Buy Your Own Bike

As teams turn over as many stones as possible in search of performance gains, what if they were able to buy their own bikes rather be tied to sponsors and find the best combination for frames, wheels, components and tires for them, even to be able to make choices to suit individual riders?

Pro cycling has a settled model where teams are funded by title sponsors, they rely on income from the likes of a billionaire, a fossil fuel rich state or an adhesives manufacturer. The budget is also topped up by secondary sponsors and first among these is the bike supplier who not only furnish the bicycles but compete for the right to do this by bidding with cash on top. The going rate varies by team.

This snippet from Groupama-FDJ’s accounts showed Lapierre, a brand belonging to the Accell Group, was paying €1.5 million a year. Presumably it costs more to sponsor the very top teams, think Pinarello’s deal with Ineos.

It’s lucrative but what if the real luxury was a team that did not need this obligation and could instead scour the market for the goods it wants?

The freedom to chose can go far. A team can have different road bikes and time trial frames or indeed chose different road bikes for different days and even vary the road bike for a sprint stage according to the type of rider.

As ex-pro Alex Howes remarked the other day, the EF team a few years ago found its Cannondale bikes with Mavic wheels were not as fast as they liked, despite the frame and wheels each testing well in the wind tunnel individually. But put them together and it wasn’t quite working. Put Vision wheels in the same frame and it worked better in the wind tunnel and on the road. You can see a similar thing on the same team where some riders use the wide “Darth Vader” helmet and others a more pointed one because there’s no single best helmet here, rather it depends on a rider’s position and their morphology.

This ability to tailor choices is an interesting angle here. Instead of a team being able to choose between two helmets, what if they could find the perfect frame, the perfect wheels and everything else to suit the rider rather than being tied to one product line? There’s a significant gain to be had here.

To state the obvious and forestall inevitable comments, no the bike isn’t going to transform the fortunes of a team. But it can help. Yet kit from the frame to wheels to clothing, including helmets is a component of performance. Instead of being obliged to use certain products because of sponsorship constraints, a team that has the choice can find gains that are off limits to rivals. Being wealthy enough to choose is a definition of luxury.

None of this is new though. Years ago when racing bikes were made from steel tubing it was common to have a popular consumer brand name on the frame like Peugeot, MBK or Raleigh but the frame itself was made to order from an artisan. But the point then was it was hidden, the argument here is that a team could openly shop for the best kit rather than mask items. You can’t disguise it these days.

It does happen to an extent today. Ineos have Shimano as an official sponsor but they’ll use other wheels at times, like Princeton. Many riders use custom TT handlebars rather than stock from sponsors. Less visible is teams having one nutrition sponsor but using other gels during a race.

However the difference here is not to have some stealth frame masquerading as a sponsor’s product. It’s the very opposite. Instead to shop for anything going and use this if it suits. For the sake of branding and team cohesion all the bikes used by a team could be in team colours.

It’s easier said than done and off limits to some teams. UAE might be swimming in money but a key influence behind the team is Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan. “TBZ” is a busy man being part of the ruling family and the country’s spy chief but another role is a venture capitalist and with this he effectively owns Colnago via a company called Chimera. So UAE’s backers want Colnago on the podium, it is part of the package. The Lease A Bike co-sponsor of Visma is part of the same group as PON which owns Cervélo so that is unbreakable too. Ineos could afford to do it, possibly others. But also at the lower end of the market, a team that doesn’t earn much might consider it as a selling point, “we’re not the richest but we invest in the best kit”, a means to attract riders looking to turn around their career who knows they can get the best out of themselves.

The financial cost of forgoing technical sponsors is obviously the big hurdle. The millions banked can fund a team leader alone. Yet some of this problem could be mitigated by deal making. If a team does identify the “fastest skinsuit” and then buys this for their team, it’s a big boost for the company that produces it. Likewise for the best wheels, frame and so on. So much so that the team might be able to say “supply us, even sponsor us”. So instead of the usual phoney “Brand X is the choice of Team Y” ads it could be very valuable because of the authenticity.

As teams leave no stone unturned to find legal advantages and spend big money on performance staff and training camps, what if they could rip up the traditional model of bike sponsorship and buy what they wanted? No matter how good a product is, being able to choose and mix-and-match to suit conditions, types of races or different riders can surely bring gains and possibly benefits to outweigh the costs of lost sponsorship revenue.

