Tech features Gallery: Tour de France tech, part two
A new Specialized saddle, random bits, a floating trainer, and a €15,000 (yep) turbo trainer.
The Tour may have rolled out of the Basque country and back into France, officially bringing the Grand Depart to an end, but the tech keeps on coming. The Tour is always a hotbed for new bikes, components, and accessories, and 2023 is far from disappointing.
In this gallery, we take a look at a new saddle from Specialized, we don’t look at some valves from Newmen, we keep the corny turned up to 11 with some random painted Nike trainers, and consider a €15,000 turbo trainer intended for use in professional research and healthcare settings. That price is not a typo.
All the talk so far this season focused on whether Specialized would unveil a Tarmac SL8 in time for le Tour. Two stages in and still no SL8 in sight, it seems Specialized will keep us waiting and guessing on the new Tarmac for another while yet. It also has us guessing on this new saddle spotted on both Fabio Jakobsen and Kasper Asgreen’s bikes. Clearly this is another addition to their popular 3D-printed Mirror range. The new saddle features this central channel and less of the honeycomb structure and perforated effect of the Power and Romin Evo Mirror saddles. In fact, the cover finish seems entirely different with a much smoother finish than the textured finish on the existing Mirror saddles. Still, there is enough similarities in the honeycomb structure to confirm this is a new Mirror offering. The carbon rails signal that this is an S-Works range-topping, premium-price offering. Specialized has so far adopted the naming and shaping from an existing saddle when developing and releasing its Mirror range. Browsing through the existing road saddle range, it seems the Phenom is both the closest match to the shape seen on this new Mirror saddle and the last remaining premium road saddle without a Mirror version. Is this a new Phenom Mirror? Interestingly, Jakobsen was already using a Mirror saddle in the Romin Evo Mirror model but has now switched to this new saddle. Given this new saddle has less honeycomb structure on the sides, I wonder if it perhaps offers increased stiffness and less flex than its Romin Evo sibling. Specialized’s Mirror range is far from the only 3D-printed saddles in the peloton these days as more and more saddle brands build out their range of 3D-printed holey saddles. Fizik offers its Argo and Antares saddles “in 3D”. We usually see stickers like these on wheels to help mechanics keep track of when the tubeless sealant was last replaced. Used on the handlebars the stickers can double up to display the ANT+ ID of the power meter on spare bikes so riders can pair the correct power meter to their head unit in the case of a mid-stage bike swap. Egan Bernal’s Pinarello Dogma F gets a yellow and pink stripe in a nod to the Columbian’s victories in both the Tour and Giro. The white F strip could also double up to celebrate Bernal’s white jersey win in his Tour victory year. The Sole Club, a Bilbao-based sneaker store, custom painted a pair of Nike Air Force 1s for each team. Torstein Træen was presented with the Uno-X pair. Every team got a pair, presumably to either gather dust on the team bus, in the service course, or perhaps, if the shoes fits, one “lucky” rider could take them home. Ben O’Connor’s Tour hasn’t exactly gone to plan so far, having lost time on stages 1 and 2. The 2021 fourth-place finisher is riding this BMC Teammachine SLR Mpc (Masterpiece) equipped with the new Campagnolo Super Record Wireless groupset. The “Masterpiece” moniker is reserved for frames hand built in Switzerland and is said to reflect “an exclusive and unparalleled example of what can be done when no expense is spared.” BMC claims the precision process means the frames emerge ready to go from the moulds, with “flawless surfaces and accurate seams” meaning no post-production finishing is required. The result, BMC claims, is a lighter and stiffer frame and fork combined weighing in at under 1,200 grams, which will set you back €12,000 for the frame, fork, seat post and one-piece bar stem. It’s no surprise then only one rider gets the Masterpiece frame. Ben O’Connor retains the 54:39 chainring combo on his Power2Max power meter. Campag doesn’t currently offer a power meter with the new Super Record Wireless groupset, although one is in development. Furthermore, with Campag changing the BCD on the new smaller chainrings developed for the new groupset, O’Connor is locked into using this combo for the foreseeable future and may have a dilemma on his hands if Campag releases said power meter this year. Aero bottles cages. Sign. Me. Up. Listeners to last week’s Geek Warning podcast will have heard our discussion on Newmen’s new hidden valves. Each wheelset is delivered with a tool for installing a Schrader valve (the valves typically found on automobiles and kids’ bikes) inside the carbon rim. A second adapter tool with presta valve head (think typical road bike valves) screws into the Schrader valve for inflation and deflation of the tyre. The adapter is removed once the tyre is inflated, leaving just the Schrader valve hidden inside the rim with the valve opening hidden with this small cap. Removing the cylindrical valve stem provides a marginal aero gain; whether that gain is worth the extra hassle is up to you. Bianchi unveiled the new Oltre RC last year to a mixed response, to put it mildly. Team Arkea-Samsic are racing the heritage brand’s new aero offering throughout 2023, again with mixed success. Hugo Hofstetter had the misfortune of breaking two of the Oltre’s unique one-piece bar stem setups in two separate crashes at GP Denain. Then the team raced with traditional alloy two-piece bar and stem setups at Paris-Roubaix, causing much speculation, although Bianchi claimed the two events were unconnected. Fast forward to July and the entire Arkea squad is racing on the new bike and matching handlebars again. Furthermore, the new Oltre with this new paint job is the official bike of the Tour de France. Interestingly the team rode