Bike upgrades – what's the best choice for 'freespeed'?
Bike Fitting, Kit and equipment

Kit upgrades – what’s the best choice for ‘freespeed’?

Its the end of May, many of us have been racing a month or two now and will be analysing how we are going so far.  Are we meeting our potential in both training output (i.e.: race power / speed / HR etc) AND our potential V our competition.

Lets be honest the positions are key, irrespective of the ‘numbers’, numbers alone dont win races, a combination of power, pacing, strategy, aerodynamics, fueling and kit ALL add up to the best possible result

So now it may be worth re-looking at all elements of your kit

Thinking about this from a time trial or triathlon point of view, your bike and associated kit and accessories will be BY FAR the biggest expenditure you make. We all love new bling and great looking kit! Now is the time of year for the cycle shows and releases of the new, sexy, ‘go faster’ components. It’s very easy to get sucked in by the marketing and before you know it you are £000’s of pounds lighter. You may look good but will it actually help your speed?

Let’s think about this simply and systematically. The goal in racing is to go as fast as you can, maximising your energy expended and turning this into forward momentum.

Bike upgrades – what's the best choice for 'freespeed'?

When thinking about bike and kit upgrades, there are a number of fundamentals to think about:

  1. Drag – produced by you the rider, your bike and your kit as you slice through the air. This determines your aerodynamic ‘penalty’. It’s the size of the hole that you punch through the air and how much energy you need to expend to move forward. The smaller the hole, the faster you go.
  2. Rolling resistance – your tyres affect your speed. The lowest rolling resistance tyres may save 10w, or maybe 30secs in a 25m TT or Olympic Triathlon bike leg.
  3. Weight – this is dependent on the course. For a flat Tri bike leg or TT weight is less important and points 1 and 2 are much more important (though weight can affect your shape and thus your drag). But on a hilly bike leg or TT, your power to weight ratio is key, so bike weight and associated components are worth considering.

So let’s assume you have a TT or Triathlon bike now. How good is it?

Many people will extol the virtues of their choice of TT bike over yours. The fact is that 80%+ of the ‘drag’ comes from the rider and his position. Plus there is mechanical efficiency loss and rolling resistance. You could argue (many manufactures wouldn’t like to!) that the actual bike is less important. Of course a sit up and beg shopper bike will be way less aero efficient and as light as a £10k wonder machine. BUT most TT / Tri specific bikes these days are aero tested and will perform very similarly to each other in the real world.


So if not the bike where should I look?

  1. POSITION – before you do ANYTHING I’d strongly recommend getting aero tested. This is the best ‘upgrade’ I recommend. I work with, and run aero testing sessions for AeroCoach. I will be covering the benefits of an aero bike fit using the wind tunnel in a separate dedicated article. I’ll also be addressing the application of wind tunnel testing to the velodrome aero sessions we run.
    1. You will work out your optimum racing position within the session. This may mean you need to change all sorts of things such as helmet, skinsuit (tripsuit),  ‘open’ (wider arms) or ‘closed’ (narrower arms / shoulders) depending on your final set up position, your bars and extensions, saddle, wheels, gloves.  In fact all sorts of items can affect your drag and could potentially be changed at the aero session. THE Key message here is don’t think about buying things such as a new helmet UNTIL you have had an aero bike fit!

Bike upgrades – what's the best choice for 'freespeed'?

However, apart from an aero session, there are still lots of bike and kit upgrades you can look at to help make your ride as efficient as possible:

  1.  I will talk about a number of kit options, some would need aero test validating (or at least bike fit validating) but others would be great #freespeed upgrades now
    1. The best helmet that works for you
    2. The best type of aero extensions that will deliver your position
    3. Potentially which saddle optimises comfort versus aerodynamics
    4. Wheels
    5. Skinsuit. Most suits now days come with ‘trips’. These are small fabric ridges that ‘trip’ the air to make it move over faster. Some kit manufactures such as NoPinz make suits with trips in different places that best suit the position you ride in, either ‘open’ or ‘closed’
  2. All the above points will be shown to you as ‘watts saved’ so you can decide if £300 on a helmet to save 15w is money better spent than a new wheelset for £2k to save 10w. Or can you afford both?!