This holds true for the teams at the very top who have generous title sponsors who demand the very best results in return. But it could also work for the most modest teams given the amount they can command in the sponsorship market is not so big. It need not be so costly financially as if a team really did chose a product and even publish why they like it then the suppliers would be delighted and surely supply it for free.

106 thoughts on “Buy Your Own Bike”

  1. Interesting article on a tricky subject. I would say other point not mentioned here is the value of having a right equipment vs rider abilities and all other aspects of running the team. I might be wrong but to me appears that except TT, most of the winning recipe comes from the rider. I know it is a marginal gains game but the question is if investing equipment sponsor money in other areas (e.g. busses, extra staff) could yield better overall improvements to the performance than having the most suited equipment

  2. Is this not just the same as the time honoured thing of sneaking a decal on custom kit, or riding/wearing something unbranded? If you are buying the kit you can do whatever you want with it, including taking stickers off and putting new ones on. Presumably there are clauses somewhere, whether its in the teams contract with the supplier or the riders contract with the team, saying they can use alternatives? That way you get the sponsorship money and the best kit?!

    • No, it’s almost the opposite, rather than pretending your team-issue kit is the best you go and look for the best.

      Often there are clauses to say it’s team kit only. It varies but some teams can be prescriptive when it comes to shoes or helmets but other teams leave freedoms here.

      • I’d suggest then that the teams deciding that the money is more important than hand picking the best kit down to the nth degree is in itself a sign that there aren’t many gains to be made there. If there was the big teams would already do it. That or there is more bespoke tailoring done for the bigger teams and riders than perhaps we are aware of.

        • Good point. Why aren’t the big budget teams already doing this? Maybe there’s just not enough difference between manufacturers. For example the Van Rysel RCR Pro is getting good reviews.

          • I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: No matter what the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association might want you to believe, the last place finisher of the Tour would still have finished last even if he rode the bike the winner used and vice-versa.
            It’s the UCI’s job to make sure this never changes to prevent the sport ending up like F1 or MOTOGP where the greatest in the world has little to no chance if he/she doesn’t have the right machinery.

        • “That or there is more bespoke tailoring done for the bigger teams and riders than perhaps we are aware of.”
          If by “bespoke tailoring” you’re referring to clothing, that might be the oldest scam in the book?
          Pietro Santini used to tell (might even be on their website somewhere?) stories of flying off to a race with sewing kit/pack of chamois in-hand to fix up various team-issue kits the stars found uncomfortable.
          When we visited ASSOS (back when it was a tiny place just over the border from Italy) the place was full of stuff they made with all kinds of other clothing makers logos on it.
          Same with Nalini when we visited them…it’s just like the bike…get something that works made by someone who knows what they’re doing, then put the sponsor’s logos on it.
          The amazing thing to me is the rubes still fall for it over and over again. Otherwise SRAM would be bankrupt!

  3. I’d far rather see every rider on the same bike, provided by the UCI.
    And no, I don’t care how much sponsorship money that would lose. The sport doesn’t need more money and other sponsors would always be available.
    I want to see the best rider win, and this would rid us of the endless and tedious arguments over whether this spoke is more aerodynamic than that one, etc.

    • +1
      One final thought is for teams with stratospheric budgets like …well ..that UK one bankrolled by the fracking king…a few million from Pinarello is barely more than a rounding error in their financial ledger, no? Even if they get a few more from Shimano and whoever provides their clothing this season, it’s almost “couch cushion” money!
      What do you think the costs would be to set up some sort of performance evaluation center with enough staff to really test all the various stuff out there…in a whole range of categories. Even if it were possible it would be a hugely expensive task and probably give you results just-in-time for the next crop of “newest-latest, game-changing” stuff to debut.
      All for some of those “marginal gains” I’m so f__king tired of hearing about?
      I’m more MORE standardization of equipment, not LESS!

    • Or alternatively, have them made under very strict regulations (a lot more strict than now) and with a price cap. So manufacturers could add a bit of flavour and visual identity, but not much more, and the sport would remain accessible, which is key to long term sustainability.

      • Technical regulations wouldn’t require any changes so long as the price cap was accompanied by a claiming rule.

        If a team suspects another team of having a better bike, they would have the right to buy it from the second team for the capped price. Second team would have no choice in the matter and would have to work out for themselves where to source replacement inventory.

