If it so good, why don't the racers use it?

If it so good, why don't the racers use it?

A common objection to some of Bicycle Quarterly’s findings is: “If xyz is so good, why don’t the racers use it?” Whether it’s wide tires at lower pressures or front-end geometries, some of what we find to work best is not currently used by professional racers. Don’t professional teams do a lot of testing and development of their equipment? Isn’t it safe to assume that their equipment is optimized for the job at hand? I believe the answer is: “Not always.”
No professional racer used aerobars before Greg LeMond famously won the 1989 Tour de France with them (above). Earlier in 1989, I heard people say: “If aerobars offer such an advantage in time trials, why don’t the pros use them?” After all, Francesco Moser’s scientific team just had done a huge amount of research on bicycle aerodynamics to set a new hour record. Their research had determined the ultimate aerodynamic bicycle (shown on the cover below). Professional racers were using similar machines for their time trials.

On July 23, 1989, Greg LeMond was desperate: Going into the final stage of the Tour, he was in second place. LeMond was 50 seconds behind Laurent Fignon, and victory seemed just barely out of reach. LeMond had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so he had his mechanic install aerobars on his time trial bike. The more aerodynamic position gave him the advantage he needed to secure victory by 8 seconds.
The “state-of-the-art” time trial bike had become outdated from one day to the next. People realized that you had to improve the aerodynamics of the rider, not the bicycle, for optimum speed. All the research that went into Moser’s hour record turned out to be a blind alley. If Moser had slapped aerobars onto a standard track bike, he would have gone faster!
Imagine if LeMond had not been in second place going into the last stage of that Tour de France: Would racers still use “funny frames” and cowhorn bars in time trials today? I doubt it – eventually, scientific advances become accepted by the mainstream.
Take wider tires run at lower pressures: VeloNews reported that in this year’s Giro d’Italia, many teams used 25 mm-wide tubulars even on smooth roads. For more than 30 years, 21.5 mm tubulars were the standard tires in professional racing. Back then, pro racers used 25 mm tires only on the brutal cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix, “The Hell of the North” (below in the mid-1990s).

What caused the change to wider tires? Most important was the realization that lower pressures don’t make tires roll slower. This means that wider tires – which have to run at lower pressures – can be as fast or faster than narrower tires. Once this was established, at least partially through Bicycle Quarterly’s research, equipment makers could test wider tires in the wind tunnel and on the road. And they apparently found that wider tires perform better even on smooth roads. A mechanic explained: “You get more grip, more comfort; the guys like it.”
So when somebody says: “If xyz is so good, why don’t the racers use it?” perhaps the best response is: “Give them some time, and they probably will come around.”
Photo credit: ©John Pierce, Photosport International.

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Comments (47)

  • Dan

    Good commentary / interesting read. Aside from the issues of rolling resistance, etc., are there other things to be considered when looking at tire width? Handling, weight, or how the larger tire reacts after a puncture? For sew ups, does the larger product put more strain on the connection between tire and wheel? I’m curious to here more on this. I personally have ridden 28’s for the last 20+ years and have never had the desire to either increase or decrease the size of my tires (for the road).

    May 17, 2012 at 7:39 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Wider tires tend to have fewer punctures. Everybody who rides 650B x 42 mm Grand Bois Hetres reports how few flats they get. I suspect this is because the low-pressure tire rolls over sharp objects, without hammering them into the tire tread. Obviously, a wider tires has more cornering grip – see motorcycles and race cars. Add to that the extra suspension of a wider tire that runs at lower pressures, and your handling is greatly improved. I suspect that is the biggest reason for the switch to wider tires among the pros.

