrote:
BarryBianchi wrote:

I just changed my name to Mr C Arrera.

Hey, that’s a really good idea, I might have to look into that.

Mr B. Twin

 

Me too.

 

Mr C.Laris

I've already changed my name once.

 

The Artist Formerly Known As Claud Butler.

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