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Cycling Faster: Train for Speed on a Slower Steed


I went out for a ride with a few friends on the Venge Saturday morning.  I was taking 3+ mile turns up front at 22 to 24 mph and I could have gone longer.  I felt like a Hundred Dollars.  I felt fast.

Since getting the Trek dialed in I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on it.  A new, cheap mountain bike saddle has made it impossibly comfortable and I love the bike like never before.  It’s a crazy balance, really.  A cheap, semi-squishy saddle isn’t supposed to be that comfortable on a road bike, but it is. Everything I’ve ever read has said a saddle should be as hard as possible to allow for blood flow – the Bontrager saddle on my bike is anything but, and it works.  

I rode that bike for years with a Specialized Romin on the Trek.  The same saddle I have on my Venge, and the ride was a little harsher than that of the Venge:

So that meant it was easier to use the Trek as my rain bike – to use only in the event of a 20% or better chance of rain.  I never much cared for the Trek… maybe three times a summer and a little more often in Spring and Autumn, I’d take it out.

Then I changed everything on the Trek, including the wheels, over a few years:

The wheels are slow when compared with the wheels on the Venge.  The Trek wheels are cheap and heavy.  The Venge wheels are three-quarters of a pound lighter, have aero spokes, and cartridge bearings vs. the old-school cone and race loose bearing hubs of the Trek.  The wheels provide much of the speed disparity between the bikes.

Technology makes up a little more of the disparity.  Fourteen years of technological advances separate the two bikes, a lifetime of advancement, mean the Specialized is stiff where it needs to be (ie. the bottom bracket) and compliant where it matters for absorbing road imperfections.  It was, at the time it was manufactured, the ultimate aero-sprint bike.  The Trek, on the other hand, is a first-generation full carbon fiber frame.  Full carbon frames had only been in production for four years.  1993/1994, frames were lugged – carbon fiber tubes in aluminum or steel lugs.  In other words, there’s a lot of know-how packed into the period between 1993 and 2013.

Finally, aerodynamics make up the rest.  I’d be willing to bet the difference is as much as 10 watts, easy.  

Now, where this gets fun is that I actually find the Trek more enjoyable and comfortable to ride while it’s old-school cool, and beautiful to boot, if a little more work to ride.  I’ve spent a lot of time on the bike this year because it’s so much fun to ride… and that means I’ve become a lot stronger on the Venge.

I’ve trained and become faster simply by riding a slower bike.  If I add up the disadvantages, I can be looking at an extra 20-30 watts, then minus a few for comfort….  Could you use a 10% increase in your power output?

I don’t know any cyclist who would say no to that.  If you want to ride faster, pick up a set of slower, cheaper wheels you can put on your bike or ride a slower bike on everything but the fastest days.  Or, if you want to ride faster on the bike you have, pick up a set of good wheels.  Swap out the good for the bad on those days where you need a little boost.  It works 

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5 Comments

  1. Just out of curiosity what saddle is that? I have been looking for a saddle that offers a bit more cushion (i have a Romin as well).

  2. steveinluton says:

    You want a slower heavier bike to train on, ride a Brompton 🙂 I get on the roadie after them and fly 😁

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