What pro bikes mean for you

When to emulate and when to ignore what the pros do

For years, BikeRadar and Cyclingnews have detailed the machines of top professional riders. We chronicle the specifics of the gear, and often of the riders and their measurements, to satisfy your curiosity and ours. Beyond the entertainment, there are a few things you should take away from these pro bike features — and one thing that you shouldn’t.

What you should take away

I enjoy taking a close look at the pros’ bikes for the variation and nuance as much as the latest-and-greatest technology. On Tour de France bikes in particular, nearly every piece of gear is top shelf. But I like seeing what makes the bike unique to a rider.

At the Tour this year, for instance, Nairo Quintana is running relatively huge handlebars, given his stature. Alberto Contador has his typical double-wrapped bar tape, and Chris Froome his goofy Osymetric rings.

Some riders’ positions can be remarkable in how normal they are. Take yellow-jersey contender Fabio Aru; he runs a 100mm stem on his 54cm frame, just like you would get on a stock bike. Then you have riders like Adam Hansen who have an outrageously long and low position (not to mention his own handmade shoes).

But the main thing to take away from studying pro machines is that a bicycle should be set up to fit exactly one person: you.

What you shouldn’t take away

Sometimes when we don’t include fit specifics on particular pro bikes, readers will ask why the omission. Usually, it’s because time with a bike is limited at a race, but we’ll often laugh a bit at the question, thinking, ‘what, exactly, are you going to do with this information?’ So Chris Froome uses 175mm cranks. Are you going to switch to longer cranks and win the Tour?

Veterans typically have tried a variety of things and go with what works for them

Granted, the particulars can be quite interesting, much in the way pros’ power output numbers can be eye-popping.  He did how many watts per kilo up that climb? His saddle-to-stem drop is how low?

What you shouldn’t do is set up your bike based on someone else’s configuration.

I read some professional basketball players’ measurements with wide eyes. Take the retired Manute Bol, who stood 7’7” (231cm), with a gigantic  8’6” (259cm) wingspan. But as much as I’d like to block my son’s shots on the basketball court, donning Bol’s size 16.5 shoes would be ridiculous, right? I should wear what fits me.

For the record, I’ve spent as much time as anyone being a poseur with bike setup. In the past, I’d study pros’ positions and try to copy them, as much for guidance as for emulation.

I’ve seen this within pro teams, too. At pre-season training camps when sponsors arrive with new gear like saddles, some young riders will carefully watch what the older riders choose — and then do the same.

But veterans typically have tried a variety of things and go with what works for them.

Find your fit

So what if you aren’t sure about what works for you?

Start by getting your saddle height right. Get a saddle you like. Then work on perfecting the stack and reach of your bars. Experiment with the angle of your hoods, and different thicknesses of bar tape.

Getting the right saddle: If you’ve been looking at bike sites for a while, from time to time you've probably seen pros with blacked-out logos on their saddles. While uncomfortable for team sponsors, there isn’t any dark art at work here; the rider has just found a saddle that’s comfortable for him or her, and they are sticking with it. There is no one best saddle.

Bike fitters will often suggest what they have seen to work for a large percentage of riders based on style of riding, but really you just have to try on a saddle like you try on shoes to see what works best for you.

Getting the right stem length and height:  Adjustable-fit bikes are really cool, whether new-school options by Retül or Guru or old-school designs like Calfee. But yes, access to them isn’t realistic for many folk, based on location or cost. Swapping stems with friends, or just adjusting the height or flipping the angle on yours works, too, as you seek to get your handlebar in just the right place.

There is a very good chance that your stock stem is already the right length. But if your neck, back or hands hurt, then your fit needs to be shortened and/or raised.

Getting the right handlebar setup: Like with saddles, this is a matter of preference. Go with what feels best for you. Sometimes just tweaking the angle of your shifters or maybe putting an extra sliver of bar tape where the hoods meet the bars can make all the difference in hand comfort.

If you do make any adjustments, just be sure to tighten everything back down, ideally with a torque wrench to the manufacturer’s spec. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, good bike shops and bike fitters can help.

Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team Issue, Specialized S-Works Tarmac, Priority Eight city bike... and a constant rotation of test bikes
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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