It's not just about the bikes at the 2014 Tour. Many companies use the world’s biggest race to unveil all manner of gear. And why not? Stick a racer in your helmet, shoe, or jersey, and if they win a stage or place well, you can claim your product helped. We can’t verify all of that, but here are a few of the new things we’ve seen that we like.
Lace-up cleats have made a bit of a comeback in recent years, in part thanks to American Taylor Phinney’s affinity for them. The original Empire was already lightweight and trim, but Giro has pared the shoe down further for the new SLX version. With an even trimmer EC90 SLXII carbon outsole and a highly ventilated Teijin upper, a size 42.5 SLX weighs just six ounces—about the same as a large banana.
Aero road helmets have exploded since Giro launched the first-of-its kind Air Attack two years ago. Bell’s Star Pro is a bit different than most because it uses a system that allows riders to either close or open the vents, improving aerodynamics or ventilation respectively. Bell says that in wind-tunnel testing, the Star Pro had the least drag of any of its aero competition (the Specialized Evade and Air Attack among them), while it was cooler than the average road helmet with vents open. Some models will include a sun visor, which attaches with built-in magnets.
This jersey, worn by Team Sky, takes lightweight to an almost ridiculous level. The open-mesh body fabric is so lightweight and gossamer that the garment comes with a warning tag that it must be worn with sunblock for safety reasons. It is, indeed, extremely comfortable on stuffy days, and as with all Rapha apparel, the fit and tailoring is just right. The locking zip, which keeps the jersey secure with the thob down but allows for quick cooling with just a tug of the fabric if the thob is up, is a nice touch. And though we have nothing against Team Sky, we do wish this jersey was available in a non-Team edition for less-conspicuous riding.
Ironically, after typing that about wanting a non-branded version of the climber’s jersey, the Course Superleggera 2 showed up, and it’s mostly cut from the same gauzy fabric used by Rapha, which Garneau calls Kite Mesh. An extremely sheer Lycra covers the upper chest and shoulder blades, a material that Garneau uses in order to add a Cold Black treatment for UV protection. This one also has a neat, laser-perforated elastic waistband, and it’s nominally lighter than the Rapha—90 grams for a size medium. Wisely, Garneau is opting to offer it to the public in options other than the cash green of Europcar, which, in Rapha’s defense, isn’t nearly as fetching as the Sky design.
Remember those giant, ski-goggle-esque glasses that Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten, and all the cool kids wore back in the ‘80s? They’re back, courtesy of a Heritage line by Oakley. The resurgent Eyeshades (as well as two other models, the Razorblades and Frogskins) come in three lifestyle colorways (Seafoam, Black, and Fog), as well as a Tour-de-France edition that has white frames adorned with a color swatch to match the three jerseys of the Tour. And yes, there are some pros actually wearing these.
Those paying close attention might have noticed a few riders with cameras mounted to their bikes. For the first time in history, the UCI has approved the use of these electronics at the Tour, and Shimano has placed a number of its new CM-1000 with sponsored teams. The diminutive device sports an f2.0 lens that records in 1080 HD, and it’s also ANT+ and WiFi enabled so it can talk to a host of devices, including Shimano’s new Di2 transmitter, power meters, and smart phones. Shimano is hush hush about what it plans to do with any video it might collect, but footage from the Tour de Suisse in June has become a bit of an internet sensation.
In search of an eye-catching shot for the Red Bell Illume photo contest, local Seattle rider Steven Bafus and I set out for this massive cowboy hat in Oxbow Park just south of the city.
We showed up at 6 a.m. on a June morning hoping for a window to bust out our ladder and get to work (the hat's brim is about 15 feet off the ground, and there is no real easy way to climb it). After dodging a few park officials, Steven rolled around the 44-foot-wide brim, airing out each side like it was a skatepark.
TOOLS: Nikon D4, Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8, f/6.3 1/400 second, ISO 800
Beets are so 2013. That’s right: maple syrup is the world’s newest super fuel, and it will soon be available in tear-top packets like the ones used by Honey Stinger and Gu.
A new company—called UnTapped and backed by pro racer Ted King—plans to package the maple syrup as an energy gel. Each packet, which contains only pure maple syrup from Vermont’s Slopeside Syrup—has 100 calories of natural energy. It’s available now for pre-order on Indiegogo.
Maple syrup has many of the minerals and electrolytes athletes need to perform at the top of their games. A tablespoon of pure maple syrup has two milligrams of sodium—critical to help maintain blood fluid levels during exercise. That same amount of syrup also has 42 milligrams of potassium to prevent muscle cramping. Manganese—a trace element linked to better bone health—occurs naturally in maple syrup, as does iron.
There’s more. According to a 2011 study from researchers at the University of Rhode Island, Canadian maple syrup has anti-inflammatory properties: one of the lead researchers went so far as to call it “a champion food” with many of the same healthy compounds found in berries, tea, red wine, and flax seed.
Plus, it’s a simple, easily digestible sugar. Pure syrup has a low glycemic index, which keeps you from constantly feeling hungry, and maintains even blood sugar and insulin levels. Maple sugars burn slowly and are absorbed slowly for spike-free energy. I would know: I’ve tried the stuff myself.
