Support road.cc

Like this site? Help us to make it better.

feature

Are the bikes the pros ride at the Tour de France the same as you can buy in the bike shop?

How are the bikes of the pros the same but different, and what makes them so expensive?

You may have heard that professional cyclists use extra-special bikes, and you may be wondering if they are in any way similar to the very best ones you can actually buy in your local bike shop. Let's have a look at just how similar pro bikes are to the real deal, and what makes them so eye-wateringly expensive. 

2023 Wout Van Aert Green cervelo S5

> Check out Wout Van Aert’s super-fast Cervelo S5 aero road bike

An appealing part of professional cycling is that you can walk into a bike shop and ride away on a road bike very similar to the ones ridden by the likes of Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar.

Broadly speaking, the answer to the question of whether pro bikes are the same as the ones that you or I can buy in the shops is: yes. All you have to do is spend in excess of £10,000 and you'll be presented with something very similar to the ones being raced towards Paris. 

But, let's take a look at what makes these bikes different to the ones ridden by the pros. It's not a case of saying that these bikes will be identical. There may be similarities in terms of the brand and model, but the pros often have custom-built or specifically modified bikes that cater to their needs and preferences. 

Some parts that the pros add to their bikes you can buy, but some could be worse for you and your riding than the stuff you'll get as stock components. 

Nothing is as simple as yes or no, so let’s dive a little bit deeper and look at the individual parts that make up a pro bike. There are plenty of tips we can take away. 

Frame

2023 Dauphine Canyon Aeroad - 1

> 2023 Tour de France bikes — your definitive guide to what the top pro cycling teams are riding this year

The main component of any bike is the frameset, and the top-end models you'll see in bike shops are the same as the ones that the pros are riding.

Pro bikes have the lightest, stiffest versions of those frames, and they often have them well ahead of general sale, with the Tour de France being a showground for many prototype bikes. 

One thing we know for certain is that you should be able to get your hands on a frame that's the same as your favourite rider's, as anything used in the Tour de France must be released to the public sooner or later. 

2023 Dauphine Scott Foil Team DSM - 1

> Affordable* pro race bikes from Specialized, Canyon, Trek, Pinarello, Cannondale and more

However, there have been some instances where riders have requested their sponsors make one-off bikes with special geometries just for them. That list includes names like Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan, who both previously had custom-made versions of their team’s race bike because they didn’t like the geometry (the frame’s measurements) of the standard-issue bike.

When you're one of the biggest names in the men's professional peloton, you can request things like that. But on the whole, pro riders generally ride the same frames that you can buy. 

2023 Paris Roubaix Mathieu van der Poel © Zac Williams-SWpix.com - 1
Pic © Zac Williams-SWpix.com 

However, if you're looking for exact team replicas, they aren't as much of a thing as in the late 90s. Many team paint jobs aren't quite as distinctive either.

This means that although you can buy the same Cervelo S5 aero road bike as Van Aert, you may have to leave the Jumbo-Visma paint job behind - unless you get your hands on one at an end-of-season auction for a sizeable fee.

Groupsets

As with bike frames, there's rarely any groupset component on display that you won’t find on high-end bikes in your local bike shop. Although, pro riders often have access to the latest and most advanced versions of these groupsets, before they are made available to us. 

2023 Dauphine Jumbo chainset - 1.jpeg

> Your complete guide to SRAM road bike groupsets

The choice of groupset depends primarily on team sponsorship, and of the 18 WorldTour men's teams, 12 use Shimano groupsets, only one runs Campagnolo and the rest are on SRAM. 

You might find the odd pro bike sporting a power meter that isn't sponsor-correct, but the electronic shifting provided by the main three groupset manufacturers is so good that we rarely see anyone stray from their sponsor products.

Riders may also opt for swapping out the standard outer ring for one with more teeth, particularly if a stage is set to end in a fast sprint or in a flat time trial stage.

More recently we've seen Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert ditch this outer ring altogether, switching to a single chainring setup for the opening stages of the 2023 Tour de France. 

