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Get aero, get faster

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If there’s one goal that all cyclists share, then it’s this – get faster.

Each and every one of us are on some sort of never-ending quest to get faster and reach ever greater speeds. How we get there is the big question however, and one that both seasoned pros and complete amateurs obsess over.

With Victor Campenaerts recently breaking the hour record, held formerly by Sir Bradley Wiggins, the questions surrounding ultimate speed and how each of us can achieve it couldn’t be more pertinent.


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55,089 ! __ Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal) a réalisé un exploit à Mexico à 18h (heure française) sur le mythique velodrome d’Aguascalientes perché à 1800m d’altitude. Encadré par un staff personnel et de son équipe Lotto Soudal très fourni avec notamment son entraîneur Kurt Lobbestae, son docteur spécialiste de l’altitude Ruud Van Thienen, son kiné Toon Hens, son mécanicien Simon de Wolf, son manager de performance Kevin De Weert, ou encore ses spécialistes en aérodynamique, en positonnmenet et en force, le belge champion d’Europe du contre la montre a nettement battu le précédent record de Bradley Wiggins, à savoir 54,526. Campenaert a parcouru 55,089 mètres en 221 tours en 60 minutes, soit environ 600 mètres de plus que le britannique, un chiffre impressionnant à un tel niveau de performance, et rentre dans la légende de son sport en établissant ce nouveau record. Chapeau Monsieur @campenaertsvictor ! __ 📸HLN Sport #VictorCampenaerts #Campenaerts #Hourrecord #cycling #ciclismo #bicicleta #cycle #bici #bike #bikelife #bikeride #bicidacorsa #uci #procycling #cyclist #sport #ride #specialized #shimano #nature #bikes #running #biking #cx #cyclists #vélo

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But what if you don’t have the budget to invest in a top-of-the-range aero bike, nor the time to fly to Mexico and ride around a velodrome at altitude, how exactly can you use aspects of Campenaerts’ ride to make yourself faster?

It’s all down to aerodynamics or, as we sometimes like to call it, free speed.

Aerodynamics in a nutshell

The faster you ride the more air resistance starts to consume your power output. Even at speeds of around 20mph, as much as 90% of your effort is used to push the air in front of you out of the way.

To overcome this air resistance, you need to reduce your drag coefficient. This is determined by a number of different factors, but the main two are your frontal area, and the air density surrounding you. Since you’re probably unable to change the air, it’s your frontal area that you’ll want to focus your attention upon.

Specialist aero bikes, clothing and equipment can go a long way to help reduce your frontal area and make it more aero. But they’re not the only ways, nor are they even necessarily the most effective. When it comes to increasing one’s aerodynamics, it’s often the smallest of tweaks that reap the biggest improvements.

These small tweaks are simple to employ, but most importantly, are free of charge.

Aero on a budget

The pros can keep their specialist wind tunnels and multi-million-pound budgets, all that we need to get faster is a free weekend, an open road and a long-list of tweaks to try out…

1. Slam that stem

To get into the most aerodynamic tuck possible and reduce your frontal area, you’re going to need to slam your stem. Most bikes come with several spacers installed under the stem, raising its height to help boost comfort.


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🚴 📸@modcyclingphoto

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Since it’s speed we want, remove those spacers and slam the stem right down to the headtube. It might be a bit of a painful position to adopt at first, but the more you work your back and core muscles, the more comfortable it will become.

NB: this is a pretty extreme solution and a fairly simplistic one that doesn’t take physiology into account. Though slamming the stem is a shortcut to an aerodynamic bike, don’t push it if you feel your body complaining!

2. Tuck those elbows

Not all of us can match the same graceful position on the bike that the pros can, but that doesn’t mean there’s an excuse for riding with your elbows stuck out – those that do should try to rid themselves of this bad habit pronto.


