The 2023 Cycling World Championships in Scotland have concluded, presenting us with an array of new bikes and components as nations showcased cutting-edge technology ahead of the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the track in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome with some radical-looking design – but are these space-age new track bikes fair, and aren't the UCI supposed to stop this kind of thing?
In all types of races, especially track events, a win or a loss often comes down to mere milliseconds, so it's understandable that nations are seeking every advantage possible in search of that top step.
Therefore, we saw lots of new equipment making its competitive debut during the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships. This is because nations are required to use the equipment they intend to use at the Olympics, in competition, in the year preceding the Games.
In 2019, Hope and Lotus collaborated to create the HB.T track bike, which was unlike anything we'd ever seen. It was ridden by Team GB at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, taking them to the top of the event medal table with seven Olympic medals.
Hope and Lotus have joined forces again ahead of the 2024 Games, creating the second-generation Hope-Lotus track bike which features the same distinct forks, but now with serrated rear edges "that allow for smoother airflow around the rider."
A new, eye-catching feature is the seatpost which kinks backwards and then forwards with a large gap down the centre. This makes us think of the seat tube design of the Trek Madone SLR – which the US brand calls its IsoFlow design.
It's fairly unanimous that wider seat stays that start as high up the bike as possible are faster, and the French Track Cycling Federation and Japanese Track Cycling Federation have followed suit.
However, there are claims that British Cycling is considering taking legal action against these two nations due to potential violations of patents, granted in 2022, which protect the alignment of the fork blades and seat stays with a rider’s legs.
The French riders were seen riding an unreleased Look P24 track bike, which Look says, "will be ridden by many world-class athletes and national cycling federations in 2024."
It has a wide-stance fork similar to the Hope-Lotus track bike, but it finishes beneath the head tube instead of extending upwards around the head tube as seen on the Hope-Lotus bike.
One of the most distinct features is the two seat posts, which are presumably intended to minimise aerodynamic drag. Full technical details will be provided later in the year.
As with any equipment used at the Olympic Games, it must be commercially available – and the Look P24 frameset (perhaps standing for Paris 2024) is available to pre-order for €11,999 (~£10,325).
Initially, the Japanese V-IZU TCM track bike appears to bear the closest resemblance to the Hope-Lotus track bike, with similar width forks that extend up and around the head tube, and two seat stays at the rear that are much wider than that of a conventional frame.
Little comes up when you search for the Japanese brand V-IZU online, but we do know that the V-IZU TCM track bike is on the UCI's list of approved frames and forks showing two models: the TCM1 and TCM2.
Another nation mindful of not falling behind is Denmark, and riders were seen making the switch from Argon 18 track bikes to the Canyon Speedmax CFR Track bike. This bike costs an astonishing £18,999, and Canyon claims it's the "fastest bike on the track".
"In a discipline like track cycling, where bike design has widely matured to a level bordering on perfection, there comes a time when striving for the next level of excellence demands a complete re-imagining of the rules," Canyon says.
Moving away from a wide-stance design and in contrast with the Hope-Lotus track bike, the Speedmax CFR Track has an exceptionally narrow profile, perhaps to combine aerodynamics with stiffness.
The fork and cockpit are replaceable so the bike can be used for pursuiting and bunch races. At the rear, the bike features deep, yet narrow seat stays keeping the overall profile of the bike thin.
The UCI has a thick rulebook governing the design of bikes, with strict parameters that all aspects of the bike must fall within and the approval process being a key element of designing a bike.
The widths of the Hope-Lotus, Look and V-IZU TCM track bikes are the main difference from conventional frame designs, but they fit in the overall regulations specified by the UCI which is confirmed by the small UCI sticker on the seat tubes. This means they all feature on the UCI's list of approved frames and forks.
For the UCI, the main targets should be to take care of the safety of the rider and to prevent any unfair advantage coming from the material. The UCI states that the purpose of equipment registration is to allow for "fair and equitable access to equipment in cycling events and providing a level playing field for all competitors."
But, are all of these new bikes fair?
Canyon says that the Speedmax CFR Track took "2 years of development. 442 supercomputer runs. 312 wind tunnel analyses. 155 hours of track testing", while the second-generation Hope-Lotus track bike took "more than 150 hours of wind tunnel testing and advanced computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation", says Hope.
How can less economically developed countries and those with limited access to resources compete with the advancements in equipment that are being made?
Track cycling appears to be becoming an arms race when really it should be about the athletes, regardless of the size and/or affluence of the nation they come from. While it's hard to imagine that the UCI wouldn't take a similar view, it allso states:
"The rules governing the use of equipment aim to ensure both the safety of riders and the fairness of competition while at the same time making the most of the advantages that technological evolution can bring to cycling."
We are still awaiting further comment from the UCI, but could these be the fastest bikes that we’ll see for some time if a crackdown does indeed happen?
In short we don't know for sure, and marketing departments are always going to claim their latest bike is faster than the rest. Canyon claims its Speedmax CFR Track is "fastest bike on the track" while the Hope-Lotus has seen much success, but the exact figures are unknown.
Also, Lotus Engineering claims "significant aerodynamic gains" of the Hope-Lotus track bike over the previous model, and we know that the first-generation claimed to reduce drag by up to 3%. Details for these new track bikes are thin on the ground and we could expect to find out more towards the end of the year, but the amount of investment and R+D that goes into these bikes would suggest teams that can afford them are confident they give their athletes an advantage.
Do you think these new track bikes are fair? 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…