Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Time to Fork Around

We’ve been hearing a persistent rumor that Quick Step-Innergetic riders rode Specialized Tarmacs with Time forks this spring. We decided to check in with the folks in Morgan Hill to get the inside scoop. Nic Sims, Specialized’s media relations chief admitted yes, some riders—fewer than half the team—did ride Tarmacs with Time forks. When the team’s riders and officials were interviewed about the choice (Specialized wasn’t what you’d call thrilled) and what they could do to get the riders on their forks, the team said they needed a stiffer fork.

Specialized ordered some of the Time forks in question for testing. What they found was that their fork was no less stiff than Time’s. It is safe to assume that some readers will view this assessment with some suspicion, so we asked Sims to what degree the fact that Specialized’s American identity might be at the root of the rider’s mistrust of the fork. Sims says, “We constantly have to prove we have a right to sponsor a team like Quick Step. We are constantly proving the quality of our products to their riders. They are Belgian and have been doing things their way for many years; so it is hard for us to enter what they see as their sport, it is with the help of Mario Cipollini and more recently Lance Armstrong that American companies are now being regarded as some of the best bikes in the peloton.”

When asked if riders might have been afraid of the Specialized fork for no reason other than their unfamiliarity with it, Sims says, “Yes, we think that’s a big part of it.” Even so, they weren’t bothered by the riders’ request for a stiffer fork. “We have to do whatever we can to keep the spotlight on those riders by enabling them to win races. They use us to win. We use them to develop products. It’s a good trade.”

By summer, Tom Boonen and the other riders who most needed a stiffer fork were on Tarmac SL2s. Sims says that thanks to the beefed up blades and 1.5” steerer diameter at the crown, Specialized is confident Quick Step can’t find a stiffer fork anywhere.

Increased stiffness isn’t limited to just the fork. While all riders started on stock Tarmacs, the vast majority of the Quick Step team are on bikes with custom layups. The riders start with the stock bike and if they say it’s not stiff enough, they get a choice of two stiffer layups. The “basic stiff” (World Champion Paolo Bettini’s choice) weighs a bit more than the stock frame while the “extra stiff” (Boonen’s choice) is a bit more still.

Sims says one of the biggest challenges in working with Quick Step has been trying to respond in an efficient way to riders’ requests. You never want to keep a pro waiting for equipment, but communication isn’t ever simple. In the case of Paolo Bettini, measurements the Specialized staff received indicated the 52cm frame would be perfect for him. Bettini was given a 52. End of story, right? Not quite. Bettini took one look and said, “But with this bike I can’t ride use my 14cm stem.” So he rides a 49cm frame and runs a 14cm stem. Go figure.

The bike pictured above was specially painted for Bettini in the wake of his other bike being stolen. We’re told he sleeps with it in his hotel room.

Photo courtesy: Specialized.


Anonymous said...

RIding a 130 or 140 mm stem is PRO.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes a new paint job is all a sponsor needs to satisfy a pro's demand for a stiffer/lighter bike or component. "Here you go Mario! These new red wheels are 20% stiffer!" "Oh yes! They do feel stiffer! Thank you!"

I feel for Specialized.

Ron George said...

a shorter stem might be stiffer.. no?

Doctor Who said...

Huge saddle to handlebar drop, and long stems – that's the PRO look. It's funny – bikes don't look right to me unless they're set up that way. Funnier still, I've been training on a '92 Paramount with a quill setup, and no matter how much I gussy up the bike, it still won't look right to me until I find a nice 130-140mm quill stem.

Bobke Strut said...

Recently I saw some video of the 1989 pro road worlds endgame and was struck by the PRO bike setups: nearly, if not all, bikes had their bars at the same height as the saddle and there wasn't too much seatpost showing.

The first time I can remember really noticing the extreme saddle to bar drop was in a Colnago ad featuring Michele Bartoli. The frame looked like it had a normal top tube length, but the seat tube wasn't very tall and his -17 stem had no spacers between it and the headset. The drops of his bars looked about even with his front wheel. What I also remember was the grimy drivetrain, it looked like he just came back from a rainy six hour recon of Paris-Roubaix. Maybe they were trying to show that Bartoli really rode the bike on display in the ad.

djconnel said...

I realize this is an old topic, but I found it when looking for info on Bettini's geometry. 13cm stem -- wow!

With respect to geometry, though: I think the factor is the angle of your back. Look in a mirror and rotate at the hips until your hips stop rotating, and further rotation would come at the expense of a flat back. There's a decent position. Now rotate arms at the shoulder. You have a choice: long with higher stem, or short with shorter stem. Now Bettini has a long stem, but he's riding a bike with an extremely short reach. But guys back in '89 were often on longer top tubes, with their arms way out in front, but with very similar back positions.

The focus should be on the back position. If your back is strained, it doesn't matter how fashionable you look, you won't be able to ride as well.

djconnel said...

It was pointed out to me, and I verified from photos, that Bettini's stem is 120mm, not 140mm. There's a "140" on the stem, but that's a model number, not the stem length.

For example, click here.

Padraig said...

Dan, not sure who "pointed out to you" the 120mm stem, but it is, in fact, 140mm. It could be that the guy who was there with the tape measure and the selection of stems actually knows what he is talking about. Our contact at Specialized would never have mentioned it, had they not been so frustrated by the silliness of the request. They (the Special Ed staffers) measured Bettini's bike up, down and sideways and delivered a properly sized bike. When he saw a 120mm stem, he immediately said, no, the bike was too big, that he needed the 49cm frame instead of the 52cm frame just so he could run a 140mm stem. They were incredulous. We wrote about it because it shows that the PROs can be more tied to the PRO look than us.