With the biggest bike race in the world taking place in France this July, cyclists will once again take inspiration from the pinnacle of fitness and cycling technology on display from the sport’s elite.
The good news for riders everywhere is that much of the advancement in cycling technique, performance, and bike tech featured in the top events trickles down, becoming accessible for those outside the upper echelons.
In this four-part Get in Gear series, we’ll be looking at four main areas where riders have pushed tech and technique to new levels, and offer advice and guidance on how you too can enjoy the advancements made for cycling's toughest competition.
These areas include Endurance, Aerodynamics, and Pro clothing and in this first article of the series, we’ll be looking at lightweight advantages found at the peak of competition and some of the techniques used to exploit these technologies to give you an edge.
The advantage of traveling light on the bike
One of the most important equations ever committed to paper in physics is F=ma. This description of the interaction between force, mass, and acceleration states how carrying less weight will create more speed given the same amount of power.
The reality of this equation will be most apparent for riders hitting huge climbs, such as the famous alpine stages tackled during international competition, where riders can expect to face kilometres of thigh-shaking gradients.
Stripping back weight, therefore, is extremely beneficial, not just for the professionals, but anyone riding competitively. Carrying less weight means every watt has more impact, each burst of speed is easier to generate, and the energy needed to maintain your velocity is reduced as your mass falls.
One way you can reduce weight is, of course, reducing bodyweight. This is key but, of course, once you reach a competitive bodyweight you may enter a situation where losing more weight, especially muscle, will impact the power you can generate.
Plus, watching less powerful, heavier cyclists zip past on lighter bikes and weight-saving gear, despite all your tough training and hard-earned power, isn’t a fun way to spend a race.
To get the maximum benefits from your training in competitive conditions, you need to strip back the bike’s weight.
Climbing and weight in cycling
One of the biggest advantages of a lightweight bike is in the climb. If we look back at our F=ma equation, we can see that a lighter frame will mean less energy is needed to get it up the incline. This means more speed or more energy conserved for a surge in the final third of your race.
Reducing weight on the bike
There are many areas where you can strip back weight on the bike, with a huge range of options to secure those marginal gains and competitive advantages exploited to their fullest extent by cycling's elite riders.
Wheels for climbing
The first place to start stripping back weight on the bike is your wheelset. While ‘rotational weight’ advantages are increasingly treated with scepticism, the wheel remains a key area for total bike weight-loss and performance enhancement. Aerodynamic advantages offered by quality wheelsets are another key area that we’ll discuss in a future article in this series.
Mavics Ksyrium Pro wheelset is the lightest Ksyrium Mavic ever made. It features ceramic bearings and is a special Haute Route edition where only 450 sets have been made, making it a very exclusive, limited edition wheelset.
A bike’s groupset is responsible for a great deal of the weight being carried by the frame and you. As you progress up the hierarchy, groupsets become lighter, incorporating more hi-tech materials and weight-saving engineering. They also have the benefit of faster, crisper shifting, with smoother and more reliable operation. The weight-saving efforts of top race teams has meant modern upper-tier component sets are sheared of flab, from hubs to cassettes, while providing incredible levels of performance.
The weight difference can be considerable, for example Campagnolo’s flagship 12-speed Super Record groupset weighs just 2.041kg, a third less compared to the 3kg of some entry level sets. The opportunity to shave off a kilo is well worth the expense for competitive riders.
Each component of Shimano's Dura-Ace R9150 groupset has been engineered for maximum stiffness, performance, and efficiency at the lightest possible weight. No wonder it was the most successful groupset during the world's biggest bike race in 2017, with the Shimano Di2 electronic-shifting set-up adorning the bike of every stage winner and leading jersey wearer.
Because of their relative size, competition tyres need to be conscious of their weight-saving properties. Of course, lighter tyres mean less density and material to play with, requiring some ingenious engineering to create light, durable, fast tyres.
Continental’s Competition Tubular Tyre was the most popular tyre at the pinnacle of racing in France last year, and will no doubt reappear at this year’s competition. Featuring four layers of puncture protection and superb grip, these are podium standard shoes.
In professional races, most pros use tubular tyres. However the drawback for those riding without a spare-stuffed team car behind them is that tubulars can be a tricky fix at the roadside. Another option is to go for a race-worthy clincher tyre, such as the Vittoria G+.
The fastest tyre in the Rubino all-round series, the G+ uses the next-gen material graphene to deliver low rolling resistance for all road conditions, making it the logical choice for a competitive edge at any time.
Carbon fibre is ubiquitous at competition level in road cycling, with the technology used on everything from handlebars to bottle cages. Strong, light, and reliable, the more carbon you can get onto your bike, the better.
The Gorilla Cage helps prevent bottles ejecting from cages on bumpy roads, and saddle-mounted water bottle carriers. The cage has over twice the gripping force of conventional carbon cages due to the six high-shouldered carbon gripping fingers and tall retention tab at the top.
The Cyrano 00 is the top-of-the-line handlebar made from high-modulus carbon, making it the lightest and strongest Fizik handlebar available.
These headset spacers are crafted from high modulus carbon fibre shaving extra weight off your bike.
With its one-piece continuous carbon fibre construction and a box section carbon head, the Metron post is a top-end performance seat post.
Reducing weight on the rider
It’s still possible to lose more grams without having to shift further body weight from the rider. Weight-saving clothing and helmets are often the target of further weight-reduction technologies during major bike races, giving the rider an easier time on the incline.
Providing protection while shedding excess mass, the POC Octal X SPIN helmet marries performance and functionality.
Made with 'Nano' light fabric, this Castelli Perfetto offers three external rear pockets, an extended tail, and all-round protection from the elements despite its lightweight material.
Having shed all this unnecessary bulk, it’s time to put your advantages into practice using good climbing technique. Here are some our top tips to help you climb like the elites.
Hills never get easier but you do get faster. Training your body to handle the requirements of the gradient is unavoidable and part of what road cycling is all about.
There is no shame in using a wide-range of gears for steep climbs - professional riders have often used compact chain-sets to tackle mountainous stages. Today, many top cyclists are going yet a step further for a mechanical advantage by swapping out their speed-focused sprockets for 32-11 tooth cassettes, utilising a mid-length rear derailleur to enhance the bike's climbing capabilities.
Good pacing is central to climbing technique. During training you should grow familiar with the Functional Threshold Heart Rate or Functional Threshold Power required to overcome certain gradients.
- Stay in your saddle
Remaining in the saddle, using good gear management and a steady cadence, is key to holding onto that vital fuel that will see out the race. However, there is some conflicting advice in this area, as your body type can play a role in whether sitting or standing suits you best. Lighter riders can find it easier to climb out the saddle while heavier riders often find staying seated is best for them.