Speed. It’s what we’re all after. Shaving those seconds and minutes off of our time and destroying our personal records through any means necessary. Superbikes, skinsuits, aero wheels, aerobottles, and anything else with “aero” in the name are purchased in this attempt. And yet, we ignore the well-known facts and figures as we pore over every minutia of detail on wind tunnel analysis, of this wheel over that wheel, and at so-and-so yaw angle to perhaps shave off another few seconds. Listen, that’s all very valuable and useful and good, but I’m tired of ignoring the elephant in the room, here: us.
The fact of the matter is that anyone who studies this stuff for a living says the same thing: the supermajority of the total drag on the bike isn’t any of the equipment we put on it, but rather our own bodies, working against us in the wind. In fact, the MIT team has their own private wind tunnel to check this out on, and they come up with our bodies being around 75 percent of total drag.
So let’s fix that.
(Note: I am not concerned with being comfortable. We are talking about race fits, not Sunday ride fits. Aggressive fits are fast fits, and that’s our goal: speed. If you can be more aggressive, you will be faster, and your body will surprise you in how quickly it adapts to the new position.)
A road rider spent some of his time in the tunnel recently, and the results are positively staggering. From a “normal, upright” position to an aggressive race position, the drag saved is an unbelievable 240g in the drops. At around 30 mph, that translates to a 50w savings for the same speed. I simply cannot overstress the implications for time trialists and triathletes, here: if you want to be faster, you need to get lower.
Even if we take a conservative estimate, here, the drag savings is well above any 60mm aero wheelset by a significant margin (just from the data by a factor of two, but we are comparing apples and oranges in wind tunnel runs, so I shall content myself with round numbers). When you consider the price of a proper race fit is around $2-300 and those new wheels you’re lusting after are easily five times that, the cost-to-speed ratio is enough to make even the most cost-conscious of us take notice. This isn’t just speed, it’s practically free speed.
So what do we do, to get it? The answer is pretty simple, and one we all understand well: for a time, suffer. Aggressively aero positions are not intuitively comfortable – but they can be, given time. Start by moving down a spacer. Adjust the arm pads until you are supporting your weight properly and can maintain that position on the trainer for 5-10 minutes at a time. Wait until that position feels natural, just like Russell did. Rinse and repeat until you reach the point where the position simply will not be comfortable, no matter what. Then go up a spacer and visit your race fitter. Oh, a note – the guys who fit you quick at your local bike shop are, in the vast majority of cases, not the guys you want doing your race fit. Ask around. Find the guy who does the local racers; the ones who you can’t ever catch and look like you could use their backs to serve dinner on when they’re in the tuck. That’s the guy you want to make you faster.