(not so) Free Speed

Speed. We live for it. Crave it. Want more. Am I right? Of course I’m right. If you’re not interested in riding fast, well this article probably isn’t for you. I love going fast on a bike. I’m not the fastest I admit, but I’m always looking to wring out that little bit more speed.

If you are a bit of a speed obsessed cyclist like me, I’m going to assume you already have an aero road bike with some deep section wheels. If not, then open a new tab and get shopping! I’ve tested a “standard” road bike verses an aero road bike and the difference in overall speed for the same power output is – as you’d expect – quite large.

RELATED: How much faster is an aero bike? The definitive guide!

But once you’ve got the bike, what’s next? There’s massive rabbit hole you can go down in the quest for more speed, but below you’ll find some simple, yet effective ways you can go faster for the same effort. Or do the same speed for less effort. It’s all about reducing either your aerodynamic drag or rolling resistance – or ideally both! Here’s a bunch of easy upgrades that will get you flying just that little bit faster!

Aero Helmet

According to manufacturer testing (take with a grain of salt) moving from a “regular” open-vented road helmet (Synth) to a Specialized Evade aero road helmet saves you about 4 watts 25mph (40kph).

You can save a further 4 watts moving to a full-on time trial helmet (8 watts total). When you’re on the limit, legs screaming at you to ease off, an extra eight watts is nothing to sneer at! A fancy lid is not cheap though, you’ll pay a shade over $300 (AUD) for a Giro Aerohead helmet.

Of course, you can’t wear a time trial aero helmet on the club ride. It’d look pretty weird and you’d soon overheat on any climbs or slow sections. It’s got one job and that’s to save you watts at speed while in the aero tuck. An “aero road” helmet though should definitely be on your shopping list. I currently use a Bontrager Ballista.

Yes. I am well aware that a bare head actually tests FASTER than any helmet. I’m not going to wade into that debate and wearing a helmet or not is your free choice (depending on where you live of course, as helmets are mandatory here).

Cost per watt saved: $50 per watt (or more depending on helmet choice)

Tighter Jersey

Anything that flaps in the breeze is costing you watts, speed and style points. If your aim is to ride faster, then ditching the poor fitting kit is a must. A race-fit jersey is good start, a speedsuit even better.

Switching the tight jersey for an even racier-fit speedsuit such as the Castelli San Remo is even better. This is a one-piece jersey and bibs combo that’s ultra fitted, while still having rear pockets for your snacks and phone/keys. It’s one step away from a “true” racing skinsuit. A speedsuit could save you 15 watts over a regular “club fit” jersey and bibs when hammering down the road or contesting the town sign sprint.

Cost per watt saved: $25 per watt

Faster Tyres

Next on the list is the rubber wrapping your wheels. Tyres (or tires for our American friends) are one of the easiest upgrades you can make and can net one of the biggest gains – or watt savings – per dollar spent. Going from a sluggish tyre to a fast one isn’t even a marginal gain, it’s a serious one!

If you’re looking for more speed and you’re not rolling on quality rubber, upgrading your tyres is one of the first things you should do. There’s plenty of choice these days from Continental, Vittoria, Specialized, Pirelli, etc. There really is no excuse for using poor tyres. The difference between a heavy, slow rolling tyre and a race-orientated tyre is huge. For example the power saving at a lowly 18mph between a fast tyre and a low-end Conti Gatorskin Hardshell is upwards of 15 watts. Faster, lighter, more supple, what’s not to love? Apart from the price of course, speed costs. The cheapest I could find a pair of GP5000 tyres was $120/pair.

You can compare the rolling resistance of road tyres at: www.bicyclerollingresistance.com

Cost per watt saved: $12 per watt

Latex Inner Tubes

Depending on who you ask, switching from regular (butyl) inner tubes to latex inner tubes can save you anywhere from 2 to 5 watts per wheel while also smoothing out your ride. The theory is latex is far more supple, so it decreases your overall rolling resistance. Combined with fast tyres this is arguably one of the best upgrades. Let’s call it an even four watts total to be conservative. Latex tubes also weight about half that of a butyl tube, mine came in at 53g a piece!

The downside? They cost twice as much (or more depending on brand), they can be a pain to fit if you’re not careful when doing so and you NEED to check your tyre pressure before every ride as they lose air much faster. I’m not sure I’d bother with them on all my bikes, but if speed is the name of the game, they’re a no brainer upgrade. I paid $36 for two Challenge brand tubes and they’re at the cheaper end.

Cost per watt saved: $9 per watt

Body Position Tuning

Unless you need to buy new kit due to your testing, this is actually free and an area where you can make BIG gains by reducing your drag. You body is the biggest object that needs to push through the air, so reducing your overall drag plays a massive role in making you faster – and this is basically free! You can do this by filming your position, but there are also more technical and accurate ways such as using a powermeter or NOTIO style aero device.

You can “eyeball” your position by thinking about how the air will flow across your outline. Aerodynamics aren’t always that logical though, so “looking aero” is not always the same as actually being aero. Don’t forget to record yourself front-on too, as that’s the profile that’s punching into the air! A smaller frontal profile usually equals lower drag.

Cost per watt saved: Time, nailing your aero position takes time…

So have at it! Get upgrading and start saving!

Or, you know, just pedal a little harder… 😉

3 Comments Add yours

  1. bgddyjim says:

    Awesome post, brother


  2. buli says:

    bare head -6w? I don’t trust so, the area between your neck and shoulders must be covered, and without a helmet it is hard

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently so? I wasn’t sure either, but apparently it’s wind tunnel tested. 🤷‍♂️ Not that it’s even an option here, helmets are compulsory.


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