        • THAT would go over well! I think sports where they use this the equipment is “claimed” post-race or they forfeit the prize if they’d rather not “sell” at the agreed upon price. For pro cycling, a real “snowball’s chance in hell” idea that would be shouted-down instantly.
          UCI should bring back the old 3:1 rule, limit “aero” wheels (perhaps 40 mm?) put a max gear limit in place and leave the 6.8 kg minimum where it is.
          No “suppository” crash-hats or “radio-boob” chin/chest fairings either!
          And while they’re fixing things, go back to designated feed zones. No more of this handing-out bottles with gel packs attached all along the course. You get a musette at the feed zone, transfer the contents to your back pockets and get on with it.

    • Part of me agrees with this (make it a competition between athletes) but do you have the side effect of stifling innovation. Also, although I don’t really know I would guess that different physiques might require different bikes.
      In my mind the Achilles heel of the sport is crashes and I think this is due in part to them riding track bikes with gears. Bike design seems to concentrate solely on the final 200m.

      • “…side effect of stifling innovation”
        You mean like derailleur gear development was stifled because the pros couldn’t use ’em? The industry trots that old trope out any/every time rules are introduced to control anything they produce.

        • Something that stopped them dropping their chains would be an improvement. Innovations are overblown but over time they do actually happen. I am aware of a plastic that has been developed that has twice the strength of steel. The first planned applications are as coatings but it is not hard to imagine this being handy for bicycles.

          • Shimano’s Di2 has solved that, don’t you know? Just ask anyone who bought it, they’ll tell you it’s foolproof! Only 1 person I’ve ever met admitted he drops his chain just as frequently as he did before he bought this electronic wizardry. One.

        • i mean if gears go from 11 to 32 over 12 steps, a front derailleur isn’t always necessary. and this is from someone who RIDICULED sram for marketing their way out of extra chainrings.

  4. As you point out, sticker swaps do still happen. Certainly easier in the days of near-identical looking steel frames – much harder with carbon frames and their signature forms.

    That said, it does recall DH MTB in the late nineties/early oughts, when the Intense M1 was the bike to have. Its distinctive shape couldn’t be disguised, yet it ended up being raced as a Giant (with John Tomac, who cropped up comments under another post a while back), a Mongoose, a Muddy Fox, and who knows how many other brands. But that bike was a real game changer, and I don’t see such innovation being possible under the current UCI road rules – so while there might be some small gains to be made, surely the teams end being broadly happy with what they have, and tinker round the edges of things when they can.

    In any case, don’t the teams help improve the kit they use? Surely there’s value both ways – with pro-riders informing the development of the supplier’s bikes/kit/nutrition products for the better?

  5. First, prove this: “..what if they could find the perfect frame, the perfect wheels and everything else to suit the rider rather than being tied to one product line? There’s a significant gain to be had here.” Something beyond hearsay from an ex-pro.
    Second, “Years ago when racing bikes were made from steel tubing it was common to have a popular consumer brand name on the frame like Peugeot, MBK or Raleigh but the frame itself was made to order from an artisan.” had as much to do with made-to-measure (proper fit) as anything. No 17 cm stems or backwards seatposts in those daze! The bikes FIT!
    Third, How do you KNOW things like these are not already going on? It’s been awhile but I remember hearing from reliable Italian sources about “Nibali having bikes made” which I assume weren’t going to be made in the Asian factory that his sponsoring brand used for their consumer bikes. Guys like Sarto are still out there, I think a world championship was won awhile back on one of his bikes with Wilier stickers on it.
    Finally, “So instead of the usual phoney “Brand X is the choice of Team Y” ads it could be very valuable because of the authenticity.” Marketing-maven speak is what it is..and rarely has much to do with truth/authenticity. I’m old enough to remember bike mag ads featuring products supposedly used/endorsed by racers…but when you asked the racer they a) knew nothing about it b) complained their endorsement was being claimed and they weren’t even getting paid for it.

    • Like you, I’m a bike advert skeptic, but surely there is some truth to one model having an advantage—perhaps ever so slight but meaningful at the pro level—over another. It would be surprising if there weren’t some differences in performance because there are some differences in design.

      And I agree that if you switched the bikes between the riders who got first and last, it’s not going to change things. But what about first and second or second and third—I.e., instances where the time differences are lower. Winning and placing lower is determined by an amalgamation of factors—equipment being one.

