Keep your eyes peeled at the Tour de France and you'll see some interesting, innovative and downright strange equipment choices and setups. Here's some of the strangest stuff we’ve spotted over the years…
It’s not at all strange for pros to use 130mm stems, and you’ll spot 140mm and even 150mm stems quite often too.
In 2013, though, we spotted this monstrosity on the front of Andrey Kashechkin’s bike. Admittedly, phones were smaller in those days, but not that much smaller. We measured this stem at 170mm – which is usually a crank length rather than a stem length!
There comes a point at which a team official needs to take a rider to one side and say, “Mate, we're going to get you a bigger bike.”
Even as pro bikes have become much more integrated, and therefore leaving less opportunities to add unusual bits to the front end, we're still seeing stems that are much longer than your average. We spotted this 150mm monster on Steve Cummings' fully integrated BMC Timemachine back in 2019.
Wheels have changed quite a lot in terms of width and what kind of tyres are mounted to them in recent years, but wholesale attempts to reinvent are quite rare. FFWD's Falcon two-spoke front wheel for time trials was one that managed to break into the Tour two years ago, rode by the likes of Andre Greipel for Arkea-Samic and the Total Direct Energie (now Team TotalEnergies) team at the 2019 race. FFWD promised 9 watt savings over rival time trial wheels.
At this year's edition, Michael Woods was spotted riding these prototype five-spoke wheels, which are almost certainly the work of Israel Start-Up Nation's wheel sponsor Black Inc... although being prototypes and not signed off by the UCI, any riding was strictly limited to rest day spins. "Reminds me of one of those Walmart bikes with mag wheels" probably wasn't the Instagram comment Black Inc was hoping for, although plenty of others were more positive.
Reckon we'll see them in the race one day?
Mavic had the idea of smoothing the gap between the tyre and the wheel's rim with a thin, barely visible plastic blade to reduce drag. We first saw these on Garmin-Cervelo bikes at the 2011 Tour.
Innovative? Certainly. Ingenious? Maybe. Permitted? Nah. The UCI immediately stomped all over these CX01 strips.
SRAM unveiled a yellow edition of Red back in 2010. It made sense, though, because it was used by winners of former editions of the race: Alberto Contador, Carlos Sastre and, um, Lance Armstrong. One or two things have happened since then regarding Lance. You might have heard...
Back in 2013 Peter Sagan was on a Cannondale SuperSix Evo with a special Hulk paint job. Why the Hulk? Because of an impression of the comic book character he did when he won stage six of the Tour the previous year.
Oh, and there’s the green connection, Sagan having won the points classification in 2012.
Sagan ditched the Hulk theme years ago; he’s more into The Joker and his ‘Why so serious?’ quote these days. This stem is from 2019.
Astana rider Gorka Izagirre was running a -17° stem in 2018 to position the handlebar lower. He then stuck spacers underneath it to move the handlebar up. There’s probably a good reason for this, we just don’t know what it is.
He also had his seatpost back to front.
It's something of a tradition for a sponsor to provide a yellow bike to the rider leading to the Tour de France. It's often fairly subtle – yellow bar tape and logos, for example – but Colnago almost went full banana with Tommy Voeckler's C59 Italia back in 2011.
Tadej Pogacar's winning V3RS from 2020 doesn't have the yellow wheel decals, but just about redeems itself with a yellow seatpost, pedals and bottles.
You’ll often see Tour riders on bikes that look too small. They might want as short a head tube as possible to reduce their frontal area and minimise drag, or they might just want to save a few grams. Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Brice Feillu took things to extremes back in 2016. It looked like he’d borrowed the bike of a much smaller teammate.
Today I will be wearing shoes I made over two years ago. Classics and I like the old fashion bikes on them. pic.twitter.com/wZ6r32bQGj
— Adam #Vegan Hansen (@HansenAdam) May 6, 2016
Aussie rider Adam Hansen famously made his own minimalist carbon-fibre shoes during his career. These ones from 2016 apparently took over 42 hours to make and weighed under 95g.
German sprinter Andre Greipel has been known as the Gorilla for years and has had frames and saddles decorated accordingly.
Here’s his Ridley Noah Fast from 2014, for example.
And here’s a saddle he was using in 2018.
That Adam Hansen was a bit of a maverick! In 2017 he ditched his team’s Campagnolo Super Record cranks in favour of these from Lightning with the logos removed. Hansen probably got away with it because the maximum length Campag offered was 175mm whereas he went for a whopping 180mm.
If you’re world road race champion you want everyone to know about it, right? Alejandro Valverde certainly did, with rainbow stripes just about everywhere during the Tour that came after his world champs victory.
Nibali has been known as the Shark for as long as anyone can remember. This shark-themed paint job is from 2014.
Maybe it wasn't sharky enough, though, so it was changed for 2015.
You know that the UCI has a sock height rule, right? They mustn’t be higher than halfway between your ankle and knee. No, really. It's easy to scoff but when you look at these Arkea–Samsic socks from last year you realise that it's probably for the best.
You’ll occasionally see shoes that a pro rider has adapted slightly to increase ventilation or relieve pressure.
Movistar's Andrey Amador took things to a whole different level last in 2018, apparently butchering his Fiziks with a machete.
Who remembers hydraulic rim brakes in the peloton? Garmin-Sharp used these ones from Magura back in 2012. That box underneath the stem was the converter, the brake cables feeding in one side and operating a piston which pushed the hydraulic fluid to the brake unit.
Back in 2013, Lampre-Merida stuck a head and shoulders sticker of each rider on their bikes. Thankfully, it didn’t catch on. It was kind of creepy, to be honest.
Fabian Cancellara raced the 2016 Tour de France – his final one – aboard a custom-painted Trek Madone that celebrated his 16 years as a professional cyclist. It wasn’t subtle, but when you have a palmarès like his you don’t need to be.
At one time it was common to see components from non-sponsor brands disguised – often badly – in the pro peloton. The logos would be covered up to keep the real sponsors happy. It still goes on, but not as much as it once did.
This is a Zipp wheel from the Trek-Segafredo team in 2017, for example, with a Bontrager logo added over the top.
And Peter Sagan was using a Zipp stem despite the US brand not being a Bora-Hansgrohe sponsor. A nice bit of work with insulating tape there.
In 2013 members of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team had the names of animals printed on the back of their shorts as part of a marketing campaign from Fizik. We were always a bit uncomfortable with the 'snake' one.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.