Reducing body fat is cheaper than reducing grams through the liberal application of carbon. (Cervelo did a study comparing a 22-pound bike to a 17-pound bike on a 40K course with a constant 3 percent grade. It was a tough course and 5 pounds is more than you'd shave off with better gear. The extra 5 pounds cost a decent rider 36 seconds out of a 71-minute ride.)
So what do you think shaving a half-pound of weight off of your bike (which could easily cost $500 or more) would save you on a typical course? El zippo! (As triathlon coaches, we should point out that losing 5 pounds of body mass results in huge running gains.)
Aerodynamics and Comfort is a Balancing Act
Your bike fit exists within a range of comfort. Where you fall on this scale is a function of your race goals. Generally speaking, we reduce drag on the bike by reducing the frontal area of the rider, usually by dropping the bars down lower—the lower the position, the less comfortable it becomes.
Notice we didn't say uncomfortable, intolerable or painful. You can be terribly non-aero and terribly uncomfortable, or very aero and very comfortable. But as you get more aggressive, proper fit becomes more and more critical to achieve maximum comfort and power generation. The proper expression of a rider's race goal is:
- The drop of the aerobars (as vertical difference between the top of the saddle and the top of the elbow pads).
- The effective seat angle or forward positioning relative to the bottom bracket, which interacts with drop.
- The attention to detail of the race-day setup: aero helmet, bottle placement, etc.
Race Goals Dictate Riding Position
Your race goals will largely determine your setup. Do you merely want to finish an Ironman with a smile? Then you'll most likely have a small drop but will still maximize your setup by being smart about helmets, wheels, bottles, etc.
However, if you're looking to quality for Kona, you'll have an aggressive drop in the front, allowing you to squeeze lots of juice out of that speed lemon, while being as comfortable as you can expect to be for 112 miles. Your comfort expectations are commensurate with your race goals: you want to go fast first, be comfortable second. Pay attention to the small details of bike setup to squeeze more free speed out of your bike.
If you are somewhere in between these two goals your drop will be centrist. Still, we're going to show you how to set up your bike properly so you reap the gains from the smart placement of stuff on your bike.
A disconnect happens when someone with a Kona goal invests in a $5,000 bike but races with a $5 riding position. Why does this happen? Many triathletes think the right gear buys speed rather than services, such as bike fitting or coaching.
At the other extreme is the middle-of-the-pack athlete. They may or may not have the flash bike, but they've been told that comfort is everything and they have set up their bike up like a beach cruiser. They may also feel they are not worthy of aero helmets or wheel covers, when the fact is the longer you're on the course, the longer the benefits of these items express themselves and the more time you save.
Regardless of your fitness or race-day goals, everyone can benefit from evaluating their position and setup on the bike. Hopefully, some of the previous tips have given you some guidance and insight as to where you can improve. If you'd like to explore the concept of bike fitting in more detail, please visit Endurance Nation to download the FREE Triathlon Bike Fit eBook.