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Home » Cycling » Aero Road Bikes and Free Speed: Free Speed May Cost an Arm and a Leg, but It Is Real.

Aero Road Bikes and Free Speed: Free Speed May Cost an Arm and a Leg, but It Is Real.


You may hear, if you are a budding cyclist, that free or aerodynamic speed is a myth, that any cyclist can ride with the big dogs on just a slightly upgraded Specialized Allez.  If, like me, you’ve been cycling for a while already, you’ve heard it for years.  Say take the base model Allez as an example, or a Trek 1 series.  The only additional thing they say you’ll need is some extra “want to”.

Sounds about right, yeah?  The cycling industry creates it’s own need for bikes that range in price from $3,000 all the way to $12,500 when you can get the same from half the lower amount if you just push a little harder on the pedals and those who actually believe in “speed you can buy” are all rubes.

Of course, that wasn’t enough to stop me from dropping as much coin as I could on my bike but even I was a bit of a skeptic, I just liked the look of my bike.

The operative word in that last sentence is “was”.  Then I read this article from outside magazine.

Read the article yourself, read the whole thing.  If read with an open mind and you want to ride faster, you might just change your mind on that skepticism.

An average of the data from all 12 riders showed a collective 2-minute improvement with the ViAS and aero gear.

That’s over just 11.9 miles, and the use of the word “collective” in the quote can be misleading.  It’s a poor choice of words in my opinion as each tester crossed the finish line an average of two minutes faster using aero gear over a comparably equipped non-aero bike and standard kit.  Two minutes.  That’s huge!  It is anything but free, but it is real.  Still, gotta pass on the skin suit.  Some $#!+ a mid-40’s guy can’t get away with.

S-Works Venge Vias

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10 Comments

  1. Anon says:

    I’m not surprised, very few bicycles are aero-optimised as well as even fairly humble cars, each of which will have had a reasonable amount of wind tunnel time. It’s just a simple fact that drag squares with a doubling in speed, so if you’re going at higher speeds you’ll notice a greater impact from the same improvement. Perhaps this is why such marginal gains are questioned – in order to feel the full benefit you need to be good enough in the first place to be going fast enough to get the full benefit.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Indeed, though even the faster among us hold on to the old canard that it’s want to over aero. I have a sneaking suspicion that those who do haven’t experienced the difference. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Anon says:

    My point is every 1% increase in “want to” will result in a further 1.44% improvement in any aero advantage, but you don’t get the aero without the “want to”.

  3. Brent says:

    I think a more expensive bike offers many benefits that make a rider faster, not just aerodynamics. Last May, I finally got a real bike, upgrading from a $500 Trek mountain bike to a carbon fiber dream machine (Trek Boone 5, which is a cross bike, because I wanted the relaxed geometry and hydraulic disc brakes). I got faster right out of the box for several reasons:

    * Better gears. With 22 speeds in a much closer range than the mountain bike (low is 26-32, high is 46-13 on the mountain bike versus a low of 36-28 and a high of 52-11 on the road bike), I have a much better range of gears to choose from on the road bike for given terrain, especially on flats and downhills. Just having a higher top gear probably got me 5% to 10% speed.

    * Less frame flex. I could see the frame on the mountain bike swishing from side to side as I ground up a steep hill, wasting energy. The flex on the road bike is minimal, even when standing and honking up a hill. More energy into the road instead of bending metal makes you faster up hills.

    * Better ride position. I went through a full fit at the bike shop for the road bike, and it fits like a glove. Clipping in is also immensely valuable.

    * More confidence. I don’t worry about stuff like dropping a chain on a shift or breaking spokes because the components are so much better. With 35mm slick road tires, even though there’s a little more friction, I don’t worry about flats — zero flats in 1,200 miles this season! Oddly enough, I got a half dozen flats in 2014 on the mountain bike in far fewer miles. The brakes (with the larger contact patch on the big tires) give me confidence that I can stop faster from higher speeds than before with the crappy mushy center-pull brakes on the mountain bike. And confidence to be safe while going faster makes you faster…

    I don’t think aerodynamics of the frame is a big issue for me because I’m a big guy (6’1″, 240#) so my aerodynamics will always lag a guy who’s 5’9″ and 170#. But it probably helped a bit to start wearing tight jerseys instead of T-shirts when I rode. I lost 30# this year riding the road bike, so I’m hoping that continued weight loss will get me to a point where aerodynamics of the frame matter.

    • Brent says:

      Forgot to mention the conclusion: from April to December, in the 1,200 miles I rode, I got 35% faster overall on a typical ride (average went from 12.0 to 15.6 mph; it’s probably hillier here than it is where you live) and I got almost 50% faster on the one mile of continuous uphill that starts at the bottom of my driveway. I used to be pretty much beat after 15 miles, but by the end of the season, my “standard” training ride was 26 instead of 14 miles, and I was doing a 48 mile loop at least once a week — couldn’t even imagine doing that once in 2014.

      Certainly, much of that improvement is due to weight loss (overeating is my primary addiction; alcoholism is my secondary problem) and putting in the miles, but the bike clearly made a difference.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I’m 6′ and 170 (I can get down to 150 if I want to but my wife complains). For this post I was just talking about road bikes though. Keep riding that cross bike man, you’ll really burn through the pounds this year.

  4. I think a big part of the gains in that test may have been down to a much more optimised/aero riding position on the ViAS, plus knowing you’re on a faster bike you will subconsciously push a little bit harder – but there’s no doubting an aero bike (plus skinsuit and pointy helmet) will make a huge difference.

    Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t own one! 😉

    • bgddyjim says:

      They took all of the other factors out through a software program that Mclaren uses for their F1 race cars when they examined the numbers… they even tested against a top of the line Tarmac. It’s really quite incredible. As for the helmet, it isn’t pointy. Take a look at the evade (Specialized), it’s just a more aero bike helmet. A buddy of mine has one and loves it.

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