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103rd Paris-Roubaix - PT
France, April 10, 2005
The bikes of Hell - the weird, the conservative and the 'courageous'
Part one - Phonak
No other race hammers bikes like Paris-Roubaix and no other race showcases the inventive solutions that manufacturers and mechanics come up with to try and help their riders get across the line in the Roubaix velodrome. Gerard Knapp takes a look some of the bikes that will carry the world's top Classics riders into battle later today.
Cyclingnews spent the Saturday before Paris-Roubaix lurking around the hotels of Compiegne, checking out some of the machines that will be pounded to within a millimeter of their collective existence in the 'Hell of the North'.
Of all the Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix realizes the greatest array of specialist machinery and components; some of it reflects very good common sense, while other kit could be considered - as a politician might put it - 'courageous'.
The event also shows how bicycles that can be used day-in, day-out for training and racing, end up being left in the van while mechanics wheel-out special one-offs to help their riders survive and hopefully win the Queen of the Classics.
On the other hand, the race can also allow another manufacturer to effect a Gallic shrug and simply turn to an off-the-peg frame that is designed expressly to handle hours in the saddle over rough terrain.
But Paris-Roubaix places the greatest demands on equipment of any race, and in some ways it's an anachronism in these days of $3000+ bikes being under the 6.8kg minimum racing weight. At the same time, traditionalists can rejoice in the use of practical machinery coming to the fore as weight plays second fiddle to robustness.
Phonak & BMC go aluminium
Take the Swiss bikes, BMC, to be used by Phonak. The BMC SLT01 usually ridden by Phonak pros is a spectacular, UCI weight limit-challenging carbon fibre affair, but not for this Sunday.
Rather, the Phonak squad is using aluminium bikes made from Easton's triple-butted tubeset with 420mm chainstays, some 15mm longer than normal.
Apart from adding to the wheelbase, it's believed the extra length can help absorb some of the shock from the pounding over the cobbles. At the same time, there is no extra bracing around the bottom-bracket, as this can collect mud should it rain and the cobbles turn into a quagmire.
Among the bikes being given a final once-over was the special BMC of South Africa's Robert Hunter (Phonak). Phonak mechanic Frederic Bessy also said the bikes feature special carbon forks - only 10 were made by Easton, just for Paris-Roubaix - with extra clearance at the top, once again to prevent mud from collecting around the braking area.
The Phonak machines were to roll out on 36-spoke DT rims and hubs (front and rear, tied and soldered at the rear so that the wheel will remain true in the event of a spoke breakage) and Continental's new 'Competition' 25mm tubulars, featuring the Vectran layer designed to provide improved puncture resistance.
However, what really stood on Hunter's bike was the Campagnolo Electric gear-shifting system, which is about to face its toughest test yet. The kit was recently used to great success by Nico Eeckhout (see this week's Tech News) in Dwars door Vlaanderen, but today, Hunter is going to be giving it hell, during 'The Hell'.
Ironically, the 172.5mm crankset (running 53/46) on Hunter's bike was made from aluminium, not carbon fibre, even if that composite material is used extensively throughout on the rest of the fancy electric gear-shifting system. One of its nice touches is that front derailleur adjustment can be pre-programmed via a laptop computer to account for chain flex, should the rider leave the chain on the big ring at the front and use some of the larger cogs at the rear.
This makes lots of sense in Paris-Roubaix. It's not one of those events where a rider can linger over a gear change, or even be aware of the chain rubbing on the front derailleur cage, or take his eyes off the cobbles long enough to trim the cage so it no longer rubs against the chain. On the other hand, the gear-shift levers of the electric-system, while looking identical to that of the existing mechanical system, have a lighter, micro-switch feel to them, unlike the normal definite 'thunk' that accompanies gear changes on the regular Ergopower levers. Paris-Roubaix is really going to give this kit a very solid work-out.
Adding a touch of good old common sense to Phonak's bikes are 'chain-stoppers'; rather humble nylon blocks that are attached to the seat-tube, just adjacent to the small chainring. Chain-stoppers literally stop the chain from going astray should it bounce off the small chainring and land on the bottom- bracket shell, or even worse, fall in the gap between the crankarm and the bottom-bracket. A Phonak mechanic explained that these were fitted for all the Spring Classics where the cobbles can make a chain flap about in the breeze like a sheet.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Gerard Knapp/Cyclingnews.com