This archive piece is from the April 25, 1994, issue of VeloNews, when dual-suspension bikes were introduced to mitigate the rough riding over Paris-Roubaix’s fabled cobblestones.
Paris-Roubaix provides the ultimate test for hybrid machines that must be as efficient on the pavé as on the road. With the apocalyptic conditions of this year’s Paris-Roubaix, one thing appeared certain: no amount of laboratory testing can prepare a machine for what it will endure in the “Hell of the North.”
Most of the hype surrounding this year’s edition centered around the unveiling of dual-suspension bikes used by GB-MG-Bianchi and GAN.
The GAN team relied on two prototypes from LeMond Bicycles, with technical collaboration from Clark-Kent and RockShox. The elastomer rear shock resembles, to a large degree, similar mountain-bike systems produced by ProFlex. Its rear play of 20mm between locked-out and articulated position provides ample adaptability for the road or pavé sections, while the pivot point attached behind the bottom bracket assured maximum combination of strength and flexibility from any tension setting. After initial testing, Duclos-Lassalle was evidently pleased. “It’s amazing, I no longer feel anything,” he reported. “There is practically no vibration, and it was only a subtle noise behind me that reminded me I was still on pavé.”
The only point of hesitation came from the tension lever positioned on the top of the handlebars. The tension shift, however, is visibly more cumbersome, and both Duclos-Lassalle and LeMond hesitated in its use. By the start of the race in Compiègne, LeMond opted for variability, while Duclos-Lassalle took the more conservative approach, removing the shifter and riding the entire event on a mid-ranged fixed tension.
Despite Duclos-Lassalle’s disillusionment and frustration from his seventh-place finish, his impression of the bike remains positive, and the only reason he changed to his road bike after his final flat was because it was more immediately available.
The GB-MG-Bianchi team also had its two frontmen — Johan Museeuw and Carlo Bomans — riding dual-suspension prototypes. Produced by Bianchi, their results were less positive, and prove that there is still room for improvement in this area of bike technology.
Incorporating a dual-suspension design drawing largely from Bianchi’s downhill prototype mountain bike, it hardly resembled a traditional road frame. The main triangle was transformed by the sloping top tube, reinforced with a joint rube to the seat post, while the shock absorber was placed inside the triangle, just above the bottom bracket. By placing the shock inside the frame, the rear triangle must be equipped with two pivot points rather than a single one, as the shock mechanism becomes virtually independent of the rear triangle, and is not used to connect that to the top of the seat tube.
It was here that the bike proved vulnerable for Bomans, who in the legendary Arenberg forest section, felt increased lateral movement and required an untimely bike change. In the pits after the race, he realized that the whole pivot hinge had jarred loose. “I really liked the ride on the pavé,” reported Bomans. “When it was working properly, it was incredible, but obviously it’s not perfect yet.”
Museeuw was forced to change bikes 25km from the finish, which put an end to his hopes of bridging to [Andrei] Tchmil. Bike inspection afterward proved that his down tube had severed, and it is still uncertain as to what role the added mush played in his fatigue.
GB-MG-Bianchi team director Patrick Lefèvre said, “The break in the down tube doesn’t worry me so much, because this was an incredibly demanding Paris-Roubaix and a lot of frames broke … if Museeuw had won, everyone would be talking about the Bianchi wonder bike.”
Tchmil’s winning bike was a more straightforward combination of tradition and technology. Riding his standard 55cm Caloi road frame, produced by Eddy Merckx, he simply had it adapted for Paris-Roubaix. Constructed with Columbus MAX tubing, it was modified with a RockShox front fork and Vittoria Super Pavé tires. This setup, and a generous dose of Paris-Roubaix fate, kept him flat-free to the finish in Roubaix. While Tchmil made one bike change at the 229km mark, it was forced, not by any mechanical mishap, but simply from the excess build-up of mud.
This year’s Paris-Roubaix made one thing certain. Suspension systems have found a niche in road racing. Only four years ago, RockShox introduced their prototype road fork with the Z team. Today, RockShox boasted more than 70 riders equipped with its forks, not to mention the other similar systems. Do riders benefit from fewer flats with suspension, in addition to more comfort? GAN’s head mechanic Pascal Ridelle observed, “Last year we had around 15 [flats]! Most of them came from the rear tires, however, which take most of the weight of the rider, and didn’t have shocks. This year, although the numbers aren’t final, we had around eight, so it appears that the suspension system reduces flats.”