2023 Tour de France Stage 1 Vingegaared © Zac WiLLIAMS SWpix.com (t-a Photography Hub Ltd) - 1 (1)

Pic © Zac Williams SWpix.com 

> Jonas Vingegaard uses 1x gearing for Tour de France opening stages

The shifters are an area where pro bikes may differ from one you can get off the shelf, but it doesn't mean you can't make the same modifications too. Back in 2019, we did see some of the SRAM-sponsored Trek-Segafredo riders using Shimano’s Di2 sprint shifters instead of the SRAM Blips. 

These modified satellite shifter buttons allow riders to shift gears when resting their hands on the tops of the bars, and you can certainly buy these special shifters with your new bike. We'd recommend asking the mechanic if they could fit them for you, though. 

Wheels and tyres

2022 wheel group test: Campag, HED, Roval

> Are expensive carbon road bike wheels worth the money?

Many of the bikes in your local bike shop are likely to come with cheaper aluminium wheels, but you won't find stock aluminium wheelsets anywhere near a pro bike. 

Carbon fibre wheels are the only options for the pros, because they offer superior performance as they can be lighter, more aerodynamic and stiffer, which all add up to being faster. 

While the wheel choice of the teams comes largely down to the sponsors, it's not uncommon to see non-sponsor wheels used. Ineos have used wheels from boutique German brand Lightweight in the mountains, and Aerocoach wheels often featuring in time trials.

In the Dauphine, about half of Astana Qazaqstan were spotted using HED wheels, while others remained on Corima. Astana didn't seem to be trying to hide the fact they were using them with the rather huge blue decals. 

2023 Astana HED wheels corima wheels on team car

> New bikes, wheels and components break cover ahead of Tour de France – here's 8 things we learnt at the Dauphiné

Riders have a variety of depths to choose from depending on the race conditions, terrain and personal preference. There has been a shift towards tubeless tyres - although tubular is still used, where the tyre is glued to the wheel rim. 

Why? The main reason for sticking with 'tubs' is that if you puncture, the tyres usually remain somewhat rideable for longer than clinchers or tubeless clinchers. You can keep on riding in relative safety until your team car comes up to you, giving you a shorter chase back onto the peloton. A clincher or tubeless tyre isn’t glued onto the rim and once deflated, there isn’t much holding it onto the rim.

Generally, a tubular tyre and wheel system is still lighter than tubeless, but bikes that you'll see in a shop will always come with clincher or tubeless tyres nowadays. Tubular tyres are specialist equipment designed for racing, and while it's easy to get hold of tubular tyres, you'll need to fit the right wheels in order to use them.

Bike position 

2023 Dauphine Colnago V4Rs Yates - 5.jpeg

This isn’t strictly a difference between shop bikes and pro bikes, as you can set your bike up in any way that you choose - but the number of pro riders with long, low and narrow positions is greater than you’d see on the average club ride.

Pro riders have access to regular bike fittings to ensure an ideal fit and to maximise their efficiency and comfort, while also stretching every day to keep them comfortable in what can look like back-breaking positions.

They may also have personalised adjustments to their handlebars, stem, saddle, and pedals based on their riding style and body proportions.

> How to make your bike more comfortable

The bikes in a shop will be set up differently for one key reason: comfort. Generally, they will feature a wider and higher handlebar position that is also closer to the saddle. This will often be more comfortable for the average human who is buying the bike.

A good shop will always adjust the position for you, so you can replicate those super-low racer positions if you want. Just be ready to see a chiropractor when your back goes!

Some tips and tricks 

Electrical tape is your best friend
2023 Garmin Edge 840 Solar - on bike 2.jpg

A team's mechanic will always have electrical tape to hand, and it can be very useful for stopping rattles and unwanted movement. For example, riders will use tape inside their computer mounts to stop their bike computer from going walkies.

The pro team mechanics will also put bar tape on the riders' pedals to stop any unwanted movement. Both are neat tricks that you can employ yourself.

Bike too light? Use aluminium parts

If you have deep pockets, your bike might actually be lighter than a pro bike because the UCI enforces a 6.8kg minimum weight limit for bikes at UCI-sanctioned events. 

If a pro bike is a bit too light, riders will often opt for an aluminium handlebar or stem to bring the weight up. These are also less likely to snap when there is a pile-up... and there are lots of pile-ups in the Tour de France.

