- Before investing in a more aerodynamic bike, think about
your own aero profile.
- Slimming down and improving flexibility, can deliver aero gains.
- Once you have perfected your own aerodynamics, it makes sense to get an advanced wind tunnel tested bike.
Cycling has an abundance of statistics. If you are given to an obsession regarding numbers, your cycling life can be awash in data.
Distance. Gradient. Speed. Cadence. Weight. These are the categories we file most comparative cycling data into. But there is one, that captures more attention than it should: aero.
If you have ever ridden into a potent headwind, you’ll know the difference that aerodynamics can make. Most of your pedalling effort goes into the objective of defeating aerodynamic drag. But as frame brands and cycling accessory companies incorporate more aero jargon into their product specifications, are riders perhaps missing a crucial fact in the aerodynamic debate?
Good aero starts with you
Although frame and component aerodynamics were once only seriously discussed amongst road cyclists, it has now become a marketing issue of distinction for gravel bikes, too. In 2020 many carbon-fibre gravel bikes were launched with terrific claims regarding their impeccable aerodynamics.
Shapely head and seat tubes. Wider front forks, to dissipate wake turbulence from spinning wheels. Integrated seatposts and aero handlebars. And of course: those deep section carbon-fibre wheels. These are all elements tabled by the cycling industry, as evidence that aero frame and component gains are worth investing in. But are they?
The issue is that you can be a much larger influence on your riding performance, than the relative aerodynamic merits of your bike frame. Think about how much wider and taller you are, in profile and surface area, than your bicycle. Although your front wheel and handlebar are the leading edge contact points when riding, your body has a much greater surface area of resistance.
Larger riders will always be at a disadvantage. Think of two exceptionally fit athletes, riding the same bike. Imagine Siya Kolisi, with his massively broad shoulders, and Wayne van Niekerk, with his much slighter build. They will have wildly different aerodynamic drag profiles, riding the same bike, in similar conditions.
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Get leaner and more limber
Reducing your frontal area and improving flexibility can dramatically improve your aerodynamics, without having to invest in an expensive aero bike. If you can trim some weight and narrow your proportions, you’ll be theoretically more aero. Doing the hard work at pilates and yoga should also enable you to hunker down in a more aerodynamic position on the bike.
Although radical aero tuck positions can negatively influence your breathing, superior flexibility will allow you to ride in a lower position, at good power output, for longer, delivering a notable aerodynamic advantage.
Meticulously shaped aerodynamic road and gravel bikes are wonderful examples of bicycle frame technology. But to really benefit from the advantages they offer, you should be in peak condition with regards to leanness and flexibility, allowing yourself to ride in the most physiologically aero position possible.
Once you have done all the work to ensure excellent aerodynamics of the self, the upgrade to that aero frame starts making sense. Target it a choice reward, on your path to mastering the aerodynamics of bike and rider, not a departure point.