In my last post on cycling “aero” I went through quite a few components to cycling aerodynamically, including the necessity of “aero” in relation to the speed a cyclist is able to sustain. The main gist of the post was to make sure you’re fast enough to make aero work for you before you bother dropping the cash because everything “aero” is top-dollar. Looking at the helmet alone, most bicyclists would gasp at the notion that a cyclist would pay $110 for a helmet. That’s middle of the road. A decent aerodynamic road helmet (not the Time Trial helmet) costs more than $200.
So let’s say you’re at a point where you can cycle fast enough to justify aerodynamic equipment, a 18-20+ mph average… If you’ve got an unlimited budget, go hog-wild and get everything. Bike, wheels, clothing, helmet…everything. You’ll spend anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. On the other hand, lets assume you’ve got a budget to stick to. What to concentrate on first?
First, without a doubt would be your position on the bike. This is inexpensive for the most part and it’s relatively simple. Also, because it is cheap, even if you’re slower you can still add anywhere from 0.3-1 mph to your average by addressing this so it might be worth it. If you’re in an upright position and you create a 45 degree angle with the ground, or more, start lowering your handlebar a little bit at a time (check with the proper people to make sure your back will be okay riding low, but from my experience, it helped mine). To do this, simply start swapping the spacers on your stem from below the stem to above the stem. After, you may even want to buy a new stem. Swap that 30-45 degree stem for a 10 degree (and make sure you get the right length – and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, check with your local shop setup guru). Once you get used to that setup, flip the stem. Now, at this point you’ve got a decently aerodynamic setup on your bike but you’ve got a few spacers above the stem still. You have two ways to deal with this: First, just leave it the way it is – if you’ve got plans on riding that bike into your later years in life, you may want to have the extra room to raise the bars back up later on (this is what I’m doing though we’re only talking about two spacers). Second, you can take the bike to the shop and have them cut the extra off the top so all of the spacers above the stem can be tossed out. In the end, this is the cheapest, way to get faster. There’s only one little problem with this one: If you haven’t already, you have to lose the gut first. It gets in the way.
Next would be the helmet, mainly because that’s a cheaper upgrade. It’s said that a good aero road helmet is worth the same advantage as a front aerodynamic rim over a standard rim. Then the clothing… Assuming you’re now fit as a fiddle and you don’t have any mind/body issues that would keep you from dressing in form-fitting clothing, wearing tightly fitting jerseys and shorts make a very big difference. From there, I’d go with the wheels. These are exceptionally expensive but can be transferred from one bike to another. With the wheels, be careful with the Asian knockoffs. There’s a reason they’re that cheap, even if the brand names are crazy expensive – if you have no idea what I’m referring to here, check out my post on the subject. Finally, tinker with getting an aero handlebar if you so desire – they make a difference, but a very small one.
Now for the big dog, the aero bike. This one’s going to set you back some cash so choose wisely. The most affordable aero-bikes start at around $3,000 (Specialized Venge, Giant Propel, Trek Madone 5.2, just to name the Big Three). Now, if you have the money to invest in the bike, you can get an upgraded model with a sweet set of aero rims rather than buying them separately – generally speaking, the Venge and Propel are great startup bikes ($3,100 and $3,000 respectively while the Trek is a touch more at $3,550 but instead of Shimano 105 you get Ultegra components… Now, on the Venge’s side, if you add another $450 you get the Ultegra line plus a far superior set of wheels). Generally speaking, this step is for avid enthusiasts and those who race. I am the former, and then some, so when I saw my Venge in the display area at my shop, I had to have it. The bike is my perfect “midlife crisis” toy. I didn’t care a lick about the aerodynamic properties when I bought it, I did so because it looks awesome. I don’t have carbon rims for it or mess with a carbon “winged” handlebar, nor do I plan to in the foreseeable future, because like anyone who has actually ridden one of these beautiful steeds, aero might be good for a few tenths of a mile an hour here or there but what really matters is what’s pushing the pedals.
I ride with a guy who has a POS aluminum Cannondale with shot wheel bearings who can absolutely destroy me on my 8 month-old, full carbon, high-tech, wind tunnel loving aero race bike.