Be Faster on a bike.
Julian ‘Jules’ Thrasher
We all want to ride our bikes faster. But the pursuit of speed can be fraught with pot holes of bad advice or, worse still, no advice at all!
Does buying the latest design of Aero bike instantly make you faster? Can you think yourself fast? Does fitness really matter if you are riding Downhill? I want to explore these questions and more in my quest to make you faster on a bike. I want to offer you clear guidance and simple tips that I have learnt over my years of riding. The advice will not focus on one type of riding in particular, as I myself ride both Mountain Bikes and Road bikes, the advice given in these blog posts will reflect this. I am also armed with a rather apt surname with which to tackle this subject…
So, let’s in no particular order have a look at being fast on a bike. I would like to start with the Aero debate.
Being Aerodynamic is the new cycling hot potato and rightly so. Wind resistance (aerodynamic drag) is the biggest factor to consider when looking to go faster. Try cycling into a head wind and you’ll expend as much energy for a fraction of the speed.
But do you have to spend vast amounts on the latest kit to be aero? It’s something the big name companies would like you to think so. With bikes coming out from all the big name players all claiming to ‘out-aero’ each other, how can those of us without the deep pockets required to invest in such beasts be aero without them?
I believe that most of the aero gains to be had on a bike come from the rider themselves. I always marvel at the fact that I can overtake those who are pedalling downhill on the road by simply tucking my arms and legs in and ‘chewing’ on the stem. In certain instances I have looked (briefly) at my computer to see my speed go up when tucked and then go down when I move up (slightly) to start to pedal! Experiment with your position whilst out riding. For sure, the biggest gains will be seen when travelling downhill where the speeds are higher, but don’t forget that they can be applied on the flats too.
Look at the pro-tour riders when they are descending. Some of them have really scary looking positions to tuck themselves out of the way of the wind which will require a good deal of flexibility not to mention a large helping of bravery to achieve. For me the best position is to place my hands in the crook of the drops (just underneath the hoods) move my bum onto the back of the saddle and get my head as close to the stem as I can whilst tucking my elbows and knees into my body and the bike frame respectively. Please note that your head must be looking forward, firstly for the obvious reason that colliding with a parked car you have not seen will ruin your average speed (and perhaps life) and that although you may not feel the wind as much in this position, you will be exposing more of the helmet to the wind, increasing your drag.
This may not be a position that feels comfortable at first. My advice is to work on your flexibility through stretches. Find a wooden chair that has a back about shoulder width and grasp it near the seat from the back. You will have to bend down quite a way to do this, but your hands will offer support (much like they do when you are on the drops) the key to good stretching is to undertake the stretch when the muscles are warm (so after a ride is perfect). Do not stretch to the point of pain. Do not ‘bounce’ the stretch. Breathe slowly and deeply and hold the stretch for as long as you can. Stand up from the stretch slowly and avoid any sudden movements. Also try looking up to the ceiling and down to the floor. This will help to increase the range of mobility in your neck muscles.
So what about being aerodynamic on the flat sections of a ride? How can we achieve this? I’d like you to look at Mark Cavendish’s position during sprinting. Not only does he have an amazing capacity for a savage increase in speed, he is also able to do it in a position that is more aero than many of his competitors, meaning that the watts he produces are not sacrificed as freely to the aero gods.
The key to this is to balance the speed you can pedal to the aero effect. Not easy this and requires practice (it is worth my while pointing out that there are various companies offering to do this with fancy software and high end ‘turbo’ trainers, which is great, I would definitely have a go with one – if I could afford it! Watch this space…) To work out your ‘wind effort’ as I am going to call it, you will need a computer and a slightly downhill, long straight section of road. Go as fast as you can sat down pedalling. Make a mental note of your speed. Then get into your tuck position. Again make a note of your speed. Now try to pedal in the tuck position. Does your speed go up or down? You are looking to see your speed go up. If it goes down, then work on your position until you can get a happy medium. This will take practice and you will need to vary your position for differing road situations.
Don’t forget that aero gains can be had wherever you choose to place your hands on the handlebars, just ensure those elbows and knees are tucked firmly in!
If money allows I would recommend you invest in a good set of aero wheels. Yes they can be a bit of a sod in cross winds, but when you get a tail wind that comes in just to one side ‘pushing’ the rim, the gains are amazing. The wheel acts like a sail and gives you an extra turn of speed. Plus they sound damn cool when you get them up to speed!
Tri bars? Yes – if you can afford them. They will allow you to tuck your arms in even more presenting less frontal area to the wind. Just make sure they are set up properly and that you USE THEM!! I am sick and tired of the amount of people I see / overtake who don’t. Ditch them and save the weight!!
Clean your bike!! Your bike needs to be super slippery through the air, being covered in grit and road grime won’t help your need for speed. Make sure cables are routed nicely and tied together where possible to prevent less of the bike being in the airs way.
If you are a mountain biker new to road then don’t even think about wearing baggies. You might as well strap a parachute to your back…
Don’t want to shave your arms and legs? Invest in some arm and leg warmers to keep the wind from getting stuck in your manliness (so to speak) just make sure you don’t overheat on a hot day!!
When you have tried all of these THEN and only THEN will you be allowed to consider that spangly new aero bike…
Join me next time when we will explore more speed making secrets!!