bikes with the new paint job for the Tour presentation on Thursday evening but raced both stages so far on their usual black Oltres. The Oltre’s unique bar design has proved quite divisive. Those black nodes on the head tube are where the “air deflectors” attach. Bianchi’s aerodynamic aid is not permitted under UCI regulations and hence the team race with the air deflectors removed. The annual Science & Cycling conference brings some of the brightest minds in sports science together for two days of presentations and deep dives on the latest research and training interventions. The conference is held on the Wednesday and Thursday preceding the Tour start in the city hosting the Grand Depart. We took a brief detour through the conference reception and spotted this new “full motion” indoor trainer from Basque brand DNAK cycling. The frame structure makes for a hanging direct drive trainer and front fork mount, allowing the bike to move forward, back, left, and right. DNAK representatives on the stand explained the idea is not to perfectly mimic the feeling of riding outdoors but to allow for more freedom of movement and hence more comfort and power on the trainer. Having taken a quick spin of the pedals on this prototype, I was pleasantly surprised by just how smooth the movement is. I expected to feel very wobbly, but in fact, there is enough resistance that the movement feels fairly natural. Of course, a 30-second ride isn’t enough to get a proper feel for the system, but it was certainly enough to pique my interest. DNAK is from San Sebastian and took the Science & Cycling conference opportunity to show off its new trainer system for the first time. The actual trainer has all the features you’d expect form a modern trainer, namely direct drive, ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, built-in power meter, and compatibility with all major training platforms. The dropouts are adjustable with adapters to fit various thru-axle standards and QR to fit any bike. The system on display is still a prototype, but DNAK hopes to have the trainer and support frame on the market by the end of this year with a combined price of around €1,500 TBC. Cyclus2 was also at the conference and had its Eccentric and Concentric indoor trainer on display. The National Institutes of Health says a concentric contraction is when “the muscle tension rises to meet the resistance then remains stable as the muscle shortens.” Whereas during eccentric contraction, “the muscle lengthens as the resistance becomes greater than the force the muscle is producing.” Cyclus2 points to several scientific studies and claims eccentric exercise creates muscular hypertrophy and consequent eccentric strength gains. As such it set about developing an eccentric cycle trainer. In simpler terms, Cyclus2 claims eccentric training with this bi-directional trainer can improve rider strength and performance. “Bi-directional,” you say? Yes, there is a motor inside the trainer which drives the pedals in reverse. Think ERG mode, but rather than matching a power demand from a resistance unit, the rider’s legs are pedalling in reverse and the goal is to match or resist force from a motor in the trainer. Hit stop in case of an emergency! The Cyclus2 has a motor driving the pedals in reverse at up to 1,000 watts, one pedal slip at that rate could presumably cause a lot of damage. Again, I got a quick test on the eccentric trainer, about two or three minutes this time. It was quite a bizarre experience. I found it quite difficult to smoothly resist the force applied by the trainer as I varied between applying too much resistance and too little. The goal is to balance the resistance delivery to stay within a range displayed on the Cyclus2 display, like how you would balance your power delivery in a normal pedalling scenario. Again, I would need a lot more time and a deeper dive into the science behind eccentric training to make a call on the Cyclus2 Eccentric trainer either way. It is worth noting the Cyclus2 trainer is designed for healthcare professionals and physios, rather than the average rider, as reflected in the €15,000 price tag. We’ve found another weight weenie in the peloton. Most of the Uno-X squad are racing with Dare’s VSRu aero road bike. However, Torstein Træen is racing this raw-finish Dare MA with a host of weight-saving measures in what looks like a bike optimised for the climbs rather than the flats. An AX Lightness seat post is a true weight weenie special. While the AERO1v bar stem gets the same raw finish, presumably another weight-saving measure. Just as we found on Tadej Pogačar’s Collage V4Rs, Træen is also racing with Carbon-Ti disc rotors. 25 mm Schwalbe Pro Ones are on the narrow side by today’s standards, but presumably, also help in keeping the weight down. While a team mechanic told us the blue line does indicate a new tyre from Schwalbe, he assured us the team is not using the new Aerothan tyre, yet. Rattly head unit? Try a velcro dot, perhaps the kind you find stuck here, there, and everywhere after a bike fit these days. We got another up close look at that new SRAM cassette on both Vingegaard and Wout van Aert’s bikes. With only a serial number and the wrod SRAM adorning the rear of the block, the cassettes aren’t divulging their’s or SRAM’s secrets yet. Corbin Strong, insert pun, rides with a 55-tooth outer chainring on his 2X Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 setup. Not only does it seem like Strong has the largest chainring in the peloton, but he may also have the biggest chain catcher. And perhaps even the longest stem. This is a 14 cm and with Strong’s flat lever position and a decent chunk of reach on the Black Inc bars, Strong – who is not exactly a giant at 1.71 m / 5’7″ tall – must have plenty of reach on his position. Lightweight seat posts are all the rage this year, but Israel-Premier Tech kicked off the trend last year. The team is again using the lighter Darimo carbon seat posts this year. And finally, Victor Campenaerts has a sticker of a dog on his top tube. What did you think of this story?
😐Meh 😊️Solid 🤩Excellent