All you need to know to streamline your style
The subject of aerodynamics and its effect on cycling speed has moved on the from the early days. No longer is the debate focussed on whether it is important, but more about just how a cyclist might go about taking full advantage of it.
Aerodynamics is important in most forms of cycling, but it is even more so in circumstances where speeds are higher and where the rider is not being sheltered by other riders in a pack, think:
In this article the focus is on time trialling and how a rider can make some changes that will result in more speed for your watts, in other words, ride faster for the same effort or the same speed for less effort.
Assuming that the basics are in place and you have both a time trial specific bike, a skinsuit and a TT helmet. The next step is to have a bikefit that will ensure you are able to get your body into the most aerodynamically efficient position as possible.
The qualifier: riding fast on a TT bike is always a trade-off between maximising the aerodynamics of rider position whilst not pushing so far that the rider’s power output declines to a point where the aerodynamic gains are less than the power lost though biomechanical inefficiencies. The only way to know this of course is for the rider to be tested using a variety of riding positions.
The new pillars of TT position:
Gone is the era where “getting low” was considered the most important adjustment a rider could make. The “modern thinking” on TT position has changed and here are the most important position adjustments for cheating the wind:
1. Go longer not lower. For many years riders worked hard to get as low as possible on their TT rigs. This would often result in compromised hip joints, knees that tracked way too wide and often contacted the elbows as they came over the top of the pedal stroke. These days, bikes are set up a little longer, riders sit as far forward as they can, the elbows are higher and usually much closer together. Of course, you will need to ensure that your position is UCI legal. Check HERE
Above left demonstrates the more modern approach. Higher and more “stretched out”. The rider on the right is low, but more cramped and with very little hip clearance.
2. Hide your head. As your head is part of the frontal area that greets the wind, the more you can keep it within the dimensions of your body the better. This means keeping it as low as the line of your spine. If your head is the tallest part of your riding profile (from a frontal view) it is catching more wind than it should. The modern trend is to “shrug the shoulders” and kind of sink the head down so that is nicely housed between the tips of your shoulders.
3. Use your arms / hands wisely. Most time triallists work hard on finding the ideal position for their arms and hands. The goal is to minimise the gaps in the frontal area where wind can penetrate into the chest cavity. Think of it like “closing the window” to the wind. Arms that are angled slightly up and hands that are high (in relation to the elbows) and narrow, are the gold standard. Many will use a slight wedge under the armrests, to allow a slightly dropped elbow. And “J bend” extension bars allow the hands to sit slightly higher than ski bars.
4. Be narrow. Some riders are always going to find it more difficult to be narrow on their TT bikes, broad shoulders are great for swimmers, but unless they can be rounded (like Tom Dumoulin), they will be handicap in a TT. Get your armrests close together and if it feels like your chest is being constricted, try shifting them forward so that the elbows “close” above the level of your chest.
Hands in great position. Rider left has brought the elbows forward to allow them to be as close together as possible. Dave Zabriskie (right) demonstrates perfectly, the notion of closing the window to the wind
Adapting your position on the TT bike can give you speed, sometimes lots of it. The key adjustments outlined above should be attempted within the mechanics of your own body and the limitations of your bike. Some will be easier to achieve than others but all will help. It is always best to go about making changes in a systematic way, working with a qualified coach and / or bikefitter.
Going faster for the same or even less effort is the holy grail for most cyclists and finding a streamlined, efficient position is the key to finding your cycling nirvana.
Enjoy the free speed.