What are the differences between your bike and that of a professional?

All you have to do is ride on the buses of the Tour de France teams, on the morning of a stage, to see how the public watches the bikes with interest. While the riders stay cooler before heading to the podium, their mounts shine alone under the ham, in front of the envious looks of the parents and the open eyes of the children.

But what’s so special about amateur bikes? Three mechanics from the platoon tell us the differences.

Price: up to 20,000 euros

This is without a doubt the most important difference between amateur and professional bicycles: the price. In the Tour de France, bicycles are equipped with the best materials, and therefore cost a small fortune. “We are equipped with Tarmac SL 7, which costs between 12,000 and 14,000 euros”, reveals Kevin Desmedt of TotalEnergies. From this year, the team benefits from the Specialized cycles, obtained thanks to the signature of Peter Sagan, already partner of the brand.

The Groupama-FDJ formation, which is equipped by the Dijon Lapierre brand, is in a slightly lower range. “In the market, at a public price, it is between 9,000 and 10,000 euros. There is a versatile model for riding every day, and one for sprinters or those who drive fast on the plane.”explains Thomas Bourgeois, who has been in Groupama-FDJ for about ten years.

The UCI logo present on the Groupama-FDJ training bike box, mandatory for the approval of a professional bike.  (HORTENSE LEBLANC / FRANCEINFO: ESPORT)

If the teams are free to make their bikes with the best parts available, they have an imposed limit: it is forbidden to ride with prototypes. “All the pictures of the professional platoon are marked with a small UCI badge. It is mandatory, it is not possible to ride bicycles that are not approved by the UCI”warns the mechanic of Thibaut Pinot’s training.

Against the clock bikes, even more specific, can reach 20,000 euros. The vast majority of models are commercially available.

Weight: slow 6.8 kg

Every rider wants to find the best relationship between weight and power, and so does his mount. As such, the UCI has a single safeguard for competition bikes: their weight cannot go below 6.8 kg. “On a time trial bike you have other limits: the saddle must be at least five inches behind the gear, and there is a precise length for the extension.”details Kevin Desmedt.

But not all bikes weigh exactly the same. “It depends on the size of the runner: Kevin Geniets is tall (1.93m), David Gaudu is short (1.73m). So Gaudu’s will be a little lighter, but he still weighs about 7kg.”assures Thomas Bourgeois.

David Gaudu's bicycle, one of the lightest in the Groupama-FDJ formation.  (HORTENSE LEBLANC / FRANCEINFO: ESPORT)

How is the weight war going for the mechanics? Each team aims to make marginal gains in order to make bikes even lighter. “In some, we cut the seatposts in the box to try to save a few grams. In two hours we lightened a bike by … 80 grams. That’s very little, then we try to put screws a little. Lighter.”explains the Groupama-FDJ mechanic.

Always lighter yes, but never at the expense of safety, for runners who often reach 70 km / h sprint or downhill. “We have very little room for maneuver. You can see bicycles weighing between four and five kilos in magazines, but in terms of safety, it is less reliable.”he says.

Materials: all for carbon

For materials, professionals use only one: carbon, which justifies the very high price of bicycles. Lighter than aluminum and titanium, it is now the component of all the bikes in the pack. “Carbon offers better driving comfort”explains the mechanic of TotalEnergies.

All professional bikes are equipped with carbon, such as the Tarmac SL7 from TotalEnergies.  (HORTENSE LEBLANC / FRANCEINFO: SPORT)

“The frames are made of carbon, the wheels and rims, the stems and the handlebar are integral as well. The handlebars and power are one-piece: there is no interface between the power and the handlebars, so you gain in steering accuracy “adds Thomas Bourgeois.

Mechanisms: adapted seats, “tubeless” tires and disc brakes

The bikes of the Tour de France riders benefit from a very thorough research, often carried out in the winter, when the season ends. This is the case of chairs, essential pieces for runners. “In December we did some tests with Specialized to see which were the best seats for each pilot”reveals Kevin Desmedt.

The TotalEnergies mechanic is joined by his Groupama-FDJ counterpart. “It is studied before the season, all competition and spare bikes fit to the nearest millimeter. For the saddles, there are different models: one with grip or another with a slot in the middle to the perineum”assures Thomas Bourgeois.

Alexis Vuillermoz's chair (TotalEnergies).  All riders ’saddles have a different shape to fit the rider.  (HORTENSE LEBLANC / FRANCEINFO: SPORT)

As for tires, all professionals have abandoned the classic tubulars “no tube”which has no air chamber but contains a small liquid. “If you die, the liquid will cover the hole. That way, if you don’t have a car right behind you, you can continue if the hole isn’t very big.”explains Kevin Desmedt.

Long kings of the pack, the pad brakes have all been replaced by disc brakes, which are more accurate. “Initially, the launch was a bit hard. Now everything is in place and the runners are happy “keep on.

Finally, the rim also has its own attributes, which influence speed. “The higher the rim, the more inertia and wind resistance there will be and therefore the heavier it will be”, concludes the mechanic. What to adapt according to the race.

The peculiarities: “shifters” and bluetooth, beautiful innovations

Finally, racing bikes are equipped with certain features that are often not present in conventional cycles, such as changers. These small levers act as relays closer to the hands to shift gears with less effort. “It’s mostly for sprinters, because they often have their hands down on the handlebars for sprinting. There’s a version for climbers that’s under the handlebars, with their hands on the handlebars.”explains Nicolas Deshaies of the Breton formation Arkéa-Samsic.

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These small changes accelerated the platoon, especially after several incidents related to the change of gear. “In 2021, Geraint Thomas had dropped the lever to change gears. If he had had the ‘changer’ sprint, I wouldn’t have fallen “assures the mechanic.

Finally, the technology is even invited to the Groupama-FDJ gear changes, with the possibility of adjusting the bikes remotely for the mechanics. “The shift is done on the brake lever, connected via Bluetooth to the rear derailleur, which is the brain of the bike. We adjust the bikes by phone through an app, so everything adjusts remotely.”explains Thomas Bourgeois.

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