Monday, 21 July 2014

Tour de France bikes versus Road bikes

Just as Wimbledon inspires people to pick up a tennis racquet each year so, too, the Tour de France encourages everyone to hop back in the saddle. But how much relationship is there really between the bikes that pro racers ride and the road bikes we can all buy?

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that cycling isn’t Formula 1, so the connection between two-wheeled, pedal-driven top-level racing machines and their mass-produced siblings is far more obvious than the rather woolly suggestion that road cars eventually benefit from drip-down F1 technology. In fact, in the case of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, anything other than a direct correlation would be a waste of time. The team exists to show off Cannondale’s engineering but, even so, many people might be surprised to realise it’s perfectly possible to buy the same bikes that the team uses, at surprisingly realistic prices.

So what does the team use? While the Tour de France was in the UK we had the chance to look at Cannondale team leader Peter Sagan’s own race machine. Pro riders have the same requirements as amateur cyclists, it’s just the demands they place on their bikes are greater. They want a bike to be as light as possible, as stiff as possible, and — when they’re riding day after day — as comfortable as possible.

Sagan uses a SuperSix Evo frame, exactly the same as those available to the public. In performance terms, the reason why the team races this is quite obvious: the SuperSix Evo is the lightest mass-produced bike frame in the world, weighing less than 700g. The beauty of the SuperSix, though, is that achieving such a light weight has had no bearing on other aspects of its performance.

What Cycle? magazine recently tested the SuperSix Evo and had this to say: “The real positives of the SuperSix frame are twofold. First, there’s a very reactive temperament in terms of effort you put in — every ounce of energy feels as if it’s being converted efficiently into outright speed. And then there is a hefty dose of secure, stable handling. We were worried that with its minuscule weight the SuperSix would either feel ready to crumple underneath us, or simply be blown away by any errant sidewind, but that’s really not the case — this is a light bike with a big presence.”

Because the Cannondale team is sponsored by SRAM components, Sagan uses SRAM’s Red groupset. It’s a very refined system, with smooth, accurate gear changes and hugely powerful caliper rim brakes. Again, it’s the same kit as is publically available, the one small distinguishing feature being the Cannondale team enjoys a custom-coloured version with green highlights.

So let’s return to that comparison with Formula 1. If you wanted a close copy of a F1 car it would cost you multiple millions of pounds, and an exceeding amount of difficulty. But to get your hands on a Cannondale SuperSix Evo complete with a SRAM Red groupset is super easy, at prices under £3,000.

The only differences between this and Sagan’s bike is that he uses Speedplay pedals, SRAM power cranks, FSA bars and stem, deep-section Vision Metron wheels and prototype Kenda tyres. That might sound like a substantial list, but actually they’re mostly examples of easily-available after-market kit which have been chosen often simply for personal preference or sponsorship reasons.

But there’s another very important benefit that comes from the SuperSix being a major part of Cannondale’s standard catalogue: you can enjoy all the benefits of that incredible SuperSix Evo frame at even cheaper price points. At All Terrain Cycles our SuperSix Evo range starts at just £1,395 for a bike fitted with Shimano’s superb 105 gearset.

So it’s something of a mixed blessing when we say, probably the biggest element distinguishing your bike and a team bike is… the rider!