In my project #FasterThanSuperman, where I try to become the most aerodynamic triathlete in the world, I have learned that “its all about the engine” is not true. You can ride faster without having a better engine. The estimated gains are calculated with «Average Joe» over 180km.
In part one of the blog post series, I shared ten pieces of advice on how you can get faster for free, in terms of money. In part two I share how you can get faster with a (relatively) low expense starting with the least expensive ones.
- Latex tubes – If you are riding a clincher tire changing out the butyl tubes to latex tubes is one of the best investments you can make. According to the test done by AeroCoach the Challenge and Vittoria latex tubes save 7,5 watts each pair of wheels(!). For something costing less than $10 each tube that gives an extremely good WFM, Watt For Money. $2,67/watt to be precise. Note that latex tubes are not better than butyl in every way. They do lose some pressure, which means you have to pump them up before every ride. The softness also makes them more difficult to fit into a tire and with a risk of getting a pinch. For a spare tire, I would recommend either a regular butyl or a Tubolito if being a weight weenie. Likely gain – 7,5 watts – 3,75 minutes
- Aero tubes – Windtunnel testing shows that hairy legs are substantially slower than hairless legs. Yet, it will never beat aero tubes. Skin is slow, so the more skin you can cover with aerodynamic fabric the better. In my (Norwegian) blog post about the potential savings from the aero tubes from my sponsor Bioracer, I estimated savings of 10 watts. It may be difficult to believe since the calves are a relatively small part of your body. If you see the calves from an aero position perspective they are a big part of the body. Costing $30 they are nearly on par with latex tubes at $3/watt, without the risk of getting a puncture. If you are doing a wetsuit legal race there is absolutely no inconvenience with using them as you put them on before the wetsuit. Even at non-wetsuit legal swims the 10 seconds you use to put on a pair if worth it. Likely gain – 10 watts – 5 minutes
- New high-end tire – There is a lot to save on reduced rolling resistance on a good tire. When worn the aerodynamic drag can increase quite a bit due to a flatter profile. For that reason, I use a nearly new tire on race day. I have also bought myself the luxury of having one training wheelset and one racing wheelset which can be easily swapped as I have disc brakes (with no need to change brake pads and readjust brakes). I use Continental GP5000 clincher. From the rolling resistance test it looks like it is not even with the best, but that test is done with butyl tube. The best tires are all tubeless and cannot do a similar decrease in resistance. The reason for using clincher is just the impracticalities of the current tubeless tires on the market. Likely gain – 5 – 10 watts – 2,5 to 5 min.
- Aero helmet – Now we are moving up in cost. A new high-end aero helmet easily costs $300-400, but you can get a very good helmet for a fraction of the cost on the second-hand market. When I went to the wind tunnel in Southampton in 2013 I tested 20 watts(!) difference between the best TT-helmet compared to my Specialized road helmet. That helmet was the Giro Advantage 2, a helmet you could probably get used in exchange for a beer. While choosing the optimal helmet requires wind tunnel testing you have good chances of making good gains of going with the generally well testing helmets. My LG P-09 is one of them but I will include looking at Giro Airhead, Poc Cerebel, Kask Bambino Pro and probably many others I am not aware of. Likely gain – 5 – 20 watts – 2,5 to 10 min.
- Aero frame bottle – Are you using round bottles on your frame? aeroshame on you! If you have a list of all the so-called superbikes in triathlon ranged from fastest to slowest and put a round bottle on the best it will make it the slowest. AeroCoach tested a 900ml bottle on the down tube to be 8,2w slower at 40 kph and 3,5w slower at 30km/h. The precise loss depends on bottle size, frame and located on the down tube or seat tube. The gain of going for aero bottle will in a similar fashion depend on various factors. Luckily for me, Matt Hanson, with a similar bike as me, tested different bottles and found the TorHans VR bottle to be fastest on that bike. Actually, 2w faster than nothing. Previously I have been using the Xlab aero TT bottle, which from a practical perspective is better than the TorHans. What the general best solution is, I don’t have a good answer for, so my best advice is trying to find tests on a similar bike/frame as your own. Likely gain – 2 – 10 watts – 1 to 5 min
- Aero aerobar bottle – In general having either an aero bottle on the aerobar or a BTA system is the best solution for a clean and fast front setup. I have tried options from Profile Design, TorHans and Xlab. Currently, I am having an Xlab Torpedo bottle with a Torhans aero straw cut as low as I can drink from it only in a really low position. Is that the ideal solution? Probably not, but it is very good and I believe I have to go to custom made options to improve. What is best for you depends on the bike, aerobar, and need of fluid etc. I would opt for something that does not increase the surface area of you bike, looks clean and works from a practical perspective. Likely gain – 2 – watts – 1 to 2,5 min
- An optimized bike fit – This was advice #8 in my previous blog post about this topic. While you can get a good bike fit with free resources using an expert will with very high probability give you a much better result. I use Petter Gustavsen in Sykkeltilpasning, which I claim is the best bike fitter in Norway, especially for triathletes and time trialists. While a good bike fit does not only improve your aerodynamic, it also improves comfort and biomechanical efficiency. For that reason, it is one of the investments I would rank highest when getting into triathlon. Likely gain – 2 – 20 watts – 1 to 10 min (you can find an even bigger gain in some cases)
- Aerodynamic trisuit – When I started triathlon in 2009 you could not see anyone wearing a long-sleeved trisuit. These days you will rarely see a pro without it. Aerodynamics is the reason for it and it does matter. When I was in the wind tunnel I tested a few suits, which made me try to get a sponsorship from Bioracer as it was the fastest suit for me. Putting on a very tight-fitting Castelli Gabba jacket (which was one of my options for Norseman) did cost me 9w(!). Going for trisuit from a brand that is serious with their aerodynamic testing, not just serious on aerodynamic marketing, can give big savings. To go the extra mile in regards of aerodynamics and comfort you can get a custom-tailored suit like me, but it do cost quite a bit more than a stock version. Likely gain – 5 – 20 watts – 2.5 to 10 min
- CeramicSpeed chain – The Danish brand makes a lot of awesome looking products but at the price, most of them do not enter the list of cheaply bought watts. The UFO Chains is claimed by CeramicSpeed to save 2-5 watts over a regular chain, for the first 600km. Then you have to use regular chain lube, which CeramicSpeed also has a very good, but expensive option. I had this chain when using 11s, and used it for race days only (had it cleaned and ready to put on before races), but have not gotten one for my 12-speed setup yet. Likely gain – 2 – 5 watts – 1 to 2,5 min.
Anything I forgot on the list of (relatively) inexpensive ways to get faster for «free», aka without improving fitness? Don’t hesitate to let me know.