The Tour de France isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is currently home to the world's best riders... and it also turns out they know a thing or two about riding bikes! So, who better to analyse in order to see what cycling tech is taking off, what saddles and gearing choices are preferable for 3,405 kilometres of hell, and what else you and I can (safely) copy off them to make us faster or more comfortable on the bike...
For years it’s been almost expected that a pro's bike is slammed at a downward angle, with the stem as low as possible in what sometimes appears to be a competition of who can get the biggest drop between bars and saddle. However, when wandering around the bikes this year, it’s notable that fewer riders are buying into this game nowadays.
Oh yes, while a lower front end is arguably faster over short distances thanks to lowering your body and a reduction in your frontal area, speed is fairly pointless in the Tour de France (and any long ride for that matter) if it’s unsustainable.
Many riders this year have a good few spacers under their stems, and we reckon that without the same stretching and conditioning that the pros do, most of our bikes should forgo the super aggressive look too in favour of actual real-world performance and comfort. Actually, most of our riding is probably better suited to an endurance road bike. You can check out our comparison between endurance bikes and race bikes using the link above.
Every year we say that tyres are the widest they’ve ever been on the road... and guess what, we’re going to say it again. We've seen the vast majority of road bikes being ridden at the 2023 Tour de France, and who’d like to guess the very smallest tyre size we saw? Not 23mm, not even 25mm, but 26mm!
That was a tubular tyre on team Astana’s Corima wheels. The majority of riders are using 28mm rubber, and we also spotted this set of 30mm tractor tyres on Matteo Trentin’s spare bike.
Just because a 23mm tyre might feel faster as you rattle your way down our less-than-perfect road surfaces, doesn’t mean it is. It’s probably about time we copied the pros and move to wider rubber.
Did you know that derailleurs were first seen in the 1937 Tour de France, some 86 years ago? You would have thought, then, that the big players at Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo would have worked out how to keep chains on chainrings by now. Well, despite having access to the best mechanics in the world, the peloton is clearly less than convinced that this is the case.
Walk around the team buses, and you’ll see chain catchers being used more than EPO in the 90s (and that’s saying something). K-Edge’s design is present across plenty of teams including Bora-Hansgrohe and Quickstep, while Dylan Groenewegen goes for this Fouriers catcher.
Many riders double up the function of their chain catcher by mounting a magnet on the end of it, which can be used to measure cadence.
There are very few downsides to using a chain catcher. They don’t exactly weigh a lot and can be picked up for not a lot of cash. Would you add around 12 grams for the additional piece of mind, or have you had any chain-suck nightmares? Let us know in the comments section below.
Tubeless is a debate that continues to rage on, and while some of us are fans there are plenty of arguments to say that there’s some way to go before we all ditch the inner tubes. The pro-peloton is also seemingly having this invisible debate.
Bora Hansgrohe told us that on dry stages, they choose to use the clincher S-Works Turbo Cotton with latex inner tubes. For wet stages they switch to tubeless, the S-Works Rapidair tyre to be precise. This is replicated across the other Specialized teams, with Total Energies and Soudal Quickstep proving that tubeless tyres don't have to polarise opinion.
Many teams have, however, transitioned to tubeless for the majority of stages. EF, UAE, Jumbo Visma and Ineos all have tell-tale tubeless valves.
The conclusion is that sometimes tubeless is better and at other times there’s no point. That's it!
Ever wondered what cogs the pros are riding? Well, riders on Shimano groupsets appear to nearly always use a 54/40 at the front and 11/34 at the rear. Not only does this combo give more top-end speed, but teams also reckon it improves chainline as riders will more often be riding in the middle of the block, hence reducing drivetrain watt losses.
SRAM kicked up quite the storm when it announced its chainrings would top out at 50/37, even though when combined with the 10T sprocket at the back it gave a bigger gear than full-size rings and an 11T sprocket.
Since then, SRAM has given in and made 'pro level' chainsets in sizes 52/39T, 54/41T and a massive 56/43T, so that anyone wanting to push an even bigger gear can. Most of the pros from Jumbo-Visma and Movistar that we spotted are on the 52/39T option.
