In the beginning it was steel bikes, wool jerseys, and cotton sacks filled with bottles of wine and ham sandwiches. Well, maybe the bottle of wine is a bit inaccurate. However, it wasn’t unheard of for racers to have wine as an endurance tool back in the day. Whatever works to get you over the mountain – but we don’t need to go down that road.
Today, we’re talking about speed. Want to go fast? No problem, it’s the industries primary focus. Let’s start with carbon. You will need a carbon road bike. You can go old school (And some of us do) and get a cool, old steel-frame race bike. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You will still go fast and your legs will become a finely tuned organic speed demon. But the pros are rolling on carbon, so you should roll on carbon too. If you’re like me, you are far from ever being a pro. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the tools that help them win races.
One of the fastest bikes we sell here at Performance is the Fuji Transonic. This bike is the result of years of aero engineering and wind tunnel testing. I don’t have a Transonic, but I want one. Maybe next year, when I receive my incredibly large bonus for writing such great copy. But I digress – if you want to know more about the Transonic, be sure to check out our next Bike Scoop on Facebook where the Transonic will be featured. If speed is your thing, it’s definitely worth checking out.
To be completely aerodynamic – that’s the goal. That’s why the industry is finding ways to replace any and all componentry with carbon fiber. And that’s why legs are shaved, helmets look funny and clothing is skin tight. We know this. But let me tell you something, I’m somewhat new to this game and I didn’t realize how deep that rabbit hole goes. Take microfibers: when I discovered the technology used today in race clothing, it just about blew the cotton shirt off my back. The ability to self-regulate your body temperature and whisk moisture away, keeping you cool enough to literally stay on a bicycle all day. Yes, I know this is old news for some, but it still blows my mind.
So let’s talk about clothing designed to make you go fast:
If you want to experience what it was like to race back in the day, go with wool. But you may regret it after riding a few hours in the sun. Cotton is fine too, but you will ultimately be drenched in sweat. Today’s modern jersey offers a mix of technologies designed to manage sweat by whisking it away from your skin and transferring it to the surface of the fabric for quick evaporation. The fabric will also, usually, have some form of protective UV coating as well. Cycling jerseys have key features that make them ideal for racing. First, the back is extended to properly cover you when hunched over the bars. Three back pockets are common – capable of storing food, a phone, and even an extra water bottle. The placement is ideal when riding, so you can reach back, grab what you need and keep moving. Elasticized grippers on the hems of the sleeves and at the base keep the jersey in place and keep it from blowing around in the wind. This feature alone will keep you more aero over other garments. That and of course the race-form fit of the jersey. These jerseys are purposely designed to fit like a second skin. But there are compromises for those who lack the racers physique. (Like your pear-shaped author – but that’s changing because I’m riding my bike!) Jerseys will come in race-form fit, semi-form fit, and relaxed or club fit. Semi-form is a good way to go if you’re just starting out but want to experience a race fitted jersey. But relaxed/club fitted jerseys also have many of the benefits of their race-form fitting cousin, just without the skintight fit. Of course, this article is about speed, so you’ll probably go with the race-form fit, won’t you?
The main issue many new riders have when shopping for cycling clothing is the fit. Most of the sizing is based on European sizing, which can sometimes be frustrating to those used to S, M, L, XL, etc. Be sure to check the sizing chart of the garment you’re considering. The chart will have basic measurements that correlate to their respective sizes.
Chamois & Shorts
For shorts, a pair of Lycra cycling shorts with a chamois is what’s desired. Sleek, skin tight, and perfectly aero. Compression is the name of the game and these shorts are made up of panels to hold and compress your muscles to reducing fatigue and speed up muscle recovery. There are many different chamois designs and you may find one type more comfortable over another, but any chamois is better than no chamois. Especially if you plan to spend a considerable amount of time on the bike. The fabric will often use the same technology as the jerseys, but with the addition of the panels and chamois. The fit should be snug against your skin and allow for adequate movement. Of course, you can also take things a little further and invest in a pair of bib shorts. Bib shorts offer a more streamlined and comfortable fit, since the shorts use a bib instead of an elastic waist band to hold the shorts up. And if you really want to take your performance to an elite level, you should consider the Speed Suit. For some, this might be going a little overboard. For others, nothing else will do. I’ll leave it up to you.
Road bike shoes are designed for speed. The lighter the shoe, the better – but the sole still needs to be stiff enough for adequate power transfer and flexible enough to be comfortable. If your toes are going numb, you need a different shoe. With designers utilizing carbon wherever possible, cycling shoes are shedding grams and getting lighter every year. Fabrics are usually perforated for breathability as well as water resistant for durability. With constant innovation in process, there are a variety of shoes out there on the market, each have their pros and cons. Everyone is different – I find road shoes with a narrow toe to be uncomfortable and prefer a much wider shoe. Because of the materials involved, cycling shoes can get up there in price, but they really are built to last. Find what works for you, then invest in one good pair. They should last a lifetime, I suppose. However, it really is determined by how often you ride. So get out there and see how long it takes for you to destroy a good pair of cycling shoes.
Taking Things to the Next Level
With the exception of your Essential Gear, there are some extra’s to consider in your quest for speed. Gloves can help from an endurance stand point and most racers use them. Shoe covers can also be utilized. While mainly used in inclement weather, shoe covers can provide a new level of aerodynamics. However, if you’re really looking for the ultimate advantage, the perfect upgrade is a set of Aero Carbon Wheels. Their deep profiles and lightweight are designed to cut through the wind and create less drag. This will save you watts and gain additional speed. Just keep in mind, because of the deep profile, crosswinds can sometimes create some interesting control issues, so you’ll want to be diligent when riding. Ultimately, it boils down to your preference and riding style. If speed is on your mind, making any or all of these upgrades will definitely help you to improve the numbers.