Keep your eyes peeled at the Tour de France and you'll see some interesting, innovative and downright strange equipment choices and setups. Here's some of the strangest stuff we’ve spotted over the years…
It’s not at all strange for pros to use 130mm stems, and you’ll spot 140mm and even 150mm stems quite often too.
In 2013, though, we spotted this monstrosity on the front of Andrey Kashechkin’s bike. Admittedly, phones were smaller in those days, but not that much smaller. We measured this stem at 170mm – which is usually a crank length rather than a stem length.
There comes a point when a team official needs to take a rider to one side and say, “Mate, we're going to get you a bigger bike.”
Even as pro bikes have become much more integrated, leaving less opportunities to add unusual bits to the front end, we're still seeing stems that are much longer than your average. We spotted this 150mm monster on Steve Cummings' fully integrated BMC Timemachine back in 2019.
As mentioned, there's nothing unusual about a 140mm stem in the pro peloton. This one is on the front of Elmar Reinders' Giant Propel this year, for example.
Specialized-sponsored teams are continuing to use the aero balaclava that the brand introduced last year. The design is intended to flatten the rider’s ears and hair in order to reduce drag. It’s not going to win any points for style, admittedly.
Some teams are now writing dates on wheel rims with a permanent marker. Turn your screen upside down and you’ll see that this one says 24.05 – 24th May. Or is it 14th? Either way, the mechanic can hopefully read it.
Why do this? It’s because of the introduction of tubeless tyres. The sealant inside needs topping up regularly and this is a simple way to record when it was last done.
Wheels have changed quite a lot in terms of width and what kind of tyres are mounted to them in recent years, but wholesale attempts to reinvent are quite rare. FFWD's Falcon two-spoke front wheel for time trials was one that managed to break into the Tour a few years ago, ridden by the likes of Andre Greipel for Arkea-Samic and Total Direct Energie (now Team TotalEnergies). FFWD promised 9-watt savings over rival time trial wheels.
Ineos Grenadiers usually ride Shimano wheels but it sometimes shops around in search of its famous marginal gains. Riders often use the Princeton Carbonworks Mach 7580 TS at the front in time trials, a wheel that's radically shaped to reduce drag.
Sticking instructions to the stem is as old as the hills, whether that’s to remind riders about important features of the route – climbs, pavé, and so on – or, as in this case, telling them when to fuel and hydrate.
It’s simple and it works, so why change?
Mavic had the idea of smoothing the gap between the tyre and the wheel's rim with a thin, barely visible plastic blade to reduce drag. We first saw these on Garmin-Cervelo bikes at the 2011 Tour.
Innovative? Certainly. Ingenious? Maybe. Permitted? Nah. The UCI immediately stomped all over these CX01 strips.
SRAM unveiled a yellow edition of its top -level Red groupset back in 2010. It made sense, though, because it was used by winners of former editions of the race: Alberto Contador, Carlos Sastre and, um, Lance Armstrong. One or two things have happened since then regarding Lance. You might have heard...
Pro riders usually have top-of-the-range everything, but there are exceptions.
Whereas the vast majority use saddles with super-light carbon rails, this Astana rider has opted for a Proxim W650 Performance with TiroX steel rails. It looks like he’s prepared to add a few grams for the sake of increased comfort.
Enric Mas, who abandoned this year’s Tour de France after crashing on Stage 1, uses these Look Keo 2 Max Carbon pedals with stainless steel springs (£104.90) rather than the slightly lighter Look Keo Blade Carbon pedals (£139.90) that most of his teammates use. They're still great pedals but they're an unusual choice in the peloton. Maybe he prefers the feel or retention mechanism.
Team Jayco-Alula sprinter Dylan Groenewegen has little felt pads stuck to the platform of his Shimano Dura-Ace pedals. We assume this is to make the pedal/shoe connection that little bit tighter.
Quite a few riders, such as Andre Greipel, used to put a strip of bar tape across the central stainless steel plate of their Look pedals to avoid unwanted movement.
Speaking of Dylan Groenewegen, his disco Bont shoes are a bit special too.
Back in 2013, Peter Sagan was on a Cannondale SuperSix Evo with a special Hulk paint job. Why the Hulk? Because of an impression of the character he did when he won Stage 6 of the Tour the previous year.
Oh, and there’s the green connection, Sagan having won the points classification in 2012.
Sagan ditched the Hulk theme and moved into The Joker and his ‘Why so serious?’ quote. This stem is from 2019.
Astana rider Gorka Izagirre was running a -17° stem in 2018 to position the handlebar lower. He then stuck spacers underneath it to move the handlebar higher. There’s probably a good reason for this, we just don’t know what it is.
