Friday Group Ride #27

Today, my Twitter feed mentioned that the UCI would begin scanning bicycles to prevent “mechanical doping.” I’m not sure what misguided interpreter hatched the phrase, but it has taken on a whole life of its own, hasn’t it? I’m guessing that “mechanical doping” is meant to denote any piece of equipment that puts force into the pedals OTHER THAN the rider’s legs. But if you open up the idea, if you consider the possible connotations of the phrase, you start thinking about the pros’ current standard equipment.

There was a time when Henri Desgranges, the patron saint of cyclorific suffering, would scoff at the use of multiple gears, when the derailleur qualified as “mechanical doping,” and the standard road race bicycle looked more like a cross between a track bike and a touring machine. That was a quaint time when the illicit use of brandies, schnapps and apertifs passed as illegal performance “enhancement.”

But time stands still for no man. First there were gears. Then there were aero wheels (I’m skipping some steps) and bars. There were cyclocomputers and power meters. We had indexed and now electronic shifting. We had steel and now carbon fiber. Each time the bicycle leaps forward there are those who lament the advantages conferred by new technology and those who celebrate the forward march of progress.

If I’m honest, I’m more of a Luddite than most. I keep in my mind some non-existent vision of pure cycling, where the equipment matters less than the talent and heart of the rider. Call me an idealist. For a guy who goes by the sobriquet Robot, it’s a sort of self-contradictory view point.

What I’d like to talk about on the Group Ride this week is what piece of equipment, if any, on a pro racing bicycle, you would ban. What would you get rid of? Assuming seat tube motors are not currently installed on every other race machine, what do you think is superfluous or even detrimental to the racing? Or do you live in the other camp? Do you think think technology has only benefited the spectacle?

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29 comments

  1. Amityskinnyguy

    From the spectacle of Lemond’s areo bars to the latest debacle of Cav’s carbon wheel “failure”, technology has hightened cylce racing’s drama. Who would Lance have been without all the millions spent on product development for him? Would Hincapie have won Roubaix if his fork hadn’t failed? As for me though, the fact that I ride an 80s Atala with 7 speed Dura-Ace says it all…

  2. James

    I kind of like all the new stuff so I don’t think I would ban anything. Without new stuff we wouldn’t have new things to ogle every autumn during the bike show season.

  3. Chris Jensen

    i wouldn’t ban anything. i think the only imperative in terms of equipment is that the only source of energy input is from the rider. anything that more efficiently converts that energy into motive power should be legal. anything providing power from a source other than the rider should not be legal.

  4. Ray

    I have steel, Al and Ti bikes. So far I have held off on the “Carbon Frabe” as Bikesnob would say. But I have been getting the itch. And although not a luddite, I feel that it would be interesting to get the pros racing along side amateurs ala the Eroica in Italy on vintage steel frames with downtube shifters right here in the USA.

  5. Touriste-Routier

    It is not so much the technology or progress that bothers me, but the ever shortening product life cycles. From a retailer perspective, such obsolescence is an inventory/investment nightmare, from a consumer perspective it is frustrating, as what is here today is long gone tomorrow.

    What drives me crazy is the “Keeping up with the Jones” mentality that further drives crass consumerism, at all levels of the sport (cycling is the new golf in many ways). But even if the recreational and hobby racers ignored all the BS that many publications feed us about equipment, it still drives up the cost of the sport at the elite level, just in order to be in the game, let alone competitive.

    Rather than a particular component ban, I’d really like to see a NJS like certified system for everything, even if it meant multiple tiers based upon category of competitor. Of course it isn’t realistic, since it isn’t practical, the technology isn’t static, and such standards would be objected to from most corners (especially the sponsors/manufacturers). What exactly is stock about those stock NASCAR cars anyway?

    It doesn’t have to be a L’Eroica scenario, but to me there is something perverse about first year juniors and Cat 5s with TT bikes, and who have road wheels that cost more than my monthly mortgage payment, largely because, “this is what the pros use”.

    That said, it is fairly cool to be in a sport where one has access to the same equipment as the pros. Can one be an elitist luddite? I always said I wouldn’t spend money on a TT bike to go from 20th to 17th, but if I was in contention to win… But to get back on subject, if I had to pick one thing to ban, it would be the TT bike/aero equipment; I want to see the engine win, not the chassis.

  6. Champs

    Juniors have limited gearing, and maybe it makes sense then that Cat5 races should decided less on the depth of the rider’s pockets. The aero wheel situation is might be out of control.

    I wasn’t aware of anybody blaming Cavendish’s wheels. Maybe the HighRoad stickers he insists on riding without really are structural, unlike the carbon fairings.

