MTB Tech We've Spotted at the 2020 Tour de France

Sep 18, 2020
by James Smurthwaite  

While top-level racing is a hotbed of new technology and fresh ideas in mountain biking, that doesn't tend to be the case in professional road cycling. A combination of UCI rules, traditions and riders fearing the price of failure of an experimental setup, it's a slow-moving world. Comparing the mountain bikes of 20 years ago to today would make you think you're looking at a different sport, whereas in road cycling you'd probably just notice the seatstays now meet the downtube a bit lower.

It's also a fairly secretive world with mechanics in the pro peloton reluctant to give away any information about the working of their bikes, in order to keep other teams from benefiting, so it can be hard to spot the new tech when it does arrive. That being said, we've definitely noticed mountain biking's influence on road cycling in recent years, so we thought we'd take a look at what's happening in the peloton this year that can be traced back to the MTB world.

XTR rotors

XTR (left) vs Dura Ace (right)

Despite the fact that the rim brakes of the Jumbo Visma team are currently in pole position in the race, disc brakes on peloton bikes are more common than ever before. This is a technology that has been adopted and adapted for road bikes over the course of the last decade but even this year we're seeing some tech plucked directly from mountain bikes and placed on Tour bikes.

The Mitchelton-Scott and Deceuninck-Quick-Step teams are running full Dura Ace Di2 groupsets apart from one component, the brake rotors, where they're running XTR. XTR goes down to 140mm so fitting them is a simple swap over, but the question is, why? We've read a number of theories from cycling websites, but the truth is, nobody seems to know for sure.

The primary theory comes down to weight. The 140mm XTR rotor is 11 grams lighter than its Dura Ace equivalent, which may not sound like much but don't forget we're in the realm of marginal gains and it's rotational weight as well. Other theories are that the larger cooling fins of the Dura Ace will be more affected by crosswinds or that the XTR will have greater braking perormance, especially in the wet, thanks to the larger holes drilled into the braking surface of the rim.

Whatever the case, it seems to be working for the DQS team with two stage wins under their belt and Sam Bennet poised to clinch the Green Jersey in Paris on Sunday.

Dropper Posts

Mavic neutral support cars hang behind the peloton and are there to offer support to riders on any team when their team cars can’t reach them.

Each Mavic car can carry six bikes but that has previously left them unable to provide a perfectly fitting bike for the riders they are trying to fit.

To remedy that, the brand has been using dropper posts to help riders with their roadside bike fits since 2017. This year, as reported by Velo News, Mavic commissioned KS to design custom 27.2mm droppers that have 65mm of travel and levers located under the seat.

Mavic will apparently complete the bike swap at the roadside and then a Mavic staff member will instruct the rider on how to use the seat from the car after the rider sets off.

Tubeless set ups

Stan s race Sealant 2016

As the saying goes in the road cycling world, "tubeless for amateurs, tubulars for pros". While the benefits of tubeless tires are well proven, pro cyclists tend to stick to tubulars for their familiarity and the greater security if they do get a puncture in the middle of a big group of riders. An important distinction here is that we're talking about tubulars, not inner tubes here - tubulars are a tire and tube in one that is glued on to a flatter rim, which means even with a puncture you'll continue riding on rubber, not on the rim.

Tubeless didn't make their debut at this year's tour as they've been on certain riders' time trial bikes, but it's the first time that we think we've seen a number of riders using tubeless set ups on their regular bikes. Team UAE Emirates announced in February they would be riding tubeless tires all year and picked up the opening stage win thanks to Alexander Kristoff riding Campagnolo Bora WTO 45 tubeless wheels with Vittoria Corsa tubeless tires. Kristoff has been one of the strongest advocates of tubeless in the peloton and last year won Gent-Wevelgem and finished third at the Tour of Flanders using tubeless tires. Elsewhere, Italian and European champion Giacomo Nizzolo is reported to be using Vittoria Corsa G2.0 TLR tubeless tires on Enve 5.6 tubeless wheels on certain stages.

