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Cycling is an art of balance, endurance, and strategy. Equally, it’s a science, particularly when we delve into the realm of aerodynamics. In this article, we’ll explore a range of aerodynamic road cycling techniques that can help you maximize your aerodynamic efficiency on the road.
The Basics of Aerodynamic Drag
When cycling at high speeds, the majority of resistance a rider has to overcome comes from aerodynamic drag, not rolling resistance or friction in the drivetrain. Aerodynamic drag rises exponentially with velocity. Reducing a cyclist’s aerodynamic drag profile can have a huge impact on performance.
The two main components of aerodynamic drag are pressure drag and skin friction drag. Pressure drag comes from the differential in air pressure in front of and behind a moving cyclist which creates an effective force pushing back on the rider. Skin friction arises from the friction of air passing along the cyclist’s skin and clothing. Designing aerodynamic cycling positions and equipment aims to minimize these two forces.
Aerodynamic drag can depend on a rider’s position on the bike, equipment choices, riding techniques, and even helmet and clothing selection. Finding incremental aerodynamic savings from each area can add up to major overall improvements.
Before getting on the bike, there are some strategies riders can use to optimize their aerodynamics for the day’s ride. Consider the course profile and where aerodynamics will matter most, such as flat or downhill sections. Choose equipment accordingly like aero wheels if crosswinds are minimal. Plan pacing strategies to conserve energy for sections needing maximum aerodynamic efforts. Apply appropriate skin prep products to reduce friction and sweat buildup. Ensure hydration and nutrition is optimized so position can be held without cramping. Execute a dynamic warm up to open up tight muscles and get comfortable in an aggressive aerodynamic position.
Aerodynamic Body Positioning
One of the most significant areas cyclists can improve aerodynamics is by reducing their frontal area exposed to oncoming air. The most aerodynamic position is to make the body as narrow as possible from a frontal perspective. Key elements include:
- Keeping arms close together, shoulders low and narrowed.
- Keeping the torso low to the bike.
- Tucking the head down to cut through the air.
- Maintaining a flat back parallel to the road rather than arching the back.
Getting low and narrow on the bike frame reduces pressure drag. However, comfort and bike handling can be compromised if positions are too extreme. Flexibility training to open the hips, hamstrings, and lower back can help cyclists get lower and maintain a tighter tuck.
Core strength is also essential for stabilizing the body in an aerodynamic position during hard efforts. A strong and stable core can help prevent excessive side-to-side rocking or changes in position that increase drag.
Best Positioning for Different Body Types
There is no one-size-fits-all aerodynamic position. Different riders need to optimize their position based on individual body proportions and flexibility. Taller riders with long torsos will need lower stack heights and longer reach than shorter cyclists. Those with greater flexibility can achieve lower positions while less flexible riders may need to sacrifice some aerodynamics for comfort. Core strength and stability helps maintain position for all body types. Experiment with adjustments to handlebar height, stack vs. reach, and saddle position to find the ideal balance of power and aerodynamics unique to each rider.
Training Your Aerodynamic Position
Getting comfortable in an aggressive aerodynamic stance requires training over time. Long rides in the drops or aero bars build endurance and stability. Core strength focused exercises improve posture resilience. Yoga, Pilates, and off-bike mobility sessions open tight muscles and joints. Gradually increase time spent in the aero position over weeks and months. Start by descending or rolling terrain in the tuck. As tolerance improves, spend more time in aero on flats and mild climbs. Use equipment like aerobars with variable positions to adjust difficulty. With dedicated practice, an efficient and sustainable aero position can become second nature.
Alleviating Road Cycling Pains
Numb hands, a sore back, and neck strain are common in aggressive positions. Ensure bikes are fit properly. Build strength and flexibility. Use padded gloves and tape. Frequently change hand positions. Stop to stretch the back, neck, shoulders. Aerodynamics matter most in peak efforts so ease off pressure on long climbs and rides. Addressing fit, posture, and flexibility minimizes pain from an aero stance.
Equipment and Accessories for Aerodynamics
Deep section aero wheel designs are one of the most effective equipment upgrades for reducing drag, with depths 50mm and greater providing the most benefit. However, crosswind stability should be considered, especially for lighter riders. Well-designed aero road frames with truncated tube shapes that cut through the wind offer tangible aerodynamic improvements over round tubes. Integrated cockpits, seat posts, and other details trim turbulence. Regular drivetrain cleaning and maintenance reduces friction for free speed.
Aerodynamic Gear and Accessories
Tight-fitting aerodynamic skin suits reduce form drag compared to loose jerseys flapping in the wind. Aero helmets with elongated tails are also advantageous, but opt for good ventilation for climbing. Shoe covers streamline the feet and limit airflow into shoes. Compact hydration systems and bento boxes minimize drag compared to external bottles and bags. Aero socks do reduce turbulence at the ankle from pant cuffs, but gains are modest. Utilize gear that matches the day’s course and conditions.
