A closer look at the Shimano neutral service bikes

What are pro cyclists given to ride in the event of needing to take a bike from the neutral service vehicle?

Clock11:35, Monday 25th March 2024
We have a closer look at the unsung lifeline of the professional peloton

© GCN

We have a closer look at the unsung lifeline of the professional peloton

Shimano is head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to component sponsorship in the professional peloton. Out of the 18 WorldTour teams, only four do not use the Japanese brand's groupset. It is partly for this reason that it makes sense for the brand to be the provider of neutral service, as their products are already used by an overwhelming majority of the peloton. So if a rider does suffer a mechanical and becomes stranded for a time, the neutral service can help them out.

From the comfort of an armchair, the monochrome blue exterior of the neutral service bikes give very little away but begs the question, what actually are they?

Who provides the frameset?

Shimano is a component manufacturer and does not have a frameset of its own at its disposal and as a result, the frameset of the bike needs to come from elsewhere. The elsewhere in question is Canyon’s Ultimate CF SLX which is the brand's lightweight offering. Interestingly it is not the brand's latest model being used but is instead the previous generation Ultimate.

This is not due to cost savings or the use of second-hand bikes, instead they are used for the same reason that the aerodynamically optimised Aeroad is not. The neutral service bikes need to have a traditional round seat post to accommodate the dropper posts that allow riders to dial in the right saddle height whilst on the fly. Any bikes with a proprietary seat post cannot be used in conjunction with a dropper post, rendering them out of the picture for use as a modern-day neutral service bike.

Compact gearing, on a pro bike?

As you might expect from a Shimano neutral service bike the frameset is built up with the latest generation of the brand’s flagship Dura-ace Di2 R9200 12-speed groupset.

Something that might come as a surprise is the gearing that has been selected for use. With most professional riders using a 54/40 chainset the decision to fit a 52/36 semi-compact chainset might seem a little odd. This is until you consider that unlike the teams themselves, the neutral service bikes are not built up to tailored specifications depending on the route of the race on any given day.

This means that as well as being able to be used on fast flat days, the bikes also need to be set up to tackle the high alpine passes of the Giro d'Italia or Tour de France. With this factored in, the semi-compact configuration starts to make more sense.

Dropper posts do have a place in pro racing

A neat addition to neutral bikes in recent years is the use of dropper posts to allow riders to quickly find the right saddle height for them when jumping on a neutral bike when time is of the essence.

On the left-hand drop of the handlebar is a small remote lever that actuates the seat post with around 100mm of adjustment available. This removes the rather sketchy scenes of yesteryear of a neutral service mechanic hanging out of the window trying to adjust a rider's saddle height at 50km/h.

Deep-section wheels are the default choice

As a bike that has to be able to cover a whole manner of races and terrain, the wheels that are fitted to the bike are surprisingly deep. The latest generation Dura-ace C60 wheels are the brand's default depth. Coming in at 60mm deep they are at the upper end of what would typically be considered an all-rounder wheelset.

Mounted to the rims are Vittoria’s Corsa Graphine 2.0 tyres in a 28mm width, once again for ease of maintenance these look to be fitted with standard inner tubes rather than either a tubeless or latex tube configuration. This is largely because a standard butyl inner tube is very good at holding air and does not need routine maintenance, unlike a tubeless set-up that requires sealant changes and can, much like latex tubes, lose pressure gradually over time.

A pedal for every rider

Nothing happens by chance when it comes to the neutral service team with four bikes mounted on the outside of the rack all fitted with different pedals. All the major systems were covered with Shimano taking the position directly above the passenger seat, Look positioned at the rear with both Speedplay and Time situated on the driver side of the vehicle. This system not only aims to prevent a Chris Froome on Mont Ventoux in 2016 style incident from happening again but also means that finding the right bike for a rider is a simple and logical process.

On the roof of the car are six bikes, so along with the four on the outside of the rack there are also two others mounted inboard with one that is a different frame size for a particularly small rider. Both of these use Shimano’s own pedal system and are built up identically to the other bikes.

Although no rider wants to spend any time aboard a neutral service bike it should be comforting to know that if they do, they will be able to dial in their position and get clipped in until their team car can get up to support them.

What do you make of the Shimano Neutral Service bike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. For more tech features make sure to head to the dedicated tech feature section of the GCN website.

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