By Dan Murray, Research & Development Claims Team Manager
One of the closest Tours on record finished this weekend, with Chris Froome arriving in Paris wearing the Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey) 54 seconds ahead of his closest rival. With such close margins over 86 hours of racing, how much of the time difference is due to the cyclists riding the bikes and how much is due to the research & development that goes into their training? What about the bike technology that they’re riding?
The Tour de France and Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI – the international governing body for competitive cycling events) has in the past been slow to fully embrace the prevailing bike technology, with opponents of new tech in the past claiming it will mean ‘riders won’t wreck themselves physically’. When the mechanical derailleur (the arm at the back of the bike which moves the chain over the cassette) was invented it took nearly 34 years before this tech was allowed in Le Tour.
The UCI still has 2 significant rules that bike manufacturers would love to see scrapped:
1. The minimum weight of a racing bike must be 6.8kg, set when this didn’t seem possible, but bike manufacturers are already able to achieve this with new materials which are stiffer and lighter than ones previously used.
2. Restrictions on the dimensions of bike aerodynamics, a 3:1 ratio for the bike frames and forks limits the aerodynamic potential. This rule was mainly in place for safety concerns regarding the construction of the frame, but relaxing these rules will mean bike manufacturers could start to get creative with bike geometry (and with modern technology and materials, safety wouldn’t need to be compromised).
Changes to these 2 rules would likely see huge investments by bike companies to push down the weight of bikes and increase their aerodynamic potentials. But, until those rules are scrapped, or even relaxed there’s still plenty of new tech potential for bikes in Le Tour, and opportunities for further gains.
In recent years, bike manufacturers have been introducing new tech into the pro peloton either by introducing a wholly new component or appreciably improving the existing components. With power meters, advanced cycle computers, electronic gear shifting, elliptical chain rings, new clothing materials, and aerodynamic helmets all being part of gaining an advantage in the sprints, hills and time trials.
This year’s Tour did bring a first for road cycling, with the stage 2 of the Tour being won by Marcel Kittel on a bike fitted with disk brakes, the first rider ever to do so (he then also went on to win stage 6, 7 and 10). In mountain biking, disk brakes have been around for a while, offering more responsive braking in all conditions compared to traditional calliper brakes. However, despite their improved braking performance they had been considered too dangerous for the fast moving, tightly packed peloton until recently, and only a small percentage of the peloton have adopted the technology.
Redesigning the disk braking system to ensure aerodynamics, reducing the weight and ensuring improved safety standards for road cycling has required significant investment from bike manufacturers. But Marcel’s success with the brakes seems to suggest it’s paid off. After watching some of the crashes on the rainy descents this Tour I’m sure a lot of cyclists will also be pleased to see the arrival of disk brakes as a viable, safe, alternative.
The cycling tech market is growing quickly, with a lot of manufacturers conducting R&D to ensure their products provide an advantage to riders using them. R&D tax relief is the government’s way of rewarding those businesses for developing new tech, or improving existing products, processes, devices, materials and services. By claiming the R&D tax relief for these bike manufacturers it will mean in addition to direct financial motivation they can re-invest in further development, allowing them to continue making cycling faster, safer, and more exciting.
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