There’s no doubt that deep-dish carbon wheels and high-end frames look cool, but are they really going to make you that much faster?
We’ve taken a look at some of the recent tests done in the state-of-the-art wind tunnel at Specialized to help you determine which equipment will improve your performance the most for the lowest possible cost.
Up until recently, there was little proof to show that shaving your legs would actually make you faster on the bike. Specialized, however, put this old school rule to the test and found that, on average, smooth legs save about 70 seconds over the 40K time trial distance.
For a $3 razor, that’s definitely the best bang for your buck of the group.
Shoe Covers, $50
While it may not make a huge difference on a group ride, using covers over your shoes is a cheap way to improve your speed during solo efforts. For under $50, you can save up to 30 seconds for every 40K you pedal.
In addition to these aerodynamic benefits, shoe covers will also protect your feet from the wind, rain and colder temperatures—making them a must-have item for any cyclist.
A loose-fitting jersey will create more drag during a ride than you might think. By upgrading to a race-fit cut, you can save around 45 seconds over the benchmark 40K distance. While a jersey upgrade will likely cost you between $80 and $120, you can also take this a step further.
For the time trial, using a skin suit as opposed to a jersey and short combo will save you 90 seconds over 40K. The price though will rise too, costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $300–500.
Aero Helmet, $225–350
Traditional cycling helmets were created to serve two purposes: protect your brain and keep your head cool. While most decent helmets certainly will accomplish this, all those vents don’t provide much toward making you faster.
Over a standard helmet, an aero helmet such as the Specialized Evade will save you approximately 42 seconds over the 40K distance. Other more expensive options that incorporate face shields and even less vents for time trial riding can bump the time savings up even more.
Aero Wheels, $1,500+
The time savings for aero wheels will vary depending on the wheel and how its aerodynamic benefits are measured. For the tests done at Specialized, only straight ahead wind resistance was measured and not the aerodynamic benefits from side angles, which can improve time savings even more in real-world conditions.
Nevertheless, these tests showed that a deeper-sectioned wheel (over 40 millimeters in rim depth) will save you around 34 seconds over the 40K distance. While not as much as some of the other pieces of equipment, weight savings and comfort are also details you’ll want to consider when upgrading to a set of aero wheels.
Aero Frame, $2,000+
Like aero wheels, the decision to upgrade your frame will likely come down to more than just aerodynamic benefits. It’s also one of the most expensive, so it should also be one of the last options you consider.
Compared to a traditional round-tube frame, an aero frame will save you 60 seconds over 40K. One fast option is the new Venge frame from Specialized, which will set you back $2,000 for the frame and fork. Another and perhaps more important aspect to consider when deciding on a specific frame upgrade is how well it fits you. This will determine how comfortable you are over long distances, which can affect your overall speed.
This study shows that the body constitutes the greatest percentage of resistance while cycling. By choosing a frame that improves your position on the bike, you’ll generate more power and place your body in a more aerodynamic position for the greatest amount of time savings possible.