It is crazy to think that until fairly recently, aerodynamics were relatively lowly ranked in decision processes taken on cycle clothing, bikes and accessories. It's even more crazy to think that even Tour de France winners, would normally only think of aero kit on the few time trial days of the Tour. It's safe to say that this is no longer the case! In fact, it has become common knowledge that aerodynamics are hugely important to the sport of cycling, for many different reasons.
What many bike riders don't realise though, is that reducing aerodynamic drag is beneficial for all cycling disciplines! Whether you're a sportive rider, looking to save energy; a racer, who wants to make every watt count; or a time-trialist, looking to ace their PB… Everyone stands to gain from the aero advantage. There are many ways to make yourself, and your bike, go faster!
Aero cycle clothing
Flappy jerseys at the Tour? No chance. Aero is the way forward…
In 2007, Castelli introduced non-baggy jerseys to the peloton; creating what we now know as the aero jersey. Ever since, the Italian brand has been developing and innovating (whilst much of its competition catches up).
Castelli have pioneered not only the focus on aerodynamics, but also the fabrics and fit involved, too.
The latest Castelli Sanremo 3.2 Speed Suit is the fastest Tour clothing yet; and will be ridden in by Cannondale Pro Cycling at the 2016 event. The innovative product combines technology from the highly rated Castelli Free Aero Race Bib Shorts, with similar technology in the Castelli Aero Race 5.1 Jersey; the result is a one-piece suit, which performs and fits like a time trialists' skinsuit! The great thing is, it is possible to wear the Speedsuit for the whole of a six hour Tour stage; because Castelli have designed it with pockets, a full-length zip and their quality endurance seat-pad.
The Sanremo Speedsuit provides all day comfort, and all day speed!
Another great piece of aero clothing, which is super accessible, comes from the small California based brand VeloToze.
The simple latex overshoes from VeloToze have taken the UK race scene by storm this year; and you'll spot them at most road races and time trials!
VeloToze have created a second skin for your feet; using a latex rubber compound, which is not just waterproof, but also super aerodynamic! The great thing is, a set of VeloToze Tall Shoe Covers won't break the bank either! They are half the cost of many aerodynamic overshoes, yet we can be sure that they'll be spotted across the WorldTour this year, and quite possible on the feet of some riders during Stage 13 and Stage 18's time trials!
The best upgrade you can make to your bike, is often the wheel set. It is an opportunity to save rotating weight, but also a huge opportunity to improve aerodynamics!
Wheels can account for up to 15% of the total resistance whilst you ride; and if you want to improve the aerodynamics of your wheel profiles, then deep sections are the way to go.
Remember though, aerodynamics aren't everything; and wheels should also be chosen for their ability to be used in cross-winds, as well as their weight. With this in mind, we'll likely see many teams using a variety of rim depths at this year's Tour; but with most opting for an average of around 30mm. The Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Wheelset are a fantastic example; providing aerodynamic benefits and a low weight. No doubt they'll be the choice of many team riders in Team Katusha and AG2R La Mondiale.
There are two types of aero bike that you will see in this year's Tour; TT (time trial) bikes, and Aero road bikes.
On Stage 13's time trial, you will see riders using bikes designed completely for aerodynamics - Time Trial Bikes.
These bikes have aerodynamic frames, deep section wheels (sometimes rear disc wheels), and they're designed to be fast! Aerodynamics are the sole focus of TT bikes, as the weight penalty of larger frame tubes and shapes are less of a factor, on the normally flat time trial courses.
Time trial bikes, much like triathlon bikes, are fitted with bar extensions - these straight bars point out perpendicular to the normal horizontal bar profile. Bar extensions, also known as Aero Bars, do just that; they place the rider in a low 'tucked down' position; thus reducing their frontal area, and their drag coefficient.
Aero bars aren't just to be used on TT bikes though; they can also be placed on normal road bikes as 'clip-ons'; this will likely be the case during Stage 18's uphill time trial, where a lightweight road bike fitted with aero bars will be a popular choice.
The other aero bike seen at the 2016 tour, will be Aero road bikes. These are becoming more and more common, not only in Grand Tours, but also on amateur club rides everywhere!
The trend was started by Felt Bikes and the Garmin Slipstream Team, several years back; ever since, aero bikes have been getting stiffer, lighter and more comfortable.
Felt have kept developing their Aero Road (AR) range, too; and it is now one of the most advanced on the market! These bikes feature aerodynamic frames and forks, but are also much lighter than their TT equivalents. The geometry is also more similar to a normal road bike, too; as they are designed to be ridden like a road bike…but just faster!
Due to the furious development of aerodynamic kit over the past few years, an aero setup doesn't mean compromise. Any rider can refine their setup to be more aero, and faster! Keep an eye out for more new aero tech at the start of the Tour!