      And, as one example, what about these folks? Are they shills for the bike industry or trying to do some independent testing (or maybe both)

      • So is there any evidence to show riders on these bikes win more than those on others? Riders win more when they switch to a team using them? If so, Roglic should win more now, right? Did Tom Boonen win more once his team switched from the TIME-branded bike to Big-S?
        These magazine things remind me of the moto mag comparisons when I was into that – they all had to crown something “The Best”. I imagine one can conjure up criteria that would allow your fave to be the best in any comparison test.
        I had a bike shop customer ride-in on a moto one time and ask why the bicycle mags didn’t just do like the moto mags and declare something “The Best” so he could just buy one of them and be done with it! The power of marketing never ceases to bemuse me.

        • Bike reviews are often hilariously bad, the ones I used to read anyway. They usually always list pros and cons and will often say ‘let down by heavy wheels/poor tyes/cheap saddle/bad seat post’ or similar. I’ve even seen one say a bike was let down by cheap bar tape. All stuff you could and probably are planning to change as soon as you get it. Bike magazines are an industry in themselves, and if they aren’t talking about races (and very few do) they have to basically make up all this stuff month in month out and jump on anything new out of desperation.

          • Reviews should be taken with a big rock of salt. And most English language cycling outlets these days rely on regurgitating press releases, social media round-ups and ‘best’ lists re-published from last year, the year before and the tear before that etc.

          • I had friends in both the bike and moto mag biz years ago, even doing a bit of photo modeling for one of ’em.
            Trust me, it was pretty much the same back then too, maybe worse.

      • Something like “best bike in the world” speaking of industrial bikes, especially those created mainly for a huge consumer market, with very strong costraints depending on profitability and massive industrial building-up…

        …simply doesn’t exist given the variability among human beings, at pro level, to start with, not to speak of general population cyclists, who also have an extremely broader range of needs.

        Have a look around at what the ex pros actually ride once they are retired (and out of the bike market, I mean, Basso riding Aurum or Sagan still on Spec’zed don’t count…) to have a real-life example of the variety among “perfect bikes”.

        • I think you’d have to qualify that on what the ex-pros PAY FOR out-of-pocket vs just what they’re seen riding, but it does seem there are more than a few of ’em on bikes made from various metals vs carpet-fiber when you see photos of them.

          • Yeah of course, I mean when I meet them on casual rides, not at “events” (where, by the way, they mostly don’t even pretend to be making any effort, just stroll and chat, so the bike they’re given for the photos matters even less)

      • Which percentile of real-life buyers of the Spec SL8 are going to benefit at all from its so very special aero superiority?
        Such a huge stress on an angle which is utterly irrelevant for most people who would read that review, without a manifest disclaimer, is equivalent to, hummm how should I call it?, not very proper advertising?
        It reminds me the packaging of a good number of food & drugs… borderline, to say the least.

  6. Excellent article and splendid idea. The key issue would be the extent a team can forego the bike sponsorship money, and what it woud have to give up in return (in terms of ability to pay good riders, good staff, and good anything else) for the capacity of choosing its own material. And here it’s not only bike frames, but also the groupset and other elements. It would be funny, but I’m sure rim brakes are still completely competitive on mountainous races. But how would you get, not only Shimano, Sram, Campy and the rest to continue to supply top-notch components whatever your brake choice, but also what frame-makers would continue to make optimal frames for rim brakes? Here’s where the old artisan engineering and manufacturing might play a role again.

    • Not only rim brakes could save weight and be completely competitive on mountainous races.

      So could thinner tires, lighter wheels, manually shifted derailleurs etc which could safely get bikes down to well under 15 lbs. 14 lbs (6.35Kg) is reasonable and probably lighter than that.

      Hasn’t bike manufactures eased off the past trend to make lighter and lighter equipment at least partly due to the minimum bike weight rule not being updated? -Which I believe I understand they support and since they supply teams, in order to sell bikes they’re not motivated to put racers on lighter bikes.

      However, if the UCI lowers that weight, I believe We will witness a big change. Either less bikes with over engineered and unnecessary equipment or companies making those bikes with that equipment lighter.

      I’m not suggesting that bikes become light to the point where they’re unsafe; there’s a limit and at this time that limit is kind of laughable. Racers using all those heavy items because in the past they had to add ballast. (!)

      Lowered weight limit and teams supplying their own bikes sounds exciting.

