Nic Sims, global marketing chief with Specialized has just made my task navigating the starting area of the Montpellier TTT a whole lot easier. Within seconds of charging through the crowds making for the gates of the village depart, we’re shaking hands … and I’m getting a look at the machine that carried Fabian Cancellara into the yellow jersey.
Not totally incognito, the guys’ passes had some interesting names!
Along with Nic is Chris D’Aluisio, Specialized’s head of road R&D, so it’s time to get the low-down from the guy who actually designed the rig.
The Tour de France is a hectic time for any bike company. Especially when you’ve got media calls to deal with and you’ve got guys like Cancellara, the Schleck brothers (Saxo Bank), Stijn Devolder and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) flying around on your bikes.
Complying with UCI rules also takes up a lot of energy. Nic tells me that they’ve been busy making sure that all the bars were UCI-proof and that there were big sighs of relief once the ‘authorities’ gave them the green light.
So … the Shiv. What were the goals when creating it? Chris gives me the verbal bullet points. “Basically, to make the Shiv as stiff as possible, as stiff as the Tarmac SL2 road bike. To make it as aerodynamic as possible. To ensure that the fit is the best for the rider. And to get the weight as low as possible without compromising the stiffness.”
Reach is managed via frame size rather than by stem. There are 4 frame sizes measured in X (reach distance) from the BB to the center of the armpads on the
aerobars. The sizes are denoted as 456, 471, 486, and 506 (mm). There is some micro adjust in the armpad to set it forward or backwards by roughly 15mm total – so you can effectively decrease these reach numbers by about 15mm. Cancellara pronounced himself happy with the fit and happily dressed in yellow…
Nic and Chris maintain that the front end of the Shiv, as well as the bottom bracket, is super stiff.
Connecting up the top and bottom of the steering tube with the nose cone, plus the deeper, wider head tube firms things up big time.
There’s also a carbon plate attached under the fork crown made to firm up an obviously special front end. This is also where the front brake lives, and when you haul on the anchors with the Shiv, the braking force is better concentrated to the wheel rather than being lost flexing the fork. The rear brakes are tucked away behind the seat tube.
A painted 486 frame with all small hardware, alloy OSBB shell, headset
cups, seatpost clamp, derailleur hanger, waterbottle and rear dropout
bolts, and BB cable guide weighs just 1300grams. Even once you’ve
dropped in a rear disc wheel (if you have a spare one lying around),
and added your other essential components, the whole shebang tips the
scales at a gossamer-like (for Time Trial bikes) 16.8 pounds.
Intriguingly, the wide-looking head tube greatly increases aerodynamic efficiency by reducing drag. Chris said testing had shown the Shiv, compared to rival rigs, is “… better and faster …” when the wind is coming from a 10-15° angle across the front. In fact, it’s specifically designed for 12.5° of yaw.
“Head-on it’s as good as any other TT bike out there. But with this design, there’s 20% less drag compared to the Transition triathlon bike when the wind is coming at 30 mph with 12.5° of yaw.
“The Shiv’s handling is really precise due to the stiffness, and these guys were flying through the descents on stage one so they needed a ride they could trust. In fact, when they (Saxo Bank) did the pre-ride of the course in the morning Bjarne Riis just said: ‘Fabian’s going to win this. It’s his!’
Chris continued: “If I was going to sum the whole idea up I’d say that while people think the most important thing with a TT bike is aerodynamics, in terms of wider input it’s the handling. Riders need to have confidence that the bike will do what they need it to. Attention to detail is the key.”
Just then, a curious fan tiptoes up and starts photographing the frame Chris is brandishing, with the old ‘only-need-one-finger-to-hold-it-up’ trick. “Is it fast?” The answer is “Yep, ours is fast. We won on the first day!” The fan is suitably impressed.
Nic and Chris look spectacularly young to have both been with Specialized for over 20 years, but … “Because of that time, we understand how hard it was for any US company to break into Europe. You need feedback to help you develop and it’s a slow process to get yourself known.
But you look at the last few years … we developed the SL2 with Tom Boonen and he won the green sprinters jersey. We then worked with Quick-Step and Tom on the Roubaix and he won Roubaix. The Transition won Ironman on its first outing and the prologue this year at the Tour of California. That’s the sort of achievement level that gets you noticed,” says Nic.
How do you go about creating something like this?
“A lot of time on the bike. I ride a lot – MTB and road – and it gives me the chance to think about my work,” says Chris. “I’ve been involved in the industry for 25 years – it’s my life! But I’m lucky that I have a great team at home that I can rely on totally. You could say this is my concept but the effort of the whole group went into it. A lot of wind tunnel time as well!”
The guys told me that interaction with the riders is one of the major keys to making it all happen.
Nic: “We had initial drawings available to the riders (of Saxo Bank) at their camp in Majorca in December, and a working model for them in January. There was a rideable bike for them to test out at the Tour of California in February. Cancellara and the Schleck brothers then tested out a model in Luxemburg before the Tour of Romandie.
“It’s all about feedback. The engineers and the designers take the bikes over to the training camps and spend a lot of time with the riders. We spend time with the mechanics, too, because they’re the people who are going to be working with the machines. It’s crucial to find out what works for them, what’ll make their lives easier, if they’re washing the bikes each day and making adjustments.
“Having the input of the riders is crucial because it allows you to make the little refinements that they can identify out on the road. And consulting them at each stage like this just keeps them in the loop of what’s going on,” says Chris.
“This is my sixth trip to Europe this year, and speaking and listening to the riders is crucial. The validation of the whole process is the race ride, when you see our hard work and the athletes’ hard work come together.
On Team Time Trial day, it’s definitely business, there’s no chatter with the riders or the mechanics. “When Andy (Schleck, Saxo Bank) won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, everyone was ecstatic and we were part of the family. Today, they’ve got their race faces on. It’s very serious for them.”
Half of the Quick Step guys are on the Shiv for the Tour, including Belgian TT champion Stijn Devolder, Tom Boonen, home favorite Sylvain Chavanel and the super-powerful Sйbastian Rosseler. “I was speaking to Quick Step guys, and they all want one! For a course like this with all the twists and turns, and then you factor in the wind, the Shiv is a great bike for this TTT. They all came back from riding the course this morning and they were all looking for a Shiv!” laughs Nic.
Is there any differences between the way Saxo Bank and Quick Step approach working with the bikes? “To an extent,” reckons Nic. “With Saxo Bank, it’s all about the fine details, the little things that’ll make a difference. With Quick Step, you could say that they have a bit more of a traditional Belgian hardman image! They both have different ways of doing things but they’re both great programmes.”
But then again, Specialized do give Carlos Barredo a saddle Phenome saddle with an Asturian flag design on it, and both Sylvain Chavanel and Jerome Pineau were on patriotic tricolor-painted road rigs on Bastille day … so Quick Step like the details, too!
And when can we, the mortals, expect to see the Shiv available for purchase? “It’ll be coming out in ‘module’ form in late 2010,” says Nic. “The frame as you see it here, plus the seatpost, but in limited quantities.”
A couple of hours later, Cancellara was on with another yellow jersey getting zipped up. Looks like the Shiv did its job.
With thanks to Nic Sims and Chris D’Aluisio for their time on a very busy stint at the Tour. If you want to see more on the Shiv, go and have a look at: www.specialized.com