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July 23rd, 2016 – As bicycle racing grows into the 21st century, it becomes more and more sophisticated. Research and development has taken the upper hand in virtually all aspects of the sport, be it in training methods, diet or the bike itself. At least one area of the sport has retained its artisanal roots—bicycle racks.
Words & images: James Startt – European Associate to peloton
From: Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, France
Brands like Yakima and Thule make a wide range of racks that suit the needs of most aficionados, but not for the European professional teams. Virtually every team at the Tour de France this year uses custom fit and custom built bike racks from a small circle of builders in Europe.
One of the foremost bike rack builders is Leo Moors, a life-long cycling fan, Moors builds bike racks for Lotto Soudal, BMC, IAM, Etixx – Quick-Step and Cofidis. He has no website.
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Nevertheless, the world’s top teams have been coming to his atelier in the small Flemish town of Sint-Truiden for decades. “I got started working with Eric Vanderaerden back in the 1980’s,” Moors says about his foray into this particular niche of the bike business. “My first rack held six bikes, then eight. I’ve always tried to improve on them and finally, I’ve got a rack for nine bikes.”
“Getting a nine bike rack was a big step because in a race like the Tour de France, we have nine riders,” says Kenneth Van de Wiele, mechanic on the Trek-Segafredo team.
Each rack is fitted to the model car. On each side are broad support beams lightly arched to fit over the roof of the car in a manner that is the most form fitting and aerodynamic. “The biggest concern is that the bike rack is stable in the wind and of course in the racing. Also, it is important that the racks don’t make noise. A rack that is poorly fit is going to be noisy and that becomes a problem.”
To assure such stability and silence, each bike stand has a sort of shock absorber. Full bikes sit on the outside of the rack and are secured with a down tube clamp, while bikes on the inside are secured by a front fork clamp that can be used once the front wheel has been removed. “Basically, we make sure that the bikes of our top riders are on the outside of each rack, that way they are assured the fastest bike change if needed,” says Van de Wiele.
Moors, who is 68, admits that his production is slowing down. But that does not stop him from producing up to 100 racks per year.
Across the southern boarder in Spain, Arribecycling is producing a similar rack. Marginally more commercial, they have a website, and produce racks for teams like Orica-BikeExchange, Movistar, Astana and Direct Energy. The most salient difference is the manner in which they are attached to the roof of the car. While Moors generally fits his racks on top of the railings situated on top of many roofs, Arribecycling often secures them to supports found embedded in cavities on the roof of many cars. “I was just down there before the start of the Tour to fit a couple of cars,” said Jimmy Engoulvent, sports director for Direct Energy, before the start of stage 9. “You have to send the exact model of the car and when the rack is ready, they custom fit it to the roof, making any minor adjustments. I can tell you one thing though. Once they are installed, they will last as long as the car, sometimes even longer.”
While the differences in the top professional racks today are somewhat marginal, the future holds at least one unanswered question—how they will accommodate disc brakes? “That will change a lot of things,” says Van de Wiele. It will change things inside the team trucks too. We will totally have to rethink the way that wheels are attached to the racks.”
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