          • I still suspect that, given the choice, most pro’s would choose rim brakes for the simple reason that having a puncture with disk brakes can lose you a race, particularly if your team car is not nearby to give you a new bike. Boonen reckoned the braking performance was little different due to the size of the contact patch with the road – they certainly don’t seem to be stopping any more efficiently to this spectator.

        • I don’t know. In the dry there isn’t a lot in it but in the wet on carbon wheels the difference is almost the same as having brakes and not having brakes. From my experience anyway. And I say this as someone who mainly rides rim brakes.

          • Out of sheer curiosity, why carbon wheels? How much weight are you saving compared to 1,5 kg for a couple of alloy Fulcrum Zero or Shamal? (And spending how much?)
            Unless you really need high profile, which I wouldn’t suggest to most non-pros having to descend in any windy weather, global performance (handling) are often better with alloy wheels, too.

          • Gabriele- “Out of sheer curiosity, why carbon wheels?”
            Back when tires were tubular I believe carbon rims were lighter than aluminum and guys like Ullrich seemed willing to put up with the awful braking. Now that they don’t have to provide a braking surface, that issue is gone.
            For the punters carbon is sex appeal. I still remember scratching my head at the bike shop customer who insisted we get him another (his 3rd) set of Spinergy Rev-X wheels when he brought-in for warranty his second set that had failed. He was lucky none of ’em failed catastrophically but got mad when asked how much longer he was gonna push his luck?

      • “Lowered weight limit sounds exciting”
        Exciting when frames suddenly snap into pieces? These things are already too much like potato chips…a bit of force in the wrong direction and SNAP!
        OTOH, isn’t the weight limit widely credited for making competitive machines more affordable for the punters? Not that many of the high-end things are “affordable” but they don’t weigh much less than cheaper alternatives, which I doubt would be the case if they let ’em go wild in trying to bring weights down.

        • Some frames are heavier and over engineered; seems like Italian bikes today tend heavier than others as an example, (when shopping for a new bike). The pro peloton frames that weigh less are no less fragile & they may benefit more since they already are prepared for a lower weight limit.

          And in addition, disc brakes necessitate frames being even heavier to accept them. Further, opportunity to buy a new high end bike with rim brakes is about gone.

          It seems rational to believe with a lower weight limit, the pro peloton may not have seen hydraulic disc brakes, electronic shifting, deep dish / wide rims and wide tires.

          It also seems like the punter’s bike could cost more because they now have plenty of heavier expensive tech equipment that sometimes doesn’t offer alternatives. -Think hydraulic disc brakes, electronic shifting, wide tires & rims etc.

          Punters may have additional problems when attempting to maintain hydraulic discs and electronic shifting; everything was easy for people to adjust etc.

          Think of the technology missing if the minimum weight limit was lowered years ago.

          • “It seems rational to believe with a lower weight limit, the pro peloton may not have seen hydraulic disc brakes, electronic shifting, deep dish / wide rims and wide tires.” is a nice fantasy but the industry was gonna ram hydro disc brakes and the rest down the pro peloton’s throat whether they gagged on it or not. You might remember a few rides making choking noises until their teams told ’em to STFU and ride?

      • That leads me to believe the bike industry will pressure UCI to marginally drop the weight limit. Then the industry can redesign their bikes, take off the disc brakes, revert back to narrow light-weight tires and ultimately have a new product everyone must buy (and Pros to use) over the next 5 years.

        • DBidwell,
          However, I wonder if that’s backwards. -Perhaps the bike industry will stop pressuring UCI to continue the minimum weight limit?

          Here’s a rational write up regarding it: The UCI’s 6.8kg weight limit is under threat (again). Does it need to change?

          It’s weird to think We’ve gone from drilling Our chainrings, lugs and other parts to make them lighter to the other end of the spectrum of convincing people to pay extra for bikes that weigh more and in fact too much.

          Now that’s incredible marketing to get people to open their wallet to pay for more than they need. I want to pay more and get less!

          A few years back and friend noted it’s about $20 a gram to reduce a bikes weight. Now it cost more to increase it and people are paying it.

          Isn’t it a 24 year old rule?

          & personally, I wouldn’t care, except I need new equipment & light is limited.

  7. It’s somewhat ironic that Conti teams at the other end of the financial spectrum can often have riders on a variety of kit (frames especially)…maybe they’re at the cutting performance edge? (I ‘jest’ of course, they’re needs-must scenarios).

    I think Trek allow their riders to choose their TT helmet given that Trek/Bontrager don’t make one. So assume they have the option to use the one that suits the best…and possibly quite a benefit in a TT.