      May 17, 2012 at 8:31 am
  • bryanwieyes

    There’s also a great many problems of misoptimization. Would you ride a cyclo-cross race with a 100# bike? Of course not. 50#? Still stilly. 25#? Works fine. 12# – probably better than 25#, but is that the thing to focus on? 6#? Probably not measurably different from 12#. Just like putting bladed spokes on your cyclo-cross bike really won’t help….
    And with tires. My winter tires are slow, period. They are wide. Any tire is slow when underinflated. Any clincher can snake-bite when underinflated. So clearly, what we want are very narrow tires at very high pressures! (Well, actually, they work much better than very wide tires that are flat.)

    May 17, 2012 at 8:00 am
  • bryanwieyes

    There’s a problem is misoptimization (described above), misapplication of optimization, and overapplication of optimization.
    Tour racers have to ride UCI legal bikes. Otherwise, one could imagine that at the tops of mountains they’d switch to recumbents and then descend at 90mph speeds. Likewise, they goal is to be the strongest sprinter left after a long ride over difficult elevations – so an ultra ultra light bike is helpful. None of that really informs how to build even a criterium bike or cyclocross bike, let alone a cruiser.
    There’s also application of optimization past the point of no return. A 4″ wide tire at 10psi would be very slow. My 32mm wide 60psi winter tires are very slow. And slow pressures cause snake bites. So clearly what one wants is a 10mm tire inflated to 1000psi, right?
    There’s something to the base view – you wouldn’t ride a cyclo-cross race on a 100# bicycle. Nor a 50# bike. A 25# bike works just fine. A 12# bike (if legal) would probably be an advantage. Would a 6# bike actually help?

    May 17, 2012 at 8:10 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Finding the “sweet spot” is always the goal. You are right, at some point, a wide tires just will become to bulky and heavy to make much sense. Bicycle Quarterly’s tests have established that a 25 mm tire is faster than a 23 mm, which in turn is faster than a 20 mm tire. Is a 30 mm tire faster than a 25 mm?

      May 17, 2012 at 8:40 am
  • bryanwieyes

    “Bicycle Quarterly’s tests have established that a 25 mm tire is faster than a 23 mm, which in turn is faster than a 20 mm tire. Is a 30 mm tire faster than a 25 mm?”
    Good question.
    And that’s among tires of high quality tuned for a similar balance of speed/strength of course. My very heavy 32mm tires are very slow. They’re not what you have in mind.
    I suspect some part of the public thinks of “kevlar armored ultra thick” tire when they think of “wide”. Whereas what you mean is “23mm vittoria cx open pro” versus “30mm vittoria cx open pro” (which sadly doesn’t exist) A 42mm grand bois surely has more in common with a vittoria or a conti than with an aramadillo…

    May 17, 2012 at 8:57 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are absolutely right, wide tires need to use supple casings and relatively thin tread to be fast. In the past, people shied away from making such tires, because the supple casings can support only relatively low pressures. Everybody wanted the 30 mm tire that could handle 120 psi. Now we know that a 30 mm tire rolls as fast at 80 psi (or even lower for a lightweight rider) than at 120 psi, so there is no need to have ultra-strong (and slow) casings.

      May 17, 2012 at 9:06 am
  • Keith Hearn

    Bike racers tend to be pretty conservative due to peer pressure. Most people know that shaving your legs doesn’t give any real advantage, but try showing up at a bike race with unshaven legs. Everyone looks at you like you have no idea what you’re doing. So everyone shaves their legs, just because everyone else shaves their legs. Similarly, if you showed up at a race with 650B x 42 mm, everyone would laugh at you. Not to mention that you’d have problems with neutral support not having any wheels that match yours.
    It’s a silly reason, but it has been, and will continue to be difficult to overcome.

    May 17, 2012 at 9:25 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right. There is an added reason for being conservative: There is a risk inherent in new ideas and equipment. What if aerobars actually made you slower? (This isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem – you do need different muscles to pedal in that position.) If you no longer have a chance of winning, like Greg LeMond in 1989, then it makes sense to take the risk. If you win, great, and if you lose, you are exactly where you were before. For that reason, the second-rate pros really should try new ideas… Imagine if you put a team for Paris-Roubaix on 650B x 42 mm tubulars, and they rode away from the field on the cobbles!

