We spent the first couple of days before the Tour de France trawling around the team hotels, photographing the race bikes for our daily Tour Tech features, and also trying to spot anything new. We also took the opportunity to see what the key tech trends are this year.
Generally, it's a continuation of the trends we've seen the past few years. Tyres are getting wider, electronic groupsets still rule and aerodynamics is increasingly important.
1. Wide tyres
Most teams are using wider tyres with 24 and 25mm being the most common sizes. A lot of teams using Continental 25mm tyres and those on Specialized use 24mm width tyres. The Trek team told us that every rider is on 25mm tyres for all road stages, only going narrower on time trial bikes where aero concerns still matter. In fact, we only spotted one bike with anything narrower, and that was young Adam Yates with 22mm tyres. Yet again, no sign of tubeless tyres with the entire peloton sticking with tried-and-tested tubulars.
- Trend spotting: Why you need to switch to wider tyres
2. Wide-range cassettes
It used to be 11-23 was the default choice, with the bigger cassettes only coming out for the mountain stages. Since the advent of 11-speed drivetrains though, we’ve seen most teams switch to 11-28 (Shimano) and 11-27 or 11-29 (Campagnolo) cassettes for the entire race, saving the team mechanics a fair amount of work.
3. Dials rule the shoe world
We counted more shoes with rotary retention dials than ratchets, straps and laces. This is Shimano's latest shoe, which sees the company switch from velcro and ratchet straps to rotary dials and cables.
4. Electronic shifting is still king
Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 groupset enjoys almost complete domination for another season. No surprise there. There are a few star riders on mechanical Dura-Ace groupsets (Fabian Cancellara and Alberto Contador) but this seems to be based on no good reason other than superstition. SRAM has two teams on its new RED eTap wireless for the first season, after its unofficial debut this year - could this be the start of SRAM's push back into the WorldTour? What we didn't see was any sign of FSA's prototype wireless groupset or Rotor's Uno hydraulic groupset.
5. Deep carbon wheels
You won't spot anything but carbon wheels at the Tour. The deep-section carbon fibre wheel is still the favoured choice for most stages, even when the race hits the mountains. Expect only GC contenders to swap to shallower section rims. We noticed more bikes this year with shallower front wheels and deeper rear wheels, maybe trying to save a bit of weight for hillier stages without compromising aerodynamics too much?
6. Aerodynamics is still so important
Aerodynamics is increasingly shaping road bikes, components and clothing. Most bicycle brands involved in the WorldTour offer a dedicated aero frame, such as the Specialized Venge here belonging to sprinter Marcel Kittel. Cannondale is one of the few brands that doesn't have a dedicated aero bike, but it has updated its classic SuperSix Evo to reduced drag. Most racers have a choice of an aero or regular road bike, with GC contenders typically going with the later, but aero bikes work on the hills too - just look at Steve Cummings and his solo breakaway aboard a Cervelo S5.
7. Handlebar shape
There are many handlebar shapes available but we reckon the most popular at the Tour de France is the compact shaped handlebar. A compact handlebar reduces the drop and reach, makes the drops more usable and the distance from the two positions is less extreme. Those not in favour of the compact handlebar appear to go in the opposite direction, using a traditional shape handlebar to get a very low front-end. Good for aerodynamics, not good for your back.
8. Aluminium bars and stems
Another cockpit related observation. It's aluminium, not carbon fibre, handlebars that are most common. It's the same with stems too. Why? Better resistance to damage in a crash is one reason, and the higher weight can help ensure the bike doesn’t dip below the UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit as well, plus stiffness as well. That said, we did still spot a fair few bikes with carbon handlebars, bucking the trend somewhat. Cavendish combines an Enve carbon stem with an aluminium PRO handlebar.
9. Aero road helmets
Our latest tech trend observation is an easy one, as they're everywhere. Aero road helmets are really popular at the moment with most manufacturers now offering at least one model, if not more. And companies are still developing new ones and evolving them. This one comes from Giant and is new this summer.
Integration has been one of the common themes of newly launched bikes these past few seasons and goes hand-in-hand with aerodynamics. What it commonly refers to is components of the bike integrated seamlessly into the frame or fork, with the result hopefully to reduce drag. Good examples include the front brake on the Trek Madone, both brakes on the Specialized Venge, or the Look 795 where the stem integrates into the head tube and top tube so as not to increase the size of the bike’s frontal area.
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