Inserts

CushCore review

Where tubeless wheels go, inserts can't be far behind. As reported by CyclingTips following a recent episode of The Cycling Podcast, not only are the Education First team experimenting on running tubeless with no sealant (like some XC racers) but they also seem to be using a type of foam in its tires to help if a riders flats in the middle of a stage.

Jac-Johann Steyn, one of the team's mechanics, said, "We have, I call it like a sponge inside. I can’t go into detail about it because it’s always a secret to other teams, but yeah, that’s basically our safety and you can still ride it... it almost feels like you’ve got like two bars (approx 30psi) in your tires so you can still ride with it wherever you need to go... It’s to help you get to some point where you can get a new wheel. And it’s also a safety thing, if you don’t use that foam insert and the tire’s deflated, and it comes off, you may crash.”

There's no word on what 'sponge' the team is using although we suspect it's something custom as we're not aware of any brand that currently makes inserts for road tires... Plus, how hard can it be to design your own version of a closed foam hoop? We're not even sure if the foam made it to the Tour in the end, but it's clearly another example of road cycling looking to mountain biking for its tech.

Other Trends

Wider tires

As mountain bike tires have got wider so have road bike tires too. While 23mm was previously king, with some riders going down to 21mm or narrower, riders have begun to realize the extra comfort of going a bit wider doesn't equal a cost of great rolling resistance. Because of that, we've seen most riders in the peloton go out to 25mm or even wider to 28mm in some cases.

Off-road skills

Ok, so this one might be a bit spurious, but the three breakout riders from this year's Tour, Wout Van Aert, Sep Kuss and Marc Hirschi, all have one thing in common, an off-road background. Van Aert is 3x Cyclocross World Champion and Kuss and Hirschi both started out mountain biking in their youth, with Kuss winning races at the Collegiate Nationals while at the University of Colorado. Maybe it's the superior bike handling or an extra dose of explosive power, but there's clearly something that off road riding can bring to the skillset of a road cyclist to help them excel at the sport.


101 Comments

  • 133 2
 Not gonna lie, I enjoy occasional roadie updates on pinkbike
  • 13 0
 Always like to see tech updates from other disciplines
  • 57 6
 BUT WITH EBIKES I DRAW THE LINE
  • 5 0
 First picture is the only thing I like about the Tour de France :-)
  • 50 4
 Hey @pinkbike @mikelevy

There was no Tour de France gap this year (that we've seen anyway), which is probably for the best given the ridiculous levels it has got to in recent years.

??????

check this out

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T-L4FB0HfM&t=9s&ab_channel=BrainlessFamily&fbclid=IwAR2WJz5ACREqosbgProIu8TrsCyL0nT-3CKyYANeZs-mP0xbsEkd8paiXe0
  • 11 1
 Not sure if the jump is more impressive than the guy casually tossing the other guy in the air after like fml I struggle to lift my dog.
  • 6 6
 Meanwhile Commençal has put out this banger, can't believe it hasn't show up on PB yet.