      May 17, 2012 at 10:57 am
  • Phil Miller

    The most obvious mis-optimization that pro racers have is durability. They race supported. They ride many bikes, each optimized for each stage. Bikes are office supplies. For the rest of us, we don’t have the need to pull ahead of someone by inches, but we do need to arrive on time reliably.
    It’s like asking, “if fenders are so good, why don’t F1 cars use them?”. Meanwhile F1 cars are exploring using Carbon suspension parts. Would I EVER use a carbon suspension part on my street car? There are many technologies that are endemic to racing. There are others that are endemic to street use. It depends upon the function.

    May 17, 2012 at 10:02 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Pro bikes actually are quite durable. Mechanics don’t like changing parts all the time. Having ridden some inexpensive “consumer” bikes, I doubt they’d last through a Tour de France without replacing many major components, such as bottom brackets.

      May 17, 2012 at 10:51 am
    • designrecruit

      The idea that pros have an endless supply of free parts is utter hogwash. Reality is most of the super light racing bikes you see being used by the pros do in fact last an entire season and often get used in the following seasons by development squads. They also rarely change bikes except for time trials. With rare exception, the bike they ride in the early spring races is the same bike they’ll ride in the flat stages of the Tour and later on the mountain stages of the Tour. Sure, there are exceptions on some of the larger teams and for the larger team but those are exceptions. Keep in mind mechanics only have so much time to work on the bikes at the end of the day. The bikes are also quite durable. Just look at the number of times a pro crashes, gets up, and keeps going on the same bike. Also keep in mind that pros hit the deck at much higher speeds than recreational riders.

      May 17, 2012 at 11:40 am
  • Andy

    I’d love to see the UCI rules vanish. So long as people are powering the vehicle themselves and not storing the energy in any external way, I say let ingenuity and innovation guide the sport. Instead, we have bikes that all look exactly the same except for a few tiny differences, even decades later. It’s hard to imagine that better designs and innovations wouldn’t have come along in the time without those rules.
    Personally, I don’t see the big deal of 25mm tires. I’ve ridden 23 and 25 of the same style and can’t say I would be able to tell which I was on at any given moment. When they start reaching above 30mm, I might be more intrigued.

    May 17, 2012 at 10:05 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      UCI rules have no bearing at all on the bikes we ride. It’s silly that consumer bikes are built to UCI rules. The cars we buy also don’t comply with Formula 1 or NASCAR rules.

      May 17, 2012 at 10:49 am
    • Gert Pagter

      Some rules are needed. Else we would have recumbants and and the fiberglass boxes I have forgotten the english words for.
      At the same time the UCI weight minimum also makes cycle parts safer for the consumer. As many producers only make the lightweigt variants. The weight limits has put a hold on the development that has allready led to too many uncomfortable parts like the 31.8 mm diameter handlebars and carbon parts that after crashes can be vary fragile.
      That some rules may be a little over the top like the sock length rule is another thing. Although I think that some aestetics is nice for the sport, and for the rest of us as well.

      May 20, 2012 at 11:16 pm
  • fordbailey

    It’s interesting that – as far as I can tell- everyone in that picture has a suspension fork. That was a trend that did not persist beyond one or two seasons at Paris- Roubaix.

    May 17, 2012 at 10:12 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right. Suspension forks fell from favor after Mapei won Paris-Roubaix. Mapei was sponsored by Colnago, who wanted to feature their straight-blade “Precisa” forks, so Mapei couldn’t use suspension. Instead, they used slightly wider tires at very low pressures. Everybody then copied Mapei…

      May 17, 2012 at 10:48 am
      • Frank

        This year’s Paris-Roubaix was interesting as well: Lots of fatty tires on the road and everyone also seemed to be on rather low pressures according to Velonews: http://velonews.competitor.com/2012/04/bikes-and-tech/what-tires-wheels-and-pressures-were-roubaix-riders-running_212925
        I suppose many teams were inspirated by cyclocross races, for example Colnago had the biggest footprint with 30mm tubulars and used cantilever-equipped cyclocross machines.
        They didn’t go slow either: Boonen made his winning run with an average speed of about 43 km/h which is the same as this year’s Milan-San Remo winner with “standard” tires.

