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by James Huang
August 27, 2020
Photography by Gruber Images
Jumbo-Visma has certainly been attracting a fair bit of attention lately for its equipment choices, namely its preference for rim-brake bikes instead of the disc-brake ones many other teams are using.
I hypothesized a few weeks ago that the team made this choice not because of any overwhelming rider preference on brake type, but rather because the team had few other options in an effort to make the bikes more competitive in terms of weight. Now, I’ve confirmed that the team’s decision to run plain black paint jobs on its Bianchis, instead of the trademark celeste green, is rooted in the same philosophy.
Jumbo-Visma’s Bianchi Oltre XR4 race bikes are undeniably beautiful machines, but they’re not exactly known for being especially svelte. At a claimed weight of 980 grams for an unpainted 55 cm frame, even the rim-brake framesets are several hundred grams heavier than the latest models from competing brands — in disc-brake form, no less — and while weight isn’t as significant a performance factor in climbing-intensive events as was once thought, it’s still a non-zero contributor to finish times.
Jumbo-Visma’s decision to run rim brakes narrows that gap substantially, and the team’s choice to venture outside of its official Shimano sponsorship with Corima front wheels saves a few more precious grams.
Not surprisingly, then, the move to all-black bikes for the upcoming Tour de France has been done for the same reason.
It might not immediately seem significant, but darker frame finishes weigh less than lighter ones. The lighter-colored paint itself weighs more, and also requires more coats for proper coverage.
Most everyday consumers don’t tend to think of paint as adding meaningful amounts of weight to a frame and fork, but when you look at the numbers on the scale, it doesn’t take long to realize that it’s a viable area for improvement if you’re desperately trying to reduce weight anywhere and everywhere.
“Different paints weigh different amounts depending on type and color, and whites and brights weigh more due to the pigment,” said an industry source who preferred to remain unnamed but who has an intimate knowledge of the subject. “Really bright colors also usually need a white base coat, or else they would look dull or muddy. A uniform black covers well so it would be one stage. Then it would most often be clear-coated over the top. A really dark smoke or tint could be mixed into the clear coat and sprayed over raw carbon. That would be even lighter than black plus clear, but might still look black.
“A black bike could save more than 50 grams over a brightly painted bike, and it could be more if it’s actually a really dark carbon smoke in the clear coat.”
In the case of Jumbo-Visma’s bikes, that number might even be further inflated since the aero shape of the Oltre XR4 model incorporates more surface area than a more traditional round-tubed bike.
“That number could easily be two to three times that depending on the model,” my industry source continued. “Another variable is that a skilled painter can lay down an even, light coat with less paint, whereas rushing the process [such as what often happens in mass production — ed.] usually means adding more paint so that it covers fully.”
Also visible on the team’s black Bianchis is a new and as-yet-unreleased Fizik saddle that clearly focuses on ultralight weight. We’re working to get a better look at this saddle but the images we have currently suggest a carbon fiber shell and rails, a pared-down shape, and very minimal padding. Perhaps this will be a return of Fizik’s flagship k:1 model? Stay tuned.
Some have speculated that Jumbo-Visma riders have been on rim brakes because they prefer them over disc brakes. However, the team has confirmed that many of the equipment decisions – including the one surrounding the brakes – have been motivated solely by weight. The team will be on Cervelo next year, however, and given the substantially lighter weights of those bikes across the board, it seems like a safe bet that the team will switch to disc for 2021.
So what’s the net effect of all of these changes? That’s a little tricky to say since we aren’t able to physically weigh team bikes ourselves, but some basic calculations suggest some pretty big savings when all is said and done.
According to Bianchi’s figures, the rim-brake version of the Oltre XR4 frameset is 60 g lighter than the disc-brake version.
As compared to the comparable disc-brake version, the rim-brake version of Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 electronic groupset is about 340 g lighter, not including wheels.
Those fancy Corima WS+ tubular front wheels? They’re 147 g lighter than a Shimano Dura-Ace C40 tubular wheel. Granted, Jumbo-Visma could also opt for Shimano’s climbing-specific Dura-Ace C24 carbon tubular, which is a scant 10 g heavier than that Corima, but it’s also a fair bit shallower and less aerodynamic.
And then the paint? As already stated, we’re likely looking at a minimum savings of about 50 g.
Add that all up, and we’re talking about around 600 g — 1.3 lb in imperial units — which is hardly nothing.
Will that make the difference on a critical climbing stage, or by the time things wrap up in Paris? Who knows at this point — and who knows if the race will even finish as planned — but even riders who are largely dismissive of the performance advantages of minimizing weight will have to admit that this isn’t just another “marginal gain”.
Does all of this sound familiar? Team Sky – now Ineos Grenadiers – may have popularized the practice of squeezing out every last bit of performance advantage, but clearly Jumbo-Visma is on a similar path, so it’ll be interesting to see how this progresses moving forward.
These sorts of extreme measures to save weight aren’t exactly unheard of at this level of the sport, but they’re still somewhat unusual given the need to keep sponsors happy. However, what matters even more than that is results, and given that Jumbo-Visma has already revealed that it’s switching to Cervelo as a bike sponsor starting next season, there’s not a whole lot of motivation to play nice.
What is unusual is a team representative openly confirming the reasoning behind conspicuously straying outside of the official sponsors (or standard gear) on the sport’s largest stage.
When asked to comment on whether all of this has been done solely in the interest of saving weight, Jumbo-Visma team communications manager Ard Bierens didn’t beat around the bush.
“Yes, it is.”
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