It is possible to go faster in cycling, time trialing and the bike leg of a triathlon through purchasing of free speed. Free in the sense that you go faster for no extra investment of energy. It does however, require a certain amount of cash investment.
What do we need to know?
The biggest thing that slows you down on a bicycle is aerodynamic drag (wind resistance) and behind this we have rolling resistance (basically friction between tyre and road), drivetrain friction (from the chain’s interaction with the sprockets) and finally the overall weight of bike and rider. Investing in your bike should reduce one or more of these factors in order to help you go faster for the same effort.
So if we consider a person riding a standard road bike as a start point:
- Changing your body shape is the single biggest improvement that you’re likely to make. There are a few options here: A ‘bike fit’ is a process in which an expert will ensure that your current bike is optimised for you taking into account your goals as well as body measurements, flexibility and the like. Narrowing your body by using TT/Tri bars attached to your road bike is a relatively inexpensive way of reducing the aero drag. An upgrade to a TT bike would be optimal although its certainly more costly (but likely to come with many other benefits too).
- A TT helmet; these are relatively inexpensive and although there is individual variation in how each one fits, they are without doubt the cheapest way to go faster. Plus they still protect your brain too!
- A skinsuit or Tri suit designed to reduce drag. More costly than basic suits or cycling clothing but worth the investment as the most drag comes from you and not your bike. These suits are made of optimized fabrics that fit very tightly and have both hidden seams and textured material in certain areas. All designed to allow the wind to slip over you more easily. And they really work!
- Wheel upgrade. This is possibly where you were thinking you’d be spending the money? Deeper section wheels and or a disc wheel roll faster on pretty much all courses and in all conditions. But for the money needed to invest the savings in drag or improvements in speed aren’t as plentiful as those mentioned above.
- Tyres and inner tubes can be optimised to reduce rolling resistance. Generally speaking, those with the greatest durability (puncture resistance) are often the worst. Both latex inner tubes and tubeless tyres roll better than those with standard butyl inner tubes and the cost of swapping to latex is minimal. One cost-free method of reducing rolling resistance is to ensure your tyres are pumped up to the optimal pressure (there are various on-line calculators for this).
- Upgrades to your drivetrain (chain, cassette, chainrings, jockey wheels) can also save you watts but we are now looking at more marginal gains. At the very least look after your current ones by keeping them clean and de-greased and lubricated. There are now very good products for home use with liquid waxes becoming increasingly popular.
- Although it may seem counter-intuitive, upgrades that simply reduce weight should be last on your list but if any of the above purchases also saves a few grams then that’s great too.
- Finally, spend money on things that look nice, make you want to ride your bike and may just give you a few extra watts of placebo power!
This area is a lot more complex than can be addressed in a short blog but if you use the above guide as a start point then you won’t go far wrong.
Check out https://www.totaltritraining.com/services/ for bike fitting info or https://www.totaltritraining.com/phil-ellison/ to check out my bio and other blogs