The Tour de France, the most famous competition in cycling, is currently underway and while some 170-odd riders battle it out across mountains, cobbles and the occasional gravel path, we can only sit on our sofas at home and wish we had access to the same carbon fibre road bikes as the pros do.
Of course, the 22 teams that are fighting over the 21 arduous stages of Le Tour sit atop the most advanced (and expensive) bicycles money can buy, but the makers of said weaponry claim, unlike a Formula 1 car, punters can actually purchase what they see on the big screen.
Alas, very few of us can probably afford the very pinnacle of the road cycling game, but nearly every manufacturer involved offers something with hints of Tour de France tech for a fraction of the price. After all, the TdF is one of the biggest shop windows in cycling, so why not hawk your produce, eh?
Here, we take a look at some of those bikes doing battle in this year’s Tour de France and offer our alternative suggestions. These will be plenty speedy enough to break PBs, but won't break the bank.
You can’t afford this: Pinarello Dogma F12 (INEOS)
The bike Thomas, Kwiatkowski and friends will be pedalling this year needs little introduction, as the Dogma name has a reputation that precedes it. Regardless, the latest iteration is arguably one of the most complicated and technically accomplished yet.
Key features include internal cable routing, an integrated handlebar providing 5 per cent less drag than the previous F10 model, refined fork and frame to reduce drag by 7.3 per cent compared to F10 and a BB and Chainstay reinforced to increase stiffness by 10 per cent compared to the F10.
But the frame alone will set you back around £5k and that's before you've even thought about the expensive business of wheels, gearing and a comfortable cockpit.
So buy this instead...
Pinarello Gan K Disc
With lineage that can be traced back to the original Dogma F8, this infinitely more affordable version shares the same unmistakable frame shape, gently sweeping forks and seat post.
To keep costs down, Pinarello has used a slightly less stiff carbon lay-up, which means power transfer and straight line speed isn’t going to be up there with the big boys, but it’s still a mighty fine and arguably more comfortable machine to pedal.
For a fraction of the cost of a Dogma F12 frames, you get racing geometry straight out of the lab, Shimano 105 gearing, Mavic rims and powerful disc brakes, while most of the finishing kit is from Pinarello’s own envy-inducing parts bin.
2. You can’t afford this: Eddy Merckx EM525 (AG2R La Mondiale)
Eddy Merckx is a man who needs very little introduction, as he is not only one of the most successful competitive cyclists to ever grace this earth, he’s also a famous Belgian. And you don’t get a nickname like ‘The Cannibal’ by letting others win.
Merckx retired in the late 1970s but he has since focussed his attention on making bikes and they seem to be bossing the competition like the man did himself. Team AG2R La Mondiale ride the very top spec Merckx EM525 model. You can pick up lower specced versions of EM525 for just a few grand, but the addition of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 gearing and a carbon-clad finishing kit sees the overall bill rise to something more like the price of a small family car.
So buy this instead…
Eddy Merckx San Remo 76 Ultegra
Merckx was all about speed and this devilishly aero machine has been conceived to keep the mph up on the Sunday ride. Asymmetric chain stays and low seat stays offer higher stiffness and greater power transfer, while the finishing kit is very generous for a sub £3,000 bike. Shimano Ultegra R8000 11-speed gearing (among the best there is), Fulcrum racing wheels and Deda/Selle Italia finishing touches make this a worthy investment. We also happen to think it looks pretty serious, too.
You can’t afford this: Merida Reacto Scultura (Bahrain-Merida)
Around £8,000 buys you the lightweight Scultura team bike that the professionals will be riding, complete with anti-wrinkle technology that uses an air chamber to produce the individual carbon elements so the material doesn’t feature microscopic creases that can increase weight and reduce its robustness.
The frame shape is based around a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics theory for optimum air flow, while Shimano Di2 electric shifting clearly comes as standard for pro riders.
