Clothing & Accessories

As we discussed in the Wind & Rolling Resistance Archive, friction and drag are our arch-enemies!  What makes these devilish is that if you don't pay attention to them, they can negate all of your training and hard work.  When it comes to wind resistance, it is almost like the wind is penalizing those who are the fastest the most.  Not only does it increase with speed, but it increases exponentially!  So if you double your speed, your wind resistance will increase four times (two squared).  If you triple your speed, your resistance will go up by nine-fold (three squared).  To overcome the wind resistance the cyclist must generate power equal to the wind resistance times the velocity.  Therefore, the power needed is the cube of the change in velocity.  So if you double your speed, you will need to increase your power by eight times (two cubed).

At around 20 mph, wind resistance makes up 90% of the total resistance.  At 25 mph, it makes up almost 100%.  As a result, streamlining is extremely important.

Clothing.  This area is relatively simple.  Buy clothing that is tight.  Buy clothing that allows for a full range of motion where needed.  That is it.  

You may have spent $2,000 on new wheels and tires to improve your aerodynamics, but if wear loose and/or wrinkled clothes then you might as well have spent the money on a trip to the Bahamas.  A loose shirt or shorts acts as a parachute and slows you down considerably.  Put simply, this happens because the loose clothing increases the surface area that you are pulling through the air and thereby increases the drag.  Keep the clothes tight, and use smooth fabrics!

As a side note, we like the idea of using looser clothing while training to increase drag and enhance results on race day when the 'good stuff' comes on.  This is similar to what swimmers do with shaving.  Basically, you train like a fiend with extra drag, then rest and reduce the drag on race day to enhance the 'taper'.  It works.  And, we love this technique in most sports.

Helmets.  Do not underestimate the importance of a good aerodynamic helmet!  The difference between good and bad helmets has been shown in studies to be equivalent to the difference between a good disc wheel and a standard 36 round spoke, box shaped rim wheel (at about 30 mph).  Basically, you gain the same advantage with a $50 helmet as you do with a $1,000 wheel!  It is crazy, but true.  Friction doesn't play favorites.

Look for a teardrop shaped helmet that is wider in front and smoothly tapers down in back.  Since it is often hard to tell how aerodynamic they are, read reviews and/or ask someone who knows about which ones are the best.

Keep in mind, if you go out and buy a sweet helmet, do not spend half of the race turning your head to look at the sights or to talk to your buddy.  Good helmets are designed to work effectively when the rider is facing forward and not to the side.  Doing so, will not only eliminate all benefits gained with the good helmet, but may also slow you down.  And for those who still can't picture what I'm saying, turning you head while using an aerodynamic helmet is like trying to cut a piece of butter with the knife laying on its side rather than on its edge.  

Also, try to keep your head at a level that keeps the back end of the helmet in line with the line of your back, but not touching it.  Too high or too low will also hurt your aerodynamics a bit.  Lastly, make sure your helmet is approved as a helmet for cycling and that it's safe.

Water Bottles.  Another easy item to overlook, when increasing your bike's speed, is the water bottle.  Poor shape and/or positioning of a water bottle can add 7-8 seconds to your race time over 25 miles.  Wouldn't you hate to lose a race by a second when you could have bought an aerodynamic bottle and put it behind the seat.  A few bucks and a little planning could mean the difference between winning and losing.

Since water bottles put on the down tube or any other tube in the frame add surface area to the frontal winds, and since they require riders to break form to get to them, they are not as fast as aero-bottles placed behind the rider.  By putting them in the bike stream system and by making them accessible while in good riding form, they can help you shave those 7 or 8 seconds off your time and hopefully go home with the gold.

Gear Changers. Similar to water bottle placement, the placement of your gear changers is vital.  Even though changing your gears to flite-controls will not help your bike's aerodynamics, it will improve your aerodynamics while you are changing gears.  And, since you may be changing gears often on some courses, this could be a large benefit.  By having your gears in a poor position on the bike, every gear change will effectually be slowing you down. 

Remember, every part of you and your bike are important in you race results.  Analyze every component and every item on the bike--including you!  The seconds saved add up--hopefully to victory.