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Fast Sebastian #brandsummitbcn #aerotuck #roadtonowhere

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Simply tucking your elbows in will dramatically reduce your frontal area, helping you to overcome the surrounding air resistance at a much lesser effort. It also looks a whole lot better too.

3. Batten down the hatches

Even the pros are sometimes guilty of leaving their jerseys or gilets unzipped, flapping around in the wind. An unzipped item of clothing will have a similar effect to that of a parachute; it’ll catch the surrounding air and slow you right down.

Zipping your clothing up properly will not only improve your aerodynamics, but also ensure you’re not blown off course by any freak gusts of wind – it’s been known to happen.


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One of these days #GWE #2015 #storm #belgium #staysafe 📷Nico Vereecken/Photonews

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You may also want to apply the same principle to the loose cables in your cockpit, even these can induce drag and hinder you aerodynamically. A couple of zip ties or duct tape will do the job, just tie them together and try to reduce the surface area as much as possible.

4. Drop your head

Your body is the main culprit when it comes to aerodynamic drag. To try and reduce the size of your frontal area, drop your head and plant your hands on the drops. This will put you into a more aerodynamic position, one that can reduce drag by as much as 8% and save you an average of 30 watts compared to riding with your head up and hands on the hoods.

YouTube video

5. Shave your legs

To shave or not to shave? It’s one of cycling’s biggest questions and certainly one that polarises opinion. However, the science has ruled in favour of smooth legs, the aerodynamicists at Specialized discovering that shaved legs can save as much as 80 seconds over 40km.

It’s not just your legs that you might want to shave however, a lot of us may also feel inclined to remove our facial hair in pursuit of faster speeds and aerodynamic gains. Our opinions might have been swayed slightly after one team in particular – Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise – banned bearded riders from racing, their sports director claiming:

“We are a cycling team, with riders, not motocross riders or rugby players, the snot and the leftover food in the beard of a rider in the middle of the race is dirty.”

The Belgian team weren’t the only ones; many others persuaded their riders to ‘bin the beard’ in the hope that it may just benefit them aerodynamically. Fortunately, the good guys over at Specialized were quick to dispel the myth surrounding a smooth face, free of facial hair…

YouTube video

6. Work your core

Adopting the tight tucks and aero positions aforementioned can be incredibly uncomfortable and even lead to injury if you’re not careful. If a position is uncomfortable to sit in, then it can only be aerodynamically effective for so long; you’re soon going to have to sit up and when you do, you’ll lose all of the aerodynamic advantage.


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Core training session with some stretching as well… Filmed with @gopro

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That’s where working your core and back muscles come in. Daily stretches and strength routines will make your body stronger and a whole lot more flexible, meaning these tight positions are easier to get into and maintain. The longer you can stay in an aero position, the faster you’ll ride.

7. Clingfilm is your best friend

Not all of us have the budget to go out and grab an aero helmet and pair of aero overshoes. What most of us do have, however, is a roll of clingfilm lying around somewhere in our house – check the bits ‘n bobs draw in the kitchen, that’s where it’s usually kept.

Simply cover your helmet and shoes in this plastic wrap, blocking off all the vents and smoothing the surface. Granted, it may not be the most stylish look, but it’s bound to reduce drag and give you that all-important boost in speed. If you’re riding mates start to tease you for it, just lay down the watts and smoke them on the flats – they’ll be the ones donning the clingfilm next time.

8. Wheelsuck

When all else fails and you’re struggling to adopt that aero tuck, just slide in behind one of your larger riding friends and breathe a sigh of relief – air resistance is their problem now.

Sitting in the slipstream can reduce drag by as much as 50%, giving you the time to recover and save those precious watts for your last effort of the day – beating your friend in the town-sign sprint.

Hopefully we’ve convinced you of the importance of being aero, as well as how simple and easy it is to make small tweaks for big improvements. Go and try out some of these aero tips for yourself and find which one works best for you. Put in the time and effort and we guarantee you’ll be going faster than you’ve ever done before.

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