Getting faster on our bikes is something that most of us want to achieve. Obviously, optimising our training is going to be a sure-fire way to make us faster. Then we also have available the latest aero frames, wheels and skinsuits that will make us faster but for a premium price. However, outside of all that, there are a few great way to become quicker on the bike without breaking the bank, which is what we’re going to cover here.
Aero socks have become highly prevalent in the Pro Peloton over the last few years, and for very good reason! They offer one of the best ‘cost per watts saved ‘out of all the available aero kit. Some professionals are still reluctant to move on from the classic cotton socks, but the research data available supports the fact that wearing aero socks, which are often within the £25 mark, will save us a fair few watts across all speeds. Although not ‘free’ speed, it’s probably some of the best value extra speed that you can purchase.
Good tyres or inner tubes
When we cycle, we are having to overcome several forces: air resistance, gravity and rolling resistance. Air resistance and gravity vary with both speed and gradient, whereas rolling resistance remains a constant based on rider weight and surface. It presents a significant opportunity for improvement, and the way to do this is to go for faster rolling tyres or inner tubes. Tubeless tyres have taken the cycling world by storm and, for racers, the main gain is improved rolling resistance with puncture protection. The difference in rolling resistance can make for a couple of KPH speed increase between a fast tyre and a slow tyre. Although not cheap (with faster tyres probably costing £100 for a pair) the speed gains you can get are greater than the difference between your current frame and, say, an aero frame. For those without a tubeless setup, you can still optimise your set-up by opting for latex inner tubes. These are a bit more expensive than butyl but offer better punch-flat protection, lighter weight and much lower rolling resistance.
Aero handlebars are obviously one way to get faster, but a pair of 38cm round bars will be faster than most 42cm aero bars. This is because, with narrower bars, we reduce the frontal profile of the largest drag incurring shape on the bike: our body. Some riders have gone to extremes with 28cm bars and even smaller, but the UCI has just set a minimum width on bars to prevent people going too narrow. An alloy set of bars that are 38cm or so will not break the bank at all and, although many people feel their bars need to be the width of their shoulders or else breathing is restricted, this is not the case. Handling is also not impaired and although some may feel their sprint leverage with their arms is reduced, plenty of track sprinters with far higher sprint wattages use narrower round tubed bars for the huge aero gains up for grabs.
Clean and fast chain
This benefit comes in two parts; to apply a good chain lube with lower resistance, we first need to make sure that our chains are kept nice and clean. One way of ensuring this is to purchase a chain with a wax lubricant already applied, such as the Graphene Lube from Absolute Black. For those wanting to go the full hog on their own chains, an ultrasonic cleaner can be used to clean the chain fully to avoid any contamination. After doing that, if you use a liquid wax lube, you can put the chain and some lube in a bag to leave that to soak in. Afterwards, hand the chain up and pour the wax back into the bottle. With quick links on chains, this is a process that can be repeated, although Graphene Lube can last for over 1600km! It’s a lengthy process, and the lube/wax can cost up to £100, but it will help your chains last longer (saving a bit of money); run a lot smoother (saving quite a few watts), and not require cleaning so often (as dirt doesn’t stick to wax the same way it does to wet lube).
Focus on position
The final one is a very simple one: focus on your position. Most of us tend to ride in quite an upright position as that’s likely what’s comfiest. However, getting into a more tucked-in position on the bike is probably one of the easiest ways to go significantly faster without spending a single penny. The more time we spend riding in that position, the more we become adapted to it, meaning that power output won’t be compromised and we will feel more comfortable. You can improve this even further by focussing on a few strength and conditioning exercises to compliment your aero position and ability to hold it.
So, there we have it: our Top-5 best value ways to get faster on the bike. Let us know if you’ve tried any of these or if you’re going to try some of them out in the New Year!