A silly amount of money has been spent developing the carbon fibre process here, including adding ‘nanoparticles’ to the epoxy resin that joins the individual carbon fibres, which is why it costs so much for us regular dudes to get some saddle time. On top of this, Merida also offers its guys an ultra-aero Reacto model for those stages where flat out pace is all that matters. Predictably, this costs even more.
So buy this instead...
Merida Reacto 300
This racy road machine shuns a carbon frame and opts for 6066 series triple butted aluminium. It still manages to keep that aggressive, aero profile but the material choice helps to keep cost down. To reduce mass, Merida throws in a carbon fork, while reliable Shimano Tiagra gearing substitutes the more pricey electric stuff from the Japanese maker.
Regardless, there’s internal cable routing that will happily accept Di2 should you wish to fit it later and Merida’s own rims are free-flowing and hardy enough to withstand winter punishment.
Despite being a fraction of the price of the pro machine, there are still plenty clear nods to the racing pedigree. This is one stiff, fast aero bike that’s not going to chip or snap at the first sight of a pothole.
4. You can’t afford this: Specialized S-Works Tarmac (Deceuninck Quick-Step)
Multiple teams have opted to use Specialized’s awesome Tarmac machine at this year’s Tour de France, not least frontrunner Julian Alaphilippe, who will likely be battling hard for the yellow jersey.
In its most professional setting, the bike costs over £10,000 and we would hazard a guess that Deceuninck Quick-Step’s model is even more than that. Why the large sum? Well, you get the marque’s FACT 12r carbon frame, which has been developed in a wind tunnel and is now lighter than ever.
On top of this, the teams benefit from a new fork shape, dropped seat stays and enhanced aero tubes. According to Specialized, this latest top-end Tarmac is 45 seconds faster over 40km compared to the competition.
The pro teams will run Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, with ultra-expensive Roval wheels, although paying punters can spec this level of bike with the new SRAM ETAP gearing system if they fancy going against the grain. Just make sure you’ve got £9,500 going spare.
So buy this instead…
Specialized Tarmac Disc Expert
We absolutely fell in love with the Disc Expert when we first laid eyes on it earlier this year and a few long, fast rides on its extremely comfortable saddle proved that you can have pro-spec performance on slightly more meagre budgets.
Regardless, this remains a big purchase but the FACT 10r carbon frame is a brilliant blend of comfort and performance, the Roval rims are up there with the beer best and Shimano’s Ultegra groupset is probably the most precise thing without replying on electronic wizardry.
Spec it in the mad grey/white camo paint job and your fellow Sunday riders will be convinced you’ve recently been part of the pro peloton.
5. You can’t afford this: BMC Teammachine SLR (Dimension Data)
Swiss-based BMC has long been a fixture in the professional cycling world and its range of precision machines have pretty much won all of the major competitions, including the Tour de France, Olympic Games and a number of painstaking classics.
This year’s Teammachine is an evolution of previous designs, with further enhancement to tube shapes and lengths, ensuring every single part of the bicycle slices through the air with maximum efficiency.
The top spec is actually one of the more affordable professional level bikes on sale and because of this, it has become very difficult to get hold of SLR 01 model, which comes with a DT Swiss wheelset, Dura-Ace drivetrain and the most lavish BMC finishing touches.
So buy this instead...
BMC Roadmachine 02 TWO
A more comfortable carbon set up, an extremely reliable Shimano Ultegra drivetrain and Mavic Aksium Elite rims bring this bike more in line with the expectations of your average rider and, as a result, also lowers the price considerably.
But that’s not to say it shouldn’t be taken any less seriously, because the latest Roadmachine delivers sleek, integrated technologies all over the frame. Internal cable routing, a lightweight D-shaped seat post and an aero bracket for the front disc brakes ensures peloton technologies are introduced to this regular ride.
Plus, with bike makers constantly seeking to update models and introduce new features, slightly older versions of essentially the same bike can be picked up with mega savings.