  8. I think Sagan was on his own Specialized bike at the recent Tour of Hungary while the rest of the team was on a different brand. But he’s a big fish in a little pond of a team, so he could get away with it where most can’t.

    • Sagan (and Boonen) were a few the Big-S actually made a bike to fit though I think they tried to recoup the molding/design costs by selling ’em later? Then there was the Paolo Bettini fiasco where they measured(?) him up and sent him a bike that was too big. He traded it for the right size at his local Big-S dealer! Some might remember Boonen riding an aluminum tig-welded thing (made-to-measure by ?) before Big-S got him a bike that fit?

  9. Interesting.

    Was thinking you could almost let riders choose their own bikes but imagine the nightmare for mechanics having to service many different types of machine. Won’t happen.

    Hard part is teams giving up the sponsor deals, think it needs a team rich enough to not bother.

    • “.. nightmare for mechanics having to service many different types of machine.”
      In the race-chasing cycling vacation daze, us mechanics would look at the pro teams and almost cry. While we had to work on any/everything Joe or Jill Crankarm might show up with, their guys worked on bikes they built (so they were done right) that had components all from the same source while we’d go “WTF?” when presented with some gawdawful contraption you’d think was built-up in a hardware store!
      Of course the stakes were much lower…but it’s a different kind of pressure when Joe/Jill’s cycling vacation is being ruined because their bike doesn’t work, even if it’s your fault.

  10. I wonder if any of the frame suppliers have exclusive deals with teams. Can Colnago (for example) even supply another WT team? Of course another team could buy them retail, though if Ineos rock up to SigmaSport and order 150 Colnagos I think it would give the game away!
    Aside from the nightmare for the mechanics there are also some logistical issues. Currently a team gets (say) 200 frames, obviously to fit their riders but there will be multitudes in each size and it would take a series of disasters to run out. But if only one rider is on a particular frame it would only take a bad run of crashes to send the team scurrying to the shops! And bike bits aren’t always available these days.

    • Big-S has Bora, Soudal and had Total until Sagan left. I think the limit is how many teams they want to buy.
      What I find more interesting is the component sponsorship – seems the minute the fat chex from SRAM stop coming, teams move to Shimano, even if they have to buy the stuff. Campagnolo no longer wants to pony-up what it costs to get ’em off Shimano so I wonder how much longer Shimano will pay any team vs saying “Cash the checks from SRAM, no problem. But when you want stuff that works, we’re happy to make you a special team deal on our stuff.” in a way that Campagnolo probably did back-in-the-day.

      • Shimano stopped paying teams years ago and are even phasing out offering anything for free now that there’s so little competition.

        The current Shimano offer is a heavy discount for teams which use the full package (including wheels) and put a minimum of two stickers on the frame.

        Teams which use less than the full package usually have the components supplied by the bike supplier who would have got them from Shimano at OEM pricing.

        • So if happened sooner than I thought! Wonder how much longer they’ll spend on neutral support services at the big races, especially these daze when those services provide so little…seems like they hand out more bottles than anything else?

          • I bet they’ll keep on going with neutral service.

            It has the strategic value of supporting convergence on Shimano’s standards (Campagnolo’s different gear spacing for 12 speed makes their drivetrains a liability) and is worth it for getting their neutral support cars (rolling billboards with absolutely massive Shimano signage on every side) into the race convoy.

          • It’s not a huge expense – they do get paid for providing neutral service at professional races. It’s quite an efficient form of advertising and won’t be anywhere near the top of the list if Shimano execs have to go on a cost cutting spree.

            Beyond being an effective advertising outlet and a strategic benefit, Shimano is a Japanese company which understands the obligations which come with occupying the #1 position in their industry.

          • “It’s not a huge expense – they do get paid for providing neutral service at professional races.”
            Do you know how much? I always figured with ASO one had to bid on (and pay for) the opportunity?

          • They are bidding to *sell* services to the race, typically via a competitive tender for races subject to government procurement policies and via direct negotiation with private sector race organisers.

            I don’t have figures, but my guess that for certain high priority races they would price it at less than full cost recovery and charge the difference to the advertising budget. It’s worth it for getting their mobile billboards into the race convoy (not just a pre-race sponsor parade) and their brand onto the lips of commentators.