youtu.be/DT7LoCLA2RM
  • 2 0
 @wnbloose: Ups!
I can't believe I missed that...tks
  • 2 0
 @nozes:
Hella BA riding and drone piloting. Very nice
  • 34 2
 XTR 11 g lighter, cooling fins are less affected by crosswind, better braking performance (especially in the wet) due to larger holes drilled in the braking surface. Who df designed dura ace?
  • 8 0
 I think it has to do with aerodynamics... some say the main disadvantage of discs is that they disturb the airflow right at the front of the bike. Wider cooling fins probably act like deep section aero wheels.
  • 1 4
 @jzPV: Aero disc brake covers with adjustable openings seems like a good idea to me. just make it bolt onto the flat mount/post mount adapter.
  • 17 1
 People riding in a group of 50 riders being 10 cm apart at 100km/h down a mountain without any protection (besides their helmet), but afraid of getting cut by those razor blades of death that are brake discs (that somehow never seem to cut any mountainbiker).
  • 1 0
 Without the cooling fins it could potentialy disturb less the airflow. Perhaps the disturbance in airflow wasn't beneficial, especially since MTBers drag those rotors for years each descent and not even fading occurs .
  • 5 0
 The DA rotors are supposedly heavier to give more heat control. The fins are probably more aero in head on wind situations, and the absence of holes adds thermal mass.
  • 5 0
 Weight is kind of irrelevant since there is a UCI weight limit for road bikes.
  • 8 0
 @Mac1987: Mountain bikers tend not to ride in packs of 50 that are 10cm apart going 100kmh down a mountain.
  • 1 0
 it looks cool tho
  • 5 0
 When Shimano's road disc stuff was first coming out they claimed that heat dissipation was even more of a problem than on MTB, hence the larger heat sinks.
  • 1 0
 @Deoratwo: There's some rule about brake fairings in the road world. I don't think they're explicitly banned but I don't think you're allowed to just cover the caliper
  • 2 1
 They had to also make certain design concessions early on because people were freaking out about losing fingers, toes, noses, ears, whole limbs and other appendages in a crash due to them being caught in the spinning rotors. This is part of why you see much less empty space in road rotors vs their MTB counterparts. I'm not saying it's the whole reason road rotors are what they are but it's a big part.
  • 1 0
 @Mac1987: I saw a guy lose his pinky when he crashed, fell on the bike, and slid 5 ft on top of it. Pinky=gone. Nice clean cut.
  • 5 2
 @jzPV: Thought aero stuff just looked cool. Heard skinsuits got banned cause female attendees of world cups couldn't handle Peaty & Sam in the skin suits? Sexual chaos, its been called. FB has all the facts posted plain as day.
  • 1 0
 I've used the Dura Ace rotors on my previous road bike and I'm on the current XTR rotors on my gravel bike. The Dura Ace ones would always be pretty warped from braking hard after a long descent. The XTR's still do but to a much lesser degree. Mind you that both rotors do straighten back once cooled down after a few moments.
  • 1 0
 @westbymidwest: huh. sounds like they wrote safety out of the regulations then. Something like an F1-style brake duct seems like a win-win, with cooling, aero, and safety benefits to the detriment of cost, but they're 10,000 dollar bikes anyway.
  • 3 2
 If I know one thing about disc brakes on road bikes, its that they are sketch.
I run 160mm ice tech rotors with kevlar pads.
Let me tell you that when all 100kg of me is doing 40mph down a hill, stopping distance is measured in football pitch lengths. There is no mtb 203mm instant bite tree avoidance system here. Its f’ing scary as.
  • 3 0
 @Tmackstab: Yeah I'm not that worried about someone else's bike crashing into me when on my mtb, which seems to be the main potential issue. On the other hand after seeing that guy get a QR skewer lodged in his leg I have swapped all the QR levers on my bikes for regular bolts.
  • 1 0
 @seraph: partially, they still want the bikes to be as close to the limit without excess.
  • 2 0
 @ilovedust: it the tires not the brakes on the road. I run the Ultegra with 160 rotors and can all too easily just lock ‘em up. When I put the gravel wheels with 38mm tires on at sub 40psi the braking improves.
  • 2 0