        May 18, 2012 at 9:57 am
  • bryanwieyes

    Can’t resist (Having driven LeMans cars):
    F1 cars don’t have fenders because the rules expressly forbid it – otherwise they would and would look like LeMans prototype cars. UCI has a similar weird effect – no parts with more than 3 to 1 cross section – but on a road bike, why not exploit such dimensions? For that matter, why not have a combined chain stay/fender/load shelf? But hey, UCI (or at least Triathalons) DO allow for things like bladed spokes – and everybody needs bladed spokes!
    The support issue remains – Pro rider flats, he puts his hand out and the team car comes up and gives him a wheel or a whole new bike. Race car flats a tire, head for the pits, where a whole squad will change all 4 tires faster than you can dial AAA. I flat on one of my rides and its some period of struggling and cursing (seems I only get flats on dark nights in rain in awkward locations.)
    A key difference is that even really high end road bikes work really well for a really long time with very little attention, and are generally not too bad to repair. This is not true of race cars – they decay while sitting at rest, and the high levels of the sport get lots of new parts for every race.
    Bicycles win hands down on that.

    May 17, 2012 at 11:01 am
  • msrw

    Jan, I’m sure that you have no lack of article ideas for BQ, but it would be interesting to see a few meaningful direct ride/speed comparisons between the type of bike that is normally used on the pro circuit (stiff frame, 700×23/25 tubulars, etc), and, say, your Rene Herse.
    I personally would be surprised to discover that a rando bike would be competitive in any road racing scenario–circuit racing, sprints, TT, climbing, whatever. But it might be interesting in terms of the order of magnitude of some of these technical details on speed to compare speed over a medium or long TT course, in a 200 meter sprint, and maybe an ascending/descending route in the mountains.
    Context would seem to be critical in terms of which details can lead to greater efficiency/speed; but given how many people ride crit bikes on brevets and centuries, and given the growing interest (and availability) of newly-evolved classic high performance distance bicycles (wide tires, frames that plane etc) that BQ has popularized, there should be broad interest an attempt to quantify any performance variance between the two. For example: how much faster overall might a high performance rando bike (or a crit bike) be on a century?

    May 17, 2012 at 11:16 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Those are interesting questions, and we are working on an article about this. Fenders, lights, racks, etc. add weight, and extra weight makes the bike climb slower, but how much slower? So the real question is: How much more power would a randonneur bike require to keep up on a climb, in a sprint, etc. If it’s 1%, then no it’s no big deal, if it’s 10%, then it’s a deal breaker. From my experience, it’s closer to the former. Basically, the extra weight, more comfortable position, etc., gets lost in the noise. Riding the same course on a 17 lb. carbon race bike and a 25 lb. 650B randonneur, variations in daily form and conditions are greater than the differences between the bikes.
      That is why “planing” is so important to me: A frame that allows me to put out 2% more power with less fatigue will trump all differences of weight, aerodynamics, etc., between a randonneur and a racing bike.
      Of course, to keep up with a racing bike, your randonneur bike must be an optimized machine. You can’t expect a Surly Long-Haul Trucker on Schwalbe Marathon tires to keep up with a Calfee carbon racing bike on Grand Bois or Vittoria CX Corsa tires, even if you put out 2% more power on the Long-Haul Trucker. The Long-Haul Trucker isn’t optimized for performance, as it’s not intended for that type of use.

