Over the last 5 years of Ironman racing I have gradually improved my bike leg. Much of this is down to training however some of this is due to acquiring some “free speed”. Free speed in essence is gaining speed in ways other than effort such as aero dynamics and weight.
Here is all my and others folks research over the years boiled into one blog. Much of this might be open to debate however I feel many of these changes have worked for me and should work for you too. After all, who doesn’t want #freespeed?!
One more thing to think about before you start reading. If you think only fast people need to worry about such things as improving aero dynamics, not true. A slower rider is spending longer on the bike so aero gains lost in speed are gained back through duration on the bike. Just a bit of food for thought.
Below in no particular order are ways to achieve more free speed. I have also omitted a couple of the obvious and expensive additions such as getting a fancy TT bike and deep section wheels. Those gains are obvious for all to see.
- Body Position.
- Aero Helmet.
- Rolling Resistance: Tyre pressure, inner tubes, tyres.
- Bike Set Up.
- Bike Maintenance.
1. Body Position.
First and foremost, if you are serious about improving and haven’t yet had one, you should get a bike fit. This can help to maximise your power output and comfort on the bike while getting the best aerodynamics that your set up can allow. I recently had another fit on the GURU system which has really helped dial in things.
General tips for both TT & Road bike:
- Keep your knees tucked in, if they are banding out they are catching the wind.
- Keep your elbows bent, relaxed and tucked in, your core strong and keep your head low.
- Furthermore, if you have not done so already consider clip on aero bars for your road bike. This is a highly cost effective way of becoming more aero dynamic. However this again will require readjustments to other areas of the bike as you are shifting your entire position. So if you are getting a bike fit take your aero bars with you (you may also end up buying a new saddle for the aero bar set up)
- Try bringing your aero bars closer together which will push in your elbows and subsequently role your shoulders in and down, reducing your frontal profile.
- Consider angling your aero bars up at the front a touch 10% – 13%. Imaging a bullet shape, conical with a pointy nose. If you angle your bars up and bring your head down you are creating this < shape as opposed to the open = shape which catches wind. Imagine a shark swimming with its mouth open and then closed. An extreme version of this is called the praying mantis. Illegal for UCI races, but not triathlon.
Aim for the ‘turtle’ riding position, this is when you drop your head between your shoulders so it is not popping up above your body.
Consider getting shorter cranks. I have done this and its reduced the dead spot at the top of my pedal stroke and allows me to lower my front end as my knees are not going as high. All with out loosing power. Something to ask your fitter about.
A caveat with these changes is they all take time, you will need to work on flexibility (hip flexors, shoulders and back to start) and core strength as well as strengthening your neck muscles.
Practice riding over the winter on your trainer, looking at yourself at a mirror front and side. Also doing the correct “plank” exercise will help you hold your aero position over long rides. You need to master this as every time you break aero you cost yourself time (exception here is hills).
2. Aero Helmet.
This is a highly cost effective way of improving your aero dynamics. However choosing the right one is key:
If you move about a lot or drop your head all the time then perhaps play it safe and buy an aero helmet with no tail. This will have no significant vents and most likely a visor. It might not channel the air over your body quite so well but is still a massive gain over conventional road helmets.
Long tails seem to be out. I ride a Lazer Wasp Air Helmet, I love its design, its proven fast and circulates a little air inside the helmet enough for me not to over heat (I rode Kona in it). Another very well reviewed helmet is the Met Drone Wide Body used by Jan Frodeno. This is deliberately a large wide helmet which is said to direct the air around the shoulders making the rider more aero.
Some helmets that seemed to get slated in triathlon circles are the Rudy Project aero helmets, both the wingspan and wing 57. Which both look good, seem universally popular but general feedback seems to be negative.
If there is any doubt on how you ride get a helmet with little or no tail.
3. Rolling Resistance. (this is the tyre rolling over the tarmac)
Wide tyres are back and are now proven to be faster than thin tyres. I am not going to try to explain the science, but 25’s are the way to go. The one caveat to this is you need to make sure your wheel can take that tyre with. (if in doubt check with manufacturer).
