Aerodynamics on the bike, and why they are so important.

It really doesn’t matter what type of cycling you do, aerodynamics are the single most important factor to enable you to ride faster.

Improving aerodynamics is a the most significant way to ride or race faster. Reducing the surface area exposed to overcoming air resistance will enable you to reduce drag and the amount of energy required at a given power, speed and effort. If you do this in a measured and methodical way you will be able to achieve a better time, speed or result in competition and training.

Aerodynamics are so important that if you took two riders riding at exactly the same power, over the same course, a rider with an optimal position and set up could save over 4 minutes in a 10-mile time trial, and up to an hour on the bike leg of an Ironman Triathlon compared to the other rider who has not had the same attention devoted to giving them an optimal bike fit. Even riding at a speeds of 12 miles per hour upwards have an effect! It’s no surprise that the faster you go the more significant the impact that aerodynamics has.

Most scientific studies show that around 85% of your effort when riding is used to overcome air and rolling resistance, the rest of the energy and effort is in enabling your body to use energy to keep you cool and functioning.

What should you be doing in that case?

Seeing as up to 85% of aerodynamic drag is caused by your position on the bike, it makes sense to optimise your setup, and the factors that having a bearing on your performance when it comes to speed. To go faster you need to reduce drag, resistance and friction and improve aerodynamics for any given power, without compromising comfort, after all, if your position on the bike is uncomfortable it won’t be sustainable and you will be wasting valuable effort and compromising your speed and power.

Your position on the bike while seated

Inexperienced riders who have received no advice, guidance or had a bike fit will often set their choose the wrong saddle or position it as if they are sitting in a chair. If you goal is to go faster and already knowing aerodynamics is the critical factor, the wrong saddle setup will rapidly feel uncomfortable. A good bike fit will be able to ensure your saddle is setup so you can rotate your pelvis forward into a comfortable and aerodynamic position, the advice and off the bike exercises you are given by a qualified and experienced bike fitter will ensure that your new position is remarkably more effective for speed and comfort, and reduce tension you might have previously experienced in your old position. 

How your made is a significant factor that should not be overlooked.

Perhaps you have looked at professional riders in a time trial stage of the tour de france and tried to replicate their position, this is not a great idea! The reason is quite simple, they have many hours of input with various experts at their disposal, sports doctors, physios, bike fit experts, prehab, stretching and many hours refining and working on those positions to improve. You only have to look at how ‘Adam Yates’ (currently of Mitchelton Scott) has adapted to his current set up and significantly improved his time trialling ability.

Not everyone is able to adopt some of the aggressive positions witnessed at the level seen in professional cycling and triathlon. The reality is that they tend to be generally more athletic and have good flexibility in their mid and lower backs. Their ability while their hip angle or diaphragm being slightly compressed isn’t a concern, as they tend to have the flexibility and strength for this position. They can ride bikes in this position and be comfortable seated and producing power towards the nose of the saddle. 

The rest of us are generally a lot less flexible in the lower back, but can still achieve aerodynamics similar to some of the pro riders. It just means that compromises have to be made, most often it would be things like wider elbow positioning, which makes use of a greater shoulder flexibility. This position you see can be just as effective as the air is being pulled your hips, it should be noted however that your latissimus dorsi should be as close to horizontal to the shoulder joint as possible. If you couple this along with improving your pelvic rotation via strength and conditioning exercises, it will help you to rotate your pelvis further forward which will in turn enable you to achieve a flatter back.

Turning circles, aren’t longer cranks the answer?

In a nutshell not always! The reason for this is that you are looking to improve aerodynamics in a unique position on the bike. Studies have shown that shorter cranks have no detrimental impact on your power output, a shorter crank will allow you to breathe more freely as you have allowed your hip angle to be more open, which means you will not be compressing your diaphragm as well as improved aerodynamics at the top of the pedal stroke, because when a rider is in an aggressive aerodynamic position, the diaphragm can be compressed, causing heart rate and ventilation to increase, and adding stress to the overall system. Remember, you still have to be able to run off the bike, so you’ll want to balance efficient breathing against any aerodynamic gains.

Should I buy the latest tech to get faster?

The latest technology will not always make you faster, just read some of the marketing of the products available and take a methodical approach to research that data, for example the bike that can save you big watts! However look a little deeper and you will realise that their testing was not done in a manner that us mere mortals could expect to achieve! If your position on the bike is the best it can be, only after that can you expect some equipment to add to the gains achieved in optimising your position and bike fit.

Should I get as low as possible?

Dropping and lowering the stem on your bike can lower your head position, reduce your frotal area and reduce drag, however it is not without potential consequences. Just slamming your stem without any thought applied is likely to put you in an unstable and unsustainable position, for your race or ride distance. I would advise that is so much better to adjust your positional slowly or call in the advice of a professional bike fitter so that you minimise any risk of uncomfortable tension in your shoulders or neck, or are unable to ride in a safe manner because you cannot see the road and any hazards ahead of you!

It’s all about comfort and sustainability

This is the next important factor in aerodynamics and speed: you need a position that is sustainable for your your event. You might have found the most aerodynamic position in the world, however what is the benefit of that if you cannot hold it for the duration of the race? All you’re going to do is lose a lot of time because you keep coming up out of your position to stretch and readjust. 

It is all about ensuring your position, (especially as the bike setup for a time trial or triathlon is not a natural one), does not compromise your comfort or sustainability for the duration of the race. if you are competing in a Triathlon, it is even more critical, as you risk compromising your run or at worst injury!

Bicycle Choice, how do I choose the right bike?

Finding a qualified and experienced bike fitter will very likely save you some pain, discomfort, and buyer’s remorse; after all if you are prepared to spend a fairly sizeable amount on your bike, a good bike fitter will enable you to make the most of the bike, their service is likely to be your best investment when it comes to down to giving your best performance on the bike .Their knowledge and experience will match you to the right bike or frame that will fit you the best.

If you would like to know more please contact me via my contact page or click below to book an appointment.

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