Photo: Nils Nilsen
There are many ways to make your bike faster for the cash you have in your wallet right now. Add up a few of these affordable upgrades, and the benefit can easily outshine a sparkly new bike frame.
Race Tyres: Continental GP4000S II
Tyres affect both aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance, two of the biggest factors in triathlon cycling performance, and the Continental GP4000S II has proven to be a standout in both. Aero testing conducted by Flo Cycling and published on the wheel maker’s blog (Flocycling. blogspot.com) found this particular tyre to perform exceptionally well on the Flo 30 aero wheel. Other manufacturers, including Zipp, have found similar results when comparing tyres—although much of that data remains unpublished.
Cycling super-geek and mechanical engineer Tom Anhalt lab tested the rolling resistance of 21 tyres, and the original GP4000S excelled again. For a rider holding just under 40 kph, Anhalt calculates this Continental to be within two watts of the fastest rolling tyre in his test (full results at Bikeblather.blogspot.com). Not only is the Continental GP4000S II fast, the tyres also feel solid and reliable when cornering, and provide sturdy flat resistance.
Tyre Sealant: Geax PitStop
Riding the bike leg without interruption is the simplest thing you can do to achieve a faster bike split. But if some- thing does go wrong, PitStop can help keep the dead time to a minimum. It combines tyre sealant and CO2 in a single canister that can simultaneously repair and reinflate a flat tyre. It works quite well for tubular tyres but has a lower success rate with clinchers. After unloading a can into a 23c tyre, expect a little less than 100 psi (6.9 bar) in the tyre—plenty to make it back to transition.
Stiff Tubular Cement: Mastik One cement
Partway into a four-year tyre rolling resistance experiment, retired engineer turned cycling researcher Al Morrison found that rolling resistance of a tubular tyre changes significantly based on the type of cement and the number of coats used to adhere the tyre to the rim. He asserts that creating a “100 per cent bond to the base tape” keeps friction to a minimum. Morrison found that “three coats of Mastik One [cement] on the rim and two coats on the tyre” reduced rolling resistance compared to tyres adhered with two coats of Continental tubular cement on the rim and none on the tyre. The more robust method using Vittoria Mastik One requires approximately two tubes of glue per wheel.
Aero Frame Bottle: Profile Design RZ2 System
In addition to being the leading tri bike manufacturer, Cervélo also conducts some of the most reliable aerodynamic research on position and bike setup. Damon Rinard, the company’s senior advanced research and design engineer, says they learned that while all bottles come with a drag penalty on a modern aero frame, not all create the same amount of drag.
“Aero bottles are prefer- able to round bottles in every case,” says Rinard. “On most frames—and it varies a bit— when you add a round bottle to almost any aero bike, it adds about 50 grammes of drag. An aero bottle creates about 25 grammes of drag.” That difference equals a savings of about 10 seconds over the bike leg of an Olympic-distance triathlon.
Forearm Water Bottle: XLab Torpedo Mini Mount
Adding fluid storage can actually make a bike faster. A wind tunnel test conducted by our sister publication Triathlete showed that adding a horizontal bottle between the forearms reduces drag. Cervélo and Specialized both came to the same conclusion in their own hydration setup tests. The Torpedo Mini and cage position a standard bottle (that can be swapped at aid stations) right between the hands, making it easier to access than a (drag-inducing) frame bottle.
There is no such thing as an aerodynamic trick that works for every rider. Each person has a unique formula for the fastest possible position, but tilting the aerobars upward is about as close as it gets to a universal fix. Raising the hand position helps block air from swirl- ing into the chest. Many pros with access to a wind tunnel, including Cameron Dye, T.J. Tollakson and Craig Alexander, have found that propping their arms upward can counter this drag effect. You may not be able to verify for yourself, but take confidence that most athletes reduce drag by rotating the aerobars up.
Chain Catcher: K-Edge Road Chain Catcher
Whether you are an expert mechanic or don’t know the difference between a front derailleur and a free hub, travel- ing to and setting up for a race creates plenty of opportunities for your bike to get bumped out of alignment. Chain catchers erase one potential problem: They prevent the chain from dropping to the inside of the crank. SRAM now includes one with every Red and
Force front derailleur, and an aftermarket option such as the K-Edge Chain Catcher can be added to any derailleur. It re- ally has no downside. It weighs just 10 grammes, and the rest of the drivetrain hides it from the wind. Even most professional cyclists with full-time mechanics tending to their machines now use chain catchers.
New Chain: Shimano Ultegra 10-speed chain
Spinning a chain around the crank, cassette and rear derailleur takes energy, albeit a small amount, and the difference between a fresh chain and a used one is noteworthy. Friction Facts (Friction-facts. com), an independent test lab found that a chain at the end of its recommended wear life sucks an additional two watts more than a new one.
The Right Chain Lube: Rock-n-Roll Gold chain lube
Spinning a dry chain takes more energy than turning a lubed one, but not all chain lubes are equal. Independent lab Friction Facts cleaned and re-lubed chains with 29 different products and measured the resistance created by spinning the chain. Treating a chain with paraffin wax resulted in the least friction, but the process is time consuming. Rock-n- Roll Gold chain lube bested all other standard lubricants. It reduced drivetrain friction by 1–1.5 watts compared to 17 of the options tested and saved even more energy compared to the others in the test. Not a bad return for £8.95.
Watch an ITU racer leave T1, and you’ll see him launch onto the saddle while running barefoot at full speed, then pedal away before slipping into his shoes once riding faster than 30 kph. Using rubber bands to prop the shoes horizontally while attached to the pedals facilitates these elegant transitions. Instead of allowing the shoes to drag on the pavement, jamming against the ground and twirling wildly, suspending them eliminates the variable from the tricky process of a flying mount. Wrap the band through the heel loop of your tri shoes (some have small hooks specifically for this purpose) and around a piece of your bike—the front derailleur and rear skewer are good options. The bands will snap once you start pedalling away.
Remove Frame Bottle Cages
Putting a water bottle or empty cage onto a frame adds drag in almost every case. Damon Rinard, Cervélo’s senior advanced R&D engineer, has found that a round bottle adds approximately 50 grammes of drag, which translates to roughly 20 seconds over an Olympic-distance triathlon. MIT-educated aerodynamicist Mark Cote of Specialized adds that an empty cage creates just as much drag as one toting a bottle, so if you’re not going to carry water in your frame cages during a race, removing them entirely is the best solution.
Cadence Computer: Wahoo Fitness Blue Speed and Cadence Sensor
Cadence is important, but there isn’t one “correct” spin rate. Many athletes can reach higher intensity levels by turning a rapid cadence of 90 RPM or greater while others prefer a more methodical turnover. Some experts including Brett Sutton, Chrissie Wellington’s first Ironman coach, advocate for lower cadences around 80 RPM for Ironman in part because spinning slower consumes fewer total calories. Whatever cadence you decide to employ, a computer that displays your RPM’s can help train your body to operate in that desired range.