 @ilovedust: my 105s are f*cking savage on 160 rotors, probably not far off my proper 4pot 200mm brakes, even more so with sintered pads in. I assumed it's the longer levers....?
Road caliper mounts are good, MTB could do with them.
  • 2 0
 @seraph: Current bikes with discs and bars/stems with integrated cable routing struggle to hit the UCI limit. The $12000USD top of the line model of the just released Specialized SL7 is well over 7kg with pedals (I've seen one weighed at 7.2kg in a 52cm, so a small frame) and no obvious places to shed weight (UCI limit is 6.8kg).
  • 1 0
 @pbuser2299: Some newer XC bikes use flat mount calipers because they’re smaller.
  • 1 0
 @Deoratwo: yeah I'd think it would make sense.
  • 1 0
 @Tmackstab: Alpe D'Huez begs to disagree.
  • 2 0
 @westbymidwest: fairings at all are prohibited. Even normal mudguards.
  • 18 1
 Waiting for a DW link....
  • 16 1
 See, mountain biking is best. Even roadies use our stuff.
  • 16 1
 When will the Tour d-"E" France series go live?
  • 9 1
 Tour d'Epo France was kind of the benchmark a few years ago. You meant to say it is going mainstream again?
  • 4 0
 @vinay: the Tour has been really good this year... The current situation may be a cluster-f**k but it means I'm at home to watch every stage this year...
Every cloud has a silver lining tup
  • 11 0
 IMO the rationale for running XTR rotors is to reduce brake rub. I switched from ultegra rotors to XTR rotors on my gravel bike and found that the XTR rotors are stronger laterally and come out of true less often after hard braking. I bet there's nothing more frustrating for a tour rider than hearing the tick tick tick of a rotor rubbing against a pad and knowing its sapping .001w of power.
  • 13 0
 So next year we'll see some teams using Boost and WAY more slack head tube angles? Cool.
  • 3 0
 Actually the recently lifted ban on different wheelsize wheels (front and rear) was based on what road cyclist were doing, though they typically went with the bigger rear wheel. They might go mullet now? They've been watching the Grim Donut closely and apparently it is quicker.
  • 22 0
 Grim Roadnut
  • 2 0
 @vinay: ban on mixed wheels was not lifted on the road though
  • 4 0
 It amuses me how much the road bike industry rejected hydraulic disc brakes for the longest time. There was so much controversy how the discs could cause injuries by cutting people. Now, pretty much all road bikes have hydraulic disc brakes. MTB industry was way ahead of road bike industry in disc brakes.
  • 3 0
 Pro road racing is _very_ conservative.
  • 1 0
 @mbl77: Conservative, but wouldn't think they would reject innovative advancements for so long. I'd think road bike industry would be changing standards faster than MTB to push for those tiny incremental improvements.
  • 1 0
 @tacklingdummy: Metal rims were banned for a long, long time. Road racing has a proud tradition of rejecting technological progress, the disc brake issue shouldn’t have been a surprise
  • 1 0
 @maxyedor: Yeah, but the road bike mentality is way more focused on quite tiny incremental technical aspects like aerodynamics, etc. Whenever I think of road bike mentality, it is road bikers shaving legs to get more aero. Lol.
  • 2 1
 Riders still don't want them (they're heavy, can drag, and make wheel changes slow), but bike sponsors call the shots.
  • 2 0
 @markinator: Wheel changes are not that slow with thru axles. Everything is lined up.
  • 6 0
 It's Jumbo Visma in pole position riding rim brakes, not Lotto Soudal
  • 1 1
 Yeah I was going to say... I don't think Lotto Soudal is a team anymore.
  • 2 0
 @PAmtbiker: Lotto Soudal are still a team, they used to be more easily confused with Jumbo Visma which used to be called LottoNL-Jumbo
  • 1 0
 @PAmtbiker: Lotto Soudal won Stage 11 with Caleb Ewan
  • 2 0
 Sep Kuss was an absolute hero the way he rode and lead out the yellow jersey on two consecutive days of the hardest stages in the tour. The entire Jumbo Visma squad has battled and dominated the peloton as a whole. Epic racing this year... if only Sagan didn’t get declassified for the head bump he may have found a little more drive in the mountains.
  • 2 0
 KUSS. What a stud. So awesome watching him crush it! This is the upside of the Durango MTB scene thinking it is still 1990.
  • 3 0
 This is somewhat trivial but that's not the XTR rotor that they are using. This is:

