Significant Gains – Part One – Balancing Aerodynamics with Power

Chris Maxwell Coaching, Cycling, Triathlon

Brailsford’s “marginal gains” is perhaps an over-used term, but the two aspects covered in this 2-part blog would arguably be more in the “significant gains” category. When it comes to cycling, there are two broad areas to focus on when you’re looking to take seconds or even minutes off your race time: Equipment and fitness. Let’s start with the kit…

…Getting the set-up right will ensure maximal power, and linked to that, help prevent injury….

On the equipment side, you can spend your hard-earned cash on the lightest aero carbon dream machine that you can afford, spend an equivalent amount on a couple of stealth-like wheels, and top it off with various aero-paraphernalia. However, the key aspect that many of us don’t consider, or only make rough estimates for, is whether the bike fits you and your objectives! When we say “fits”, this needs to consider several key requirements, which will vary in importance depending on your physiology and goals. Getting the set-up right will ensure maximal power, and linked to that, help prevent injury. Comfort also comes into play, which naturally becomes more important as your training or race distances increase. And finally, when we consider time-trialling, achieving an aerodynamic position can shave minutes off your time. The challenge is to balance all these factors. For example, adopting the most aggressive aerodynamic position can lead to loss of power, become increasingly uncomfortable, and for triathlon/duathlon, running off the bike can be seriously hindered!Chris having a bike fit assessment

After many years of using standard guidelines to set saddle height and analysing race photos to assess my aero position, I decided to go for a more scientific bike fit service – via BW Cycling  in Bristol. My appointment was with 3 time XC Cycling Olympian Oli Beckingsale. Alongside BW Cycling’s co-founder Andy Wadsworth, they certainly offer vast experience and knowledge.

 

…Text book measurements are all very well, but if you have the flexibility of a floorboard, it’s not going to work too well!….

What I particularly liked about the BW Cycling bike fit service, was the “biomechanical testing” included in the initial consultation. Essentially that involved a series of exercises to test flexibility and strength in a few key areas. Clearly this is vital to ensure your bike set-up is tailored to the position you’ll be able to adopt. Text book measurements are all very well, but if you have the flexibility of a floorboard, it’s not going to work too well! Thankfully with a balanced profile of a triathlete, and a valiant attempt at stretching, I wasn’t too restricted. So onto the turbo to be subjected to video analysis, enabling angles and measurements to be measured. Not just my pride and joy race machine, but also my training bike – another key point to note about the approach at BW cycling. Clearly some aspects need to be as consistent as possible between your racing and training bikes.

And what of the end result? Well, there was a ‘marginal’ tweak to the saddle height. But the key change was in my aero-bars angle. The existing position, based on the set-up from the previous owner (I’d picked the bike up second hand), was pretty aggressive! Great for short time trials, but for Olympic and beyond, comfort and power need to be factored in. In fact, during the season, I had been experiencing pain in the shoulders and finding it difficult holding the aero position. So will this ‘marginal’ adjustment lead to faster times in 2016? I’ll let you know….

In the second part of this blog, I’ll consider the engine behind the machine….