  7. cthulhu

    I wonder why nobody has mentioned ear pieces and race radio yet.

    Surely there was this experiment last Tour and it failed ’cause nobody was going to take any risks in letting any escapist get out of sight which made it an extremely dull stage but the peloton can’t keep up such kind of riding over three weeks, i bet not even over one week.
    What would the benefits be? My guess wouldn’t even be more spectacle for the spectators but more attentive riders and so maybe less falls like the ones in the first Giro week.
    Though it has advantages, for instance when having a mechanical or similar. And it is there, the damage is done, one wont get rid of it anymore.

    Else, there is no piece of equipment i’d like to see banned from racing. I see no reason why, since the pros have all nearly equally good equipment it is the rider (form, luck, weather, skills..) that decide in the end.

    Also, as drastic as the picture with Cav and Hausler and Cav’s wheel looks, I pretty much guess an Al(or any other metal/alloy) rim would have broken too. And I guess a broken non-carbon rim can cause much severe injuries when falling onto/getting hit by them. Carbon is really not the problem.

    Now that takes us to amateur racing. I don’t know how the situation in the US is, but here are my impressions. Americans are usually more into technological equipment so anything promising an advantage thanks to technic is used and are willing to go with each trend. Sometimes it just like they want to frighten/intimidate their opponents with their toys and the resources they have at their hands. Now that brings us to the competitiveness. A friend of mine and club mate spend half a year in SoCal. And although he is racing as average over here in the lowest Cat. we have, he was pounding the Cat 5 and Cat 4 riders everytime into submission until he was allowed to race Cat 1-2-3 while having the cheapest bike at the start. So my opinion is, let them, if they have the resources and want to spend it, they shall. If you are a half way decent rider you will beat them anyway. I heavily doubt the outcome at the Cat 4-5 races are decided in any way by the used equipment.

    But then again this is just my impression from the other side of the pond, it could be off.

  8. steevo

    Champs, that photo is amazing.

    I officiate the category 4/5 weekly training race here and the bikes are insane. Carbon Tubs are the norm. Fancy stuff.

    I think TT bikes should be banned so standing records can be measured against one another, much like the hour record. This is for domestic cycling in the states. Look at nature valley, its pretty rad. You can have a team with a low budget (california giant strawberries for example) compete against teams with 10x the resources in a TT.

  9. Souleur

    It is a good question and one I find myself in a philosophical fork in the road. I love the new stuff. I read and study wheel theory, lace patterns, aerodynamic drag and testing and soak it up like a sponge. I look at frame geometry, bike fit and think and meditate, considering the possibility of an inherent advantage by moving key points up or down/fore or aft a few mm. I look at elemental materials, and consider the suppleness of a ride and the ability to lash out in a sprint, attempting in my mind to strike the perfect balance. We as cyclists consider everything….as in E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Thread pitches, nut and bolt materials, tyre thread count, number of gears, gear inches, and sometimes the technology is overwhelming even for the best of us since in the end we all ride generally the same with our without it.

    That is where I relish in tradition, square box pattern hoops- 36h 3x pattern soldered for pure abuse. Steel frames that are named things like ‘big leg emma’ remind me of where I seemed to originate. Old and useful downtube shifters that are still functional and surpringsly sexy when donned on the downtube of an italian lady. And there is nothing like the memories of the elegance of a time gone by that some have forgotten. Tradition, heritage and history do hold a special meaning within Souleurs life.

    That being said, I would not ban a thing on the bike. On…the bike. Radios are not ‘on’ the bike in my humble opinion. I would ban them in a NY second since they are an assistive device if you will and I wouldn’t mind to keep the DS in the back of the peloton…period. But in terms of electronic shifting, tubeless wheelsets, carbon hoops, wattage meters, clipless pedals, bars, stems/posts I would let it all fly. I love riding the same as my hero’s do.

    And afterall, who knows what we will see in the future because of the creative forces and genius who is trying to perfect the perfect machine.

    I for one cannot wait to see what that may be

  10. Franken

    Ban batteries bigger than a watch battery. Nothing helping you do work. Power meters don’t do work for the rider. If you going to have a motor on your bike for shifting or anything else, you have to power it with your legs while your riding. THis can be done with a little dynamo feeding a capacitor or whatever. If you start with a battery on your bike bigger than a watch battery, somone is going to tap into it and the opportunity for cheating is going to be there. And the lithium batteries today pack a huge amount of power and are only going to get smaller and more powerful.

