Easy Speed – Tips for Chasing Faster
Last week I hosted an event at North Shore Road Bike called Easy Speed. The purpose of the event was to share with triathletes some of the equipment choices they can make to maximize speed for a given output on the bike in a triathlon. Since I recognize not all could make it, I wanted to share some of the main topics we covered.
People can argue all day over where certain equipment choices fall in the hierarchy of aerodynamics, but one thing all can agree on is that your body position (bike fit) comes first. It’s estimated that your body contributes to roughly 70% of your overall aerodynamic drag deficit. So what does that mean? Well it means shopping for speed isn’t quite as simple as going into your local bike shop and buying the coolest, most expensive time trial bike. If you can’t achieve a good position on the bike, then it’s going to be a waste of your hard-earned cash.
A bike position built for speed considers comfort, power and aerodynamics. If you’re uncomfortable in the position, it can compromise your ability to stay in the aerobars or your ability to produce power. If you can only stay in your aerobars on the flats or downhills 50% of the time, then that means you are losing precious time the other 50% of the time. Positions that are too aggressive can also compromise one’s ability to produce power and the rider ends up going slower than if in a more conservative position. We want to get as aerodynamic as possible, but the key is to have a fit that balances those three principles. When your fit is dialed, you should be more comfortable in the aerobars than on the pursuits. And let’s not forget, your position should leave you with the ability to still run well off the bike. A more aggressive position may save you a minute or two on the bike, but could cost you 10 mins on the run.
So how do we achieve this balance? It’s often easier said then done. It takes some trial and error, but most importantly, it takes recruiting the services of a great bike fitter. This part takes doing your homework. Don’t just rely on a bike fitter’s stated experience, or a certification. Ask around. Just because someone has been doing fits for 30 years, doesn’t mean they have ever been doing them well!
Find out who the elite age groupers and local pros are going to, they have a lot invested into the sport. Chances are they’ve been thorough in picking who they work with.
Personally, I’ve worked with Noa Deutsch since 2013. She is based out of Vancouver and recently wrote about the topic of choosing a bike fitter which you can find here.
One common question I often get asked by athletes is, “Do I need a TT bike or can I put clip-ons on my Road Bike?”
Well, the answer is, “It depends, what are your goals?”
If you are looking to go faster, a TT bike is the way to go, almost always. There are very few courses where I would consider a road bike. The reason being is the frames and bars are designed to be extremely aerodynamic, but more importantly the geometry is different. With a road bike, you can only get so low with clip on bars before compromising your hip angle. If your hip angle is too tight, not only will you be uncomfortable, but you’ll also run like crap off the bike! With a TT bike, you can slam your seat forward and get much lower while keeping your hip angle open.
Now for the fun stuff, the gear!! In terms of tri frames, if you know me well, then you know how passionate I am about Felt Bikes. I’ve been racing on the Felt IA for the last 4 years and have been very fortunate to have been sponsored by Felt Canada for the last 3.
Before ordering my first IA frame I went to see my bike fitter to ensure it was going to be a good fit. The aero data was there, being the fastest bike on the market, but if I didn’t fit well on it I would lose time through a poor position. Once I got the green light I could confidently place an order for the frame through my shop.
It was an important process to go through and I’m glad I did. I’ve been able to have some incredible bike splits and races over the last few years and it wouldn’t have been possible without being paired up with a great bike. It doesn’t surprise me that the Felt IA has been ridden to the top of the podium the last 4 years in Kona.
Once you’ve established the frame that’s a good fit and will be the new love of your life, some key things to discuss with your fitter are contact points:
Crank length is something your fitter should discuss with you. Shorter cranks help keep your hip angle more open, this can lead to more comfort and potentially a more aerodynamic position. Vision has a great lineup of aero cranksets with a great range of sizing (155mm to 180mm).
Saddle. This one is huge. The biggest complaint I hear from athletes is poor saddle comfort. It doesn’t have to be that way! There are a lot of great options now from brands like ISM and Fizik. Find out if your local shop has some demos and test some out.
