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Pro bike setup

I’ve blogged before about professional cyclists’ bike fits and set ups, and the fact that nowadays they’ve never known anything other than off-the-peg frame geometry.

I came across a set of photos on cyclingnews.com that illustrates some of my points.  The circumstances are slightly unusual because they are from a time trial in the Tour of San Juan in Argentina.  The riders were evidently not allowed to use time trial bikes so they’re riding solo, against the clock, on their road bikes.  This isn’t something that they often do, and I think that it shows!

Of course, a key aspect of bike fit is that it’s about movement and tension, so looking at still photos requires a bit of imagination.  It’s also only fair to point out that the stage was just 12km long and that it’s a relatively low key race in January.

However the fact remains that they all have their aero road bikes, they spend their lives riding on them and they’re trying to go as fast as they can.  They should make this type of thing look easy.

My first point of interest is how few of them use the drops.  The drops are there for two reasons – getting low for better aerodynamics and for better braking.  The pictures were taken side on at speed, where aerodynamics are key, and on a corner where braking and control are key.

If not holding the drops is bad enough, what about not holding the handlebars at all?  This might be ‘safe’ on a smooth, straight road with two police outriders to protect your space, but trying do do this on the open road is anything but.  Especially at top speed.  The two culprits in this collection have something else in common which sets them apart from most of the others.  The length of their torso.  Sagan and Gaviria, for it is they, ride like this because their bikes (top tubes/reach) are too short.  Sagan has the most beautiful customised bikes, but to my mind what he could really do with is custom geometry, not custom paint.  I read recently that he uses a 150mm stem, and yet he can still ride with his elbows on the top of the bars.  Or rather he has to ride with his elbows on the tops to get his back flat.  Yeah, I know he’s the best in the world, but surely it would be better if he didn’t look like a dad on his son’s bike.

So here we go with the side-on-at-speed pics…

These two (Brandle and Evenepoel) are both holding the hoods but look pretty good.  (Evenepoel, right, might be in the process of changing between hoods and drops).  They’re flat backed, have their elbows and shoulders down, and look like they could keep  going.

The next two (Sevilla and Alaphillipe) are also holding the hoods but they look like they’re fighting their position.  They’re both sliding off the saddle and have a lot of tension in their arms, backs and shoulders.

Carapaz, below, was the only one in the whole set of pictures actually using his drops. But he doesn’t look comfortable either.  He’s sliding off the front of the saddle too which makes it hard for him to keep his shoulders low.

carapaz side on

And on to Gavira and Sagan.  In order to stay low, and avoid the arched backs and tense arms of the three above, they’re resting their elbows on the bars. I guess at least Sagan is looking where he’s going.  I’ve no idea how long Gaviria held this blind pose for, but he’s travelling at about 50kph so even if it was only for a second or two it seems an incredibly stupid risk to take.

Let’s have a look at the cornering pictures…

First up.  What are all these guys up to?  This isn’t a coffee ride!!  Braking on the hoods like this severely compromises control at speed (see here for more on this topic).

I think that they’re almost forced to stay on the hoods because their bike fits are so short and steep.  Baska and Sagan, below, are on the drops but are right over the handlebars and very straight armed.  I understand why professional riders ride off-the-peg geometry: the UCI insists on them using production frames, but surely the manufacturers could provide a few more options.  Perhaps, instead of making several different models in each size (aero, climbing, comfort, disk… …after all, the purpose of a road bike is to be good for all of these), they could make several different geometries in each size.

It isn’t just use of the drops that I find fascinating.  You’d think that experienced riders like Keisse and Quintana, below, would be pretty good at taking corners by now.  But maybe if you specialise in track riding (no corners) and climbing you get away with cornering like novice.  Not only are they on the tops, they’re making the whole business of trying to persuade their bikes to change direction look decidedly difficult.

It’s not all bad news, however. I’ll finish with some much better demonstrations:  these guys have their weight in the right place, their eyes level, their chins down, their elbows bent and just one finger on the brakes.  Maybe they’re just fortunate that they’re the right shape for their frames, but they do look like they’re racing and loving their corners.  Clockwise from the left:  Evenepoel, Benoot and Keukeleire.

What do I mean by having their weight in the right place?  I think that the next two photos illustrate it really well.  Compare Conti on the left with Anacona on the right.  Conti is leaning inside his bike, his centre of gravity is not over it and he can’t put his weight through his outside pedal.  He has less grip and if he were to lose traction he’d almost definitely come down hard.  Anacona is demonstrating text book technique.  His weight is through the outside pedal and there is no tension in his arms and shoulders at all.  His centre of gravity is over his bike such that if he loses traction he has a good chance of staying upright.  A winner all round.

You can read more about cornering technique here and here.

If you’re interested in understanding and improving your own cornering and descending technique have a look at this or drop me a line.

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