It definitely feels like it’s been a while since I have felt the wind whistling across my TT helmet whizzing down the road at 40 plus Km/hr, but I know mine and many others time will come again, and racing will resume in the future. It would be fair to say cycling technology has exploded over the last decade. It probably wasn’t until I spent six weeks in lockdown controlling an avatar to ride around an imaginary island just to earn precious sweat drops to buy more imaginary bling on Zwift that I really started to appreciate how far we have come. Gone are the days of athletes relying on a wheel magnet and racing to speed and distance on a Cateye (not to mention zip tying the cables into the perfect position so the sensors are close enough to the magnets). Now it’s not uncommon for age groupers to have a heart rate monitor, smart trainer, power meter and at the pointy end to even spend some time in the wind tunnel or Lab.
I have always viewed the cycling time trial as the ultimate test between man, machine and the clock. The benchmark for many professionals over the years has been the hour record on the track with Victor Campenaerts currently holding the record with a staggering distance of 55km in one hour. For us mere mortals those distances are something we can only dream of. A lot of us wouldn’t even dream of trying an hour sufferfest at threshold with a lot of us opting for the 20min FTP test or ramp test to benchmark our cycling fitness. The beauty of Victor Campenaerts, Bradley Wiggins, Graeme Obree and even Chris Boardman all having a stab at this hour record is the amount of technology and research that has come from it. All those advancements eventually flow down to us!
So where to now?
What gems have these time trial gurus given the rest of the world?
With no races or holidays in the immediate future some of us may be looking for a bit of retail therapy and some of us may be looking about what improvements they can make on the cheap. It’s fairly obvious that nothing can really replace hard work and training, but I thought it might be timely to share what we’ve been working on to make improvements outside of training and optimise my performance on the bike.
It’s no secret that I have spent plenty of time in the Lab, tweaking and developing my bike position over the last couple of years. This has helped me to get the most out of my equipment and gives me a competitive advantage every time I race. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, all those 1% ers add up ($$$ per Watts saved is the magic ratio). As we continue through this invaluable piece of literature I want you to all remember, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your bike, the best thing you can ever buy for your performance is a proper bike fit with a competent bike fitter.
We would never ever suggest observing a professional’s position and trying to replicate it, but we can learn a lot from the evolution of professional positions over the years. The most important thing to understand is that everyone has different physical limitations (professionals are not exempt from this). If you ever watch Kona or a time trial stage in the Tour De France it is fairly obvious that no two positions are identical, instead we can look for trends.
Here are my top tips to look for:
Adjustable Cockpit: Ideally you want to have a cockpit that allows up and down adjustment of the bar angle. For most people we have found the high hands position a very effective method of not only creating a lower Cda (less drag = faster) but also a more comfortable position for long distance racing. This is something we have been able to confirm aerodynamically after analysing the data we get from STAC assessments.
Aero Helmet: Don’t just buy the helmet that looks the fastest or what the pros are riding. Find the right helmet for you. Technology such as STAC allows you to get aerodynamic analysis on a range of helmets for your current cycling position without having to buy a series of helmets. Make sure you find a helmet that works with your position and doesn’t look like a dorsal fin at your next race.
Pedal Position: Bike fit, bike fit, bike fit. I feel like most competent bike fitters will be able to get the saddle height close and the basics right but it really takes a guru to dial in an ideal pedal position and the interaction between the foot and the pedal. Ensuring the cleat is in the right position fore, aft, rotation, wedge, shim, orthotics is no mean feat but if done correctly the results are a no brainer. Not only will a correct foot/pedal interaction ward off injury but it will also help optimise power output.
Saddle Choice: This is a simple one. If your saddle hurts, get a new one. You should be excited to ride your bike not dread it. A lot of brands now offer the ability to trial saddles prior to committing to purchase as well as a range of saddle shapes and width. Make sure you use chamois cream and have good padded shorts.
It is fair to say I am extremely proud of my bike. We have spent hours tweaking it with countless bike fits, STAC scans, on-road testing and a bit of race validation (Remember Races?).
I thought rather than bore you with what is out there I would go through my bike and justify the equipment choices and changes we have made.
Front wheel; Roval CLx 64
Rear Wheel; Roval 321 Disc
Tyres; 25mm Continental Gp5000 – Pairs best with the current rim width of the wheels above. The goal is for the tyre to sit flush with the width of the rim or not exceed it by 5%. The goal is to ensure that there is no large difference between the tyre and rim as to avoid a boundary condition where we get a trip condition and separation in flow. Why spend all this money on fancy wheels if your tyres are slowing you down?
Frameset: Specialized Shiv size medium (I am 178cm and all limbs)
Groupset: Shimano 9100 Dura ace Di2 – Slick dependable electronic shifting that allows me to stay in aero, easy to maintain.
Crank length: 165mm. This is an important one for me. I have failed enough of Hannah’s flexibility check-ups to know how tight my hip flexors are (very common in runners and cyclists). To allow me to get more aero and lower on the bike whilst still delivering a good power output we have swapped from the traditional 175mm crank length to 165mm. This creates less pinching at the top of my pedal stroke and a smoother power delivery.
Think of power production as the following
Power = Torque x RPM
Torque = Crank length x force applied
Without getting too stuck into the maths, I now must generate more torque or increase cadence to generate the same power output. The benefit of the shorter crank though is that I have been able to get significantly more aero which has outweighed any loss in power.
Oversize Pulley: A nice to have and a few bonus watts saved. Also looks sick but this should be low down on your shopping list for free speed (high $$$ for a relatively small saving).
Pedals: Speedplay aero pedals. The reason for this is create a more midfoot position and decrease instability in my ankle joint. The Speedplay pedals also come with adjustable float, allowing for a more tailored foot position. As a warning, these pedals are not the easiest to clip in and out of but they do provide an aero benefit.
Shoes: S-works Exos (super lightweight single Boa dial shoe perfect triathlon).
Trisuit: For the last season I have been using a HUUB Anemoi, an aero optimized sleeved trisuit. The current generation of trisuits all claim various aero savings. My personal advice is look for a suit with a good chamois and that is tight (a baggy suit is a slow suit) but free moving.
Helmet: Giro Aerohead. This helmet is increasing popular in the triathlon world. For a lot it might not be the fastest helmet going but it’s a solid option and one that works for me. We have actually tested this Helmet using STAC to not only refine my head position but also compare it against an array of other helmets that may also work for me.
Cockpit: This is something I am immensely proud of and has taken a bit of perseverance to dial in. I have managed to
a) Achieve a better wedge and more supportive elbow pads.
B) Flip the stock extensions around to create a much higher hand position
I have done a lot of real world and STAC testing with this cockpit over the summer and it is staggering to see how much faster it is. Not only is it faster but it is more supportive meaning I can stay in the aero position for hours on end (no more elbows sliding forward on the pads).
Bottle set up: 1 between the bars and 1 out behind the saddle. STAC has been an invaluable resource for determining where to put the bottles on the bike to help save just a few more precious watts.
The easiest take home from this is to have a look at some photos of yourself from previous events and look at where you can improve. Is your helmet pointing to the sky like a shark’s fin? Have you got 5 bottles on your bike but only used 2? Are you comfortable on the bike? Does the bike become unbearable to ride 30km in? Saddle sores? Aching knees? If the answer is yes, then only you have the power to change this. Why not book in to see us as soon as possible so that you can smash your next event!
Jack Moody is one half of our bike fit team and is our aerodynamics expert. But truth be told, he spends majority of his time in our back office spinning a yarn and discussing the ins and outs of the newest piece of nerdy tech.