2017 Paris-Roubaix tech: The bikes, tires, and gear that crushed the cobbles

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Paris-Roubaix is a race that demands a lot from not just the riders, but also the equipment they use. Equipment sponsors know that any advantage at keeping the body that bit fresher will result in riders performing better.

As is usually the case, this year’s edition saw numerous teams on equipment that hasn’t been seen at previous editions. Team Sky, Bora-Hansgrohe, Quick-Step Floors, and Astana were just a few of the teams showcasing new framesets designed primarily for the cobbles. Also notable: A new helmet for Movistar, a surprising lack of FMB tubulars, and old faithfuls such as extra layers of bar tape and trusted alloy bottle cages.

Mathew Hayman’s custom Scott Foil

As 2016 Paris-Roubaix champion, Mat Hayman (Orica-Scott) had a very flash custom-painted Scott Foil on display. Though the Foil is predominantly an aero rig, it seems more than at home on the cobbles, as it was the bike that Hayman rode to victory last year. The paint scheme, with matching Syncros stem, seat post, and saddle, gave the nod to his nationality while taking inspiration from the pavé the race is known for. His build consisted of Shimano Dura-Ace C50 tubular wheels, with Continental Competition Pro LTD 28mm tubular tires.

Disc brakes

With all the recent hype around the safety of disc rotors in the peloton, and last year’s controversy around Fran Ventoso’s leg injury at the race, it was a curiosity to see which teams would roll out on disc-equipped bikes. Bike brands haven’t shied away from pushing this trend for several reasons, one being that they believe it’s an advantage for riders, but the fact it could also rejuvenate the road market cannot be ignored.

Very few WorldTour teams were aboard disc versions of their traditional road setups. Both Sunweb and Bahrain-Merida were the exceptions. Bahrain-Merida had seven of their riders using the latest version of the Sculptra. Sunweb, with Giant as their bike supplier, had the full team on the latest Defy Advanced SL Disc. Sunweb was also rolling on Shimano’s latest Dura-Ace disc specific carbon C40 hoops, a rare sighting as many teams sponsored by Shimano don’t even have the normal rim brake version of the 9100 Dura-Ace wheels yet.

Cannondale-Drapac had one disc bike tucked away, but hiding a bright green Cannondale Synapse from eagled eyes isn’t easy. The team had Will Clarke on the new Synapse, while the rest used the older rim-brake option.

It was the UCI Pro Continental teams that were flying the disc-brake flag at Paris-Roubaix, with both Direct Energie and Delko Marseille Provence KTM having all the team riders on a full fleet of disc-equipped bikes. Direct Energie has Basque manufacturer BH as bike supplier, and the team was using the G5 Disc model. The build consisted of Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 hydraulic disc groupset; the reason for this, and not a top-tier Dura-Ace groupset, is that they are one of three teams this year working alongside FSA on its new WE (Wireless Electronic) groupset, meaning the team has to buy its own Shimano groupsets.

Delko Marseille Provence KTM — a team with possibly the longest name in the peloton — was another wildcard invite fielding a full squad on disc bikes. The Austrian brand KTM had supplied the team with their Revelator disc model, as with many Pro Continental teams budget is sometimes at a stretch, and the best kit isn’t always available to them. In this instance, we noticed that they were running cable-actuated disc calipers.

Team Sky’s new weapon

Team Sky’s bike sponsor Pinarello unveiled an update to its K8s bike. The bike debuted in 2015 with an added elastomer dampener built into the top of the seat stay, which, matched with the Flexstay chain stays, allowed for the rear end to have some level of suspension. The latest update now is the inclusion of hydraulic suspension, developed by HiRide, a company focused on the production of electronic suspension systems.

Pinarello has integrated the dubbed “eDSS 2.0” (Electronic Dogma Suspension System) system consisting of six axis accelerometers and gyroscopes into the new K8s. These adapt the suspension to the road surface, either automatically or by the unit mounted on the handlebars where the rider can choose the comfort/stiffness level by a push of a button.

Though slightly heavier that the previous elastomer set up, at claimed 90 grams, the system certainly now makes a real claim for the inclusion of a suspension system in a road bike and gravel bikes. It’s something that we guess could be seen on future models of Specialized’s new Roubaix, with its suspension headset the FutureShock. Both Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan, along with teammates at Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe, were using rim-brake versions of the latest Specialized Roubaix model.

Argon 18 Gallium Prototype

Astana had a new bike on the start line. For the 2017 season, the Kazakh team has moved from Specialized to Canadian manufacturer Argon 18. On hand at the race was the CEO of Argon 18, who was checking in the team to see how their new Gallium Prototype was fairing on the cobbles. The frameset is an evolution of the current Gallium. An 8mm longer wheelbase allows for a more stable ride on the cobbles, while also allowing for wider tyres. Carbon layup has been adapted, too, to provide a softer ride. It’s still in the prototype phase, so it won’t be the version we will see once commercially available. Team riders, including Oscar Gatto, seemed pretty happy with the tweaks to the frame for its cobblestone debut.