          • DaveRides – you don’t have any figures but yet you “know” this? How? I know someone who knows someone who provides neutral services to some races in Italy. I’ll ask them if they get paid for this or do it just as a marketing/promotion exercise, as I assumed Shimano would do (if ASO didn’t make them pay?) at LeTour.

  11. This is looking more and more like UCI downhill where racers can pick what they want.

    Gravel might also be influencing riders or teams using the wind tunnel to become agnostic towards gear.

    From my napkin analysis, only a few teams have in house wheel brands.

    Specialized has 2 UCI teams
    Trek 1
    Cannondale 1
    Cervelo 1
    Van Rysel 1

    No wheel brand

    I see brands dictating wheels if they want sell more.

    Expect a lot more team generated wind tunnel porn to influence shoppers.

  12. Had a few thoughts along these lines after watching the netflix series and the episode about JVingegards TT win. The DS (Zeeman) was asked, but didn’t go into specifics – had me wondering the extents the team went to optimise the “materials” for that stage. There was a hint they did, hilly TT, and no bike change. Did the team reduce the weight of JV’s bike where they could, also element of taking (calculated) risks…good lines through corners etc, body fairy for better aero etc.
    Still find it amazing the gap between TP and JC on that stage 🤯

  13. I would have said that with the current level of technology it doesn’t matter much which bike they are on, but Van Rysel seem to be proving me wrong….

      • I don’t know, so just a conjecture (disclaimer, I *don’t think* their winning streak is mainly down to the bike).
        However, given that most market bikes are subject to costraints to make them profitable etc., a huge player like Decathlon can decide to suddenly throw a lot of money and effort into a product which isn’t really sustainable or viable for them in the long term, which would lead to a superior object in qualitative terms, when compared to the rest of course (the rest of the pro stuff being nowadays mostly mass market bikes which must respond to the above named costraints). You’d actually get a “true” marginal gain of sort in performance. Of course, keeping the brand, the name, maybe even the shape you’ll be soon producing and selling a different beast.
        Mass market retailers do that all the time, hence my (mere) conjecture.
        It happened to Cervélo through a different process when property changed.

          • An interesting exercise in marketing. The team went from BMC branded bikes with Campagnolo components to Van Rysel branded bikes with Shimano…and THAT’s the reason they are (supposedly anyway) having better results according to plenty of commenters here? Really?
            The Decathlon marketing-mavens scored bigtime – whoever decided to rebrand their stuff from BTWIN (which I thought was a sports gambling thing) to Van Rysel looks like a genius.

          • Larry T, did you read gabriele´s disclaimer?

            Besides, no one here has suggested that the switch from BMC to Van Rysel was THE reason why the team is not only winning but top tenning in a fashion not seen in previous years.

            The sponsor change, with all that it entails in addition to a possibly better (read. faster and/or more comfortable) bike (or bike/wheels) was mentioned as ONE possible (as in we shouldn´t be too quick to rule it out) factor.

            PS Van Rysel also sponsors (since 2023) Van Rysel – Roubaix, a French Continental team: it went from 3 wins in 2022 to 2 wins in 2023, but has 3 wins this year already 🙂 The new Van Rysel would appear to be better than last year´s model…

          • Tuesday- I read most of what Gabriele posts and I’d say 98% of the time I agree with it. So?
            I guess it’s just me but I’d like to think people who follow pro cycling closely for any length of time would eventually figure out it’s the legs/lungs/smarts that win bike races, not the bike used, the food consumed, the clothes worn, etc. And that whatever a team is using now is so, so much better than whatever it was they were using before (but of course THAT stuff was the best back then) because they get PAID to say so, whether it actually is or not.
            But I guess I’m just wrong as it seems clever MARKETING trumps all, with SRAM being example #1 🙁

          • Not quite a whole order of magnitude (10x) but not far off:

            Decathlon revenue in 2023: €15.6 billion.

            Shimano revenue in 2023: US$3.38 billion (€3.14 billion)

          • gabriele wrote: “disclaimer, I *don’t think* their winning streak is mainly down to the bike”
            Larry T comments: “and THAT’s the reason they are (supposedly anyway) having better results according to plenty of commenters here? Really?”

            Apparently I must´ve read your comment wrong, but I sincerely got the impression you had missed the above disclaimer.