Latex inner tubes have less rolling resistance than normal butanol inner tubes. They do deflate slightly quicker as are slightly more porous so need to be pumped up for each ride however are proven to be faster. This is a classic ‘marginal gain’ that only costs a few extra quid.
I would opt for latex inner tubes in clincher tyres over tubular tyres. I believe this is the fastest combo, but I do know some people swear by ‘tubs’ which don’t need inner tubes.
My tyre of choice is the Vittoria Corsa Speed. They often come out top of reviews for speed and still offer enough durability for racing on roads. I swear by them for racing triathlons. Another very durable and fast tyre is the Continental Grandprix 4000s II tyre which is a bit more belt and braces but still very fast.
Air pressure. More pressure is not always faster. On very smooth surfaces like a velodrome with a wooden track you can get away with high pressures as it’s a very smooth surface. However on roads you want a tyre pressure of around 80psi for 25’s and 90psi for 23’s which enables your wheel to absorb the irregular minuscule bumps on the surface of a road. Don’t believe me, do some research…. Also less pressure in the wet for greater handling.
4. Bike Set Up:
Don’t tape stuff to your top tube or parts of your bike. You see people with £10,000 TT bikes with gels and what not stuck all over the place. Please people, clean surfaces!!
A good bento box (container that sits at front of top tube behind the stem) won’t significantly hinder performance and some studies argue that it can make the bike more aero as it helps air flow over the bike. I use one from X-Lab, you can see there are many options available according to your bike, what you want to store in it. Some bikes even have their own built in ones now.
If you are going to have a bottle on your down tube make sure its a special aero bottle.
Its pretty much agreed that the best and most ‘aero’ hydration set up for anything longer than an Olympic distance race (when you don’t need so much hydration) is to have a hydration system on the aero bars of your bike and a bottle hidden behind your bum attached to the back of the seat on a rear cage. *Be sure to practise with these, weight on the aerobars changes the handling of your bike and taking the bottle out and putting it back in the rear cage requires practice. Also make sure you get a good rear cage which will hold onto your bottle over bumps. I use a Torhans hydration system on the front and a X-Lab Gorilla cage on the rear.
Speed suits will save as much if not more time than deep section wheels. A one piece aero speed suit is designed to offer as little resistance as possible. Think about it, your body is the biggest wind blocker, much more than the bike so your gona want to cover it in ‘slippery’ tight material. I wear a snug one-piece suit that goes down to my elbows. Nothing flaps on it and it covers your back and shoulders from the sun too which in a hot race can be a God send! All the pro’s are doing this, so should you.
Anything that flaps is slowing you down.
Make sure your race number is fastened so it does not flap!
Pretty straight forward this. The hairier you are the greater gain will be made by shaving your exposed body parts, in particular legs, but even arms can be done. There was a wind tunnel test done fairly recently and it was surprising how much difference this made. Admittedly, the subject was very hairy!
7. Bike Maintenance:
I remember watching an interview with Sebastian Kienle; his biggest triathlon pet hate was seeing folk on expensive bike set ups who have not cleaned their chains and components.
Gunk, grit, too much oil. This all clogs up in the moving parts. Dirty moving parts can cost you around 5 – 15 watts possibly more. This equates to minutes over the course of an Ironman. Simply put, your bike is going to be more efficient when it is clean and well oiled. I use Rock and Roll Gold standard lube this has come top of a few tests. (its for dry weather)
If you decide to get a new chain and cassette before your ‘A’ race ( a good idea), then make sure you put in a couple of hundred kilometres to wear it in before race day. It takes about this long for everything to settle down to its most efficient state.
Sounds obvious but make sure your bike and wheels are clean and all bar tape is flush. You want all the surfaces to be as clean and fast as possible.
There you go so relatively easy changes that can give you the same extra speed improvements as hours on the turbo. So, when you combine the two it should be a good day out on the bike!!
Finally for those aero geeks out there, I found this fun little site that you can have a play with if interested:
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