At the 2014 Tour de France, Team Europcar has no less than five different Colnago road machines for its riders to choose from. That is not counting back-up bikes or time trial bikes — just the various road model choices. Most teams have at least a couple of options — a race bike and an aero race bike — and three styles isn't uncommon, when you throw an endurance bike in there. But where does that leave us? What type of bike should the ordinary rider choose when we can only buy one?
We spoke with representatives at a number of bike companies, and they all answered this question more or less the same: Yes, road cycling is segmented enough now that different tools for different applications makes sense, they said. And determining which is right for you determines largely on where you live and what type of riding you like to do.
When it comes to professional racing, "every advantage counts," said Giant Bicycles marketing director An Le. "And since each discipline is so specialized these days, riders need the right machine for their discipline. Sprinters, climbers and classics riders all need something extra from their machine, and we have the technology and commitment to provide it."
At this Tour, that means three different Giant road bikes: the aero Propel Advanced SL, the lightweight TCR Advanced SL and the endurance-focused Defy Advanced SL.
"If you look at mountain biking, we have cross-country riders on hardtails, adventure riders on shorter-travel suspension bikes, enduro guys on bigger-hit bikes and of course gravity/DH bikes," Le continued. "Mix in with the 26/27.5/29 wheel size and the diversity of product in mountain biking is super high. When we started mountain biking back in the '80s, we just had rigid hardtails. And yes, we were able to ride plenty of trails on these hardtails, but certainly were much slower and more cautious. Perhaps the terrain and variance in road cycling is not as extreme as mountain biking, but we feel that crit racers, triathletes, road racers and gran fondo riders all have different needs and are looking for a different experience from their road bike. We understand that most consumers have one bike, maybe two, but with Giant they can choose a bike that best matches their riding style or preference. Our pros do the same. For example, [Marcel] Kittel is on the Propel pretty much 100 percent of them time even though he has a TCR and a Defy, because the Propel best matches his riding style."
Some teams opted not to bring all the bikes available to them. BMC, for instance, choose to bring the all-around Teammachine SLR01 but not the endurance Granfondo GF01. Similarly, AG2R-La Mondiale forewent the Focus Cayo Evo endurance bike in favor of the straight-ahead Izalco Max race bike.
Despite the proliferation of multiples styles of bikes within a company, some teams, like BMC, stuck with the main race bike. In this case, that's the BMC Teammachine SLR01, even for the cobbled stage 5
Scott Bicycles sponsors two teams at the Tour, IAM Cycling and Orica-GreenEdge. And while the riders can pick any bike in Scott's fleet, the racers came to the Tour with the all-around race bike, the Addict, and the Foil aero bike.
"From a consumer point of view, I believe that most cyclists would benefit from bikes in the endurance/comfort category," said Scott marketing director Nic Sims. "So for us this would be our Solace. These bikes really are the perfect blend of comfort and performance. There is a time when all the categories of bike have a use. The Plasma [time trial bike] is clearly designed for one thing, so that's easy to understand, but the other road styles can get tough. It is down to the bike stores to really understand who the customer is and what their intentions are. Do they plan on racing? Are they going to be doing gran fondos? What type of terrain do they ride on? Once the checklist is filled out, it should guide the consumer to the right bike."
Trek provided its factory team with three road bikes for the Tour: the endurance Domane (but in aggressive team geometry), the aero Madone and the new Emonda climbing bike. Choosing which bike to ride, whether a Tour pro or an average Joe, depends on your riding preferences, said Trek's product development director Joe Vadeboncoeur.
"It also depends on where you live," he said. "Somewhere mountainous? Then maybe the Emonda. Someplace pancake-flat? Then the Madone."
Between the nine Trek Factory Racing riders who started the 2014 Tour, all three Trek road bikes were represented
Speaking of the Madone, Vadeboncoeur said that while some might not classify it based on appearance as an aero bike, it certainly is. "It's not as aero as our Speed Concept [triathlon bike], but it is certainly more aero than the [Specialized] Venge," Vadeboncoeur said.
On the other end of the spectrum, three teams came to the Tour with one model of bike for all road stages, including the 'Paris-Roubaix' stage 5 that featured numerous stretches of cobblestones. AG2R-La Mondiale, BMC, Séché Environnement and Cofidis are all racing every road stage on a single type of bike.
Cofidis mechanic Mickael Houtteville said his team riders are all on the Look 695, and are adjusting to different conditions — such as flat stages, mountain stages or the cobbled stage 5 — with changes in wheels, tubular widths and air pressure.
While wind tunnels have proven validity to some aero designs — and media outlets like this one will attest to the comfort benefits of some endurance bikes — Tour riders continue to prove that the engine remains the key element for bike racing. Yes, the lion's share of stage wins thus far have gone to riders on bigger-budget teams with multiple bikes options, but AG2R's Blel Kadri managed to solo away for a victory on stage 8 aboard his one and only road bike for the Tour, the Focus Izalco Max.
Bike selection by team at the 2014 Tour de France
|AG2R-La Mondiale||1||Focus||Izalco Max|
|Belkin||2||Bianchi||Oltre XR.2||Infinito CV|
|Bretagne-Séché Envrt||2||Kemo||KE-R8 5KS||KE-R5|
|Garmin-Sharp||4||Cervélo||R5||R3 Mud||S3, S5|
|Lampre-Merida||4||Merida||Sculptura, Ride||Reacto EVO||Reacto KOM|
|Lotto Belisol||2||Ridley||Helium SL||Noah|
|Omega Pharma-Quick Step||3||Specialized||Tarmac||Roubaix||Venge|
|Europcar||5||Colnago||C59, C60, V1-r||CX Zero||M10|
|Sky||2||Pinarello||Dogma F8||Dogma K|
|Trek Factory Racing||3||Trek||Domane||Madone||Emonda|