I read an article yesterday about Specialized’s state of the art cycling wind tunnel (not the linked article) which had a comments section that was dominated by vitriol against “aero”… So that got me to thinking about how I could write a post on that topic in the hope that I could add some much-needed humor to the discussion.
So, does aero equipment really matter in cycling?
This is one of those unbelievably charged subjects where it does well to have a PhD in Engineering to discuss without baseless charges of stupidity flying around. Some would tell you that given the proper tires they can ride a mountain bike just as fast as a road bike. This is simply and absolutely preposterous. They say things like, “it’s all about the engine” – now there is something to be said for the rider, but all things considered, aero does matter. The real question is this: Is it worth the cost? I can save about $1600 if I buy a comparably equipped Tarmac over a Venge. The answer is do you have a spare $1600 lying around, because I will ride the Venge faster than the Tarmac, though probably not by all that much.
Now, will it help you finish the Assenmacher 100 a little faster? Of course it will. Will you have to put out as many watts as someone on an old round tube aluminum frame? Of course you won’t. Will you draft better in a pack? Of course you will.
In fact, and this is one thing that so many in the anti-aero crowd misunderstand (or are ignorant of), when you’re riding in a pack the bike is the only thing that isn’t helped by the draft – the rider is… So when someone throws out the stat that 80% of aerodynamics is the rider, they’re right – and wrong at the same time because that 80% is rendered moot in the draft. Now this must be stated, just to keep things very clear for noobs (or at least those more noob-ish than me)… Drafting matters. If you can’t feel a difference, if drafting is one of those “is it just me” things to you, yes it is. It is just you, you’re either in the wrong spot in a crosswind or you’re simply not close enough to the rider in front of you to feel the difference. It’s huge.
The only question beyond that is do you have the cheese or don’t you. If you do, go for the bling – it certainly won’t hurt your time.
Now, beyond that, and to illustrate, make a cover for your helmet out if a 2’x2′ square block of foam and duct tape that block to your melon protector and go for a ride. Would you be silly enough to believe there wouldn’t be a difference? I think not. In the same respect, if you put in enough miles, you’ll absolutely be able to tell the difference between a $120 helmet and a $30 helmet – and we’re not even talking about the time trial helmets. Now the gain going from a standard road melon protector to a time trial dome protector is pretty big, but I don’t want to look ridiculous on my bike so it’s definitely worth it for me to save up to $150, sticking with my aero road melon protector. Also, for the same reason, it was worth it to buy a $110 aero road anti-grey matter scrambler over a kid’s Finding Nemo helmet. Sure, the Finding Nemo helmet works great and only costs $20, but you’d look like a blooming idiot riding around in one… How about those aero handlebars (the one’s that are shaped like a wing at the bar-top)? They shave off something like 30 seconds in 100km. Hey, if you’ve got $300 go for it, 30 seconds translated equals watts. How about $1,900 Zipp rims? They work, they save energy and they will help you to go faster…
Here’s the rub though, and this goes to the anti-aero crowd… If you and I are on the same, identical Trek 5200 bikes and you can average 16 mph on that bike, you can blow $15,000 on a bike, aero helmet, prophylactic suit, wheels, shoe covers – the whole enchilada – with me on that $750 5200 with aluminum rims and even wearing that dorky-ass Finding Nemo helmet… I’ll kick your ass all five weekdays and twice each on Saturday and Sunday. That’s a whole lot of getting your ass kicked when you consider you paid 14 grand more than I did – though you will admittedly look cooler than me, at least to passerby who don’t know any better.
So if you want to pick up an easy mile and a half per hour, at the cost ranging from $300 to $1,000 per tenth of a mile per hour, then knock yourself out – it’s your money after all.