2021 pro bike tech trends | 6 things we’ve spotted at early season races

Clinchers on cobbles, tan-wall Schwalbe Pro One tyres, custom paint jobs, aero kit and some unusual Italian wheels

Julian Alaphilippe riding on cobblestones

Pro races are always the proving ground for new road tech, and the early season events are ripe for eagle-eyed tech nerds on the lookout for unreleased swag and emerging trends.

Advertisement

Given this, we cast a beady eye over the first few WorldTour and Continental races to see if we could spot anything juicy.

Before anyone gets too excited, we sadly didn’t spot anything that looked like a new Dura-Ace groupset. But, there were some notable tech trends and bits of new kit worth mentioning, so let’s dive straight in…

1. Deceuninck – Quick-Step are using clinchers on the cobbles

Following on from their experiences at the 2020 Tour de France, every rider in the Deceuninck – Quick-Step team is apparently using Specialized Turbo Cotton clincher tyres or S-Works Turbo RapidAir tubeless tyres set up as clinchers on Roval Rapide CLX and Alpinist carbon clincher wheelsets (these two wheelsets are not tubeless-ready).

We’d previously thought the long-standing tubular vs clincher vs tubeless debate was going to come to an abrupt end at some point – partly because brands such as Specialized were, not long ago, telling us tubeless tyres were about to take over the pro peloton instead – but it seems the debate is set to rumble on for a while longer yet.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021
Deceuninck – Quick-Step riders are using clinchers tyres for the cobbled classics.
Luc Claessen/Getty Images

It is interesting, though, because in traditional wisdom, one downside of clinchers is their increased susceptibility to pinch flats compared to tubulars, the risk of which is increased when running lower pressures to deal with cobbles and rough roads.

However, it looks like Deceuninck – Quick-Step riders are willing to accept that risk in search of rolling resistance gains because Specialized’s latest testing shows the fastest “real world” wheel combination in its range is the Roval Rapide CLX wheelset plus Turbo Cotton clincher tyres.

It will be interesting to see if the team sticks to clinchers for the most important cobbled classics, such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Of course, no matter what side of the debate you sit on, what really matters is that unimaginative writers like yours truly are able to keep padding out column inches with this kind of thing (did someone mention rim vs disc brakes?).

2. Team Canyon//SRAM has some beautiful custom bikes with tan wall Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tyres

We love pro bikes with custom paint jobs here at BikeRadar, so we were thrilled to see the bikes Team Canyon//SRAM lined up with.

Swiss national champion Elise Chabbey was riding a beautiful red and white Canyon Aeroad CFR at the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, while other rider’s in the team had bikes painted to match their Rapha team kit (which, it has to be said, is also rather lovely).

Team Canyon//SRAM bikes were also specced with Zipp’s latest ultra-wide 303 tubeless wheels and tan wall Schwalbe Pro One TLE tubeless tyres – a tyre that isn’t available to the public as things stand (Schwalbe’s product catalogue contains tan wall options for the Pro One TT and One TLE tubeless tyres, but not the Pro One TLE).

We’ve spotted limited-edition clincher versions of this tyre in the past, but does this latest appearance foreshadow an imminent public release of the tubeless version? And does the fact that they’re being used on Zipp hookless rims mean hookless compatibility is 100 per cent confirmed? This group of self-confessed cycling hipsters certainly hopes so…

3. Aerocoach is working with a lot of teams this year

I’m sure these teams’ sponsors won’t be too happy with us pointing this out, but UK-based performance experts Aerocoach appear to be working with quite a few WorldTour teams this season.

We spotted its parts and wheels on the bikes of no fewer than four WorldTour teams at the UAE Tour, mostly in the time trial on stage 2.

As you might have guessed, given the brand’s name, the wheels and parts Aerocoach makes are focused on improving a rider’s aerodynamic efficiency. It also offers consultancy services for things such as tyre rolling resistance testing and aero bike fits. All highly important things to consider, for those interested in riding fast.

