Techs-Mechs: Random Thoughts on Rest Day

Today is the rest day in the Pyrenees but not for the team mechanics (not that they ever rest during the race) but it's also a good day for recapping some of the highlights from a tech side. I have been following the Tour pretty regularly since 1994 and I remember then being fascinated with all the beautiful bikes of the era. Team Polti's Coppi's, Gewiss' Bianchi's, ONCE's alloy-lugged-carbon-maintube Look's, Carrera's, Motorola's Merckx (which I believe were rebadged and painted Litespeed ti frames), Chris Boardman's Lotus, Mapei Clas' Colnago's and my favorite of them all, the Pinarello Banesto ridden by champ Miguel Indurain. In 1994 we started seeing more tig welded frames, some oversized shaped tubes and titanium. We saw some some deep dish alloy rims, but still lots of standard box rim wheels. Stems were works of art (Cinelli XA for one), headsets glimmered as did everything else. Glory days for us old timers.

There really weren't a whole lot of tech stories other than photo's of JaJa's frame broken in three or four places after an epic stage 1 crash involving a gendarme with a camera. Road bikes of that era were heavy(ish), built for punishment and the drive trains were 8 speed Record or Dura Ace. Stuff just worked and other than the TT rigs the bikes (with a couple exceptions) looked like they could have been from 1984. I believe riders of that day were just comfortable on classic steel frames and the welders used it as an opportunity to show off their skills. (sniff..)

Fast forward to 2010 and all bikes of the Tour are carbon, but that's been the standard now for about 5 years but we are seeing much different components starting to push the envelope for better or for worse. We got to see Paris-Roubaix bikes that have been stowed away since April make a short appearance, but now we're back to the climbing bikes.

One trend I'm noticing is more modular bikes with tapered steerers, seatmasts and integrated cranksets/bb's. Shimano Di2 is here to stay for a while and frames are now being built specifically for that gruppo with batter pack compartments and internal cables. The Berner-design SRAM Red rear derailleur is gaining some attention too, but perhaps not in a positive way. Of course chains have been falling off bikes as long as they've existed, but I have never seen it happen at such an inopportune time for one of the favorites. Perhaps we are reaching the limits of how light and quick a shifting system should be with 11 speed drivetrains and 5.5mm wide chains. When does reliability trump hi tech?

My point is, bike companies seem to be in a constant race for a technological supremacy which is a fact of life. The trickle down effect (besides sky rocketing prices) to us weekend warriors makes it fun too as bikes get lighter, more aero and with plenty of snap, but in 1994 the racers really just needed something they could rely on for 3 weeks. How much of the state-of-the-art design today is more about marketing than know...speed? I'm not naive just sentimental and maybe a tad cheap.

Anyhow, it's been a fun Tour so far and tomorrow and Saturday should be epic.