Extreme Positioning

News & Results

04/18/2013| 1 comment
by Neil Browne
Pro cyclists blame crashes on “nerves” as they are constantly fighting to move to the front of the pro peloton. I think part of the reason is positioning on the bike Fotoreporter Sirotti

Extreme Positioning

Slammed and stretched out - Is that why we see so many crashes?

I’m watching footage of recent editions of the Tour de France and there are street blocking crashes on roads that are perfectly straight. Yes the roads at sections are narrow and the Tour peloton almost numbers 200 bodies, but still ... crashes. It’s surprising. Often the commentators are left scratching their heads as to the cause of the pile-up. That got me thinking and I started some research.

While there are plenty of stats showing abandonments, I couldn’t find one that showed abandonments due to strictly a crash.

Riders blame the crashes on “nerves” as they are constantly fighting to move to the front of the peloton. I, however, think part of the reason for the crashes is positioning on the bike.

Today’s modern race bikes are Ferraris. In fact bike companies often enlist car manufacturers for design improvements or get inspiration from high performance cars - like Specialized’s Venge from the F1 or BMC’s new Lamborghini model. They are carbon fiber constructed and designed by engineers looking for the slightest edge on the competition’s bike. Today’s bikes are undeniably faster than their predecessors.

Originally, I thought that the head and seat tube angles of today’s bikes versus the bikes of the 1980s were more aggressive. Turns out that’s not the case. In comparing the angles of a 2013 Trek Madone to the angles listed in an old Trek brochure I found online, those two angles really haven’t changed much - depending on size, both bikes are right around 73 degrees.

However, what I did notice was that the wheelbase of the 1984 Trek 660 is longer than the wheelbase of the Trek Madone race bike of today (1984 Trek 660 bike: 99.7cm versus 2013 Trek Madone: 99.3cm). Also the 1984 Trek’s chain stay length is 41.5cm versus the 2013 model’s 40.7cm. The bottom bracket drop on the 2013 Madone is 7.0cm versus the ’84 Trek 660’s 7.2cm - a bit higher.

I compared other major bike brands to the 1984 Trek 660 and found even shorter wheelbases and chain stays.

While the head and seat tube angles haven’t changed, the length of the bike has shortened and the bottom bracket is slightly higher. The result is a modern bike that is quicker handling than previous models.

The evolution of the bike design is because criteriums became more of a staple of racing in the States. The constant cornering that was often less than a mile in distance, necessitated sharp handling bikes.

Take that design change and then compound it with the current popularity of pro riders slamming their 130 to 140mm stems to the top of the head tube. Often riders have custom fabricated stems with an aggressive negative rise that lowers their front profile even more.

Case in point: Philippe Gilbert’s BMC bike. Tech guru James Huang of CyclingNews/ Bike Radar reported the details of Gilbert’s BMC TeamMachine SLR01. James reports that Gilbert is 5’10”. Typically a rider of that stature would ride a 56cm frame. Instead the current world champion throws his leg over a 52cm frame with his


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jackcav's picture

I think one contributing factor may be the bubble wrap society kids have grown up in the last few decades. Most of us in our 50s age category did our early races in skid lids and knew we were lunch meat if we went down the wrong way. The preponderance of bad crashes seemed to happen once hard helmets were mandatory. Like in ice hockey before there were mandatory helmet rules players played with a level of respect to the fact they were all unprotected. Somehow it felt more safe riding sans brain bucket on a hot day doing a fast cat 1/2 crit in 1978 than doing a masters race today even though we are seasoned vets. The "new guys" who came up in the 90s seem to cause all the crashes with risky moves not respecting the apex and not holding their line. Maybe its a combination, we did our race training with men who never doffed a lid and maybe we are simply better because of it.