      May 17, 2012 at 11:34 am
      • msrw

        My experience is similar to yours re the order of magnitude of speed variance between a high performance long distance bike and a pro circuit type bike. Not much difference, except the racing bike is a lot faster in aggressive riding in groups where everyone is attacking constantly. Outside of racing (with its constant accelerations that don’t happen in the non-racing enthusiast-level riding that many of us do) there doesn’t seem to be that much of a speed advantage re a pro circuit bike over a rando bike.
        Much to my surprise, when riding in the mountains, I’m not that much slower ascending when on the distance bike (25 lbs) than when on the racing bike (17 lbs); however, the distance bike is MUCH faster in descending. Or I should say that I can descend much faster without feeling like I’m risking my life–twitchy racing bikes are a bit too lively on high speed mountain descents.
        Really looking forward to that article.

        May 17, 2012 at 11:52 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Why do you think the long-distance bike doesn’t do well with constant accelerations? The rotational inertia of a 650B x 42 mm tire is similar to that of a 700C x 28 mm tire…

          May 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm
      • msrw

        Re rotational inertia….
        The two bikes I’m referring to are both 700C….
        The racing bike has Mavic Kysirium SSC wheels with Conti Grand Prix Supersonic tires in 23c;
        The long distance bike has a set of custom 36/32 spoke wheels with Schwalbe Marathon Supreme in 32c and a Sondelux. The racing wheels are considerably lighter and, in my experience, accelerate with much less effort.

        May 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I observed the same with my randonneur bike when it used Rolly-Poly tires. I realized that it was not the weight, but the rolling resistance. When you ride in a pack, you draft most of the time, and aerodyanmics aren’t your biggest resistance, but rolling resistance is. With slower tires, you are always working harder than the others, and that makes the accelerations so difficult.
          Changing to faster Grand Bois tires (which weight the same) suddenly allowed me to keep up with ease even during the hardest accelerations. When you look at the physics, you realize that the acceleration of a cyclist is not all that great, and the rotational inertia of the wheels makes little difference. That is why pros all use wheels that are much bigger than the lower UCI limit. If it mattered, they’d all use wheels that are exactly 550 mm in outer diameter (which is the limit).

          May 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm
  • designrecruit

    Not to nit-pick but the final time trial wasn’t the first time Lemond used aero bars in the ’89 Tour. He also used them on the second time trial (stage 14 or 15). Fignon saw them and did test out a pair but opted not to use them for the final stage. He also ditched his aero helmet which also probably cost him dearly. Lemond also wasn’t the first pro to use aerobars in international competition. Sean Yates and Dag Otto Lauritzen from 7-Eleven both used them earlier in the 89 season. I believe the first use was in the Tour de Trump.

    May 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm
  • Chris

    I’m a big believer in wider tires and try to convert as many people as I can (at least to 25’s, anything bigger is too hard to convice)… anyway, I was wondering how you determine the proper pressure to run in a wider tire? as pointed out above, there is a point of diminishing return…

    May 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm
  • antonio neto

    Your blog provides an excellent learning. Every day I improve my knowledge of bike. Thank you.

    May 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm
  • Henry

    According to the data from Schwalbe (see link) on the Durano 23 – 25 – 28 – 32mm wide tires the 32mm was fastest when looking only at rolling resistance. Factor in aero drag and weight and at some point (depending on application) wider is no longer faster. Right now the latest greatest wider aero rims are optimized for 23mm tires. According to Zipp there is little aero trade off going from 23 to 25 but ideally the rims would be 2mm wider if they were optimized for 25mm tires. Once you get to 27 the rims no longer perform as designed. So is the optimum compromise 24-25 for racing? No one is making an aero rim for 28mm tires but at least it seems that it’s becoming the new accepted wisdom that 23-25 on the new wide aero rims is faster then 21-22 even for racing on smooth tarmac.

