With summer on it’s way (hopefully), we all know this is a great time to ride road bikes. So, how would you like to ride a little bit faster or hang on to faster ride mates?
Here’s out top tips… (without going down the dodgy Italian doctor route)
It’s worth remembering that a large proportion of a rider’s power (around two thirds) is taken-up overcoming air resistance. Small adaptations to your riding position can deliver free speed and sometimes extra comfort too. If you can ride with your hands on the lever hoods (with bent elbows & flat forearms), this will reduce the hole you make as you cut through the air – reducing drag at 28mph by approx 15% (as against arms locked straight on the lever hoods), according to a US study. Aero road helmets can offer gains but so can simple things like wearing a well-fitting jersey or shorts – instead of baggy or loose ones. Covering bits which disturb airflow, like shoes can offer relatively cheap aero gains. For riding time trials, tri-bars and specialist helmets and wheels will help deliver more speed.
Training to improve core strength can increase stability on the bike. It can also stave off neck ache and lower back pain which can occur when spending extended periods gripping handlebars. More aerodynamic riding positions are easier to hold for longer with a stronger core. Your core muscles provide a base for your legs to push against while pedalling and connect your upper and lower body. In the event of a fall or accident, well developed core muscles will hold you together better than just skin and fat.
Consider what you eat – before you eat it! Avoiding that bag of 6 supermarket donuts could well be the difference between staying in the group on the weekend club-run or getting dropped. Although there are several high profile Olympic / World Champions who claim to have a fast food based diet, for us mere mortals, remember the adage, Garbage in – Garbage out. Power to weight ratio is also a large factor in cycling performance – any unnecessary weight does not help. However, caution should be applied to any weight loss program while training – always seek the advice of a Nutritionist if you are radically changing diet. Rather than an emergency mars bar or the classic ‘can of coke from a garage’, think about fueling before you go. Keep stocked up on quality nutrition products.
Getting comfortable and more efficient on your bike will be enable you to relax more and try harder for longer. If you are uncomfortable on your bike, look at those you ride with and ask advice from long term riders. An improved position can aid comfort, aerodynamic effieciency, descending, bike handling as well as boosting power output. Many riders seek guidance from a professional bike fitter to help find their ideal position.
Rolling resistance – where the tyre comes into contact with the road is very important. Keep tyres inflated to the recommended pressure to achieve their best performance. Upgrading to lighter tyres & tubes can offer noticeable increases in performance. When its time to upgrade your wheels, wider rims together with wider tyres, offer lower rolling resistance. In a classic win win situation, wider rims and tyres also offer more comfort too, thanks to their bigger volume of air.
Keep It Clean
Keep your bike well maintained – a clean, well-lubricated drivetrain will help you to ride faster because mechanical drag will be reduced. A clean frame and wheels also have an aerodynamic and psychological advantage over a filthy one. A well maintained bike is also less likely to develop a mechanical issue miles from home.
Ride with other people who are faster than you, it might be unpleasant at the time, but it will make you faster. As well as getting used to riding at higher speeds, group rides are also a great place to develop bunch riding skills as well as general road riding ability. Also great for making new friends and finding new routes.
Upgrading your bike can offer an easy performance increasing solution. However, replacing key equipment on your bike will give a noticeable lift in performance. The stock wheels on a factory spec bike may well be a bit below par. Replacing original wheels with lighter wheels, should aid climbing / general riding. If you ride in a flatter area, and feel the need for speed, consider deep section wheels, these could improve your average speed. Depending on your current equipment, upgrading your wheelset may well be a wiser investment than a complete new bike.
Train using a GPS cycle computer. A newer GPS based head unit (computer) will record key data from your ride such as distance, speed, power, calories, VAM and average speed over any given route. This makes training results more measurable and more specific. GPS based devices which can be uploaded to websites such as Strava bring another dimension to your training. Be warned though, Strava can become addictive. Join the Merlin Strava Club here.
Keep it Light
Take the bare minimum which you could realistically need on your ride. For example, If you are only out riding for an hour, you might not need to carry two water bottles, 3 energy bars, a tool kit and 3 spare tubes. Reducing the stuff you carry both reduces weight and makes your clothing fit better, losing the unsightly bulge in your jersey / jacket pocket.
Alternatively, if the above all sounds a bit ‘sweaty’ and too much like hard work, just relax. Take your time and enjoy getting out in the summer warmth (hopefully). Make the most of your rides now, you will look back on them fondly in a few months’ time when the grim depths of winter arrive again…