Smaller Gears, Slower Riders? Tour de France Gears Explained | Tour de France 2017


– Professional cycling has
changed in many, many ways over the last couple of decades. And one subtle way, but
nevertheless important, is the gear ratios that
the riders are using. Now bear with me, this is
actually very interesting. So we’re in the Katusha
Alpecin team truck. You can tell that
because it’s stacked full of beautiful red team bikes there. In this little cupboard
we have a selection of the cassettes; so the rear gears that the
riders have at their disposal. Now, about 20 years ago
there would not have been half that selection. Riders would have used
either an 11-21 or an 11-23. In extremes perhaps an 11-25. So lots of cogs all really
closely spaced together. Now, however, the smallest
cassette in here is 11-25. Then they have 11-26, 11-28,
which they use most days, then 11-30, and even four
11-32 cassettes up here that are reserved, principally it seems, for Tony Martin who likes to spend all day riding around in his big chain ring. So, it seems a little odd, doesn’t it, given that the roads
have not got any steeper, bike technology has got better, riders are not going
much slower, if at all, but yet their gears have got easier. I think we need to ask some questions. Jason is a former
pro-cyclist and you’ve been team liaison for SRAM
for what, 10 years now? So you were the guy that bridges the gap between teams and the manufacture. – Exactly, yeah. – Okay, so you’re pretty well placed then to comment on how gear
selection, gear choices, changed over the last couple of decades. – I hope so, yeah. – Okay, so why are we
seeing this shift then? If you’ll pardon the pun! – Yeah, I think we definitely
see like 10 years ago an 11-25 was the standard cassette. That’s what everybody
rode and mountain stage in the tour, they’d go to 26, whereas today a 26 or even the 28 is becoming the go-to cassette, and in the mountain stages
they’ll ride 30 or 32. But concurrently you see
that on the flat stages they’re riding bigger
chain rings all the time. So the gear range in general is just really expanded. – And so the reason it’s expanded. Is that a request from
teams that you then fulfil, or is it a case of, you
know, riders are using compact chain sets and benefiting from wider gear ratios
just out in the mountains, so people you don’t race, and therefore that’s
driving what the teams use? – No, I mean, we basically provide the teams what they would prefer to
use from what we can offer, and the WiFLi rear derailleur where they can go up to a 32 cog, really gives them the flexibility to ride one bike for the whole tour and they just need to change the cassette. They don’t need to do anything
like that with compact and it just simplifies
their whole life, basically. – Why are they doing it
in the first place though? Is it the fact that
cadencies are increasing, so how fast people are pedalling, or is it a case of, you
know, they’re just going a little bit slower? I mean, I don’t think that’s the case. – I think the riders are
going slightly slower uphill, I think the bikes are going
probably faster on the flats, whether it’s the benefits
of better training and much better aerodynamics on the bike than we had 10 years ago, 20 years ago, but if you look at videos from the 70s you really see, you know, they’re doing a lot of this stuff and today, you know, really nice pedalling
actions up the climbs. So the whole style of
cycling has changed, I think. Just because of… Now you have the possibility
to ride those gears. The guys in the 70s and
80s and even early 90s never had that possibility. – Now one thing that the
Katusha mechanics have told me is that the biggest fan
of an 11-32 cassette is actually Tony Martin. Now he’s arguably one of
the most powerful riders in the Peloton. And so why is a guy like Tony riding 11-32 because 32 is a big cassette isn’t it? – Absolutely, but he’s got a 58 chain ring on his bike for instance
– okay fair enough – and so the 32 cassette really allows him to ride the big chain ring almost the whole time and, you know, that’s
what he’s aiming to do. When it’s fast down hills
he’s really got the gear to get up to probably 75, 80Ks an hour and still pedalling but not completely spun
out or over revving. – So is a part of that, like you say, actually just simply being able to stay in the big chain ring for longer, and therefore not having to
use the little ring at all? – Absolutely. I mean, especially when you’ve got you know, massive chain rings like that you’ve got a huge gap between the big chain ring and
the small chain ring, so they’re definitely wanting to stay in the big chain ring
for as much as possible. – So riders are more concerned then with saving their legs
and trying to inflict less damage on them so
that they can effectively be fresher at the end
of a three week race. But technology has also played a key part. So let’s have a look in one
of the Katusha drawers here. Now, this is a SRAM eTap rear derailleur and it is, you’ll notice, a medium cage rear derailleur. So that bit there, between
the two jockey wheels, is a little big longer and it’s also what they call WiFLi. And so what it does is
it effectively means that this rear derailleur
can be bolted onto the bike all year around and the
mechanics can swap effortlessly between 11-25 cassettes and 11-32. Meaning that there is
no extra work involved. Whereas, back in the day, swapping between an 11-23 and an 11-28 would have involved potentially swapping out
an entirely new rear mech and indeed a new chain as well
to make it slightly longer. So it’s technological advances like WiFLi that actually enabled
riders to save their legs, use more appropriate
gears and then go faster. Now the team does still carry what’s called short cage rear derailleurs, so like this one here. You can see for comparison it is much smaller. But effectively it is only
really for time trial bikes, where they can be
confident that the riders don’t need any really light gears, because it’s not often you
climb super steep hills in time trials. So that’ll be the reason
why that’s still there. Well that has hopefully shed some light on the evolution of
gearing in the Pro Peloton. A mixture of rider
preference dictating a need for smaller gears for
faster climbing cadences, and then paired it with
technological development from components like SRAM WiFLi. Do make sure you subscribe to GCN. To do so just click on the globe and then if you’d like some more content, why not see Tony Martin’s TT bike with that monster 58 tooth chain ring. And then we’ve also got my own little test of riding standard versus compact gears and that was on the
fearsome Mortirolo in Italy.