Bar Setup is another area to put a bike emphasis on as it plays a big role in comfort and aerodynamics. My personal preference is Ski bend extensions as they allow me to keep my hands and wrists relaxed. Having the ability to tilt extensions can prove to be more comfortable as well and there is a lot of data that shows having your arms tilted up is much more aerodynamic. Much like their Crankset offering, Vision has an amazing lineup of aerobars to get you dialed in.
Let’s talk Wheels
Are all equal? NO!
Like a bike frame, wheels are an investment. That’s why you need to do your research! I have always invested time into looking at the data and there is a fair amount out there.
I have been riding the Vision Metron series for the last three years and absolutely love them. The key for me is they tick all the right boxes: in independent wind tunnel tests they’re at the top of their class. They handle extremely well in corners, crosswinds, climbing and on descents. They are insanely durable, click here to see what I mean. My personal experience is they roll and ride really fast and it’s no surprise I have set all my PR’s on them.
A question I get asked often is what wheel size an athlete should purchase. That depends on a few different factors: the rider’s weight, handling skills, what their goals are. If the goal is to go as fast as possible, then you want the most aerodynamic set up as possible that doesn’t compromise your ability to stay in your aerobars. If you feel unstable and have to come out of the aerobars, it will likely cost you more time than what you are trying to save by going with a deeper wheelset.
If you are a lighter rider, say under 150 lbs, or your handling skills still have a lot of room for improvement, I wouldn’t suggest going with a rim any deeper than 60mm. The Metron 55 SL’s, for instance, are a very fast and versatile wheelset at 55mm’s. You can confidently use them for a triathlon or road race.
If you are looking to go as fast as possible on race day, then something like a Metron 81 SL in the front with a Metron Disc Wheel in the back will do the trick. That’s my go to setup on race day!
This is an item that is often overlooked by triathletes and the time savings for the cost is substantial. Traditional aero helmets generally had long tails. Over the past few years we have started to see huge advances in the aerodynamics of short tailed helmets and aero road helmets. Just look at the pro field in Kona last year, many of them are now opting for aero road helmets for better ventilation, they wouldn’t be doing that if there was going to be a big aero penalty.
Things to consider when purchasing a helmet, does it match well with your fit, is it comfortable, how is the ventilation, does it test well with individuals with a fit profile like yours? Just because a helmet tests well in the wind tunnel on a rider in the perfect aero tuck doesn’t mean it’s going to be just as fast in real world conditions. I know personally my head is all over the place at the end of an Ironman bike because I’m absolutely suffering!
I have opted to race with the Kask Bambino because it tests well whether my head is up or down, the ventilation is surprisingly great, it’s comfortable and the visor gives me great visibility and allows me to hold my head lower for a more aero position.
If all goes as planned and I qualify for Kona this year, then I will likely try out a few aero road helmets and consider using one on race day. The nice thing about an aero road helmet is that you can use it in everyday riding as well without looking like a total nerd!
Even more so than helmets, race day apparel is overlooked and can provide massive savings. Believe it or not, the savings can be more than some wheel setups! I remember being surprised to see Marino Vanhoenacker wearing a speedsuit in Kona in 2012, now most of the pro field and many age groupers are racing in them. I have raced in a Sugoi Custom Speedsuit the last two seasons and absolutely love it. Not only are they more aerodynamic, but they provide better skin protection. The big consideration when purchasing a speedsuit is fit, you don’t want one that is baggy or has a significant amount of wrinkles when you are in the aero position. Wrinkles will create drag and we don’t want that! Ensure it is comfortable and that you like the chamois because you will be in it all day.
To shave or not to shave?
Shave! Specialized actually tested it in their wintunnel and even they were surprised at how much the savings were!!
As much as I put a big emphasis on the product I train and race with, I put an even bigger emphasis on nailing my daily training sessions, nutrition and recovery. You can’t achieve success in this sport if you don’t do the work. The gear is the icing on the cake… and man, do I ever love icing!!!