Race Tech

Six tech trends from the 2017 Tour de France

From disc brakes to integrated junction boxes, here are six tech trends from the 2017 Tour de France

The Tour de France gives us the chance to check out the latest tech from the very top level of professional cycling, from the fastest aero bikes to the lightest frames, via next-generation power meters and space-age components.

We’ve already shown you some of the top tech from this year’s Tour, including time trial bikes from the Dusseldorf Grand Depart, Shimano’s brand new power meter, custom bikes and kit, Marcel Kittel’s Specialized Venge ViAS Disc, Richie Porte’s BMC Teammachine SLR 01 and more.

With professional cycling serving as a development and testing ground for the very best tech, what we see at the Tour de France this year will soon be in bike shops and should one day trickle down to a more affordable level.

So with that in mind, here are six tech trends from the 2017 Tour de France.

1) Integrated junction boxes

Integration has been one of the bike industry’s buzz words for a few years now. Of course, bikes like the Trek Madone 9-Series helped pioneer the idea of integration, with the American firm’s aero weapon dripping in proprietary tech, but 2017 has seen the idea of integration on road bikes become all the more common.

Typically the idea is to keep things clean, both in terms of aerodynamics and aesthetics. Achieve one and you’ll normally take care of the other. In the past, one obvious area where there’s been room for improvement has been with Shimano’s Di2 junction box which, despite the smart electronic tech involved in the groupset, has been strapped somewhat inconspicuously to an otherwise beautiful (in some cases, anyway) bike.

Tour de France 2017 tech trends (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
This is a really neat piece of integration, with the junction box for Shimano's new Dura-Ace Di2 groupset housed within the end of the Michael Matthews' handlebar

However, the launch of Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 R9150 groupset last summer also saw the arrival of a new junction box, capable of being housed within the downtube (when frame manufacturers accommodate the design, that is) or in place of a handlebar plug. Pinarello and BMC are among the bike brands to include an integrated downtube port on their latest bikes, on the Dogma F10 and third-generation Teammachine SLR 01 both launched this year.

The handlebar configuration is particularly neat, though not something we’ve seen much of yet. However, the pre-production Giant Propel Disc which has been ridden by Team Sunweb’s Michael Matthews on some stages of this year’s Tour has used the setup. Check out the pic above or watch out for a full feature on Matthews’ disc-equipped bike this week.

2) Integrated cockpits

One area of bike design that has really taken off over the past couple of years has been the integrated handlebar and stem. Indeed, aerodynamics are now considered so important that even those frames not necessarily designed to cheat the wind, like BMC’s new Teammachine, come with an integrated setup to keep the front-end clean.


Tour de France 2017 tech trends (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
BMC Teammachine SLR 01, Tour de France 2017 (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Chris Froome, Pinarello Dogma F10, PRO Stealth Evo integrated aero handlebar and stem (Pic: Sirotti)

Taking another look at Matthews’ Propel Disc (top-left, above), Giant have developed a nifty design that combines a sleek, wind-cheating handlebar with a cable-hiding stem. Matthews has been using a prototype version of the cockpit made from aluminium at the Tour, but the final production model will be crafted from carbon fibre.

While BMC and Giant have developed specific cockpit setups for their latest frames, more and more riders are choosing an integrated handlebar and stem as a matter of course. Team Sky’s Chris Froome is among them, using the PRO Stealth Evo cockpit (bottom-right, above). Meanwhile, the Metron 5D handlebar and stem, introduced by Italian component manufacturer Vision last year, is a popular choice in the peloton, with green jersey holder Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floor) among the riders to use it (bottom-left, above).

3) Ubiquitous power meters – and more competition

Ok, you don’t need us to tell you that power meters are now commonplace in the peloton – the racing is, in many ways, dictated by power – but it is now almost unheard of for a professional rider not to use a power meter.

However, it may not come as a huge surprise that one of the riders to go without is maverick breakaway artist Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie). Voeckler is one of the old guard, with the Frenchman coming to the end of his career and set to retire at the end of the Tour.

Thomas Voeckler is one of the few riders not to use a power meter

Voeckler’s gurning attacks have earnt him an army of fans and, while certainly not always successful, the 38-year-old’s bold moves are fuelled by heart, passion and intelligence, rather than the numbers on his bike computer.

Equally telling, is the amount of competition you’ll now find in the power meter market. It’s no surprise really, given the importance of the power meter to professional cycling, but whereas SRM once dominated the peloton, you can now count nearly brands vying for a slice of the market, including relatively new players like Pioneer and 4iiii.

