This article first appeared on BikeRadar.
Sandwiched between the cobbled classics of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Scheldepris serves as part Roubaix gear check, part sprinter's race. As such, the collection of bikes and gear here on Wednesday is like no other race in the world.
There are two distinct types of bikes at Belgium's Scheldeprijs: full-on aero machines for those racing for the win, and endurance machines with interesting Roubaix-specific details like suspension, bar-top brake levers and creative satellite shifter placement for those looking to dial in their setups for the coming Sunday.
Riders testing their Roubaix bikes raced them Wednesday as they will be built Sunday, except in most cases for different wheels and tires. The standard setup is 25mm for normal racing and 28mm for Roubaix.
Hydraulic rear suspension system
The biggest gear news was Ian Stannard's hydraulic rear suspension system with an automatic tuning system built into the seat tube. The upstart company HiRide has been working with Pinarello for the past year and a half on the system, which integrates into the Dogma F8-S.
The HiRide system can work with a remote switch on the handlebars, but Stannard raced it in auto mode, with the six-axis accelerometer/gyroscope in the seat tube sensing changes in the road surface and adjusting the suspension accordingly, from fully locked out to fully open.
Rim or disc?
This year there were a few disc bikes at Scheldeprijs, primarily endurance bikes as you'd expect for Roubaix, but also a few aero bikes like Specialized's Venge.
Cannondale-Drapac has two disc Super Six EVOs — normal road race bikes — and then a Synpase endurance bike with rim brakes.
Cannondale first raced with discs at the Ruta del Sol, and has had at least two riders on discs at most races since then. For Paris-Roubaix, all Cannondale riders will use Synapses, in a mix of disc and rim.
Shimano's new direct-mount brake calipers allow for plenty of clearance for 28mm tires.
Widening the handlebars
While going up a size in tubulars is standard for Roubaix, one Lotto-Soudal rider has another width change for the Hell of the North: his handlebars. Normally Marcel Sieberg runs the extremely narrow 38cm bars; for Roubaix he bumps 'way' up to 40cm.
"When you're riding on the tops of the handlebars, you get more control with a wider hand position," said Lotto mechanic Stephen Van Olmen.
Other riders don't change their handlebars, but many do make fuller use of their bars than they do at other times in the year, either by running thick tape up close to the stem, adding Shimano Di2 satellite shifters or adding brake levers.
Quick Step's Zdenek Stybar, for instance, has both bare sprint shifters and brake levers next to the stem for use from the bar tops.
Team Sky's Christian Knees normally runs his Di2 climbing switch on the back of his handlebar near the stem. For Roubaix, he opted for tape wrapped closer to the stem, and has a bare climbing switch affixed to the side of his K-Edge Garmin mount. This way he can shift his rear derailleur in both directions with his right thumb when riding on the tops.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were a number of Vision integrated bar/stem combos for the sprinters. Cannondale's Wouter Wippert, for instance, won a kermesse on them and has used them ever since.
Making tall bikes short
Endurance bikes are different from race bikes in a few ways. They have longer wheelbases and partly because of this they were the first style of bike to incorporate disc brakes. They often incorporate comfort features such as softer rear ends or even actively moving suspension system's like Trek's IsoSpeed or Specialized's new Future Shock.
But endurance bikes are almost always considerably taller on the front end than race bikes, which presents a challenge for racers, who like to be long and low on their machines.
So, riders, mechanics and brands have a range of fixes. One is to use a smaller frame than normal, and run a longer stem to the desired position. Forget just removing spacers — many riders remove the frame's top cap, exposing the bearing beneath.
Aggressively angled stems are another option to get the handlebar low on a tall head tube.
Finally, there is the 'build it for racers in the first place' option. Sometimes this means pro-race-only frames that aren't sold to the public, much less advertised. Giant's Defy Advanced SL, for instance, that Subweb is racing, looks to have a markedly shorter head tube than the consumer model.
Sometimes companies make and sell a pro option, such as Trek's new Domane SLR, which launched with a pro-geo rim frameset and now comes in a disc version, too.
And sometimes pros just get their very own style of bike, such as the direct-mount Roubaix frameset that Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan are racing. This is most definitely not something Specialized has in its online catalog.
And…. skinnier tubulars for Roubaix?!
Finally, it all comes down to where the rubber meets the road — the tubulars. Teams have long held special wheelsets and tubulars in reserve for just one race a year, Paris-Roubaix. Handmade tubulars by Dugast and FMB are quite popular with teams, as are Continental's newer Competition RBX.
In the last two years we saw not only 28mm but even 30mm tires being raced. John Degenkolb won on 30mm in 2015.
The thinking is that more volume equals more suspension, more comfort and, some might argue — more efficiency on the nastiest of cobbled sectors.
The limiter in the past had always been tire clearance inside the brake calipers. Cannondale-Drapac head mechanic Geoff Brown kept a supply of 10-year-old inexpensive Shimano calipers on hand just because their long reach allowed for 30mm tubulars.
So this year, with the advent of disc brakes kicking down the door on tire width, Cannondale has chosen to go… narrower for its tires.
"Last year we had 30mm tires, and afterwards the guys complained that it was too cushy," Brown said. "They didn't like the feel, and decided that they didn't need it. So we are using 28mm this year."
Stay tuned to BikeRadar and Cyclingnews throughout the week for ongoing race and tech coverage of Paris-Roubaix.