  11. randomactsofcycling

    I’d ban any skinny kid that beats me up the climb and then pulls a massive turn on the front, nearly shells me and talks loudly at the coffee shop. That’s what I’d ban.
    Everything else is fine, as long as it is powered by the rider.

  12. Dan O

    Even though I’m semi-old school on many things, I wouldn’t ban anything. Reading about and checking out all new trick stuff is fun and part of cycling. Nothing wrong with that, plus the technology trickle down to lower price levels is all good.

    Cool thing about bikes is no matter how much money you spend, 99% of the result is still the rider. Maybe that’s not true for the top level pros, where seconds count, but for average riders – recreational and racers – going crazy with expensive technology doesn’t add that much gain, if any.

    Well, in road time trials and mountain bike downhill racing, it may be true. For most everything else, the strongest rider will be the fastest, no matter what they’re riding.

  13. SinglespeedJarv

    I’d ban radios in races. But other than that I’d let everything go. However, I’m completely in agreement with Touriste-Routier about the issue of crass consumerism and the need to have the “latest and best”. It’s quite sad to think that people buy a £3-4k bike and expect that they will replace it in a couple of years. At least with steel frames you could get them re-sprayed every few years to match the colours of your favourite team/rider.

  14. Souleur

    @ singlespeedJarv: agreed. I did paint my aluminum too, as under the cable guides there was some corrosion going on from my sweat, and a friend of mine painted his carbon trek oclv after it was wearing and tearing. Its all good.

  15. Lachlan

    Aside from the motorised bit, which I think we all agree crosses a line, the logic against using technology as it improves would require us all to ride single speed bikes weighing a ton, with huge low pressure tubulars, heavy wool jerseys and shorts and all the other stuff from the early 1900’s.

    The 1980’s (or 70s??) were not year zero as many would like to think. They were just when you were young ; o ) And apart from that many things sucked compared to now. Yes even the bikes. And there is no reason to wish we’d all go back to then to stop the madness of innovation, more than wishing we’d all go back to 1900.

    Bring on my next upgrade to get below 5.5kgs, thats what I say : o )

  16. Lachlan

    Oh, and sorry, to answer the question… the only bit of pro kit I would ban are white shorts.

    Not that I personally mind particularly but it seems to be the focus point for many non-riding friends and family, who read it to it a lot of weirdness, bad style sense and lack of watchability for the sport!

  17. soul_cramp

    At first I couldn’t think of anything to ban from the PROs that they are currently using. I see professional cycling kind of like our Formula 1 where money is no object and money equals speed. So I think as it stands now they shouldn’t ban anything as long as the bikes remain safe and human powered.

    I would like to see more races without radios. Or maybe for a compromise allow only one rider per team to have a radio. That could be interesting.

    And the proliferation of the deep dish carbon wheels amoung the amatures is getting a little ridiculous. I have no problem with people spending a lot of money on a hobby they love. Hell, I ride a Ti bike with record that was over $5k. But I have “normal” wheels. The normal group rides Ive been doing the past couple of years the number of deep dish carbon tubulars has grown. And most of those rides are on some rough roads. I say save the slick wheels, for races/special events.

  18. crit rider 1

    i’d be fine with just banning aerobars. you can still rock the zipp 1080’s and the aero helmets and the skinsuits…just have one road bike frame for all events, with similar parameters, much like the NASCAR template used to measure cars. It would be nice to only have one bike to carry around to the races. But that will never happen, i’m just dreaming. Ride a road bike in your 40km state time trial champiopnship and forget any hope of placing top 5, probably even top 10…at least in category 2 in the southeast.

  19. Scott G.

    If I were Henri, I’d ban team cars and radios.
    Riders stuck on the side of the road staring at
    a broken stupid-light part would rein in some of the
    techno-silliness we see bike design.
    Tourist-Routier, I think you have hit on one reason Rivendell
    and “retro-ism” took off, people wanting to get of the upgrade
    treadmill.

  20. mark

    +1 to those who have said ban the TT bikes. Just got done with a stage race, and hauling around extra bikes is a huge PITA, not to mention I had to borrow a TT bike from a friend because I refuse to spend the money. Nobody even came close to contending in the TT (Cat. 3) that wasn’t on a dedicated machine, including pointy helmet. What Nature Valley did was awesome. At a minimum, TT bikes should be banned for juniors and Cat. 4/5, especially since TT and GC results don’t count towards upgrades at that level. But an outright ban for all amateur racing would be better still and I think a huge sigh of relief for a lot of people.

