As the 106th Tour de France drew to a close with the customary parade into Paris last weekend one bike caught my attention more than any others.
Not the garish yellow Pinarello of Bernal, nor the double sided green Specialized of Peter ‘the hulk’ Sagan, not even the polka dot inspired steed of Breakaway favourite Romain Bardet. Instead the bike in question belonged to the Frenchman’s teammate, ex Belgian champion Oliver Naesen.
The last year a steel bike won the Tour de France was 1995, when Miguel Indurain piloted it to success. Steel was usurped by aluminium and subsequently carbon as the pro’s choice. But in 2019 Oliver Naesen rode a beautiful steel Eddy Merckx bike into the thunderous arena that is the Champs Elysees.
Here is why we think this interesting and unusual occurrence might just become less unusual as the years go by.
With a claimed weight of 7.6 kg’s Naesen’s bike is clearly no heavyweight and with very little climbing included in the final stage we think it is a perfect choice for the pootle into Paris.
One of the fabulous characteristics of a steel bike is the frames ability to soak up road buzz and provide the rider with a carpet like feel as they pedal. Perfect for the pavé of the Champs Elysees. In addition to smoothing out the otherwise bone jarring cobbles of Paris I am sure that having ridden 3500 km’s around France there must be a few riders in the bunch who have pretty sore backsides and as such would welcome a smoother ride. I have never and probably will never be in that position but I can imagine if you looked into the number of pots of chamois cream used by teams throughout a grand tour their stock would be rapidly going down in the closing week!
It’s not just the comfort factor that we admire about steel bikes though. They look absolutely stunning. With the UCI’s relaxation of the 3:1 tube shape rule a couple of years ago bike tubes these days are getting thinner and longer resulting in, from side on, fatter and fatter looking bikes. Some might argue that these ‘look fast’ or that they ‘feel stiff’ but let’s face it, they have nothing on a classic steel frame. The double diamond is a beautiful thing, and although the old technique of lugged frames is dwindling there is something nostalgic and pleasing about thin, horizontal top tubed bikes that will never get old.
Along with this admiration of bikes of old there comes another point to be made. That dreaded saga of rim v.s. disc brake. A contentious topic and one that has in its time tried to divide the Breakaway team, there is no doubting that disc brakes outperform their older cousins in the wet, but with no race for the GC on the Champs Elysees and more often than not fair weather I don’t see why riders would ‘need’ a disc equipped bike going into Paris.
The more realistic reason that Naesen found himself atop the sexiest bike in Paris that Sunday was that Eddy Merckx are about to launch their new line of high end steel framed bikes. A brilliant and bold move from the brand whose namesake won all of his five Tours aboard the wonder material. The Mycorsa range will be partially customisable and feature both rim and disc road bikes and a line of steel gravel bikes.
We at Breakaway Digital will be keen to see how they turn out, and can’t wait to follow this intriguing story as we hope that more riders take to the material of old and follow the well known mantra. Steel is Real!