Aerocoach Aeox Disc Wheel

Bike upgrades – the details

  1. Wheels and tyres. Many manufacturers make all sorts of claims about how ‘fast’ their wheels are and it’s worth researching carefully. The difference can be large between seemingly ‘cheap’ wheelsets and the very expensive premium brands.
    1. Also it is very important to consider tyre rolling resistance. There is a massive difference between tyres.  Resources such as Tyre Rolling Reviews will give you a huge insight into what the best tyre to run will be. There can be an up to 20w rolling resistance penalty by running a ‘slow’ tyre!
    2. Many manufacturers now make wheels and tyres that are designed to go together for the best aerodynamics. For example the AeroCoach Aeox disc and front wheel are designed to be run tubeless with Vittoria Corsa Speed G+ tyres (the lowest rolling resistance on the above test).

So let’s say you have optimised all of the above points. Looking back at bike upgrades it’s worth looking at the little things. For Non-UCI sanctioned races any of the below is allowed, but if racing a UCI legal event (such as a Gran-Fondo TT event) please check the rules.

  1. Cover up the vents on your helmet (*unless you expect to be racing in very hot conditions when they will be needed).
  2. Hide as many cables as possible from the wind. Either shorten them (make sure this doesn’t affect steering) and tape out of the way. Or try to internally route any cables that are not already hidden.
  3. Cover up any holes in the frame (where cables may go), or in your cranks.
  4. Think about an Aero TT specific chain ring. Possibly larger in size 56-60T if you are looking  to race on mainly flat courses.
  5. Fit some Pin head wheel skewers. These may be marketed more as a security device, but they will save 2-3w by having no QR handle standing out. (*I would not recommend for long races where there may be a larger chance of puncturing and the removal time would outweigh any benefit. Plus you have to carry the key).
  6. Think carefully about where you site your water bottle(s) and what type you use. Here is a great resource on the actual ‘watt’s cost’ of siting in different places Water Bottle Aero testing.
  7. Single chain ring?  Multiple manufacturers now make Tri / TT specific single ring set ups. These can be used in a dedicated 1X system, such as SRAM, or by removing the front mech on any other system. These simply work by having longer teeth on the front chainring that does not let the chain jump off. These can save 3-4w by removal of the front mech. There may also be savings from removal of any cabling at the front and losing the front shifter. Large tooth single chainring.
  8. Bearings upgrade. One of the biggest obstacles to forward momentum is friction in the drive train and wheels.  Companies such as Ceramicspeed have pioneered this marginal gains approach, by focusing on reducing drive train friction loss. They have tested the benefit of different components, with a full ‘treatment’ potentially saving up to 15w! As well as upgrading the wheel bearings, you can also save watts by upgrading other areas of your drive train.
    1. Bottom Bracket ~2w
    2. Jockey wheels or an Over Sized Pulley system ~1.2 & 3w respectively
    3. A specially waxed chain ~3w

Bike upgrades – what's the best choice for 'freespeed'?

There are, in summary, a myriad of opportunities to spend that money burning a hole in your pocket. Many bike an dki upgrades listed above are viable choices you can do now, but to truly optimise everything I finish where I started. Make sure YOU start with an aero bike fit. It will be the best £400 or so you ever spend on getting faster on a bike. You may come away with a few positional tweaks that save you huge numbers of watts without the need for anything else.  Irrespective – validate first, spend second! I always use the same analogy, if you bought a Saville Row suit you wouldn’t have it fitted afterwards! So when you spend the same or even more on a bike surely you should do the same.

Watch out for our next Blog on what an aero bike fitting session involves. Once you have nailed the position, then is the time to review any possible upgrades to your bike and kit. You can then do a cost benefit analysis on watts versus pounds to decide where you spend next.

Happy spending!



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