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RBA Q&A: Motor Pacing & Pro Equipment Choices

March 22, 2012
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Most equipment manufacturers give their sponsored athletes options within their product line, so using a competitor’s product is almost never allowed.
How much leeway do pros have in equipment choices? If the team’s equipment sponsors don’t provide what the rider needs, can they use another brand? I had a hard time finding a seat and shoe that worked for me; I had to try a few brands before finding the right fit. I’m sure the pros have to deal with the same thing, right? Do the riders ever get custom products to fit their needs?

Trek Bicycles technical advisor to RadioShack, Matt Shriver answers:
We rely on our pro teams to provide valuable feedback on our products, so we want them on our equipment always. This is why we have racing teams. The equipment is the same that the customer can purchase and ride or race, but the race teams put it through the harshest riding conditions. The pros don’t have much choice in different brands, but we do provide multiple options of our equipment within our own line of products. On the rare occasion, we have allowed the team to ride another company’s the disc wheel. We don’t hide the fact that our teams use non-Bontrager disc wheels; we don’t currently make a disc wheel. But in most time-trial conditions, a disc is much faster than any other wheel, so we purchase the fastest wheels for our teams. As far as custom equipment goes, we don’t do custom frames for anyone. The molds are extremely expensive to make, so one frame for an athlete in custom geometry would be a very high cost. Also, the UCI rules are that racers must be on production bikes.
Shoes and saddles are always the most difficult to get right. On occasion, we can and have done different padding compositions for riders; but the saddle shapes are the same. Sometimes riders like more or less padding. In reality, we have so many saddle options that we address the majority of riders. There is only the rare occasion where one rider is very particular and needs special attention because of an injury in the past or their physiology. With shoes, the riders have their own choice of what to wear. Trying to force a shoe on a person that spends more hours in the saddle than most people do at their desk is difficult. It’s often a personal choice of what shoe fits them the best or what they have worn for years without issues.

Tire clearance, or lack thereof, is the biggest limiting factor in a road-to-cyclocross conversion.

I’m 16 years old and have a KHS road bike that I ride a lot but don’t race very often. I want to start cyclocross racing this winter, but can’t afford a new bike, and my parents won’t help me until I prove that I’ll stick with it. Is it possible to convert my bike into a ‘cross bike for less than $200 (that’s all I have)?
Jonas, I like your attitude of trying to make the equipment you already have work. Unfortunately, you’re going to be very limited in how you can convert your road bike over. The biggest issue of all comes down to tire clearance. ‘Cross bikes are designed to allow clearance for knobby tires that are up to 10mm wider than what you’re most likely riding on right now. The wide knobby tires are essential for traction, pinch-flat prevention and helping smooth out the off-road sections. The biggest tires you could fit on your KHS would not be sufficient if you wanted to be competitive-or safe-on the course. I would suggest seeing if anyone in your local club (hopefully you’re in one) has a used ‘cross bike they can lend you or sell you for cheap-maybe even $200 cheap. Since cyclocross has been quite popular for the past few years, your chance of finding an older used bike is pretty good.
I read a pre-Tour de France article that highlighted a few different riders and their training programs getting ready for the Tour. What was interesting to me is that each of their training programs had one thing in common: motor pacing. I understand the concept of it, but what is it about drafting behind a car that gets a rider ready for the Tour?
Motor pacing has been a staple in the training programs of professionals and top amateur racers for years. Riding at high speed in the draft of a scooter simulates the speed and intensity of racing. But unlike racing, the rider has full control over the workout’s duration and intensity. Most of the top European professionals motor pace multiple times per week to train their ability to pedal a big gear at a high cadence-something you can’t do without either racing or motor pacing.

Motorpacer.com offers motorpacing sessions to Southern California riders looking to boost their racing fitness. Having a skilled driver is essential to a safe and productive workout.
(Photo: Kasey Cannon)

A popular workout for sprinters is to have the car or motorcycle accelerate to speeds replicating a lead-out for a sprint finish, and then sprinting by the motor in the wind. Doing this repeatedly gives them physiological benefits that sprinting at lower speeds can’t. Motor pacing over rolling terrain results in the need for huge power surges from the rider in order to stay in the draft, reminiscent of what race situations will be like when it’s crunch time.
But motor pacing isn’t exactly the safest workout when you consider you’re an inch or two behind a motor vehicle traveling at high speeds on roads that are open to traffic. Jan Ullrich found out the hard way when he was motor pacing behind the team car the day before the 2005 Tour de France started. The car slowed unexpectedly and he smashed headfirst through the back window, landing in the back seat. Although he avoided serious injury, it was by no means the start to the Tour he had envisioned.

Neil Shirley is a former professional cyclist, current Road Bike Action assistant editor, and a coach of both amateur and elite-level cyclists. Got a question for Neil? Send it to RBA Q&A.


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