Rubber side down

Tyre choice and pressure is always a talking point at any race, but when it comes to the Queen of the Classics, it’s a hotly discussed topic. This year we saw a trend in tyre width drop from that of previous editions where 30-31mm seemed the norm. This year 28mm was the tyre width choice for most teams. When we quizzed several riders, the reason given was that tyres wider than 28mm were too soft for the initial, paved 100km of the race. The wider size, with pressures as low as 4.5 bars (65 psi) causes unwanted aerodynamic drag.

For the time being, the balance for the race definitely seems to be that 28mm is the optimum width when running low pressure. It didn’t go unnoticed that many teams, especially those sponsored by Vittoria and Continental, had stuck with their brands tubulars this year. In past years we’ve seen an abundance of the French handmade FMB tubulars in use, no matter what the tire sponsor might be. It appears major brands have finally learned what riders want, and taken cues from artisan producers like FMB or Dugast.

FMB still has a place in the peloton though, with tubulars spotted on a few choice bikes, including those of Team Sky and Astana. The Specialized sponsored teams of Bora and Quick-Step were using the FMB/Specialized collaboration tubulars, consisting of FMB casing, with Specialized’s own rubber compound on top.

Winners and losers

Trying to get a shot of Greg Van Avermaet’s BMC bike before the race was tough, and after, even tougher. So we snapped his spare bike (a duplicate of what he was to start on) that was ready and waiting on the roof of BMC’s first team car.

As we now know, GVA rode a BMC Gran Fondo RBX edition to victory. The bike is no different to last year’s model and has the same build up of reliable kit, including the ever-popular Continental Competition Pro LTD 28mm tubulars. According to race reports Greg only swapped his bike once in the race, after the stem on his first bike became loose. As a third spare bike, BMC had brought along his normal (and I use that term loosely) race bike, a very glitzy BMC Team Machine in his custom Olympic paint scheme, which we photographed at at the Tour of Flanders.

While we’re on the subject of custom paint schemes, over at Trek-Segafredo, John Degenkolb was on a custom Trek Domane SLR. With Fabian Cancellara retired, the guys at the paint shop in Waterloo, Wisconsin, might have thought they’d have a year off. No such luck. The bike is Trek’s endurance road model, the same as you and I could buy, but with a limited-edition colourway via Trek’s Project One paint shop. The liquid and smoke grey with red accents are inspired by Degenkolb’s love for classic café racer motorcycles.

The last little bits

There are always those last little bits that catch the eye at the start line of Paris-Roubaix, the little additions that hopefully will make the experience a little less savage. Spotted this year was an array of oddly placed SRAM eTap Blip wired remote shifters on the Katusha-Alpecin team bikes. Button positions range from rider to rider, but all had them at easy reach, either on the front of the top of the bars or on the rear, with a few having them tucked underneath. It also looked as though some riders prefer the performance of the buttons when tidily tucked under bar tape, while one, in particular, had the Blip buttons directly attached to the bars with simple and slightly untidy insulating tape.

Chainring choice is always interesting at Roubaix; with no hills there’s little need for a small inner ring. We didn’t spot anything smaller that a 42 inner chainring and outer rings went up to 55 teeth in the odd case. Cassette ratios are wildly different too, it’s pretty uncommon to see a 25 tooth on a cassette these days at Roubaix, but Bahrain-Merida had a few on their latest Fulcrum Speed 40mm deep disc wheels.

Among the rest of the peloton, the smattering of new kit was few and far between. One standout product that had its official debut was Abus’s new aero road helmet, the GameChanger. Movistar was spotted wearing the new lid. For 2017 the team has swapped from longtime helmet sponsor Catlike to German brand Abus, better known outside Germany for its vast range of security locks and devices. In 2015 and 2016 Abus sponsored Bora, and now with Movistar they have had time to invest in developing their new range-topping helmet. The lid enters an already crowded road aero market. Most of the Movistar team were seen racing in it, with only a few in the current normal Abus road helmet. It has several new features, including flutter-free straps, sunglasses port, and areas that claim to force air over the head. It seems a very good attempt by the German company to rival the likes of Bontrager and Specialized.

We covered Tom Boonen’s ride earlier in the week, though we omitted one little detail: gold jockey wheels. Ceramic Speed had produced a few neat one-off products for their sponsored athletes of late, including 3D printed titanium Olympic engraved jockey wheels for Jakob Fuglsang. For Boonen they produced golden jockey wheels, not a bad little detail on the bike for his last race.

Lastly, Dimension Data had a full fleet of the new Cervélo R5s ready for the team to use. We took a good look at the bike at the recent Paris-Nice, and we’ve seen these in small numbers since the part of early the season. The news is that Cervelo will launch the bike at the Giro d’Italia.

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