    May 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The Schwalbe tests are interesting. However, they contradict our findings. When we tested in the wind tunnel, the difference between a 25 mm and a 32 mm tire was not statistically significant. I wonder whether they tested without a rider on board. If you test a tire and rim alone, you can get very nice laminar flow, and small changes at the tire/rim interface will make a big difference. Once you have a rider on the bike, spinning their legs at 100 rpm, your airflow is greatly disturbed, and wind resistance is determined more by frontal area than by shape.
      In my experience, up to speeds of about 30 mph (48 km/h), tire size gets lost in the noise. I rarely go faster than 30 mph on the flats, so I can’t say much about higher speeds.
      When I still was racing, I once borrowed an aero front wheel for a time trial. I figured if I gained about 5% compared to my box-section wheel with 32 spokes, I’d stand a chance of winning, as I usually placed 5th or 6th, a few seconds behind the first. In the event, I went as fast as always, and ended up 5th or 6th again. I beat the riders who I usually beat, and those who usually were faster still were out of reach. The aero wheel wasn’t enough to make even a 5 second difference over a 10 km time trial…

      May 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm
      • Henry

        Sorry for the confusion on the Schwalbe test which is linked to a chart -it’s is only about rolling resistance and the fatter tires are faster. So no conflict with what you have found.
        The comments about aero and weight are from various interviews with Zipp. I imagine their philosophy is every 2-3% incremental change is worth doing especially if you can get a lot of incremental efficiencies in apparel, rims, fork and frame. The assumption being you are working on the big things like position and every incremental advantage counts. Of course, that only applies to pro racing where 30 seconds over 6 hours can win or loose a race and riders are in optimal condition and have coaches and labs sweating over their position and bio-mechanics (at least on some teams and with high profile athletes).

        May 17, 2012 at 7:43 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Most of all, Zipp are trying to sell wheels… I recall being amazed at their dimpled rims. The idea is that with laminar flow, the boundary layer adheres better to the rim. The problem is that on a real road, the wheel vibrates, and you no longer get laminar flow. Recumbent people figured this out long ago – their fairings worked well in the wind tunnel, but on the road, they no longer got laminar flow. So I have little faith in wind tunnel testing done by wheel manufacturers. I’d like to see the results from the wind tunnel replicated on a track with a power meter, on a windless day where the temperature doesn’t change much…
          The incremental changes you mention are much smaller than 2-3%. The total difference in wind resistance between a set of box-section rims and a set of good aero wheels is only about 2-3%. You get large improvements in aerodynamics only by working on the rider, hence the huge benefit of aerobars.
          As for racers, power trumps almost anything you can do to the bike. If one guy has the most aero bike, but the other guy has a 5% better power-to-weight ratio, the second guy still will be faster.

          May 17, 2012 at 9:01 pm
          • Henry

            All true but the fact that the bike may only account for 15 to 25% of overall drag (see MIT study: http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/revenge-nerds) in a TT and perhaps a lot less in a road race does not make it of zero significance. Even the guys with the best position, team support and power to weight ratio (and maybe doping programs) will take another 1% of speed if they can get it. One stage win can change a career or a teams season and more and more we see really tiny time differences between finishers.
            Now companies don’t make money from selling components like aero wheelsets to pro racing teams. They make money selling them to consumers where the real world value proposition has little or nothing to do with performance.

            May 18, 2012 at 3:17 am
          • Henry

            I’d add that there is a lot of testing done in the wind tunnel now of the total system: rider+bike and pros riders work on position and bike set up in sophisticated wind tunnel testing rigs. See the development of Enves’s Smart system wheels: http://www.smartaerotechnology.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/procycling-article.pdf

            May 18, 2012 at 3:28 am
  • David

    If you are riding for enjoyment, why would you care what racers use?

    May 18, 2012 at 4:17 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You make a good point, and I wish people were less inspired by racing. I don’t care what the racers use, but as the editor of a magazine, I do take all criticisms seriously. And one of the most-heard criticism of our findings is: “If it is so good, why don’t the racers use it.” So I have been thinking about that.
      When you look at my own bikes, you see that they are not at all inspired by what the racers use. In fact, I’d be surprised if there was a single part on my new bike that also was found in the Tour last year. Well, maybe the brake cables are the same.
      I also find it ironic that most people riding centuries now are on narrower tires than the professional racers in the Giro d’Italia.