Carrying Equipment Aerodynamically
Water bottles mounted to the bike in horizontal positions under the downtube or behind the saddle are most aero. If using a backpack, choose a tight-fitting design and pack it full to avoid loose flapping. For bigger cargo, right-sided panniers or saddle bags tuck in behind the body better than left. Asymmetric configurations push turbulence to the side away from critical frame sections. Consider a bike fit to ensure good saddle position when loaded on one side.
Hair and Beard Styling for Aerodynamics
Long hair can flutter in the wind and undermine aerodynamics. Pulling it back into a bun or pigtails limits this effect. Smooth helmets work better aerodynamically than vents. Beards acting as a “catch net” is overstated, but wind tunnel testing shows clean shaven is faster. Any hairstyle that minimizes loose strands flying in the wind will provide some small aerodynamic improvements.
Pacing Strategies for Aerodynamics
The strategies used to pace rides and training can also influence aerodynamic drag. Since drag rises exponentially with speed, it requires significantly higher power outputs to continue accelerating at high speeds. The flexion of the upper body and bike also increase, compromising aerodynamic position.
Many aerodynamic savings occur at lower speeds where posture is more stable. Keeping intensity and speeds lower on recovery days and easier rides allows a rider to stay in an aero position that translates to faster speeds when fresh and sprinting. The highest speeds and best aerodynamics are achieved in short surges and sprints.
One of the most effective ways cyclists can improve their aerodynamics is by drafting behind other riders in a pace line. Staying in the draft zone ~6-12 inches behind the wheel of the rider ahead can provide ~30% reduction in aerodynamic drag. This allows substantial energy savings from reduced effort at a given speed.
Effective drafting involves positioning the front wheel just behind the hip of the rider ahead. Staying too far to the side exposes the front profile to drag-inducing crosswinds. A smooth, steady line without sudden movements helps keep pace line aerodynamics optimal.
Paying attention to overhead conditions is also important in pace lines. Better aerodynamics are achieved by staying directly behind the wheel in headwinds. In tailwinds or crosswinds, drifting slightly to the side can provide cleaner airflow. Communication within the pace line helps the group coordinate optimal drafting positions as conditions change.
Optimizing Aerodynamics With Technology
Power meters, drag estimating systems, and wind tunnel testing can quantify aerodynamic improvements from adjustments in real time. Software analytics identify optimal equipment combinations for conditions. Simulators teach handling skills for deep section wheels in crosswinds. On-bike sensors monitor position discipline. Technology removes the guesswork to pinpoint aero gains specific to individual riders.
Common Aerodynamic Mistakes
A commonly overdone adjustment is slamming stems to extreme low positions exceeding flexibility limits. This overstretches the back, rocking the torso and causing excessive drag. Obsessively chasing every minor aero gain leads to uncomfortable positions lacking power. Aerodynamic bikes mishandled in crosswinds are hazardous. The fastest setup integrates aerodynamics, bike handling, and sustainable power. Small adjustments to dial in position beat chasing massive geometry changes beyond a rider’s capabilities.
Most Overrated Aerodynamic Component
Aerodynamic water bottles offer little measurable benefit at great cost and can fall out of poorly designed cages. Riders are better off using a well-designed frame-fit system. Numbered race jerseys also do not enhance aerodynamics in any significant way contrary to racer lore. Focus instead on elements like wheels, helmets, and body position for major aerodynamic gains.
Congratulations, you’ve reached the finish line of our guide to aerodynamic road cycling techniques! with knowledge of aerodynamic techniques and technology, cyclists can slice through the wind for improved efficiency and speed. But enhancing safety, comfort, and bike handling cannot be sacrificed. Find the optimal balance of aerodynamics and overall performance unique to each rider.
Q1. Do I need an expensive bike to benefit from aerodynamics?
While advanced bikes can offer some aerodynamic advantages, the most significant improvements can be achieved through your riding position and gear. You don’t necessarily need an expensive bike to become more aerodynamic.
Q2. Is it essential to wear aerodynamic clothing for casual rides?
For leisurely rides, aerodynamic clothing may not be crucial. However, if you’re serious about improving your speed and efficiency, investing in aerodynamic apparel can be beneficial.
Q3. What’s the biggest mistake cyclists make regarding aerodynamics?
Neglecting their riding position is a common mistake. Many cyclists don’t realize the impact their posture has on air resistance. Focus on getting low and narrow to reduce drag.
Q4. Can I become more aerodynamic without professional help?
Yes, you can. With practice and a basic understanding of aerodynamics, you can significantly improve your riding position and gear choices to become more aerodynamic.