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What the Pros Ride – The Problem with Modern Racebikes

Posted: February 8th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: bicycles | No Comments »

I am a gear-head and I have been one for years and years and years. Heck, I still have copies of letters I sent to Campagnolo providing free advice as to how to improve their components. The high performance bike world has changed and I have a lot of sympathy for those who look back to the quality and craftsmanship of yesteryear. The precise date of yesteryear is up for some debate, but for me it is the time prior to the dominance of hi-zoot carbon bikes where the technology eclipses craftsmanship.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I get it that modern bikes have a lot on offer from the perspective of performance, weight and ergonomics. My beef is that even at the top end, there are engineering and design directions that the industry is taking that just make no sense at all. And I am not even talking about electronic shifting, which I “get” but don’t really love as a concept.

My main beefs with pro-sumer bikes are (1) the ridiculous weight-durability trade-off that is at play, (2) the whole slew of press-fit bottom brackets and (3) propriety bits.

The first is probably my biggest rant because it has come to the point where modern super bikes appear to be too light for the pros. I base this on a trend I’ve noticed with weights of pro bikes. In short, the reported actual weights of the bikes don’t compute. Start with the UCI limit of 6.8 kg or 14.99 lbs. Given modern frame weights, pretty much every rider would be able to hit that number if they wanted to – if weight was the only consideration. I am not talking about bs ad copy weights either, I am talking about all-in weight. My Moots Vamoots CR with an SRM and 25c tubeless clinchers weighs in at 16 lbs, 8 oz. However, my Cervelo R3 SL with pre-Firecrest tubulars and Veloflex tubs weighs in at 14 lbs even. Both were measured with bottle cages and computer. So, what about the pro bikes?

For starters, there is climber Matthew Lloyd’s tiny Merida. This bike is smaller than mine. In fact, though, it weighs 16 lbs 4 ozs. Just a bit under the weight of my Moots. Now, I get it, Dura Ace Di2 is heavier than Super Record, but not much. And my Vamoots has a Ti seatpost, stem … and beefy tubeless tires. If there wasn’t something up with the frame and fork of the Merida, there is no way that there would only be 4 ozs between the bikes. Look again, the Moots is only 8 ozs heavier than Philippe Gilbert’s BMC and about 5 ozs heavier than Matty Goss’s Foil. So, yea, the Moots is heavier than all these pro bikes, but it should be. Based on the frame weight and the heavier ti seatpost and stem, it should be at least a pound and a half heavier if not more, but in fact it is only a quarter pound to a half a pound heavier. And with the Zipp 303s its lighter than all of them.

My speculation is that the Pro bikes are heavy because they have more material – a lot more. I don’t think that it is acceptable for teams or sponsoring manufacturers to play games with the the durability of the frames. It is understood that a bike in one piece is gets a rider to the line faster than one in multiple. It has been suggested that Pros demand the extra material to increase the stiffness of the bikes, but I don’t buy it. First, the bikes are plenty stiff. Heck, one of the changes that Specialized made when it updated its top end S Works Tarmac from S2 to S3 was the make the frame more forgiving. Bottom brackets and head tubes are so stiff now that designers are having to address new issues with front derailleur performance and wheel rigidity. The weak link in the chain is the one you notice. Heck, I don’t believe that stiffness makes a bike faster anyway, and will maintain that belief until someone shows me some wattage or other test numbers that show otherwise. Additionally, tube shape and diameter is the key to stiffness, not incremental material. So, no, I don’t think the bikes show heavy because they have extra material to make ’em stiff. Instead, I believe it is all about making a bike durable.

Assuming I’m correct, why isn’t there similar focus on making pro-sumer bikes more durable. An interesting exception is the Pinarello Dogma, which has taken some hits for being relatively heavy. I bet that frame is a lot closer to what Pro teams riding Pinarellos have. I’d contrast that to Pros on Cervelo, Cannondale and Specialized. I just can’t believe that their Pro bikes aren’t much beefier. Its what the weights say in any case.

Next rant, and maybe even a bigger one, goes to all the stupid press-fit bottom bracket “standards” that are being floated – PF30, BB30, BBRight, BB386, etc. All bollocks. Two problems that should kill all of these stupid ideas – (1) you have to shim them or use some other kludgy work around to use the best cranksets. I am specifically talking about Shimano and Campagnolo cranksets which are the pinnacle of quality (and their SRM variants). Why should riders have to endure work-arounds on bikes that should be perfect? (2) they all tend towards creakiness. I hear it again from bike shops – a major part of their repair business is dicking around with creaky bbs. They are creaky because the bb shell doesn’t have sufficiently precise tolerances and so under use the bearings or cups work free. On my Cannondale Evo this would happen on demand with efforts at a paltry 400 watts. That, by the way, is just under the average wattage of a top level crit racer. It is nothing for a 5 sec effort. Sure, they might work from time to time, but it if creaky noisy bbs are always the rule, they are certainly way too common.

The solution is simple, go back to BSA. It would be a little heavier to have the threads in the frame, it would be incrementally more expensive from a manufacturing perspective, but c’mon, we know these bikes cost pennies for the dollars they are sold for. If makers want to continue to make outlandish bb stiffness claims, that is fine too, just build up the ugly bulbous mass around a sensible thread shell. Please.

Finally, the proprietary bits. To bike manufacturers, stop it, please. It is maddening to be working on a bike and to realize that you can’t replace a part that should be standardized because of some tweak. Aero seatposts that are brand (and model year!) specific, Specialized’s new idiotic bb shell width, weirdo seat clamps, integrated seatposts, all of these horrible integrated brakes, Look’s frame module with fugly Look cranks and stem. All of it, just stop.

I am a bike made consumerist obsessive. Bike manufacturers, when you are losing me, well, it isn’t a great thing.


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