bike.shimano.com/en-US/product/component/xtr-m9100/RT-MT900.html
  • 2 1
 Correct, and the title of the piece is "MTB Tech We've Spotted...". They certainly are not running RT-99's
  • 2 3
 can be bought cheaply at the moment though the XTR SM-RT99
  • 1 1
 The photo above is the XTR rotor RT-MT900, which is the same one in the link that you've provided... The 140mm and 160mm rotors have a 4-point spider and the 180mm and 203mm rotors use a 5-point spider.
  • 4 0
 @billreilly: Only because they changed the picture! It was originally the SM-RT99 as noted above.
  • 4 3
 They aren't running wider tires for comfort. It's for the same reason as MTB - more grip. The two main drawbacks of wider tires have been alleviated in recent years. 1 - Aero section wheels are now designed to incorporate the tire shape into their teardrop in a way that wider tires (or 'stretched' tires) become better. 2 - Tire rubber compounds have imporved to the point that the rolling resistance difference that used to exist is virutally eliminated.
  • 2 0
 The aero benefit applies to narrower tires too. 25 mm are faster tires in the end. Also on classics with cobbles they ride up to 32 mm tires now, but it really is because of the added comfort. You are less beaten up after the cobble sections with wider tires. It's about the compromise between raw speed and getting less beaten up on the cobbles.
  • 1 0
 @TheJD: On cobbles and things, yes, but even then they used to not be able to due to the rolling resistance difference. The aero does apply to all of them, but crucially the aero drawback of wider tires is significantly less when compared to narrow tires with the new profiles. A 35mm tire, when made into a continuous teardrop with the right wheel, has less drag than a 'traditional' 30mm tire, for example. I think the key is that the drawbacks of wider tires are now not enough to offset the benefits (grip/comfort)
  • 2 2
 The rotors? Thats the idea
  • 4 1
 There were a lot of names and terms that are I'm not familiar with in this article.
  • 3 0
 I google image searched tubulars cause I was curious, and one of them was a perfectly smooth maxxis with their 3C logo.... I'm both intrigued and amused.
  • 2 0
 @kcy4130: How many compounds does it take to get to the center of a Maxxis road tire?
  • 5 0
 @kcy4130: as recently as 2016 tubulars were semi common in the world cup xc world. www.pinkbike.com/news/nino-scott-world-cup-xco-2-germany.html
  • 1 0
 Using inserts to keep the tire in the wheel, protect those puny sidewalls from pinching on the road gaps, is actually a good idea. Tannus has some inserts that decrease rolling resistance by 3%, as they say.
  • 1 0
 Off-road skills
Cadel Evans won the UCI XC WC overall in '98 and '99 before switching to road in 2001 and winning the TDF GC in 2011. I've no doubt he's not the only one, so there's precedent.
  • 1 0
 I've used the R91000 and M91000 rotors on my cross bike and the XTR's for whatever reason have always felt significantly better.
  • 1 0
 Is a dropper post legal in the grand tour stuff? I think it would be more than useful on some of those skin-of-your-teeth descents we see in the Tour.
  • 1 0
 They use droppers on the neutral support bikes to quickly adjust saddle height but I suspect most of the pros are already so adept at descending that they're unwilling to take the weight penalty for their own equipment.
  • 1 0
 @fullfacemike: seems like the weight penalty would be easily managed. After all, they all have to add weight to the bikes in the form of heavier components or ballast as it is. Who knows though. Just thought it would be interesting to see one of them ripping downhills with a dropper.
  • 1 0
 @Trudeez: I'd imagine a dropper weighs more than the weights they sometimes have to use to meet the minimum but I don't know for sure. There are some huge industry proponents of droppers on every bike but on a lot of road bikes they're going to run into problems with aero seatposts. It would be cool, I'm not saying no to that.
  • 1 0
 @fullfacemike: Sometimes the weight they add goes up than 800g a heavy dropper could be. Than again, they go bonkers on position to be as aero as possible. They don't even use the seat, they "bomb" down the hills.
  • 1 0
 Specialized has some good videos on YouTube about larger tyre with less PSI than a slightly smaller tyre with higher pressure.
  • 1 0
 For all the brainwashing about disk brakes on road bike, the top 4 teams did not use them - as well as all the top riders - unless forced by sponsor.
  • 2 0
 #Go Rogla, Go tamau Pogi :-)
  • 1 0
 I believe Pogacar cancelled tubeless setup after first few days and 4? punctures?
  • 1 0
 @artozan:
After those punctures I believe he use stell inserts :-)
  • 1 0
 Lance Armstrong invented cyclo-cross in 2003 when he went off road during stage 9 of the TDF.
  • 1 0
 are they still using 29 inches??
  • 1 0
 Seatstays meeting a downtube? I’d love to see a photo!
  • 1 0
 Feeeza rotors 6 bolt please mr Shimano
  • 1 0
 There’s a team called United Arab Emirates Emirates? How meta...
  • 4 4
 I literally read this exact same article on road.cc last week!
  • 1 0
 And almost word for word
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