Tech Talk: Can You Buy Speed?

Health Net Pro Cycling Team's Tim Johnson goes gloveless during the Stage 5 time trial of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California.

Dear Lennard,
We often hear about all of the technology that goes into the modern time trial bike and equipment. Recently I read an article by some MIT cyclists about what equipment choices saved the most time.

For the racer who cannot afford a time trial rig and who is using clip-on aero bars, what other equipment choices will make the most difference? I have lost time trials to people with all the gear (i.e. disc wheel, aero helmet, skinsuit, TT bike, etc.) by only 10 to 20 seconds. The MIT guys suggest that not wearing gloves is better than an aero wheel. Assuming my engine is as good as it is going to get, what investments can I make that will give me the most bang for my buck?


Dear Tim,
Leave the gloves at home, and clean up the cable housings on the front of the bike. Trim and route them out of the wind. Fold electrical tape over bare cables along their length wherever they cross the wind (like along the down tube) to form an aero trailing edge. A thin wire has as much drag as a much wider aero wing section, which is why antennas sticking out of airplane fuselages are airfoil-shaped.

MIT results suggest that an aero helmet can save 1.5 minutes on a 40km TT; that will of course depend on which helmet you choose and which one it replaces, how you hold your head, and how fast you ride. MIT grad Mark Cote has a prototype water bottle that sits on the top tube behind the stem that saves almost two minutes. But the bottom line? All of these equipment choices are secondary in importance to good body position.


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