      May 18, 2012 at 6:21 am
      • W.M. deRosset

        So when somebody says: “If xyz is so good, why don’t the racers use it?” perhaps the best response is: “Give them some time, and they probably will come around.”
        Dear Jan,
        Or not. But what most of us do isn’t racing, or even terribly racing-like. Nor are most of us physiologically or psychologically like racers (weight, power output, pedaling efficiency, age). Hang out with CAT 2/1/domestic pros for a while, and see if they’re wired like you are….
        Why would one be surprised if a racing cyclist ends up with a different (local) optimum solution than I do for non-racing conditions (or, for that matter, even for something close to a race, but without support?) A (road) racer’s performance criteria are different (their bikes don’t need to be objectively fast, only faster than the next fellow’s at the right time, they’re mostly working under drafting conditions in tight packs at speeds >22mph/35kph, elbow clearance for sprinting is pretty key, etc), they’re subject to a different set of design constraints, at least in theory (fenders and luggage aren’t allowed, for instance; if they’re sponsored they’re going to ride what their suppliers make), and so on.
        There are lots of really useful, well-designed bicycle parts that racers will never use for their chosen pastime, because they just aren’t necessary or useful for what a racer fundamentally does–riding unladen for a few hours at high speed in a pack, in daylight, with wheel service, on pavement, aiming to finish just ahead of everyone else with a minimum of effort. Or to support their team in the same endeavor.
        They’ll spend a lot of time training under non-racing conditions, and most will put up with the limitations of their machines under those circumstances, strapping on bags, battery lights, and clipping on fenders. It does take a while to habituate to a new machine…. Exceptions are more common in places with heavy, cold rainy seasons, like the Pacific Northwest, where some teams/clubs encourage fender use for group training rides, and rarer in places like semi-arid Boulder).
        Modern high-end road-racing bikes are durable and low-maintenance enough if you race–they last a privateer a couple of seasons (or longer if you don’t crash and aren’t sponsored), and require very little maintenance for a racing season beyond tires and chains. CX season and winter in places with road salt are the cruel months for bearings.
        William M. deRosset
        Fort Collins, CO

        May 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          It stands to reason that if wider tires provide more comfort and more performance, as our tests indicate, then both racers and non-racers should be interested in this. So if racers aren’t, then many wonder whether they know something we don’t. As it turns out, they just took a little longer to adopt the latest scientific results.
          I also don’t think that disparaging racers and racing is useful. Having raced for 10 years, at the end as a Cat. 2, I believe there is a lot to learn from racers. Bike handling skills, pedal stroke, pack riding and more…
          I wish everybody in last year’s PBP had the pack riding skills of experienced racers – it probably would have prevented many crashes, including the one that took me down after just 2 hours on the road. Toward the end, I did ride with racers, and it was a totally different experience. Even thought you’d expect riders to be tired after 50 hours on the road, everybody was predictable, making group riding safe and enjoyable.
          Of course, we also shouldn’t glorify racers. Racing requires a single-minded focus, and as a result, many racers don’t have many interests outside racing. That can be limiting, and it’s one of the reasons why I stopped racing. I enjoy randonneuring because it attracts people who are true amateurs, and for whom cycling is one part of their lives, not the all-defining one.

          May 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm
    • Henry

      You probably shouldn’t as you would likely wind up with a bike ill suited for your needs.
      But a lot of the cycling dollars spent in the US are in a segment that is competition focused, whether it is triathlons or road races. Even though few actually compete on a regular basis -those riders model themselves on pro athletes. Their dream machine is going to look like what the pros ride. It’s a recreational, “lifestyle” activity which is very different then a bike as transport or even a bike that can reliably get you out and back from remote locations on varied road surfaces.
      Even with urban cyclists with no interest in cycling sport, fashion often wins out over function. Fixies, retro looking beach cruisers with balloon tires but no fenders, etc., etc.
      Consumers are not rational creatures.