    +1 more to those who have said ban the race radios. Not knowing what’s going on elsewhere on the course makes racing more exciting not just for the spectators but for the racers. One of the guys I race against and who beats up on me a lot does so not because he’s way stronger, but because he’s smart. Racers don’t learn that kind of smart when a DS is dictating tactics via radio.

    I’d also ban jerseys for women wearing these bibs.

  21. Touriste-Routier

    I was on staff for the U25 ToPA 2 years ago, and on Univest GP last year when we had a TTT. We didn’t allow TT bikes at either of those UCI races to help level the playing field between the pro & amateur squads, and to eliminate the PITA factor @mark cites (the Euro squads in particular were happy not to have to bring 2 bikes per rider).

    I was working at the Harlem Crit yesterday. Even in the community races for kids under 18 we had a few pairs of deep section carbon wheels- for a 1 lap rave just over 1 kilometer long. That is crazy! We also had a spectator injured from a crash during the Cat 3 race that may have been in part due to shattered carbon fibre.

  22. MattS

    Like a few others who write above, I’m ambivalent about bike tech. On the one hand, I’m a major tech nerd; I too study geometry charts, tubing profiles, gear combinations…then there’s the mtb stuff, from tires to suspension…lots to obsess over. I derive a lot of enjoyment from analyzing the options and coming to decisions about my bikes. But I struggle with the philosophical questions: What’s the point of continuously striving, or in buddhist terms, ‘grasping’ for what I don’t have? Why does it matter to be faster? Why do I care? Is this really good for me and my family? These questions all relate to the technology, in that I am continuously solicited by marketers to upgrade, indeed, ‘keep up with the Jones’s’. So what to do? For one, I avoid disciplines where high zoot tech really matters, and (bike breaking) crashing is expected: TTs and crits. Sure I’ll do both some time, but not regularly enough to justify any specific equipment. I’m fortunate enough to have discovered that I love a good steel bike, so the question has become: “how can I co-create the dream steel bike,” not, “what’s the best wonderbike I can get”. The difference comes down to ride quality and fit. Sure, I might wind up with a custom carbon bike down the road, but it’ll be made for me, based on what I’ve learned, not what I’ve been fed by marketers.

    So, in case you are still reading, what would I ban from PRO racing? Well, if I was really in a position to ban anything on the bike, I wouldn’t ban anything, but in this dream scenario, I’d ban tires smaller than 25c. In my opinion, anything smaller is detrimental to performance for all but the freshest roads or, obviously, the track. PROs riding smaller and smaller tires over the years because they like the fast feel has screwed the rest of road bike consumers, due to the trickle-down effect some laud here. Not a net benefit; Mary, 50-something road enthusiast does not derive any benefit from 23s. They suck, period. Road racing bikes should fit 28s, and this should be the minimum clearance for consumer bikes for the road. Whoa, riding a road bike doesn’t have to be terrifying…cool! And my teeth aren’t rattling out of my head…even cooler! So yeah, lets ban stupid small tires.

  23. Ron

    It’s not pure bicycle equipment, but I’d like to see race radios done away with. In my opinion they simply change the events of a race too much. I’d like to just see guys racing, not overthinking and strategizing too much. If a break goes and you can chase it, chase it. I think all of us feel some big stage races, like the TdF, have gotten a bit stale; I think this situation would be ameliorated with more racing, less listening to the director in your ear.

    My dream/idea (probably not an original): for part of a race, whether ITT, TTT or a stage, all the riders use the same bike. Sure, their team mechanic can work on the bike and tune it up, but everyone starts with the same basic frame and gruppo. Nothing wild. Say a traditional geometry steel frameset, a 9-speed drivetrain. How about in the year before the race any builder can submit a frame/build project. It’ll be a contest and the “best”/coolest bike wins and is chosen as the stock bike. Each rider gets that bike and that gruppo for the stage. Afterwards the bikes could always be auctioned off for charity/injured riders, etc.

    The technology (and looks!) of the current TT bikes is just alarming. Ugly machines and too much technology going on, for my liking.

    I think we should all go back to liquid doping or liqueur doping, drinking brandy throughout the ride and instead of fighting for position in the lineup, sharing a drink and a laugh:)

  24. Amityskinnyguy

    Everyone seems to want to ban TT bikes. I concur unless it is one like a guy showed up with to a time trial that I was working at this spring. He had MADE IT HIMSELF (www.bikerevuk.com). He stomped all the competition too. Let’s see Cancellara build a bike and then kick butt on it…

  25. Amityskinnyguy

    Hah! He did have a funny accent but went by the name English. Obree is a good example of what I’m talking about. If someone is talented enough to come up with a better design and then race the thing themselves, I say let them.

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