Shimano FC-R9100-P power meter, Tour de France 2018 (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
BMC Racing's riders at the Tour de France have a full complement of new Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9150 components - except for the chainset, which is the old Dura-Ace 91000 model with an SRM power meter
Tour de France tech trends 2017
Tour de France tech trends 2017

In another nod towards integration, the newest player in the power market is Shimano, with the Dura-Ace chainset-mounted unit now in production and spotted on FDJ and Team Sunweb bikes at the Tour.

While the power meter market has exploded since the turn of the decade, it will be interesting to now see what impact Shimano’s arrival has on those power meters used in the pro peloton, with the Japanese giant holding significant influence over its partner teams.

4) Aero bikes rule, but weight is still key

Almost every bike launched in 2017 makes at least a nod to aerodynamics. If it’s not a fully fledged aero machine, like the Orbea Orca Aero, then aerodynamics have at least played some part in the development, even if it’s the use of an integrated cockpit like on the BMC Teammachine SLR01 we’ve already run through.

Tour de France tech trends 2017
Orbea Orca Aero 2018 road bike (Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media |

In a race that covers 3,540km,and with stages topping 200km, aerodynamics rule. By our reckoning, Cannondale-Drapac is the only team at this year’s Tour without an aero bike at its disposal, though the latest Cannondale SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod is said to be more aerodynamic than the previous model. Most teams, however, have a choice of bikes, depending on the rider and terrain. Even those bikes designed as all-rounders, like the new Specialized Tarmac SL6, are increasingly influenced by aerodynamic performance.

However, while aerodynamic performance is key, not least for the sprinters of the peloton vying for stage wins sometimes decided by millimetres, weight is still vitally important – especially when the GC riders and climbers come out to play.

Tour de France 2017 tech trends (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

Trek launched the latest version of the Emonda ahead of the Tour, with the claimed frame weight down to a frankly ludicrous 640g. While the UCI weight limit remains at 6.8kg, bike brands continue to push the boundaries of carbon manufacture, with the Emonda leading the way. The Tarmac SL6, meanwhile, is Specialized’s lightest frame to date at a claimed 733g. When it comes to climbing, some riders still prefer to have the very lightest frame beneath them, even if it means forfeiting something on the aero front.

On that note, while Team Sky riders use the aero-optimised Dogma F10 for the majority of the race, Pinarello have produced a lightweight version of the frame, the Dogma F10 X-Light, for use in the mountains, taking about 100g of the frame weight, according to team mechanics.

5) Disc brakes are here

2017 will go down as the year in which disc brakes not only debuted at the Tour de France, but were ridden to victory by Marcel Kittel.

The German fast man has claimed five stages wins so far, with three coming on the Specialized Venge ViAS Disc. Besides Kittel, Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff (Canyon Aeroad CF SLX Disc) and Team Sunweb’s Michael Matthews (Giant Propel Disc) have disc-equipped road bikes at their disposal for the Tour de France, while Cannondale-Drapac’s Alberto Bettiol used a Cannondale Slice Disc for the opening time trial in Dusseldorf.

Marcel Kittel, QuickStep Floors, 2017, Tour de France, sprint, pic - Sirotti
Marcel Kittel has been using a disc-equipped Specialized Venge ViAS Disc at the Tour and the rotors don't seem to be slowing the German sprinter down so far, with three wins to his name in the first week
Tour de France 2017 tech trends (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The arrival of disc brakes at the Tour was inevitable, given the growing noise surrounding the technology generated by consumers, the media and manufacturers, and it’s no surprise the first we’ve seen of discs has been on the aero road bikes favoured by sprinters.

While, of course, there is an aerodynamic argument against disc brakes, both Specialized and Giant say the deficit is negligible and, in fact, their respective frames are specifically designed to manage the airflow with a disc rotor in place. However, it’s due to the extra weight of discs that we haven’t seen the technology make it out of bunch sprints and into the mountains.

6) 1x makes an introduction

This one is not so much a trend, given only one rider (to our knowledge) used a single-chainring setup in this year’s Tour de France, but in doing so, Tony Martin (Katusha) pushed the tech into the public eye.

Martin’s Canyon Speedmax CF SLX was equipped with a single-ring drivetrain for the opening time trial in Dusseldorf, forgoing a front derailleur in favour of a single, prototype 58-tooth chainring with a SRAM Red eTap rear derailleur and cassette.

Tour de France 2017 tech trends (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

Why go 1x? The Dusseldorf TT was played out over a pan-flat course, save for two road bridges, so Martin needed a relatively narrow spread of gears. On top of that, the lack of a front derailleur and inner chainring offered a marginal aerodynamic advantage.

While home favourite Martin didn’t get the result he wanted in Germany, coming home eight seconds behind Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in fourth, the 32-year-old brought 1x to the fore by using the emerging technology in the Tour de France curtain raiser.

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