      May 18, 2012 at 8:47 am
  • Omri

    I read the Velo News article this morning and immediately thought of your (and Gran Petersen’s) writings on wider tires – will wonders never cease? I now look forward to overhearing the go-faster set condescend to riders on “old fashioned” 23mm tires this summer!

    May 18, 2012 at 8:37 am
  • David

    Your bike looks good.
    I don’t doubt that racing bikes will adapt to the best possible setup for their purposes, through a process of trial and error, and that it will take time. That tends to happen in most sports, look at tennis racquets and strings that have changed over the last twenty years. Most recreational tennis players wouldn’t benefit from using the exact same racquets the pros use, because the pros are stronger, use heavier racquets, and hit the ball harder.
    Rather than the technology they use, I think one thing we can learn from racers is the ease and efficiency they ride with; even though the sport has been ruined in a way by performance enhancing drugs, these guys are still great athletes and beautiful cyclists, they ride in a very relaxed way at speeds much higher than we attain.
    I don’t think you need a study or to copy racers’ equipment to learn what works best for other kinds of riding; when you ride wider tires on a very rough road, you quickly learn how much more comfortable and secure they are, and that you can ride easier and faster without having to pick your way through the rough stuff.
    I don’t ride as many miles as a randonneur. What I would be interested in reading are tips on reliability, bike setup and fit for long distance comfort and efficiency, and even safety, from people who ride a lot of miles and have the experience to give that kind of advice.

    May 19, 2012 at 8:13 am
  • GRJim

    Now that you’ve tested a carbon bike that goes faster than your Singer (your words), perhaps it’s time to test a set of Enve Smart System wheels, leaving aside your anecdote about one time trial.

    May 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We have Mad Fiber locally, and I hope to get around to riding the all-carbon (minus the bearings) front wheel they gave me for testing soon – on my Singer, no less!

      May 20, 2012 at 7:06 am
  • GuitarSlinger

    You’re addressing one of the longest lasting , most misunderstood and overly referred to Myth in the Book .
    That ‘ Racing ‘ and riding on the ‘ Road ‘ have anything to do with one another : be it in bicycles , cars , M/C’s , boats ( sailing and power ) ….. what ever !
    Simply put and without putting up a full length article of my own here …… they Don’t ! Oh maybe in the very distant past , before ALL racing machines had become such over specialized Unitaskers …. they did . A little . But today in this age of overspecialization , what works for a 24/7 full time scientifically trained Racerin Competition does not suit the needs of ANY road rider . Yes … you can be masochistic about it and make yourself suffer like a fool needlessly by riding a full on Racing bike on the road ……. but guaranteed …. you won’t get there any faster , enjoy it any more ( more like you’ll enjoy it a lot less ) or have gained one solitary thing other than feeding yourself the Pretense that somehow your ‘ Suffering ‘ puts you in a higher league than those around you
    Well … before I go on for another 20 pages ( this is one of my major soapboxes as if you couldn’t tell … no matter what the subject e.g. Cars Bikes M/C’s Boats Planes etc )
    Nuff said . Believe me …. or suffer …. your choice . I’ll be the one that evening having fun socializing while you’re tending to those avoidable aches and pains …. and ….. I’ll of gotten there first to boot …. Guaranteed . Been there . Done that ( many times ) 😉

    May 21, 2012 at 9:40 am
    • don compton

      AMEN. My friends can’t believe that I can stand to ride my Riv Roadeo on our club rides. We ride in the gold country of Northern California. The best roads are also the least kept.
      While my friends are getting beat to death, I am enjoying the downhills on my 29c Grand Bois.

      May 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm

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