[From Nathan Dahlberg, former professional road racer with 7-11, Motorola, and Spago, among others, and veteran of two Tours de France. Nathan still races bicycles, and is also a keen adventure cyclist. Posted with permission and ©Nathan Dahlberg.]
Part II of II
And for what happened in 33 years: during the 80’s bikes got heavier – my 1991 Merck with Duraace 8 speed was 24 pounds (compared to just 20/21 pounds as an average race bike in 1980), aero came in, and, rather surprisingly, most of the fastest climbs in history were made in the mid 90’s on some of the heaviest bikes in history, showing that the weight in the veins is far more important to speed than the weight in the tubes. Recently friction has become an issue again – yes it’s something that was big way back when decent bearings etc were made – including taking one ball bearing out and replacing grease with a drop of sewing machine oil! When one thinks about it, friction and resistance exist constantly, whereas aerodynamics play a major roll much less of the time and weight only occasionally!
And with the current generation of bikes, yeah it all looks pretty, carbon light weights and deep dish wheels etc. but the biggest change has been gears, the huge range of sprockets. If you look at 70’s and even 80’s guys going up Mountain pass’s were just flogging themselves trying to turn massive gears than in sprint finish’s it was more like drag racing as guys ran out gears and was a long spin to the finish. The small gears are changing the whole nature of racing, every year the organizers of Vuelta and Giro find steeper and steeper mts and the riders winning them get smaller and skinny – nowadays Merck would’ve been a domestique for Fuente!
Sprinters are outta of saddle the whole sprint now on enormous gears. There’s a huge increase in specialization because the gears allow it – and the race courses have adapted themselves to the material in other ways- none so much as time trialing. When I arrived in France in 1984, a TT was 60 – 80 kms long and a maze of corners and small hills. Now its a flat highway course. Time trialing has adapted itself to the TT bike in fact. Likewise in Belgium , where there’s almost no cobbled races any more, no one wants to go to cobbled races because they might damage there carbon wheels sets.