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By Lennard Zinn
Hi from the Tour de France! I have been in Liège for a few days, visiting the teams and taking lots of photos of bikes and equipment, sometimes even of people.
There is always lots of new equipment at the Tour, since every team and sponsor focuses more on this event than any other. When team technical sponsors start developing new products for racing, they always point to the Tour start as the date for completion. There is no better place to premiere a new product, and the riders and teams place so much emphasis on Tour results that they create pressure which helps the development process along. There is almost a palpable panic in the days prior to the Tour as engineers and mechanics bring their latest brainstorms to fruition, and I will be providing daily tech columns on these new products throughout the Tour.
My Q&A columns have been sporadic at best since mid-May, when I began a series of trips abroad, so it seems appropriate to tell you what I have been up to and begin my Tour tech postings with a couple of questions that relate to time trials.
When I left in May for the Giro d’Italia and for the Giro bike camp I do with Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney each year, I had just finished my new book, “Zinn’s Cycling Primer.” After the Giro, I returned to Boulder for a few days to attend my two daughters’ graduation ceremonies, and then we took a family trip for three weeks following the ancient Silk Road across China. Afterward, I returned to the States for another few days before flying across the ocean again, this time to Germany to catch the train to Belgium and the start of the Tour.
While unwinding from the months of intensive bookwork in the vast open expanses of China, I had a lot of fun observing the bike culture there. For starters, it’s easy to tell the difference between a good bike and a not-so-good bike — a good bike announces its quality, right on the down tube.
And bikes aren’t just for exercise in China. I now have an enormous collection of photos of Chinese cyclists carrying huge loads on bikes, often with pedals whose platforms have fallen off, reducing them to mere spindles bolted to the crankarms. Kind of expands your notions of what can be done with a bike, doesn’t it? If you don’t add a bumper sticker that says, “Yes, This Is My Truck, And No, I Won’t Help You Move,” you may find yourself pedaling someone’s couches across town.
Now, to the Tour. The first question comes from Brazil:
When I was watching the Giro d’Italia time trial I saw a bunch of guys using full Ergopower with cowhorn bars. How can I make this set-up? One of the cables (brake or derailleur) goes by air and the other one goes internally, but my shop and I have tried all the possible set-ups and none of them went internally. How do they do that? Do they bend the cable casing very sharply?
Here are the Ergopower levers on Gilberto Simoni’s time-trial bike. As you can see, if you are looking for an elegant solution, you might as well give it up. The Saeco mechanic’s secret is brute force, making the cables follow an extremely sharp bend into the ends of the bars. This would be an application, I think, for Nokon cable housings, which are made of separate aluminum segments with ball joints on the ends, rendering them far more supple than normal housings, yet burst-proof and compression-proof.
I watch the time trials and wonder why the component makers have not come up with a way of shifting TT bikes from the bullhorns in addition to the ends of the aero’ bars. We have all seen riders sprinting out of corners in their bullhorns, then move their hands to the aero’ bars to shift the bike, then return to the bullhorns to finish the sprint. With ITTs being won by hundredths of a second, it seems that this could save a second or two in every corner. Is anybody looking at this, or is it wrong to think that this would be an advantage? Shimano had shifting controls that mounted to your bar ends for mountain bikers — why not dual shifters for TTs?
Actually, what you are asking about does exist. I believe that Profile offers a cable splitter that allows shifting from both positions. I have seen them on triathletes’ bikes, but not on time-trial bikes. I would certainly agree that it makes a lot of sense, and it’s surprising that riders are not using them in the Tour. Remember how Chris Boardman used to be the fastest guy in the Tour prologues for a number of years? He insisted on using Mavic Zap electronic shifting for those races, long after Mavic discontinued Zap’s production, largely because he could shift from the aero’ extensions as well as from the brake levers.
Time to go watch the prologue now!
Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder, a former U.S. national team rider and author of several books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “ Zinn & the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” and “Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance.”Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn. Look for his tech reports daily throughout the 2004 Tour de France.