The versatile Sharpie 

Aside from signing autographs, looking closely at some pro bikes - especially the tyres and saddles - you'll see that a whole load of fun has been had with a Sharpie permanent marker. 

tour_tech_2018_-_vincenzo_nibali_fizik_antares_no_logos_-_1.jpg

> Check out the best road bike saddles 2023 

If a rider doesn’t like the sponsor’s saddle and they’re an important rider, then they will sometimes just use their preferred perch and scribble out the logo. Tyres are a big culprit for this too. 

Sponsorship logos... everywhere 

While paint jobs on pro bikes aren't always as distinctive anymore, the sponsors of the jersey, groupset, wheels, power meter, brake pads and even the team owner's family plumbing business get their logo somewhere on the bike. 

Pro bikes often start with the same design that you can buy in the bike shop, but can end up looking a bit of a mess after the sponsors have got to work. 

2023 Tour de France stage 3 Jasper Philipsen, Phil Bauhaus, Caleb Ewan © Zac WiLLIAMS SWpix.com (t-a Photography Hub Ltd) - 1

Pic © Zac Williams SWpix.com 

So, to summarise, brands want pros riding and winning on their bikes to make them more appealing to consumers, and this means many manufacturers offer versions of professional bikes for sale to the general public. They are inspired by their professional counterparts, but may have slight modifications to suit recreational riders. 

So, while you may not be riding an exact replica of a professional cyclist's bike, you can get pretty close. 

Which pro team bike would you most like to buy? Let us know in the comments section below.

Emily is our track and road racing specialist, having represented Great Britain at the World and European Track Championships. With a National Title up her sleeve, Emily has just completed her Master’s in Sports Psychology at Loughborough University where she raced for Elite Development Team, Loughborough Lightning.

Emily is our go-to for all things training and when not riding or racing bikes, you can find her online shopping or booking flights…the rest of the office is now considering painting their nails to see if that’s the secret to going fast…

Add new comment

2 comments

Avatar
Off the back | 7 months ago
0 likes

I know my Trek frame is exactly the same as used by the pro team albeit with Ultegra, but I don't really believe that should always be the case. The UCI rule is all bikes and components should be available to the public to buy. But why? Is it really neccessary? So long as those pro bikes conform to a strict spec in the name of fairness and financial equality to all teams I dont really think its should be. 

I could buy a top of the range bike that costs £10k+ but am I really ever going to make it go as fast as a pro? Never in a million years. If you look at F1 you can't buy and legally drive one on the roads. Same goes for MOTOGP. They are not available to buy road legal bikes. Am I ever going to go as fast as Valentino Rossi down the M1? I don't see why cycling has to be this sport where items have to be off the shelf.

Top brands can and would still sell very hight spec bikes to the public and I don't think it would even effect sales if the very very top end frames and components were not for sale to the general public. There are dozens of brands out there who are making exceptional bikes that don't sponsor a World or Continental league team. Really, how many people own a Pinarello Dogma F with 12sp Dura-ace or an S-Works Tarmac? I see them occasionally and more often than not the person on them are not what i'd call in 'prime' physical condition. Would they still buy the best bike available to them even if it were several rungs lower on the spec ladder? Of course they would. They are not going to suddenly shun the sport cos they can't climb aboard the same bike as their favourite pro athlete. 

Avatar
ubercurmudgeon | 7 months ago
0 likes

I'd bloody well hope the bikes the pros ride are different to the ones you can buy in shops. The ones in shops should have longer-lasting components, especially when it comes to things like bearings. Top pros can use ceramic bearings and sewing machine oil, because they have a team of mechanics to overhaul them after every stage/race. But it goes further than that. The average amateur fat bastard (comparatively speaking) should probably have at least a couple more spokes per wheel than the skinny pros.

I've always thought it was silly that bike manufacturers use the same models of highly-stressed components like wheels and seat posts across their size range. It means that either those on XS models are pushing around unnecessary weight, or those on XL frames will inevitably break things. It is particuarly stupid on e-bikes, as a motor that will feel incredible to a small woman will barely make any difference to a large man.

Latest Comments