I’ve had the enviable task of taste testing Slopeside Syrup’s signature sauce—Grade A Amber—for more than a year now, and have been purchasing Slopeside Syrup in bulk for use on, well, anything I can think of. The stuff is easy to stomach even on hot days and in the middle of epically long rides.
You won’t find any of that in Aunt Jemima. You also won’t find most of this natural goodness in any other sports gel. Then, of course, there’s the delicious taste.
For many manufacturers, the Tour de France is a testing ground and launching pad for new rides. But often the race comes so early in the production cycle that only a few key riders get access to the new bikes. Here are a few of the most notable launches we've seen from this year’s Tour de France. Even if you can't ride 'em all yet, you can drool over 'em.
The new flagship Trek gets its name from the word émonder, the French verb meaning to prune or to strip away. That's because the Waterloo, Wisconsin, bike manufacturer excised everything extraneous to create this lissome climber.
According to Trek, it is the lightest production bike in the world, with the top-line SLR10 tipping the scales at an almost unbelievable 10.25 pounds for a size 56. At 690 grams for the frame, it’s still heavier than the SuperSix EVO Black Inc., which Cannondale claims to be 655 grams, meaning Trek is getting the savings out of integrated components such as the direct-mount Bontrager Speed Stop brakes and the Tune hubs and tubular rims.
It might all seem a bit ridiculous given that UCI mandates bikes weigh a minimum of 14.99 pounds, which forces mechanics to supplement the bikes of riders like Frank Schleck and Haimar Zubeldia with four extra pounds of dead weight. Then again, the Émonda could be another sign that the governing body may soon lower or remove that limit altogether. The Émonda is available now and ranges from $15,750 for the SLR10 down to $1,650 for the S4, which is said to weigh 19.27 pounds.
The Italian manufacturer rolled out the F8, its first ever aero model, ahead of last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné, and British outfit Team Sky is aboard the new bike at the Tour. Developed in conjunction with auto manufacturer Jaguar, the bike employs truncated airfoil tube shapes, not unlike the Scott Foil and the Trek Madone, and is said to not only have less drag than the previous top-shelf Dogma, but it's also significantly lighter.
Pinarello claims the frame is 80 grams lighter than the Dogma, with an additional 40 grams weight savings coming from the revised, and much-less-wavy-than-before Onda fork. Defending champ Chris Froome started the Tour with three identical F8s, all equipped with Shimano wheels and Dura Ace Di2 components. His understudy, Richie Porte, who took over where the Brit left off, is also riding the new bike.
French manufacturer Lapierre also got in on the aero movement for this Tour with its Aircode, which is currently being ridden by fifth-placed Thibaut Pinot and his entire FDJ team. The bike uses the same time-tested geometry as the Xelius EFI, but the tube shaping is all new, with most tubes employing a Kamm Tail, teardrop-shape profile.
Lapierre makes additional aerodynamic gains with internal cable routings, an integrated seat post clamp, and partial integration of the brakes. The company also unveiled a second bike, the Pulsium, a comfort-oriented endurance frame with an elastomer built into the top tub near the seat post junction to provide vertical compliance. FDJ rode the Pulsium on the infamous cobbled fifth stage.
Not to be left out, Fuji also unveiled an aerodynamic remake of its venerable SST, a bike we liked very much. Dubbed the Transonic, the bike benefits from much of the wind-tunnel testing and computational fluid dynamics modeling that helped to create the Norcom Straight, the TT and tri bike the company launched last year. The tube shaping here is similar, but not identical to the Norcom Straigt, and there are other familiar cues, such as the integrated wedge seat post clamp.
One brand new development is the direct-mount rear brake, which is wrapped into the seat stays with the carbon frame functioning as a block to keep the brakes out of the wind. Fuji says that a rider on the bike pedaling at 300 watts will save 24 watts over the SST and 21 over the Altamira, which equates to 65 and 55 seconds respectively in a 40-kilometer time trial. Team NetApp-Endura, which contributed extensive feedback on the bike in the development process, was enjoying great success aboard the Transonic at the Tour under Portuguese rider Tiago Machado, who was in third overall until he crashed hard on Stage 10.
When Specialized launched the 2015 Tarmac in May, we were surprised that there was no mention of a McLaren edition to complement the Venge superbike of previous years. But a few days before the Tour, the company unveiled the bike, which it developed in collaboration with the McLaren F1 team. Specialized says the bike took a little longer because the Tarmac platform was already extremely efficient, so it was a challenge to eke out gains.
The McLaren Tarmac is 10 percent lighter than the standard S-Works version, but those savings are said to come at zero cost to performance thanks to a proprietary lay-up process developed exclusively for the bike. The bike is spec’d with Shimano Di2 components, EE Cycleworks custom brakes, and Roval CLX40R tubular wheels built expressly for the McLaren and will sell for a stratospheric $20,000. Only 250 McLaren Tarmacs will be produced, and just two racers in the Tour were issued the bikes—Astana’s Jacob Fuglsang and Tinkov-Saxo’s Nicolas Roche.