I’m the first to admit that I used to be a weight weenie (enthusiast who becomes obsessed with subtracting weight from his bicycle at all costs) however, reducing your weight isn’t always the easiest or most cost effective way (caveat to this later on) to get faster. Aerodynamics is big business in cycling now, and studies have proven that reducing your weight isn’t necessarily always going to make you faster than reducing your aerodynamic drag will, even on some of the hilliest courses in the world.
Let me propose you this conundrum…
The same rider rides the same bike in the same position over the same course at the same power output for an entire 56 miles. The only difference is that the first time his bike has a lightweight wheel setup with extremely shallow rims (weight of setup approx. 1100 grams) and the second time round they use an aero wheel setup with a 90mm deep front wheel and full disc rear wheel (weight of setup approx. 2259 grams).
Which would get you round one of the hilliest 70.3 IRONMAN bike courses (Lake Placid) fastest? Bear in mind that over the course of the 56 mile (90 km) bike course, riders will climb a total of 4,804 ft (1464 metres)! Pretty hilly if you ask me and I was surprised by this answer…
NOTE – All credit goes to the geniuses at FLO Cycling & BestBikeSplit for this and we take absolutely no credit for these test results whatsoever
The winner is … the aero setup with a gobsmacking + 6 minute advantage over the ultra lightweight setup.
Think about that for a few minutes…
If you wanted to go and buy a set of some of the lightest wheels on the market you’d have to spend an absolute fortune! As an example, the ENVE 2.2 (25 mmm deep wheels) that are approximately 1100 grams dependant on exact setup, would cost around the £2700 mark. Consider you could go to FLO Cycling (http://www.flocycling.com/) and order a 90mm front wheel and disc rear wheel for $1498 (approx. £1199) plus some shipping, VAT and import costs and it comes in WELL under the cost of the ENVEs and you could potentially save yourself a number of minutes!
The FLO guys go on to prove that aero is king for a number of other bike setups and over a few other courses and the conclusion is, for the majority of their testing, AERO is better. The only course in which a lightweight wheel actually won was on a straight up climb, in this case Alpe d’Huez. The 1100 gram shallow rim beat the 90mm/Disc setup by only 23 seconds.
How many races are you actually going to race where you only go up. I know, I know, at least someone reading this will be racing Alpe d’Huez Triathlon and stick their hand up!
Even more interesting though, FLO then tested their 30mm aluminium clincher wheels (front and rear combined weight approx. 1624 grams) on the same course. This setup weighs about 524 grams more than the 1100 gram shallow wheelset, and their 30mm wheel setup won! By two seconds, but it still won.
To check out their full report head over to their site here – https://flocycling.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/flo-cycling-great-debate-aero-vs-weight.html
It’s at this point I should tell you that an actual rider didn’t do these things, all of these results are modelled in a truly fantastic piece of software called BestBikeSplit. Ryan Cooper, the developer of BestBikeSplit, has a P.h.D. in Maths and his tool can predict results and race times based on rider profiles, bike setups, course data and wind predictions and has done so with incredible accuracy on a number of occasions. It would be almost impossible to replicate the exact power from the same rider over the exact course with the exact weather to test these results in the real world, but believe us when we say Ryan’s fantastic piece of software is more than capable of calculating this.
I’ve used BestBikeSplit myself for a number of months now and when training with power it can be used in another couple of ways.
- It can predict a race time for any given course in the world
Extremely useful if you’d like to estimate how long you are likely to take on your next IRONMAN bike leg, long distance sportive ride or 40km TT at your club. Plug in all you personal details and bike setup to estimate drag coefficient as well as your current FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and the software can estimate your race time. Best of all you can adjust variables ‘on the fly’ to show how much time you could gain by making changes to your drag (effectively making yourself more or less aero), weight and power.
As an example, I’ve setup my race profile on the 70.3 IRONMAN Vichy course and predicted the weather conditions based on past reported conditions. My baseline, average power output over the course is 213 watts. If I can increase that by just 5%, I would save around 2mins 38 seconds. If I wanted to make the same gains by reducing my weight (currently set at 74.8 Kgs), I’d have to lose 11.3 Kgs! That’s a huge 15% reduction in weight, that’s a whole other bike!
2. It can be used to find out what power output I would need to achieve to achieve a target time
Let’s say you’re after a spot at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. It’s incredibly competitive now, but you understand that your strengths lie in one kind of particular course. You go looking for that course and check out previous year’s results. This will give you a good idea of what you need to do to get on that podium and get a ticket. With BestBikeSplit and a power meter, you can actually dig deeper and figure out where your FTP needs to be to stand a realistic chance of hitting your goal.
Know this though – chasing a particular FTP isn’t the best way to train to achieve your goal. You should work up to this over time, and it doesn’t matter when that’s just a few months or over a course of a few years, you can get there in time if you’re patient.
If you want to check out BestBikeSplit head over to their website here – https://www.bestbikesplit.com/
At the start of this post I mentioned that there was a caveat when it comes to losing weight and it not being cost effective compared to aerodynamics. For the most part this is true, people will search for the lightest components that may cost hundreds if not thousands of pounds just to save a few grams. In some cases that can be saved by leaving that second untouched water bottle at home or taking fewer energy gels with you, but the often overlooked best place to lose weight is your body.
I’m not advocating strict dieting or extreme weight loss programs. All we’re suggesting is eating sensibly and training consistently. Follow those two basic rules and your bodyweight will likely fall and before you know it you may have lost multiple kilograms for a fraction of the cost of a new component and you’ll get faster too.
At HURTBOX, one of the important metrics we track is Watts per Kilogram. We measure this at your FTP and throughout every second of every session as you ride. Essentially the higher your power output on the bike, the greater your Watts per Kilogram, the faster you will go uphill. When you lose weight this obviously increases that number and can make you faster too. Increase them both (which is the aim of the game!) and you’ll be flying up those hills.
We’ve covered a lot in this post and in the end we can clearly see that reducing weight isn’t everything when it comes to going faster. Increase your power output through consistent and well structured training using a power meter and you’ll get much faster for cheaper than cutting your bike weight and spending mega money in the process. Make yourself as aero as possible in the process and you’ll be unstoppable.
n.b. We’ll be covering how to make yourself more aero in a future post!