A new era for Paris-Roubaix tech as aero bikes and wide tyres dominate

The French Monument used to be a hotbed for cobble-taming tech, but most teams ran decidedly normal set-ups that didn’t diverge too far from the norms

Clock01:42, Monday 8th April 2024
This year's race showcased the versatility of the modern aero race bike

© GCN

This year's race showcased the versatility of the modern aero race bike

Paris-Roubaix is known throughout cycling circles as the race of the year for quirky and experimental bike set-ups. In the past, riders have turned to suspension forks, endurance bikes and adjustable tyre pressure wheelsets to provide an edge over the cobbles.

This year's edition of the race seemed to signify a new era of Roubaix tech with the absence of headline-grabbing equipment choices. Of course, there were wider tyres than ever, but beyond this, aero bikes and regular bar tape were dominant throughout the peloton.

Read more: Paris-Roubaix Femmes tech: How did teams set up their bikes for a day in hell?

62-tooth single chainring for Josh Tarling

Ineos Grenadiers have been leading the way in regards to chainring choice this year, with many of their riders using monster-sized single chainrings earlier in the season at the UAE Tour.

With the parcours of Roubaix featuring almost nothing in the way of climbing, a one-by groupset allows riders to switch derailleurs for chain guides in an attempt to keep the chain from dropping on the roughest sections of pavé. Most riders used the now standard 54 or 56-tooth single chainring, however Josh Tarling made the bold move to run a massive 62-tooth single ring as a part of a Shimano Dura-Ace set-up.

When asked about the bold set-up on his Pinarello Dogma F bike, the Welshman said, “I have a one-by 62-tooth chainring and then an 11-34 cassette at the back".

Drivetrain efficiency has largely been the driving factor in the use of larger chainrings this year, with a straighter path from the cassette to the chainring saving crucial watts. What is more nuanced for Roubaix is the use of a large single ring in an attempt to prevent mechanical issues at the rear.

Read more: Why bigger is better when it comes to time trial chainrings

35mm tyres for Bahrain Victorious

The women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix saw multiple teams use 35mm tyres, while Canyon-SRAM went one step further by using gravel tyres. For the men, 32mm tyres were the overwhelming preference of most teams. The only team running 35mm tyres were Bahrain-Victorious, who made the most of the generous tyre clearance of the Merida Reacto.

Wide tyres have been largely adopted by the peloton across all races with the latest science showing that 30mm or even 32mm tyres can be as efficient as narrower tyres. As a team using Vision’s Metron 45 and 60 SL wheels, Bahrain-Victorious will be at a minimal aero disadvantage using 35mm tyres thanks to the wheels' 32mm external rim width.

No Specialized Roubaix at Roubaix

2024 marks the first edition of Roubaix where no Specialized-sponsored team used the bike named after the race. Both Soudal Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe decided to run the brand’s Tarmac SL8 instead.

“The race is now so fast and the guys are really used to using this bike and that’s the reason," a mechanic from Bora replied when asked why. "With the increased tyre clearance, this is giving enough comfort to go with this one [bike].

“We did testing already in January and we decided to go with the fast bike.”

The era of the endurance bike at Roubaix looks to be almost over with all teams except Israel Premier-Tech using their aero road bikes for the race. With modern aero bikes capable of accommodating high-volume tyres, there is less of a need for specific bikes or suspension units that have been used in the past.

Gravel bikes make their debut at Roubaix

One team bucked the trends of the peloton entirely at this year's race. Even though most teams were using bikes that wouldn’t look out of place at any other race on the road calendar, Israel Premier-Tech adopted their own equipment strategy. Instead of using Factors Ostro VAM aero bike, the decision was made to use the Ostro Gravel, which is the brand's gravel-specific race bike.

Read more: Israel-Premier Tech will ride gravel bikes at Paris-Roubaix

Initially, you might think that this was a decision based on the need for greater tyre clearance, however this was not the case with the team running 32mm tyres which can easily fit within the constraints of the Ostro VAM. Speaking to the team's head mechanic, he revealed that it was a decision made based on geometry and comfort.

The Ostro Gravel is a more compliant frame built specifically for the demands of rough and unpaved surfaces, making it a wise choice for the pavé of Roubaix. It also is designed around a gravel bike geometry with a slacker head angle and a longer wheelbase, all of which make the bike more composed on the rough stuff.

Paris-Roubaix tech might be a thing of the past

It became obvious when walking around the paddocks before the men began the 260-kilometre excursion to Roubaix that Roubaix-specific tech and set-ups look to all but be no more. You could be forgiven for thinking there was nothing special about the parcours of the race looking around at team equipment choices ahead of the race.

Wider tyres have removed much of the need for bespoke set-ups for ‘the Hell of the North’, with the increased grip and vibration dampening that they provide enough to satisfy most teams.

With the top three on the day all riding out-and-out aero bikes, the versatility of modern race bikes has never been clearer. The speed of this year's Roubaix was only a fraction under 30 miles per hour (48km/h), making it the fastest in the race's 121-year history, and by some margin. At speeds like this, it looks like aero really is everything.

For all the latest from the world of cycling tech, make sure to head to our dedicated tech news section and to keep up to date with all the racing over the Classics season, make sure to head to our racing homepage.

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