California tech: prototypes and upgrades

Shimano wheels and pads, SRAM beef, hollow Rotors and more

The Tour of California is the first race of the year for many riders, so we kept our eyes peeled to see whether there was any new gear being tested. We weren't disappointed.

Oscar Freire on prototype Shimano carbon wheels

Rabobank rider Oscar Freire was spotted on a prototype set of carbon fibre tubular wheels from team sponsor Shimano.  Instead of the 24mm and 50mm-deep rims currently offered by Shimano, Freire’s roughly split the difference between the two at 35mm. 

We don't have any official information to share on this new ‘C35’ from Shimano yet but presume the new dimension was selected to provide more aerodynamic benefit than the shallow option but better stability in winds and lighter weight than the 50mm – a good choice given the gusty conditions of stage 1. 

Spoke count stands at 16/20 front/rear with radial lacing up front and two-cross rear.  Freire’s prototypes had bladed spokes all around and red-anodised external alloy nipples at the rim for easier maintenance. 

On a less significant note, we also saw a nice little widget to go along with Shimano’s new Dura-Ace 7900 and Di2 groups: a front derailleur clamp adapter in matching gunmetal grey instead of the standard clear-anodised aluminium bit.  Part number SM-AD79-L in case anyone is interested.

Prototype Shimano carbon brake blocks for Rabobank

Remember those mysterious blue brake pads we spotted on Rabobank team bikes during last year's Tour de France? We didn't know what they were back then but we do now: they're prototype carbon-specific blocks from team sponsor Shimano.

The new pads are intended as an eventual replacement for the company's existing carbon-specific compound and in typical Shimano style, are aimed directly at the top slot currently occupied by SwissStop's ubiquitous Yellow King. According to Rabobank team mechanic Joost Hoetelmans, the blue pads provide much better braking in wet conditions than the current Shimano block as well as a modest improvement in dry, too. And though the 'fingernail test' showed the new compound to be far softer than before, Hoetelmans also said they wear longer and the riders report a better feel at the lever.

Unfortunately, there is no word on when the new pads will actually be available to the public. But if the situation with the Rabobank boys is any indication, it will be a little while yet. Even they aren't able to get as many sets as they'd like.

SRAM-sponsored teams with updated chains and beefier chainrings

SRAM-sponsored teams and riders are now on complete drivetrains as far as we could tell

SRAM had taken a PR hit over the past couple of years – mostly from us – as many of their sponsored riders and teams had actually been subbing in other companies' chains, cassettes and chainrings instead of the official Red pieces for any number of reasons. But that seems to have changed for the 2009 season as there were virtually no mismatched drivetrains to be found (and believe us, we looked).

Criticisms surrounding the existing PC-1090R chain were mostly limited to insufficient strength and excessive noise but both have been addressed with the latest version whose improvements were iteratively tested by teams last year and have already been put into production. A new pin material and revised riveting process improves pull strength while an increase grease fill during manufacture quiets things down and retains lubrication longer from frequent washings.

Stronger riders were also having some issues with Red's outer chainrings during peak efforts but SRAM has addressed that as well with a new 'SPR' variant that is milled less aggressively than the stock version for reduced flex, gaining 25-30g as a result. Though the SPR ring won't appeal to the weight weenies, SRAM road sports team and athlete liaison Alex Wassmann insists that it will be “overkill for most of us turning the pedals in search of bliss rather than anger and salary.”

Perhaps, but even less serious riders are likely to benefit from the improved front shifting that the new ring would provide.

And what about the Red PowerDome cassettes? There were actually no changes made that we could see and none that the team mechanics we spoke to were aware of.

Carlos Sastre's Rotor prototype cranks up close

A close up view of Carlos Sastre's drilled out Rotor cranks

Recently we gave you a quick look at Carlos Sastre's (Cervélo Test Team) prototype Rotor cranks but information on them was decidedly scarce at the time. Though they appeared to be hollow-forged cranks with a smattering of holes drilled in them to save weight, it turns out that we were only partially correct. The crankarms are indeed hollow and forged and the holes do save weight, but the order of operations is not what you would expect and is what makes these special.

The arms actually start out as solid forgings, not hollow ones. Holes are then drilled clean through the arms from both the sides and outer faces but their diameters, directions and locations are carefully selected such that the overlapping intersections leave virtually zero material in the crank interior. The result is effectively a hollow-forged part with a liberally perforated skin plus an indisputably distinctive appearance.

It remains to be seen how well the novel cranks actually perform but regardless, the concept is original. In fact, not only does it apparently avoid infringing on anyone else's patents but Rotor has filed one of its own.

Rotor insists that Sastre's crank is still only a development mule, however, and though the manufacturing process has a name, the item itself still does not. In fact, Rotor co-founder Pablo Carrasco said that the 2008 Tour de France champion won't even be using it in competition here at the Tour of California.

Minor tweaks to Team Columbia’s Scott Addicts

Mechanics have drilled holes in four Columbia-Highroad Scott Addict SLs for internal wire routing

The Scott Addict SLs used by Team Columbia don't look to have changed much since we saw them at the team training camp early last month. But team mechanics have taken a drill to four of them to make a cleaner internally routed installation of its new Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groups. George Hincapie, Michael Barry, Michael Rogers and Adam Hansen will all be using the new component package on and off throughout the Tour of California.

In regards to the frames themselves, Scott marketing director Adrian Montgomery had previously insisted that the entire team would use completely stock bikes but seemed to hedge a bit when we asked him more recently about the possibility of customisation if riders requested it.

This time around, he said the company still feels its current product is totally up to the needs of the team but is open to the possibility of change based on rider feedback and might adjust things to suit.  Though the Addict is certainly one of the stiffest frames we've sampled, we feel some extra layers of carbon coming for sprint powerhouse Mark Cavendish.

In the meantime, Cavendish has already fitted his own bike with a positively massive carbon – or carbon-wrapped – Vibe Track stem from component sponsor PRO to bolster things up top.  Team owner Bob Stapleton informed us the other day that Cavendish might also have some stiffer wheels on hand as well, developed in conjunction with one of the team’s multiple wheel suppliers. 

Other team riders have more subtle tweaks for now, which at least include thicker rear derailleur hangers for more robust shifting performance.

Arundel introduces a less expensive non-carbon cage

Carbon cage specialist Arundel Bicycle Company has branched out with new non-carbon model dubbed ‘Sport’, found on some of the team bikes from Jelly Belly and Garmin-Slipstream.  The new cage wears an identical shape to the carbon Dave-O but uses a lesser composite for reduced cost – and brighter colours – but a similarly tight grip on inserted bottles. 

According to the attached hang tag, Arundel pegs these as ‘cheap insurance’ so that a bottle of refreshing liquid is actually on hand when needed.  

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