Pavé Bikes

I’ve has a strong held belief for a long time that the bikes used for Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders actually make more sense for real average Joe’s to ride for normal riding. As the Roubaix machines are more specialised, I’ll cover these in more detail than the bikes of Flanders.

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Why? Well there are a couple of reasons which I’ll try to explain why. Race bikes are designed for the 1%, whose who race incredibly hard, have fit strong bodies and the sense of pain works on a higher plain. For regular folks, we do less kilometers, don’t have the luxury of being able to train as much as we’d like, so why do we ride the same machines as the riders whose job it is to be ‘flesh for speed’. 

 The Pro’s Roubaix bike has normally a duplicate geometry of their regular everyday race  machines, with a few important tweaks. Cervélo has recently changed their geometry on the R series bikes to add around 20mm to the front end, so to negate spacers on the front (check out www.cervelo.com for a full run down). For the Pro’s it meant using a -17* stem to get the correct position. With this higher front end a wider range of flexibility can be catered for. Is it too high, maybe, but I’d like to try one to see what it rides like. But the geometry has been spiced up a little so that the new bike rides like the old one. One notable difference being that you can fit wider tyres as standard.   

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Other manufacturers use a longer headtube; take a look at www.ridley-bikes.com as they’ve been using a longer one for some while. The rest of the bike is a straight up race machine. So what’s different about a Roubaix or Pavé bike? 

 

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Nowadays the big differences are small, and not always obvious. Slightly longer chain stays allow for really wide 27mm tubulars, but still using a regular drop brake.  The forks get longer dropouts to achieve the same goal. But frame material itself plays a part. Many of the new breed of bikes are made from carbon fiber which allows a CAD design to visualize the shapes that only this material can execute. Could you make a ‘Roubaix’ out of steel, titanium or aluminum, yes but it’d look different. Boonen used a scandium frame in 2010 across the parcours of France, disguised as a carbon machine and it’s not uncommon to see exotic alloys used to great effect to gain stiffness & reliability over the big stones. I think the main reason is that if it does fail, it does so in a way which is less alarming than that of carbon.

Comfort is a key factor as a less fatigued rider equals a happier one, plus for a Pro more wattage saved. The longer chain stays would result in a better handling bike on the flat, but the trade off would be less snappy acceleration on climbs. To some degree, the stiffer chain stays & slender seat stays offer a bike which for many riders will feel no different. In many regards its job done as you don’t want the rider to feel isolated from the road, but to be cushioned from it. The stiffer bottom bracket area will also provide less power loss, welcome when every watt is used to transverse the pavé.


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Increasing the headtube length by even longer reduces the acceptance by the serious enthusiast cyclist as these are the riders it’d be aimed at. Racers will still want a long & low feel to their bike. So, where is the balance? I’m not sure I’ve got a complete answer on this, and for designers this is a problem as head angel effects the total length required for a headtube. It’s complicated, and although I understand a little about geometry, I’ve still lots to learn.

 

Amazing as it may seem, the small adjustments that can be made to a bike alone can make a huge difference. That combined with knowledge of materials can unleash a bike that is both stiff & comfortable, a concept which many still find hard to grasp.


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The Pinarello KOBH (or for 2012 the DOGMA K) looks like a great balance between a racier bike and one that offers a magic carpet rider over the pavê. With the addition into the range of the cheaper ROKH it’s opening up the all day bike to a wider audience at a cheaper price point (cheaper from a Pinarello point of view). So is the balance of comfort down to a few millimeters here and half a degree there. The answer is for the seriously fit amateur probably not, and I’m thinking 2nd Cat riders and above. But for those 3rd and 4th Cat riders it probably is.


 

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   So where’s the balance. Chainstays, I’m throwing a punt in (but would love any frame builders to comment) in making them 5mm longer. For a headtube I’d go as far as making it 20mm longer, maybe 15mm as this appeases both sides of the community. The rest of the bike in regards to reach, standover etc should remain the same. The layup of the carbon (if that is the material chosen) should reflect the task at hand, allowing compliance where needed.

Currently there seems to be a lack of affordable bikes of this kind, although for many riders this would be a perfect solution for a do it all machine. Roll on the revolution.


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