The Paris-Roubaix road race was established in 1896 and stands as one of the oldest and most revered one-day professional cycling events in the world. Over its storied history, Paris-Roubaix has evolved from its initial edition, which covered a modest distance, to its current stature as a formidable 257-kilometer test of a cyclist's skill and resilience. The race's route has undergone alterations, but its signature cobbled sectors, including the iconic Forest of Arenberg, have consistently posed formidable challenges. Renowned for unpredictable weather conditions, the race demands adaptability and fortitude from participants. It also demands the same from a rider’s wheels, so Reserve spends an inordinate amount of time developing and testing wheels specifically for this event.
It’s no surprise that Team Visma-Lease A Bike has its sights set on winning the Paris Roubaix. In truth, it’s one of the few major events the team did not win in 2023. And with the performance of Mathieu van der Poel last year, achieving the fastest time in the history of Paris-Roubaix (5:28:40) and dropping Wout Van Aert by 46 seconds, well…the team would like to see a familiar yellow jersey on the top step in 2024. Also, the way the event finishes in the Roubaix Velodrome, with its rich history of triumphs, upsets, and memorable moments, making victory at Paris-Roubaix one of the most captivating and revered fixtures in the world of professional cycling.
Developing a wheelset for the Paris-Roubaix has been a particularly interesting project for Reserve. It’s not just the variety of weather conditions, ranging from dusty and dry to wet and muddy, but the wild diversity of terrain. A significant portion of the race traverses the cobblestone sectors, which are iconic and notorious for their rough and uneven surfaces, but the route encompasses a mix of paved roads, rural landscapes, and occasional narrow paths. In other words, it goes from road-race smooth to off-road nastiness without a moment’s notice.
Team Visma - Lease a Bike has been pretty clear about what they from Reserve to help them win Paris Roubaix. The team wants a deep-section wheel that will take advantage of reduced drag and enhanced aerodynamics that said wheels inherently deliver, but at the same time provide a high level of compliance to allow the rider’s to remain comfortable and efficient. On paper, this might all sound like an easy task, but the trick is finding the perfect balance (all the while maintaining a high level of strength as the event is notorious for breaking wheels).
From the Turbulent Aero testing we have done over the past three years, it is pretty clear which shapes and profiles will net us the most positive aerodynamic results. As a short primer, as part of the Turbulent Aero development program, we traveled the US and Euro, mapping different types of wind conditions, and then used this data to replicate real world conditions in the wind tunnel. All this work culminated in the creation of the first wheelset designed with Turbulent Aero technology with the 52|63, but we have been using the data on the rest of the lineup. As witnessed by our successes in 2023, it’s clear we have designed the fastest, most stable wheelsets for the pro peloton.
In addition, over the years, we have developed a multitude of lab tests to help us understand the strength needed for Paris-Roubaix but the most notable one is the test in the video below. As you can see, it’s a worst case scenario test: the tire is flat and the idea is that the rider is continuing on at full speed (with the hope that he can get a wheel swap from a support car at some point).
To develop this test, one of the biggest efforts went into designing the blocks that are attached to the drum (to simulate authentic cobbles). If you can believe it, we actually went to a Paris-Roubaix pre-test with the team, taking real measurements from the worst of the worst cobbles in the nastiest section. We then used these dimensions to create cobbles in CAD which we 3D print and installed on the drum.
Taking this a step further, we then sent the team wheels to do real-world testing. We advised them to again focus on the worst-case scenario: Flat tire, rough road, full speed. As you can see in the short video from the team car, it’s no walk in the park. And this video is just a short outtake from the entire test: the riders were challenged to ride at least 30K like this.
In the end, both tests proved what we expected. We have landed in a place where there is an excellent balance between aerodynamics, weight, strength, comfort and stability. Team Visma - Lease A Bike will be actually be riding a brand new Reserve wheelset at Paris-Roubaix as well, so we are really looking forward to redemption for the team and Wout van Aert.