He also had his seatpost back to front. If it worked for him, who are we to argue?
It's something of a tradition for a sponsor to provide a yellow bike to the rider leading to the Tour de France. It's often fairly subtle – yellow bar tape and logos, for example – but Colnago almost went full-banana with Tommy Voeckler's C59 Italia back in 2011.
Tadej Pogacar's winning V3RS from 2020 doesn't have the yellow wheel decals, but redeems itself with a yellow seatpost, pedals and bottles.
You’ll often see Tour riders on bikes that look too small. They might want as short a head tube as possible to reduce their frontal area and minimise drag, or they might just want to save a few grams. Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Brice Feillu took things to extremes back in 2016. It looked like he’d borrowed the bike of a much smaller teammate.
It's not unusual to have the handlebar positioned much lower than the saddle on a road bike but Tour riders take things to the nth degree. This (above) is Attila Valter's 2023 Cervelo S5, for example.
Just looking at some setups can bring on a case of lumbago.
Although the majority of riders try to get as low as possible, we did spot that Groupama - FDJ's David Gaudu has a total of eight – yes, eight – spacers on the front of his Lapierre Xelius SL this year. Okay, they're skinny spacers but, still... eight. By pro-rider standards, that's colossal.
Today I will be wearing shoes I made over two years ago. Classics and I like the old fashion bikes on them. pic.twitter.com/wZ6r32bQGj
— Adam #Vegan Hansen (@HansenAdam) May 6, 2016
Aussie rider Adam Hansen famously made his own minimalist carbon-fibre shoes during his career. These ones from 2016 apparently took over 42 hours to make and weighed under 95g. A pair of lightweight off-the-shelf shoes would be a few hundred grams.
German sprinter Andre Greipel was known as the Gorilla and had frames and saddles decorated accordingly.
Here’s his Ridley Noah Fast from 2014, for example.
And here’s a saddle he was using in 2018.
That Adam Hansen was a bit of a maverick! In 2017 he ditched his team’s Campagnolo Super Record cranks in favour of these from Lightning with the logos removed. Hansen probably got away with it because the maximum length Campag offered was 175mm whereas he went for a whopping 180mm.
If you’re world road race champion you want everyone to know about it, right? Alejandro Valverde certainly did, with rainbow stripes just about everywhere during the Tour that came after his world champs victory.
Nibali was known as the Shark, hence this themed paint job from 2014.
Maybe it wasn't sharky enough, though, so it was changed for 2015.
The UCI has a sock height rule. They mustn’t be higher than halfway between your ankle and knee. No, really. It's easy to scoff but when you look at these Arkea–Samsic socks from 2020 you realise that it's probably for the best.
You’ll occasionally see shoes that a pro rider has adapted slightly to increase ventilation or relieve pressure.
Movistar's Andrey Amador took things to a whole different level last in 2018, apparently getting Edward Scissorhands to do the styling.
Who remembers hydraulic rim brakes in the peloton? Garmin-Sharp used these ones from Magura way back in 2012. That box underneath the stem was the converter, the brake cables feeding in one side and operating a piston which pushed the hydraulic fluid to the brake unit.
Then hydraulic rim brakes came along and the Maguras were consigned to the great parts bin in the sky.
Back in 2013, Lampre-Merida stuck a head and shoulders sticker of each rider on their bikes. Thankfully, it didn’t catch on. It was kind of creepy, to be honest.
Fabian Cancellara raced the 2016 Tour de France – his final one – aboard a custom-painted Trek Madone that celebrated his 16 years as a professional cyclist. It wasn’t subtle, but when you have a palmarès like his you don’t need to be.
At one time it was common to see components from non-sponsor brands disguised – often badly – in the pro peloton. The logos would be covered up to keep the real sponsors happy. It still goes on, but not as much as it once did.
Team Jayco Alula officially uses saddles from Giant/Cadex but this is Elmar Reinders' 2023 Fizik Vento Argo 00 Adaptive with a strip of black tape covering the logo at the rear.
This is a Zipp wheel from the Trek-Segafredo team in 2017 with a Bontrager logo added.
And Peter Sagan was using a Zipp stem despite the US brand not being a Bora-Hansgrohe sponsor. A nice bit of work with insulating tape there.
In 2013 members of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team had the names of animals printed on the back of their shorts as part of a marketing campaign from Fizik. We were always a bit uncomfortable with the 'snake' one.
Components can get slippy, especially when a rider sweats, so you’ll often see grip tape on time trial bikes to help keep riders where they want to be.
Grip tape on a base bar is common and it’ll also make an appearance on aero extensions and saddles.
Mechanics also stick grip tape inside bottle cages to prevent dislodging over rough roads.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.