Posted in Cycle

The UCI pro cycling season in full swing. 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 competitions.

These areas include Aerodynamics and Pro clothing, while in this article, we’ll be looking at lightweight advantages found at the peak of competition and some of the techniques used to exploit these technologies to give you an edge.

The advantage of travelling light on the bike

One of the most important equations ever committed to paper in physics is F=ma. This description of the interaction between force, mass, and acceleration states how carrying less weight will create more speed given the same amount of power.

The reality of this equation will be most apparent for riders hitting huge climbs, such as the famous alpine stages tackled during international competition, where riders can expect to face kilometres of thigh-shaking gradients.

Stripping back weight, therefore, is extremely beneficial, not just for the professionals, but anyone riding competitively. Carrying less weight means every watt has more impact, each burst of speed is easier to generate, and the energy needed to maintain your velocity is reduced as your mass falls.

One way you can reduce weight is, of course, reducing body weight. This is key but, of course, once you reach a competitive bodyweight you may enter a situation where losing more weight, especially muscle, will impact the power you can generate.

Plus, watching less powerful, heavier cyclists zip past on lighter bikes and weight-saving gear, despite all your tough training and hard-earned power, isn’t a fun way to spend a race.

To get the maximum benefits from your training in competitive conditions, you need to strip back the bike’s weight.

Climbing and weight in cycling

One of the biggest advantages of a lightweight bike is on the climb. If we look back at our F=ma equation, we can see that a lighter frame will mean less energy is needed to get it up the incline. This means more speed or more energy conserved for a surge in the final third of your race.

Reducing weight on the bike

There are many areas where you can strip back weight on the bike, with a huge range of options to secure those marginal gains and competitive advantages exploited to their fullest extent by cycling's elite riders.

Wheels for climbing

The first place to start stripping back weight on the bike is your wheelset. While ‘rotational weight’ advantages are increasingly treated with scepticism, the wheel remains a key area for total bike weight-loss and performance enhancement. Aerodynamic advantages offered by quality wheelsets are another key area that we’ll discuss in a future article in this series.

Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite C17 Clincher Wheelset

Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite C17 Clincher wheelset is optimised for stiffness and power transfer on those climbs. There are twice as many spokes on the cassette side which means greater reactivity on each pedal stroke.

Shop performance wheels at Wiggle

Lightweight components

A bike’s groupset is responsible for a great deal of the weight being carried by the frame and you. As you progress up the hierarchy, groupsets become lighter, incorporating more hi-tech materials and weight-saving engineering. They also have the benefit of faster, crisper shifting, with smoother and more reliable operation. The weight-saving efforts of top race teams have meant modern upper-tier component sets are sheared of flab, from hubs to cassettes, while providing incredible levels of performance.

The weight difference can be considerable, for example, Campagnolo’s flagship 12-speed Super Record groupset weighs just 2.041kg, a third less compared to the 3kg of some entry-level sets. The opportunity to shave off a kilo is well worth the expense for competitive riders. 

SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 2x 12Sp Groupset

Each component of SRAM's Red eTap AXS groupset has been engineered for maximum stiffness, performance, and efficiency at the lightest possible weight. 

Because of their relative size, competition tyres need to be conscious of their weight-saving properties. Of course, lighter tyres mean less density and material to play with, requiring some ingenious engineering to create light, durable, fast tyres.

Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL Tyre

The successor to the best selling GP4000 is already a favourite with racing cyclists amateur and professional alike. Featuring a Lazer Grip micro profile on the tyre's shoulder for enhanced cornering traction, these are podium standard shoes.

Pirelli P Zero Velo Folding Road Tyre - Colour Edition

The popular tyre manufacture has poured their years of expertise from motor-racing into cycling. Just like the car tyres, the P-Zero features SmartNET Silica® technology for outstanding grip in all weathers. Coordinate your tyres with your bike (or indeed jersey) with this special colour edition. 

Carbon fibre is ubiquitous at competition level in road cycling, with the technology used on everything from handlebars to bottle cages. Strong, light, and reliable, the more carbon you can get onto your bike, the better.

LifeLine Lightweight Carbon Water Bottle Cage

The Lifeline Carbon bottle cage is designed to help prevent bottles ejecting from cages on bumpy roads, but still allows easy access at either side.

The Primavera Carbon is a top-of-the-line handlebar with a flared design that gives you an aerodynamic advantage without adding weight.  

Deda Carbon Spacer (Small)

These headset spacers are crafted from high modulus carbon fibre shaving extra weight off your bike. 

Vision Metron Carbon Seat Post

With its one-piece continuous carbon fibre construction and a box section carbon head, the Metron post is a top-end performance seat post.

Reducing weight on the rider

It’s still possible to lose more grams without having to shift further body weight from the rider. Weight-saving clothing and helmets are often the target of further weight-reduction technologies during major bike races, giving the rider an easier time on the incline.

HJC Ibex 2.0 Helmet

Providing protection while shedding excess mass, the HJC Ibex 2.0 helmet marries performance and functionality.

The Aeron LAB Raceline Jersey is the perfect combination of lightweight fabrics, a race-ready fit and all the features you need when the temperature rises. The Aeron LAB collection spent two years in development and combines rigorous real-world testing with the best components available, resulting in clothing tuned to the needs of demanding riders reaching for new levels of performance. 

Climbing techniques

Having shed all this unnecessary bulk, it’s time to put your advantages into practice using good climbing technique. Here are some of our top tips to help you climb like the elites.

  • Practice

Hills never get easier but you do get faster. Training your body to handle the requirements of the gradient is unavoidable and part of what road cycling is all about.

  • Gearing

There is no shame in using a wide range of gears for steep climbs - professional riders have often used compact chain-sets to tackle mountainous stages. Today, many top cyclists are going yet a step further for a mechanical advantage by swapping out their speed-focused sprockets for 32-11 tooth cassettes, utilising a mid-length rear derailleur to enhance the bike's climbing capabilities.

  • Pacing

Good pacing is central to climbing technique. During training, you should grow familiar with the Functional Threshold Heart Rate or Functional Threshold Power required to overcome certain gradients.

  • Stay in your saddle

Remaining in the saddle, using good gear management and a steady cadence, is key to holding onto that vital fuel that will see out the race. However, there is some conflicting advice in this area, as your body type can play a role in whether sitting or standing suits you best. Lighter riders can find it easier to climb out the saddle while heavier riders often find staying seated is best for them.

About the author

Damien Whinnery's picture
Damien Whinnery
Published on: 03 Sep 2020

Fascinated by fitness, serious about sport, and joyous about the gym