Every triathlete knows how exhausting it feels to ride into a strong headwind. To move forward, you must push through. This takes energy. Days with no wind are rare, yet you’re still wondering how to shave time and save energy.
There’s no mistaking it, the biggest factor stopping you from riding faster is … you. While training will make you more powerful, the best way to ride faster is to ride smarter. Becoming more aerodynamic reduces the amount of wind your body (and bike) must overcome.
Overcoming drag is the biggest barrier you face when riding, so all the focus in being aerodynamically efficient. It’s about reducing the impact of air on the cyclist who will travel faster, with less effort. And the faster you ride, the more resistance you will face. Here are some key elements to reduce drag on the bike and ride faster for the same (or less) effort.
Work on your position
While bikes are designed with aerodynamics in mind, human bodies are not aero by default! The positioning of your body on the bike is therefore key. While one objective of the fit is to put the rider in an optimal aerodynamic position, it will also ensure that comfort and power output are optimized. The goal is to get into a comfortable position that cheats the wind without limiting your power output. You should be able to maintain that aero position for two hours or more.
One common mistake new riders make to get aero is forcing themselves into an extreme position (often too low), then experience discomfort while riding and struggle to generate the same power. A bike fit will highlight all those elements with the three pillars of a fit – aerodynamics, comfort and power.
You’ll also need to adapt your position over time. Your current bike fit is likely not the first nor the last position you’ll ride in. From the beginning to the end of a season, throughout the years and various life events such as an injury, keeping the same riding position that you used 20 years ago is generally not an option!
Ride a TT bike
What you’re trying to achieve with a triathlon bike is a reduction in your frontal area. Along with the best aerodynamics possible, triathlon bikes have been steadily improving tube shapes, bars, seat posts and frame geometry along with overall ergonomics. Getting into the right and comfortable position is much simpler to achieve due to multiple adjustments possible with aero pads, extensions, shifters, etc.
Integrated cockpits along with profiled tube shapes offer a strong, wind-cheating advantage for the rider. Aero brakes and aero cable routing further minimize drag by hiding the cables from the wind. Triathlon bikes have also been designed for racing efficiency; you do not have to come out of the aero position to shift, drink, or eat while riding.
Ride in clothing that fits
If you want to cheat the wind, properly fitted clothing will make an appreciable difference. Loose clothing will catch wind like a parachute and will definitely slow you down. Keep it tight! And while not everyone will pull off the skin suit on race day, make sure you think of comfort and fit when shopping for your next race kit. The overall goal is to have a smooth airflow around your body, anything that disrupts that airflow will make you a little slower, and your life a little harder.
At this point, if you made sure you had a good bike, on which you’re well fitted to train and race on, in fitted clothing … the rest is a matter of how much money you are willing to invest for aero gains. You can add many elements to your aero shopping list: aero helmets, wheels, hydration system (and water bottle positioning), food storage options, good set of tires to lower your rolling resistance, etc! But here’s our last tip for free speed: work on your flexibility. Flexibility is a key factor for anyone who wants to ride fast. Which means yoga, stretching and more riding!