            PS Good luck to you in trying to find someone here who doesn´t think “it’s the legs/lungs/smarts that win bike races” 🙂

        • Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems you are suggesting that Decathlon commissioned bikes for their race teams that are NOT what they’re selling in their big-box sporting goods stores? That would be no surprise to me but might suggest Joe/Jill Crankarm (who believe the bikes are a big part of the team’s success) who rush down to buy one are being deceived? Nothing new there of course…

          • You are wrong, I believe gabriele is saying that the Van Rysel AG2R models are not different from those that Decathlon is selling in its stores, albeit in limited numbers, at a certain loss. The top store models that will be sold in the coming years will, though, be ever so slightly less identical.

            The main part of the profits will come from the upper middle class models.

            Unlike you, I´m not inclined to think that the buyers are buying because the Van Rysel will make them faster or because it is better than the other top or upper middle class models of other big name manufacturers.

            I may be right, I may be wrong, but I believe that the Joes and Jills you´ve met in your line of work are but a small and unrepresentative part of cyclists who are in the market for a new road bike costing €€ or $$.

          • Tuesday – After 3 decades of challenging European bike tours along with a couple of decades in bike retail/wholesale I think my experience is far from “a small and unrepresentative part of cyclists who are in the market for a new road bike costing €€ or $$” though I’ve been out of all that for a few years now.
            Those Joes and Jills wanted to buy the same bike their hero raced on in the 1980’s and it hadn’t changed when I got out of it 40 years later.

  14. Think Ribble did this at the Tour of Britain a few years back in a team time trial, where almost every rider had a different brand/colour helmet. Sure there was some comments at the time of the “amateurish” look of a team who can’t put all their riders in the same kit, but it seemed pretty obvious it was for the individual aero benefit, especially with Dan Bigham involved.

  15. Sounds like massive extra admin for teams to source whatever the new thing riders want to try and for mechanics to set up each different bike correctly every time. I reckon the hassle and opportunity for mistakes would outweigh the benefits.

  16. Whatever the pedantic arguments. Top end bikes are pretty much one of the same. Not too surprising as many now come off the same production line. I read endless reports and write ups about the benefits of this or that frame or component. My experience is that they are all pretty much the same. Yes, there are of course minor differences, but in terms of performance you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between them.
    It’s the rider that counts.

  17. Amazing how many of these anonymous posts have nothing to contribute to the discussion, merely a snide swipe at those who do! 🤪

  18. If a team thought there was value in going down that route, it would free up more space for either their title sponsor or a non-manufacturing secondary sponsor if the bike companies don’t want to pay up for their branding to be retained.

    So Ineos could ride on a mixture of Pinarello and Toblerone branded bikes, for example. It might even be something that would keep a manufacturer on board as a sponsor, if a team is still only promoting them and has unrelated branding on the other bikes used.

  19. @DaveRides Right, and we’ve indeed seen the effects of Shimano execs going into a cutting spree elsewhere as in jumping further in exploiting workforce and those other sorts of «bring down your standards» policies which end up (when customers are lucky) in massive recall.

  20. I’d comment and participate more if our friend Larry were muted for a while. Lots of words. Nothing new or useful.

    The actual article, interesting, intriguing, worth considering.

    The comments, more boring and predictable than a 2012-14 Sky led TDF mountain stage.

  21. Well, for the doubters Merckx will take some beating with his truly well rounded record:
    5 Tour de France, 5 Giro d’Italia, 1 Vuelta, 7 SanRemo, 5 Liège–Bastogne–Liège, 3 World Championships, 3 Roubaix, 2 Lombardy, 2 Flanders, 3 Flèche Wallonne, 3 Ghent-Wevelgem and more than 200 other races.
    Pog is going to have to up his game!

  22. I’m a bit late to the party, but this is kinda the way it works in Triathlon, for the more well-known athletes. Lionel Sanders recently posted a video about his experience in the wind tunnel and certain helmets and skinsuits tested faster than others. His bike is sponsored by Canyon, so that’s untouchable unless he wants to go down a lengthy road and replace a major sponsor with a new one. He’s a big enough name he could probably name his brand, but for the moment he’s with Canyon.

    But he doesn’t have a skinsuit or a helmet sponsor. The answer at the end was: “these two tested fastest – can you get one of them to sponsor you?”

  23. I’d prefer a “one design” model. Maybe suppliers could bid for individual races and all teams/riders on identical bikes of appropriate size. We would be watching a race of riders, not equipment. Race service would be simple; poorer teams less disadvantaged and we may see less of the ridiculous ‘fashionable’ items.

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