This year’s Tour De France (TDF) was filed with many crashes. Some were weather-aided, some caused by road conditions, and some, no doubt, by rider fatigue.
I have a theory about the crashes, or at least a contributing cause. When I first started racing, most of the pros in the TDF had bikes built specifically for them. Basically, everyone had a custom frame or two or three or four. Bicycles were built for specific tasks: some for hill climbs, some for long road stages, and others for time trials. They were built out of steel and later titanium. Teams had special workshops just to provide the pros they sponsored with special bikes. Today’s bicycles are carbon fiber- basically the same bikes as in the shops. They have the same geometry as the pros rode in the tour. This means the pro bike racer may not be getting the ideal fit but the marketing department is getting the ideal bike.
There’s a phrase that is popular in NASCAR: Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. This is becoming the business model in modern cycling.
We don’t have the ability vary seat angles or top tube lengths to compensate for different torsos, length, and flexibility. Chain stays are fixed and so are head tube angles. The only fit tools you have making the rider comfortable and efficient on the bike are by changing stem length, stack height, handlebar width, drop seat post offset and saddles or change pedals. Gone are the days when we built the bike around the bod and riding style of the cyclist. A steel bike and a carbon bike of the same dimensions do not feel the same. I think the characteristics of steel are different enough, making for a more compliant ride. Carbon is often formed into shapes that are more aerodynamic. The aerodyne monocoque A shapes often work as a buttress, stiffing the frame.
The focus on current race frames is lightness and rigidness. Sprinters love that snap you feel when you stomp down on the pedals on a smooth road in a sprint. The energy transmission can be exhilarating. This may also cause a bicycle wheel to lose traction on occasion. This occurs when a frame or wheel does not absorb the impact or resonance on the road. You tend to break traction if you are in a turn as the wheels can slide out from under you. Same holds true if your weight is too far forward or backward. The goal is to initially have your weight forward until you hit the apex of a turn, and then shift it back to the rear wheel. Many of today’s frames are monocoque molded processes that would be even more expensive if you made a new mold for each bike. By not being able to alter the geometry, you may have a hard time adjusting the center of gravity.
Today’s pros are highly skilled. The technical skills and the power that is generated exceed that of my generation of cyclists. I think we should provide them with the best possible equipment to conduct races safely. Unfortunately, the emphasis seems to be focused on the hardware, not the cyclist. In other words, the emphasis is on fitting the cyclist to the bicycle as opposed to fitting the bike to the rider. A poorly fitting bike does not help the handling skills of the cyclist riding it. A cyclist needs to be balanced, stable, efficient, and comfortable to safely spend a long day in the saddle regardless of what the bike is made of. This applies to recreational cyclists as well as pros.