Bikes and radios – how many?!

Thinking about a new bike for your birthday? Lucky you don’t have to fork out for the equipment list of the Tour de France team members!!

The lead Tour de France riders have two types of bikes – one for the time trial stages and one for the road. The time trail bikes are less maneuverable and stable, but more aerodynamic. They are required to fit within a measuring jig to determine race legality. Both bikes are required to be less that 15lbs (6.800kg), and will have up to 20 gears for powering through the stage at maximal revolutions.

The team car carries a spare bike for the lead rider, set up to their specifications. A rider’s pedaling style and body shape will dictate the set-up of the bike – riding a non-specific bike would result in higher energy expenditure – not ideal when you are riding 160-200 km per day!! Domestiques (team workhorses) generally share a spare bike between them, with the set-up somewhere in the middle of the height and length requirements of each of the riders.

With the quality of modern bike frames, bikes are rarely changed out unless the rider crashes. More often the wheels are changed out for punctures. So the team car also carries lots of these – the mechanic rides in the back of the car, wheels in hand. A good wheel change takes about 20 seconds – time that is crucial in a breakaway situation. Wheels themselves are made of strong carbon/alloy materials, and rarely buckle or break.

The primary race bike is fitted with a magnetic transponder, which records the times of each rider as they cross the finish line. In time trials, the transponder also provides time checks along the way. If a rider crosses the line on a spare bike, the race time is determined by video finish results.

In the past few years, the riders have also carried radios. This year, the UCI planned to ban the use of team radios for stages 10 and 13, however they reduced this to only one stage (10) after the teams objected. Interestingly, the average speed for the stage without radios dropped from 41-42km/hour to 37km/hour – possibly indication of the safety concerns riders have without their radios. The ban was put in place to try and make the race more interesting, but probably achieved the opposite result, by slowing down the pace and minimizing the communication within the team.

Communication is integral to the sport – cyclists, just like teams in other sports, benefit from discussion and engagement between team members. Without the use of radios, one rider drops back to the team car for discussion, and then reports back to team members when he catches up to them … a much slower way of communicating!!

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