Considering the lengths professional cyclists go to to improve performance, it seems illogical that basic bike design has changed relatively little down the years.
Technological advances have centred on materials, with the switch to lightweight carbon fibre or aluminium frames making today’s racing bikes much lighter and easier to manoeuvre. All the while, though, the basic geometry of a road bike has remained constant.
However, Foyle Cycling Club’s Jim Doyle could be about to change that. Or at least play his part in changing it.
The 53-year-old local man is currently riding a new concept bicycle: the Grail Unikah 2.0, by Dimar, one of only three in the world and he has been amazed at the results a number of subtle design changes have made.
Constructed using CFC (Carbon Fibre Composite), the new bike utilises two break through technologies:
1. The ZENcranks PAS Power Accelerating System, designed by Dr. Zeno Zani, which offers a unique crank/pedal/shoe system that enables outstanding increased performance and acceleration with no additional efforts required to the cyclist.
2. The ‘Grail’ concept: a frame design patented by the late American engineer Don Lester who held a keen interest in cycling.
Bespoke Italian bike designers, Dimar, who built the bike currently being tested by Jim, believe the novel concept increases the rigidity of the lower structure of the bike and transmits power to the rear wheel at a much higher level. An independent seat-post tube also means the roughness of the road transmitted in traditional frames is almost nulled.
The designers say stabilising the down tube helps stability and wheel alignment which makes sudden change of line direction at corners safer.
It all adds up to a much safer, more efficient racing machine and, having tested the Unikah 2.0, Jim is a convert.
“I have been testing the bike for a while now and the performance of the bike is unbelievable,” explained the Foyle cyclist.
“I took it on a test along a course from Bridgend to Grianne’s Gap. With the traditional bike design, it takes me 24 minutes but the Dimar Grail 2.0 took 90 seconds off that time which is huge in cycling terms. It’s the difference between the front of the field and the back.”
Jim’s bicycle is the brainchild of Dimar designer Stefano Doldi who has built on Lester’s original concept after the pair struck up a friendship following a meeting at cycling trade show ‘Interbike’ in America.
“I met Don at Interbike a few years ago where he explained the reasoning behind the Grail geometry and, in hindsight, it probably seems quite obvious to any experienced cyclist,” explained Stefano.
“We got on so well in our discussions that, at the end of the show, I walked away with one sample that I have been riding and have lent to many cyclists over a period of at least five years.”
Jim’s introduction to the new technology came with his involvement in the 2011 ‘Race Around Ireland’ in which he was sponsored by Dimar and first came into contact with Stefano and the new technology.
“The normal thing riders say when you tell them about the difference this bike can make is, ‘If it’s so,, good how come the professionals aren’t using it?’
“It seems a fair point, but people forget the professional teams are all sponsored by big manufacturers who are not interested in redesigning the basic concept. They are businesses after all and want to make money. Traditional bikes are selling well and always do, so there isn’t the incentive to invest in new concepts.
“Remember, these companies have factories with machines set up to deal with the traditional bike design - any change could be costly to them. So the status quo remains because professional riders simply ride the bike that is provided for them by the team, which seems strange given the difference this new design can make.”
It is particularly peculiar when you consider the impact some of the few new concepts to be introduced in recent years have made.
One example came in the most famous race in the world, the Tour de France. In 1989, American Greg LeMond, having won the Tour in 1986, bounced back from an accidental shooting accident to win cycling’s biggest prize in the most thrilling finale the race has ever seen. It was a success many onlookers claimed was aided by LeMond’s technological innovations, particularly within the time-trialling discipline.
During his career, LeMond championed several technological advancements in pro-cycling, most notably the introduction of aerodynamic ‘triathlon’ style handlebars and riding position with carbon-fibre frames which he later marketed through his company LeMond Bicycles.
In 1989, after 3,260km of racing against his rival, the late French rider Laurent Fignon, the whole Tour came down to the final 25km Time Trial along the Champs Elysees. The American went into the time trial trailing the French leader but, with the help of his new technology and aerodynamic style, LeMond produced an amazing ride to snatch an incredible eight second victory that forever changed how cyclists approached time trials.
Scottish cyclists Graeme Obree - immortalised in the film ‘The Flying Scotsman’ - is another to have showcased the potential benefits of design change. Obree was known for his unusual riding positions and for the’ Old Faithful’ bicycle he built which included parts from a washing machine. His rivalry with English star Chris Boardman saw both men break the world hour record and Obree become Individual Pursuit World Champion in 1993 and 1995.
The world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), grew concerned that changes to bicycles were making a disproportionate improvement to the track records and, subsequently, banned ‘Old Faithful’ and the riding position Obree had developed.
“Technology has moved on so far in the last 20 or 30 years - yet when you consider the bicycle, no-one seems to have considered, or been permitted, to change the basic geometry,” adds Jim. “That’s mainly because it is not in the best interests of the main manufacturers. Ignoring advances like these is like sticking your head in the sand.
“There’s no doubt innovations like the ‘Grail’ design used in the Dimar Unikah 2.0 improves performance. Look at what the likes of LeMond and Obree have done with changes to the basic geometry of a bike. When you consider that, it’s seems illogical not to try and improve on it.”