We spent last weekend standing out in the cold and snow flurries of Tábor, an hour south of Prague, screaming at cross racers riding around in circles. In between bourbon, beers, and cow bell ringing, we also sought out anything interesting from a tech perspective that we could pass on to you. There were several prototypes from tires to frames, that we’ll offer our guess as to whether they’ll make it to market.
We met with several professional mechanics and the odd directeur sportif to see what kind of special prep they were doing for bikes for a world championship. Some had worked dozens of worlds and had the wisdom to show for it, while a few were there for the first time and just happy to soak in the atmosphere. We also had a chance to get out on the course for a bit with some of the pros pre-riding the course to test out a couple of the bikes we have on test and to help some friends figure out which tires to ride for the changing frozen and muddy track.
So click on through for our first part, and we’ll try to give you a little behind the scenes insight into a bunch of things stood out for us…
I’ll start off with the Women’s elite race by remembering that it was cold, snowing, and muddy on the first day of racing. While the junior guys raced on a mostly frozen track, even they had some slippery mud to deal with, and our preride chats with some of the women made it pretty clear that full-on mud tires were the order of the day. We tried out some of the new Challenge Baby Limus tubulars that we offered a sneak peek of at Eurobike. While they did well at very low pressures in the mixed stuff on Saturday, the Tufo Flexus Cubus that we have on a long-term test handled the slick mud that ended up dominating Sunday’s races.
First time Argentinian Caro Gomez had local Czech mechanic Václav Svatoš overhaul her bikes leading up to the races. He did standard prep like installing new color-matched housing and cables and overhauling her TRP mechanical brakes, but said it was the placement of extra zip ties that really finished the bike up. With all the hopping on and off, not to count for crashes, a number of pro racers have been ending up with cables getting caught up and developing friction very quickly in a race and even a number of riders with Enve forks having the brake housing rubbing the tire.
We heard rumors before we showed up about some prototype tires Nys had been riding on, and searched out some details. Apparently Dutch tire maker Dugast cast a handful of special prototype Rhino treads with pieces of glass and sand embedded throughout the rubber. We met up with Belgian Wout Van Aert’s mechanics who let us have a look at a set up close. The aggregate in the rubber was said to have been very effective at gripping the icy, frozen ground much like sandpaper. Unfortunately, when the tires were presented to the UCI at a technical review meeting a day before any racing began, they were forbidden from competition, presumably like the studded Dugasts before them in the interest of the safety of other rider. That being said, even thought they won’t make it to international competition anytime soon, the same issue happened with the studded Diavolos which you can now buy directly from Dugast, plus it looked like at least one rider had used them to warm-up on the course on Saturday with a bit lessened risk of crashing on the frozen ground. They could end up as the most expensive warm-up tire by next winter, but the UCI promised to check for them on start lines, presumably by running a hand along tire to see if they shred gloves or draw blood!
We saw that French U23 rider Clément Russo had an interesting setup showing what you get without a big budget and a bit less sponsor oversight. His older Ultegra Di2 drivetrain included a satellite shifter on the tops for a bit of flexibility and pulled competitor Avid’s Shorty Ultimate brakes. His right brake lever curiously showed what happens after a couple of seasons picking up your muddy cross bike with your right hand and then repeatedly grabbing the rear brake with that dirty hand. Interestingly, he was one of the few riders we saw riding Dugast Small Bird tubulars, which are said to be better in slippery conditions as long as the mud isn’t deep.
With fast changing conditions as the sun came out on Sunday, we also saw a few mad dashes to put easier gearing on for the heavier muddy course. Since they were changing wheels so frequently anyway, it was fast work for German U23 Paul Lindenau’s mechanics to swap in a few new cassettes.
We dropped by Katie Compton’s heated tent setup where they were preparing to head to the pit (and start line) to get a look at her setup. Compton apparently prefers the custom white rubber of her FMB SSC Super Mud Pros to the standard black rubber like we have on a a set of Slaloms that we have been testing all season. We haven’t talked to FMB about their white compound yet, but spoke with two other tubular makers who told us they they don’t see a huge grip difference in the white vs. black rubber. They did however tell us that they regularly see the white tires wear out about 10% faster (suggesting a slightly softer rubber) and get a lot of feedback from riders who prefer one over the other.
Stopping in to the USA Cycling contingent on day one we chatted with Jeremy Power’s mechanic Tom Hopper who was doing double duty of keeping Power’s bikes running through pre-rides and helping out the American juniors and women who didn’t have big trade team backing. With freezing temperature and a bit of snow Hopper was happy to have their independent water setup in the team van in which they had mixed antifreeze, as they had seen problems before after pressure washing bikes in the cold and having water get into shifter wires and internals and freeze up.
Our last look before we get into the elite men’s tech would be at Japanese U23 rider Kohei Maeda’s very colorful Ritchey Swiss Cross. We always love to see modern steel bikes at the top level of the sport, and Maeda’s bikes are definitely made to be seen. I don’t think I’ve seen the Tioga Spyder saddle on a race cross bike before, but it is said to be comfortable and should standup well to crashing and pressure washing. I’m not sure I can get behind having all of those bright anodized colors on one bike, but you can’t fault the logic of being able to differentiate your A and B bikes easily by that ludicrously bright Fizik bar tape, which we have seen cleans up well after a cross race.
OK, keep your eyes open for our next tech feature on a couple of elite men’s bikes.