How the Tour de France riders keep drag down and speed up

Pro riders have become ever more obsessed with aerodynamics over the past few years in an effort to improve speed and reduce energy loss. Here are some of the aero features that we’ve spotted so far in this year’s Tour de France.

 

Helmets

Giant Pursuit helmet  - 2.jpg

Aero helmets used to be reserved for time trials but many riders now use them for standard stages, especially when the terrain is flat and the weather is cool so there’s less chance of overheating.

Giant-Alpecin riders are using a new Giant Pursuit helmet. Giant claims that it offers an aero advantage without any compromises in weight, ventilation or fit.

Read about the Giant Pursuit helmet here. 

 

Skinsuits

You rarely used to see a skinsuit in anything other than a time trial but now riders of all types are using them to get an aerodynamic advantage in normal road stages. 

Race leader Chris Froome, for example, has been wearing a Rapha one-piece with a mesh upper and mesh panels down the sides of the legs. 

 

Forks

Many bikes have forks with legs shaped for aerodynamics. Lotto-Soudal’s bikes are unusual in featuring Ridley’s F-Splitfork with a slit running down the centre of each leg.

Tour de France 2016 Ridley F-splitfork - 1.jpg

Ridley claims that the design draws air away from the spokes and counteracts turbulence generated by the wheels. 

 

Wheels

Tour de France 2016 Vision Metron 81 - 1.jpg

All teams have wheels shaped to minimise drag at their disposal. We saw Sam Bennett’s Argon 18 Nitrogen Pro fitted with these deep section Vision Metron 81s, for example, the 81 referring to the rim depth in millimetres. This is really a time trial focused wheel.

Tour de France 2016 Zipp 303 Firecrest - 1.jpg

At 45mm, Romain Bardet’s Zipp 303 Firecrests are a more typical depth. The Firecrest profile is designed to reduce drag at both the front half (tyre leading) and the back half (rim leading) of the wheel. Zipp also reckons it moves the centre of pressure of the wheel backwards so the wheel has the stability of a box-section rim in crosswinds. 

 

Hidden brakes

Bike designers have several tricks for reducing the amount of drag caused by brakes.

Tour de France 2016 Hidden front brake - 1.jpg

The front brake on this Argon 18 Nitrogen Pro is a V-type design with legs that sit inline with the fork legs so as not to increase the size of the bike’s frontal area.

Tour de France 2016 integrated front brake Trek Madone - 1.jpg

The proprietary front brake on this Trek Madone sits flush with the fork crown with the upper section hidden inside the head tube.

Tour de France 2016 Specialized SWorks Venge Vias - 1.jpg

This Specialized S-Works Venge Vias has front and rear brakes that are shielded by the fork and seat tube respectively and are specifically designed with aerodynamics in mind.


Seatposts

Tour de France 2016 Merida seatpost 2 - 1.jpg

Many seatposts are made with aerodynamics in mind. This Merida Reacto, for example, has a seatpost profile that, like the frame tubes, is based on a NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) airfoil with the tail cut off square. The idea is to maintain airflow stability without causing turbulence.


Aero bars

Dan Martin TT bars road bike (1).jpg

We saw a few riders with aero bars on their road bikes ahead of the start of the Tour de France. Aero bars are usually reserved for time trial bikes but there’s a hilly/mountainous individual time trial this year and riders are likely to want to tackle it on a lightweight road bike with better climbing characteristics.


Aero-section handlebars

Quite a few bikes in the peloton are fitted with drop handlebars that have aero-section tops. 

Tour de France 2016 aero section handlebar - 1.jpg

This Specialized S-Works Aerofly is on Tony Martin’s S-Works Venge Vias, for example. Specialized claims that it saves time compared to a traditional shallow bend road bar due to the distinct aero shape, reduced tape on the tops, and full internal cable routing.

Tour de France 2016 aero section handlebar 2 - 1.jpg

And check out the Madone XXX Integrated bar/stem on Gregory Rast’s Trek Madone. It’s made to Trek’s KVF (Kammtail Virtual Foil) profile and also has invisible cable routing. 

 

Aero frames

Tour de France 2016 integrated headset and fork crown - 1.jpg

Aero frames would make up a whole article by themselves. Every team has access to a bike with frame features such as aero-optimised tube profiles, a seat tube that’s cutaway around the leading edge of the rear wheel, an integrated headset and fork crown (the head tube is shortened so that these elements don’t increase the size of the bike’s frontal area), and seatstays that meet the seat tube lower than normal.  

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, 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 past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.