I'm slowly becoming a Mark Cavendish fan. Whether you like his personality or not, at least you know what it is - the man is as transparent as a pilsner glass, a trait we hold in pretty high regard here at the November Bicycles World Headquarters and Craft Beer Museum. I started to warm to Cav when I read his book. No doubt some careful editing went into softening some of his natural asshattery, but the insight he affords into a day in the life of a sprinter is remarkable. Once you read the book you may - like me - start to appreciate the amount of work that goes into becoming the world's fastest sprinter. It would be very easy to look at the facility with which he wins and chalk all those victories up to mere genetics. It would also be grossly incorrect.
But your background reading assignment for today isn't Boy Racer. It's this article about Cav's bike on CyclingNews.com. In it, we see that the way Cav has his bike set up defies some of the conventional thinking (I'll stop short of calling it "conventional wisdom") in the bike industry. The mythbusting in the article is pretty eye-opening, in fact. To wit:
Lighter is better: We hear a lot of stories about how pros have to add weight to their bikes in order to meet the UCI weight limit. A friend of mine used to manage a professional women's team and I asked him if he did the same thing for fear of falling afoul of regulations on the start line. "No way! It's the best possible exposure for my bike sponsor for me to get hit with a fine for a bike that's too light. Please please please let them weigh mine!" I suspect many of those stories we hear about the steel seat tube plugs and weighted magents for pros' bottom brackets are seeded by bike manufacturers themselves, and the usage of such weights more an exception than a rule.
Cav's bike is 16.86 pounds.
Grammatically, that doesn't need to be its own paragraph, but like Cav's bike this blog is purposeful. Cav is not a weight weenie. He's a win weenie, so his bike is set up around what he believes will get him across the line first, not some arbitrary weight objective. Cav needs stiffness to create speed, and does not compromise his component choice to shave grams. And it's worth pointing out that it's not because he's an enormous knuckle-dragger whose sheer girth can allow him to carry a couple extra pounds on the bike. He's only 150 pounds, the same weight as Robert Gesink - a fact which goes further in busting the myth that all pounds are created equal.
A lower Q-factor is a technological improvement. Q-Factor is the distance between the pedal attachment points on a bike's crank arms. The popular myth is that a narrow Q-Factor is desirable, and this is touted as one of the advantages of BB30. And in some instances, a narrow Q-Factor is better - it narrows a rider's stance on the bike, theoretically at least reducing air drag. And some people believe that the body's more natural position is one where the feet are closer together. (If you saw The Flying Scotsman and remember the scene where Graeme Obree was lying on his back next to his washing machine pedaling circles in the air, you will recall that this is what he discovered.)
But Cav uses custom Dura Ace pedals with longer spindles to - on purpose - add a full 2cm to his Q-Factor. So says the article, "Optimal Q-factor is dependant on a rider’s body; Cavendish feels his natural stance is wider than that of the standard crank and pedal system, and that he can create more power with the wider stance." Again, a purposeful approach to this rider's specific characteristics and objectives.
Spare no expense if you're a pro. OK, this one is a little harder to see, given that Cav is riding an $13K Specialized Venge with Di2. But look closely at the wheels - no, not the Zipp rims, the spokes. Cav asked for his wheels to be built with Sapim double-butted Race spokes. Not bladed Sapim CX-Rays, widely regarded as the finest spoke money can buy (and requiring about 4x the money of other race-worthy spokes). And also not Sapim Laser 2.0 - 1.5 - 2.0 double-butted spokes (which we spec on all our wheels). The Sapim Race spokes Cav uses are double-butted at 2.0 - 1.8 - 2.0, adding about 60g over the Sapim Lasers and giving up any of the aero benefits of the CX-Ray. Why such madness? Because he wants to win, not brag on Facebook how light his bike is. He believes the added stiffness from the spokes justifies the weight penalty. Since I can't find much evidence to suggest that he's having difficulty transferring power to the road, I'm not going to argue the point with him.
In our sport, lighter, more aero, technologically advanced is better - except when it's not. That's up to each of us to decide, not the industry.