We’re not saying you should go out and copy these exact ratios, as for most of us that would be absolutely insane. However, you should tailor your gearing choices to the terrain you’re riding, just like the pros. A comfortable cadence is not only more efficient, but it can also save those joints and potential back soreness. Swapping out a cassette doesn't need to cost a fortune, and could vastly improve your riding.
This next one isn’t necessarily tech, and more the lack of it. It wasn’t until we had a chat in the office that we realised how antiquated stem stickers are, and while it’s a solution that clearly works, we are surprised that tech hasn’t taken its place. Even though cycling computers now have the ability to remind you to eat and drink, the pros still love their stem stickers. This just goes to show how important fuelling on the bike is.
Of course, the pros get through plenty of gels and high-carb isotonic drinks. Rice cakes are also a firm favourite within the peloton.
Eating and drinking enough on the bike will make a far bigger difference to your riding performance than just about any expensive upgrade you can make. So, whether you go paperless or make your own stem sticker to remind you to fuel, just make sure you do!
Being mostly a bunch of traditionalists, the peloton is often reluctant to try new things; however, short-nosed saddles are one of those creations that have seemingly come out of nowhere, and are now everywhere.
Just about every saddle brand offers saddles in both long and short varieties, and riders get the whole range to choose from. This year most of the Tour de France riders are going for the short-nosed ones.
Short-nosed saddles aren’t for everyone, but if you want to ride fast in an aggressive position then a shorter saddle could allow your pelvis to roll forwards more, making getting lower easier.
If you want to be extra 'pro', then you'll see that the majority of riders use a zero setback seatpost, mounting their saddles almost all the way forward to put them as far over the cranks as possible for maximum power transfer.
Okay, so this one won’t apply to many people but it is interesting! A few years ago there was black insulation tape being stuck around all over the place to hide non-sponsor components, but the current generation of riders are either a lot less fussy about their kit, more well-behaved, or of course, the sponsors have listened and actually created the kit that the riders want.
Wondering around we struggled to find many things that would anger team sponsors at all. The Fizik saddle shown above was spotted on Jayco-Alula’s Giant Propel, forgoing Giant’s own brand Cadex. Victor Campanaerts opted for a sizeable Rotor chainring over Shimano.
It’s during the time trials that the bikes get unchained, and in particular, the Aerocoach Aeox Zephyr and Titan front wheels seem a popular choice, despite Aerocoach not being the official wheel sponsor of any teams. The whopping 100mm deep front wheels aren’t exactly light at over a kilogram, but as we know it's aerodynamics that rule supreme. Aerocoach says this is the fastest front wheel it’s ever tested. Plenty of teams are clearly buying into it.
We also spotted Aerocoach’s rear wheels in action. Take a look at this weird embossed section around the cassette area!
If you take a look around any Tour de France team's bikes, then you’ll soon see that no two of them are the same.
Separate from special paint jobs you’ll notice that every rider has a different stem length, handlebar width and, of course, saddle height. This isn’t because the team got sent a random assortment of components from their suppliers.
The fit of your bike will make a far bigger difference to your comfort, technical ability and performance than you might think, so it's well worth investing some time in.
There are all sorts of books, YouTube videos and articles available on the road.cc website for fine-tuning your fit. Of course, you could also invest in a bike fit from a professional fitter. A good one doesn’t come cheap, but could be money very well spent.
I love being a bit of a weight weenie. Changing bolts for lighter ones, finding lighter bottle cages and so on. However, if you’re doing it in the pursuit of speed, then I’m afraid it’s going to make a very, very minimal difference.
The priority for the Tour de France pros is no longer getting the lightest bike possible. That's not because it’s impossible to get a disc brake bike down to the 6.8kg UCI weight limit, but rather because of the aero sacrifices that have to be made to do it. Pro riders love deep wheels, integrated cockpits and aero frames so much so that they’re prepared to lug around an extra few grams for the three weeks.
Even though you and I travel a lot slower than the pros, we can still learn a thing or two from them. Most of our rides are unlikely to take in the same huge mountains or elevation, and we’re also out in the wind for much longer, so aero is still important.
It's always worth remembering that between 70 and 80% of your drag comes from your body, not your equipment, so maybe that’s food for thought...
Will you be copying any of these Tour de France tech trends? Are there any that you think we've missed? Let us know in the comments section below.
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...