Surely you’re already well aware, but it’s that time of year again. No, not the World Cup. Those few weeks in July when the Tour de France takes center stage and we Canadians set our alarms early to catch the action live and in spectacular, gory detail. Each year we find ourselves fixed to the TV for an inordinate amount of time, watching each kilometer tick down to a vicious sprint, a gallant breakaway, an impossible climb, a yellow jersey.
Although there are other races out there, Le Tour is the race, the pinnacle of cycling sport. It’s easy to get carried away with the romance of this race and the complete spectacle that it is, but I want to focus on one particular aspect of the race that I’ve always been fascinated with, the gear. As these cycling demigods flow so easily up climbs that would demolish us mere mortals, I can’t help but gawk at the artful bikes they are privileged to ride on those storied roads. It’s no secret that the best riders in the world are privy to the best technology in the world. I suppose that’s how the industry works; athletes test out the best, lightest and fastest new technology on an exclusive, prototype driven basis and we consumers get the trickle down technology once it makes it’s way into mass production and becomes affordable. That system has always angered me. Surely I don’t need electronic shifting, or racecar quality carbon, but damn it’d be nice to have this space-age technology on my bike. Well read on! Because you and I can ride pretty much same exact bikes as these Tour heroes.
We have compiled this list of bikes for your gawking pleasure. These bikes not only feature in the Tour, but also are available to you and me. We probably won’t be able to get our hands on a few of the components that feature in the Tour, but it’s not difficult to build up an aggressively comparable bike to your Tour favorite…you can even find yourself a bike that’s lighter than it’s TDF counterpart. I’d love to get into all of the amazing, futuristic components, but this is a blog entry, not a novel.
First off, let’s look at the Trek Factory Racing team bikes. With Trek’s Project One program, you can build up these exact bikes and have them shipped to your door. There are three bikes available to the Trek Factory Racing team, but with the recent release of the Emonda, we have seen it feature quite heavily.
The Emonda—which was launched last month—is the lightest production bike in the world, and had to be artificially made heavier to even race in the Tour (which is common for a lot of bikes actually). Trek racers also have the Madone 7 Series in their arsenal. Trek’s most aerodynamic road racer is equipped with Kammtail Virtual Foil construction, which shaves off two minutes for every hour ridden. It is an incredibly efficient bike over the long haul but even with the 7 Series in the bag Trek Factory Racing has been favoring the Emonda for the 2014 Tour.
One fancy little bit that’s incorporated into the bike is the Duotrap Sensor, which is built into the chainstay and connects to any Bluetooth device. Duotrap transmits speed and cadence readings in real time to the support cars. You can snag a nearly identical Emonda SLR right now…but it might cost you around $15,000.
For the time trials, Trek Factory Racing draws on the Trek Speed Concept. This bike was primarily engineered for triathlons, but with a few adjustments to the stem, handlebar and fork it’s legal to race in the Tour. Time trial bikes are wild. They’re so aerodynamic that they actually generate forward momentum once the rider reaches a certain speed.
Next up on the list we have Specialized. Specialized doesn’t have a team in the race bearing it’s brand front and center as Trek does, but the American company is no slouch, supplying three separate teams.
Omega-Pharma Quick Step (yes that’s the name of one team) has gone fully aero and is riding the Venge as it’s primary race bike. Speaking of future technology on display, Mark Cavendish will be the first rider to race with SRAM’s new hydraulic rim brakes. To be honest, we’re not 100% sure what skinny is on these brakes. All we have heard until now is that the technology fits somewhere between traditional mechanical brakes and disc brakes. We’ll be putting those on the fantasy bike list for sure.
Tinkoff Saxo has also taken the middle road and the team is equipped with both Tarmac SL4 and Venge frames. Alberto Contador has done well on the Tarmac in the past and seems keen to stick with what he knows, whereas sprinter Daniele Benatti is favoring the aerodynamic Venge.
With two amazing frames on the table, why not use both in the team? Well, after the controversy surrounding his crash on stage 10, Contador might want to upgrade to the next Specialized frame on our list…
So there are quite a few great looking Specialized bikes in the Tour, and then there’s the McLaren Tarmac. It is The Bike. Only three riders will have the honor of riding the McLaren Tarmac in the Tour: Jacob Fuglsang from Astana, Nicolas Roche of Tinkoff Saxo and Michal Kwiatkowski from Omega Pharma-Quick Step. What makes this bike so special? It’s mostly the carbon. It’s also dripping with unsurpassed components. You may know the name McLaren from the world of elite auto racing.
The company is absolutely cutting edge when it comes to carbon construction, research, design and ingenuity. If you think a bike worth over $20,000 is spendy, take a look at the cost of a McLaren supercar—which doesn’t even include a Body Geometry Fit and special pair of shoes like the bike does.
We know McLarens quite well, not because we drive them (or get anywhere near the center mounted steering wheel of this supercar) but because the Vancouver shop is located next-door to a McLaren dealership. We’re constantly and quite literally shaken by the high-pitched screams of these cars blasting up and down 3rd Ave. If we are bestowing a Best in Show in the Tour, it probably has to go the McLaren Tarmac. But sadly, this bike does fall pretty close to unattainable. The first issue is the 20k price tag, and the second, only 250 will be made.
All three teams are racing the time trials on the Specialized Shiv. This is a tried and true time trial machine that has seen tweaks over the years but not huge changes. Each revision makes a difference, but if you’re a privateer looking for speed, a slightly older design wouldn’t put you at too much of a disadvantage.
And finally, the dark horse, the underdog, the literal wildcard…Fuji. Team NetApp-Endura was a wildcard entry to the Tour this year and it’s Fuji’s first ever appearance in the Tour de France. We dig this underdog brand, so we’re stoked to see them in the race. And what a job they did getting the new Transonic frame ready for the race!
The entirely new Transonic frame was designed in conjunction with Fuji’s time trial bike, the Norcom Straight, so it should come as no surprise that the Transonic is an extremely aerodynamic frame. Although NetApp-Endura is a smaller team, they are shaking things up left and right in the race. If you want to get your hands on a piece of Tour de France tech, Fuji might just be the most affordable way to go about it.
And for the time trials, Fuji is resorting to their specialist, the Norcom Straight. This bike has been evolving for some time now, and Fuji claims that its latest milestone is 18% more aerodynamic than the previous iteration. Although you would probably never take a time trial bike out on a casual ride, it’s quite inspiring to behold. These things just look so fast.
And there we have it! Sorry to have left out all the other beautiful bikes in the peloton, but we have to stick to what we carry; we are trying to sell bikes after all. We won’t fault you for drooling over the other beautiful bikes out there, or pretend that we don’t think they’re completely awesome too, but hey, we have our favorites.
If you are pinned to your television watching hours upon hours of bike racing like we are, take a closer look at the rider’s bikes, you’d be surprised how close you can get to riding that exact machine. We might not be able to ride bikes exactly like they do, but at least we can ride almost exactly the same bikes.