The brand has been on the scene for a few years now, with Team Ineos rider Filippo Ganna using a set of its custom carbon aerobar extensions to break the individual pursuit world record in late 2019.

Given only Team Qhubeka Assos is an ‘official partner’ of the brand, though, we can probably assume the other teams are actually paying to use Aerocoach parts and wheels.

4. Team Ineos Grenadiers appears to be using baselayers to get around UCI skinsuit rules

Select Team Ineos Grenadiers riders appear to be using baselayers with aero trip strips on the arms to get around the UCI’s rules on skinsuit surface modifications.

After Team Sky dominated the time trials at the 2018 Tour de France in Castelli’s Body Paint 4.0 skinsuit, the UCI moved to ban it, and other skinsuits like it, which had “surface roughness modifications” larger than 1mm in size.

Filippo Ganna competes to win the fifth stage of the 51st edition of the Etoile de Besseges
Filippo Ganna and other riders of Team Ineos Grenadiers have been using baselayers with what look like integrated aero trip strips on the arms. Is this to help them skirt UCI rules on skinsuit surface modifications? We think it could be…
SYLVAIN THOMAS/AFP via Getty Images

These strategically placed modifications purportedly decreased a rider’s aerodynamic drag significantly. The idea is that they trip the airflow from laminar to turbulent at the right point, creating a boundary layer of turbulent airflow around the arm or body part.

As we noted when we covered Rule 28’s latest aero socks, the mechanism is supposedly similar to how the dimples on a golf ball work.

In response to the UCI’s ban, Team Ineos Grenadiers appears to have integrated the trip lines into the rider’s baselayers instead, essentially recreating the effect. There’s no UCI rule banning trip strips on baselayers yet, so it’s all perfectly legal… For now.

5. Not all pros get the latest and greatest kit

Though it might sometimes seem like professional riders have a never-ending armoury of the latest and greatest cycling tech available to them, it’s certainly not the case for every team – particularly if you step outside of the WorldTour for a brief moment.

Take Emiel Vermeulen of French Continental team Team Xelliss – Roubaix Lille Metropole, for example. Riding at the Étoile de Bessèges stage race, against some of the most successful and well funded teams and riders in the sport (the start list for this race included no less than three previous Tour de France winners), Vermeulen apparently didn’t have access to a team issue skinsuit or time-trial helmet for the individual time trial, on stage 05.

Emiel Vermeulen of Belgium and Team Xelliss - Roubaix Lille Metropole during the 51st Étoile de Bessèges
No skinsuit, time-trial helmet or fully integrated time-trial bike for Emiel Vermeulen of Team Xelliss – Roubaix Lille Metropole at this year’s Étoile de Bessèges.
Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Likewise, Johan Le Bon, who rides for the Cambodia Cycling Academy (another French Continental team) was using a Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 chainset at the same race – a chainset released back in 2012.

None of this is intended to criticise these riders or their respective teams, just simply point out that below the very top tier of the sport not all professionals have access to the same level of technical support.

Johan Le Bon racing Etoile de Besseges
Johan Le Bon of Team Cambodia Cycling Academy was using a Dura-Ace 9000 chainset. We’re sure it still works great, but it does show not all pros have the latest kit available to them.
SYLVAIN THOMAS/AFP via Getty Images

6. Team Cambodia Cycling Academy has some unusual wheels we did not realise still existed

On the subject of Team Cambodia Cycling Academy, it’s using some rather unusual carbon wheels from Italian brand Fluxos.

The wheels use radically changing rim depths, in both traditional spoked and carbon five-spoke form, somewhat like an extreme version of Zipp’s sawtooth rim profile.

We first saw wheels from this brand back in 2016, on a Cipollini NK1K that featured in our 5 of the world’s most exclusive road superbikes video. Since then, though, we’ve not heard anything from the Italian wheel maker.

Advertisement

A quick look at the brand’s website suggests it thinks it’s literally reinvented the wheel… Although it also says “coming soon 2018” and doesn’t appear to have been updated since then. It would certainly be fascinating to get a set in to test.