As we reach the first Paris-Roubaix in two years, so begins the ancient cycling tradition where brands leverage the endurance and comfort demands of the cobbled Classics to showcase their latest innovations for the mass market, and this year is no exception.
Of course, it makes perfect sense. The demands of most pro cyclists are very different to normal enthusiasts – they often opt for more stiff and aggressive bikes in the pursuit of any extra speed where it counts. Cobbled Classics are one of the few times where the requirements for a forgiving ride on cobbles for the pros reaches parity with the demands for most amateurs on smooth tarmac. No wonder, then, that brands use it as a platform for testing, innovation and publicity.
While we've seen no entirely new bikes launched at the race, between tyre and gearing technology, this Roubaix is an outlier in terms of really testing the limits of what we expect from pro bikes.
Trek's adjustable IsoSpeed offers extensive tunability for the compliance of the rear end
The star of Paris-Roubaix from the tech angle, though, has to be the Trek-Segafredo women’s team. Trek has provided the women with a set of Trek Domanes in a Prismatic Pearl colourway, and bedecked with tubeless tyres and a 1x Sram groupset.
Sram's AXS blip shifters mean that rider can shift while their hands sit on the tops when rolling over cobbles
In road racing, 1x (meaning there is only one front chainring) is still very much considered experimental. So committing an entire team to the groupsets is a big leap of faith from Trek, and Sram, in the efficacy of 1x gearing. Will it offer enough gearing for the slow and steep sectors as well as the fast sprints of Paris-Roubaix? Well, the results will speak for themselves.
In stark contrast, Mitch Docker’s EF Education-Nippo Cannondale SuperSix leapt out at us with a 54-46T chainset setup (while the chainring states 54-42, the mechanics suggested that Docker has opted for an even tighter gear ratio).
Cannondale also gets top marks for its anodised pink derailleur hanger.
Jumbo-Visma’s CerveloJumbo-Visma’s highly tolerant group of mechanics have allowed us close access to the star’s bikes at both the World Championships and Paris-Roubaix. The Cervelos on show have certainly been worth showcasing.
We’re yet to see the latest generation of Cervelo R5 on show, and we’re intrigued to see some older generation Shimano Dura-Ace components on some of the Jumbo-Visma spare bikes.
Dura-Ace 9000 is long in the tooth, but team's do have a huge requirement for hundreds of groupsets, so reusing older groups is to be expected
However, Jumbo-Visma’s bikes are a Classics dream. While the Caledonia-5 is a super lightweight endurance-focussed frame, it also boasts ample clearance of 30mm tyres, and a slack enough geometry to handle the cobbled sectors. Though Dylan Groenewegen has still achieved a strikingly slammed stem, seemingly with a semi-structural spacer removed.
Intriguingly, while major sprinters like Dylan Groenewegan and Wout van Aert have ditched the S5 for an endurance-focussed Caledonia-5, some other teams have opted for aero frames for the cobbles.
Aero gainsCanyon-Sram is one team who has opted for an aero setup for Roubaix. While the women’s course is slightly shorter, the abundance of cobbles in a short space of time would be enough to push most people to ride the most comfort-orientated bike.
We were surprised, and impressed, by the lack of padding on the Canyon Aeroad handlebars, but mechanics assured us the riders had no comfort issues
We asked Canyon-Sram’s mechanic why the Canyon Aeroad rather than the Canyon Endurace was being put to use – he explained the riders had ample comfort on the aeroad and were even opting for a single roll of bar tape, aside from on the drops in a few spots.
Tubeless is the new tubular
Flashback 10 years ago and many bikes chosen for Roubaix wouldn’t be up to taking 25mm tyres, let alone 30mm. In this year’s race, a 30mm tyre seems to have become the norm. That’s quite a leap of faith in the rolling resistance of such wide tyres, given the extensive fast tarmac sections of the race.
While wide tyres are a trend that no-one is expecting to stop, tubeless tyres often seem to sway between popular fashion and pariah status. With that in mind, we were surprised to see a number of teams at this year’s Paris-Roubaix ditch conventional glue-on tubular tyres and go fully tubeless clincher – we spotted sets on both Trek-Segafredo, Team Ineos Grenadiers and EF Education-Nippo's team bikes.
The gains in lower pressure and puncture resistance are obvious. Lizzie Deignan said after the race that she rode on 2.3 bar of pressure – that's a striking 33psi. One journalist asked if she was sure it was not 3.2 bar (we wonder if a journalist would have asked Sonny Cobrelli the same question...) and Deignan assertively affirmed she was riding 2.3 bar.
Wout van Aert's front tyre
Speaking to mechanics at the team buses, they assured us that the tests had shown that the cobbles weren’t likely to cause burps – granted that’s no surprise to the countless MTB and cross riders who favour tubeless setups on significantly tougher trail terrain.
Interestingly, while we saw some A Dugast tyres (now owned by Vittoria) there were much less of the custom silk-wall tyres that were once ubiquitous at The Hell of the North. FMB, for instance, seems to be relatively unrepresented, as major brands such as Schwalbe, Pirelli and Specialized offer their own tan-wall and wide cobble-friendly tyre designs.
Ineos goes full disc
Ineos Grenadiers gave us one of the first glimpses of the new Dogma F team bikes. It's a substantial move for the team, which has been an historic hold-out when it comes to riding rim brakes.
Another intriguing spot was that the Ineos team was running tubeless tyres, perhaps providing ammo for the tubeless sceptics given Gianni Moscon's flat tyre. The bikes also appeared to be running on unmarked Zipp NSW 454 carbon tubeless wheels, though further research suggests that these sawtooth rim profiles in fact belong to Princeton Carbonworks' top tier carbon wheelset.
Ineos' bikes also had a fetching rubber band to retain the Di2 cable, which was a feature that speaks to the attention-to-detail from Ineos' mechanics.
Mud and gears
It's tough to look good after 280km in torrential rain, but Specialized's Roubaix and Lapierre's Xelius shone out post-race. The Roubaix's Future Shock unit had visible creases in it, for instance, proving that pros do indeed employ its damping rather than riding on the most rigid settings.
After a close look at the chain, there's no doubting that the transmission efficiency of the drivetrain must suffer incredibly toward the latter parts of the race.
While bike supply is still slow, even to the pro teams, it’s fantastic to begin to see some innovation creeping into the Classics season. We look forward to seeing which technologies catch on, and speculate about how brands might surprise us in years to come.
To see some of the best bikes from WorldTour, visit Rouleur Live in London in November