With the biggest bike race in the world taking place in France this July, cyclists will once again take inspiration from the pinnacle of fitness and cycling technology on display from the sport’s elite.
The good news for riders everywhere is that much of the advancement in cycling technique, performance, and bike tech featured in the top events trickles down, becoming accessible for those outside the upper echelons.
In this four-part Get in Gear series, we’ll be looking at four main areas where riders have pushed tech and technique to new levels, and offer advice and guidance on how you too can enjoy the advancements made for cycling's toughest competition.
These areas include Lightweight upgrades, Pro clothing, while in this article, we’ll be looking at aerodynamic advantages found at the peak of competition and some of the techniques used to exploit these technologies to give you an edge.
How to be more aerodynamic on the bike
Aerodynamic drag is responsible for around 90% of the resistance to your forward motion when travelling on a level surface. That means most of the energy you expend while pedalling is simply used to push aside the air in front of you. Evolution hasn't spent a lot of time making the human body - with its wide shoulders, broad chest, and knobbly knees - particularly aerodynamic, making us an inefficient traveller at the speeds experienced by competitive and pro cyclists.
As your speed increases, the energy needed to slice through more air rises exponentially. But this situation brings opportunities, as the advantages of streamlining become increasingly pronounced the faster you go.
This has prompted pro teams to expend huge resources on finding the most aerodynamic solutions to the problem of speed versus resistance. From clothing to helmets, and streamlined tubes to deep section wheels, every element of the bike and its rider has undergone study, research, and testing to create as sleek a profile as possible.
The importance of aerodynamic advantage is most prevalent during the speed-focused flat and time trial stages where every second counts, while lightness and ventilation reign during tough climbing sections.
Deep section wheels
Using top aero race wheels is one of the most dramatic changes you can make to your bike, with the aerodynamic advantages used to the fullest extent by pro race teams in the world's biggest races.
The deep section design is beneficial in two ways. Firstly, the smooth shape creates an orderly path for the air to follow across the wheel, reducing turbulence and therefore drag. The second effect, and less well known, is how deep section wheels act as a ‘sail’ in crosswinds, directing the airflow to follow the shape of the wheel creating a mild forward thrust.
A quality set of aero road wheels can save up to 2 to 3% of drag, which translates as a saving of around 50 seconds over 40km, depending on your speed.
The Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50 boasts deep section performance benefits, with the wider rim (24.2mm external width) profile carving through the air and providing significantly advanced power-transfer and stability even in strong crosswinds. Most professional riders will generally ride on tubular tyres, with the above set of clincher style wheels more popular among general riders who, without the support of a team car, are more familiar with repairing a traditional style tubed tyre at the roadside.
This Shimano Dura Ace R9100 C60 Carbon Clincher Wheelset is super lightweight and exceptionally strong, used by top race teams for the biggest and fastest race events in the world.
Time Trial and aerodynamic helmets
A rider's helmet is responsible for a large chunk of the wind resistance encountered at speed, with aero designs used exclusively at the top level by pro riders during time trial stages. The sleek profile, however, can be a little heavier and less ventilated than standard helmets, making them less advantageous for big climbs.
Many helmet manufactures now offer hybrid designs with many of the wind-resistance advantages of aero lids coupled with the ventilated, lightweight approach of traditional helmets.
Giro Vanquish MIPS Aero Helmet is one of the most technologically advanced road cycling helmets available. Designed to streamline the airflow and reduce drag, it also features large vents to aid ventilation.
In a world of marginal gains, where every small advantage is leveraged to provide an edge, aerodynamic clothing has become an intense area of development. The aerosuit, which has grown in popularity since finding podium success in the early 2010s, has gone on to become ubiquitous across the pro cycling circuit, with its influence spilling outside the time trial and into the climbing stages too. Just one notch down from the hard-core time trial skin suit, the aerosuit is an increasingly common sight among competitive riders, being found with increasing frequency at local competitions.
Many modern cycling jerseys, meanwhile, are replete with air-slicing stitching and seams, capable of cutting through the air at speed and saving significant watts.
Featuring a comfortable seat pad a technologically rich design, the D2Z Roadsuit offers a significant wind-resistance reduction along with fast-wicking fabric and permanent antibacterial finish. It also features a split front design providing comfort in the riding position and three rear pockets for practicality. In testing, the Endura D2Z road suit consistently reduced drag by from 5% to 7% at speeds between 32 and 50 km/h. This means its aerodynamic advantages take hold much earlier and at far lower speeds than competing suits, giving a wider range of riders an opportunity to leverage its streamlined superiority.
The most aero jersey Castelli have ever made is yet further evolved, saving an extra two watts compared to the previous edition. Not only is this jersey aero, it's also lightweight and very comfortable, making it perfect for both racing and training.
When it comes to saving watts, the profile of your components can be an important next step. For example, pro riders at the world's biggest races can often be seen sporting sleekly-engineered handlebars helping to maximise glide through the air, especially at speed. Modern manufacturers are putting aerodynamics at the forefront of their designs across the full spectrum of components, including even the cycling computer.
Aerotundo is a traditional round road drop with aero-section tops to complement the latest aero road bikes. The tops feature an aerofoil section, designed to reduce drag right to the limits permitted by UCI rules.
With all this speed, track how fast you are going and how much distance you are covering with a GPS cycling computer. The Garmin 520 Plus is a super compact cycling computer with advanced navigation and pre-loaded with Strava Live Segments to test yourself out against the local competition.