It’s generally accepted that a more aerodynamic position comes at the cost of power. But which is more important when trying to find the fastest position on a bike? The answer to this question varies depending on who you talk to. Tune in to this week’s episode where we navigate this decades-old debate with Specialized’s Head of Human Performance Todd Carver and Retul Head Fitter Jason Williams.
In order to find the fastest position on the bike, we have to consider not only power and aerodynamics, but also comfort, speed, and the nature of the event itself. For example, a really aero position may give you an advantage off the gun in a six-hour gravel race, but not if you can’t hold it two hours later. Speed is a balancing act, and sometimes the sacrifice you make might not be what you expected.
Todd and Jason’s expert approach to fitting considers efficiency, aerodynamics, metabolic effects, and comfort to find a highly individualized position that can often be both more aero and more powerful. We discuss this balance with them across a variety of cycling disciplines including time trialing, triathlon, road cycling, gravel riding, and mountain biking.
Joining them on this episode we also hear from legendary bike technician Lennard Zinn, coach Jeff Winkler, professional cyclists Petr Vakoč and Robin Carpenter, triathlon coach Ryan Bolton, and editor and influencer Ben Delaney.
So, let’s focus on balancing the inputs to performance, and let’s make you fast!
- FT154: The Art and Science of Time Trials, with Kristin Armstrong and Jim Miller
- FT59: Preventing Cycling’s Most Common Injuries with Dr. Any Pruitt
- FT187: Bike Fit Philosophy with Dr. Andy Pruitt, Colby Pearce, and Todd Carver
- FT189: Bike Fit Methodology with Dr. Andy Pruitt, Colby Pearce, and Todd Carver
- Cycling in Alignment 45: Jason Williams on Retul and Bike Fitting Philosophies
- Aerodynamics and power
- Metabolic power testing
- How long does it take to adapt to aero position?
- Training into aero position.
- How do you balance aerodynamics and power?
- Why not both? aerodynamics and handling?
- Thermal load on apparel
- Shedding heat in mountain bike races
- How gear makes a difference in performance
- The delicate balance between power and aerodynamics
- Misconceptions about climbing position
- The aerodynamics of drop bar bikes
- Mountain Biking aerodynamics
- How to get better aerodynamic power
- Final Thoughts
Quotes from the Show
- Jason Williams: “Yeah, I think the big takeaway from our discussion today for me is that we see some trends where we’re athletes can find a consistent aerodynamic benefit, and maybe even a power improvement or a power savings in a certain position. But as we said, it’s it’s very individualized, and each athlete has a unique recipe for success. And so I think for us, that’s a big part of it is trying to define that recipe for an individual. So it’s it’s based on the individual but also based on the event or the discipline. So as we talked about a lot of different disciplines, and within disciplines, some subcategories, so really thinking about very specific, you know, targeted races or targeted events and tailor your, you know, both training plan and aerodynamic sort of strategy for an individual target race.”
- Todd Carver: “Yeah, I think I’ve kind of been saying this the whole time, but I’ll wrap up with too, if you want to start to experiment with making yourself faster on a bike, I would start high, I would start at a position you can hold in a position you can handle the bike well in and in, perform well, and then start to think of ways to optimize that. So start to think about moving into a lower position, right, you start to think about a position that will drop your head and then do some real testing in that position in the real world environments, to see if what you theoretically are thinking is going to improve your performance is actually going to improve your performance.”
- Rob Pickels: “Don’t make one decision, enact that and think that it’s better. It might be, it probably isn’t. Do some testing. And there are ways that you can test yourself, you need to be diligent, you have to control a lot of variables. It’s not an easy thing. But you can do it yourself. You can also work with experts, like you guys and many others. But you need to do experiments to find out. But you also need to take these decisions into the real world. And you need to see, can I ride like this, you need to test that not for five minutes in your garage, right. But for the for the duration, or similar of how you would have to do that event. Ride it in hot weather, Ride it in cold weather, Ride it in traffic, Ride it in quiet streets, Ride it everywhere, so that you’re prepared for race day, and you’re not surprised, and you’re not ultimately in a detrimental position, because you forgot to test something. Race Day is not the day you want to find that out”
- Trevor Connor: “we started this conversation with a formula. And it’s actually a remarkably accurate and good formula. When you have somebody on a track. It’s amazing how well it can estimate what their time is going to be. But I think when you take that out into a real world scenario, where you’re dealing with different winds and how well you can hold that position and feel dynamics and everything in thermal effects, and everything else you think about, it’s not that simple. You need to individualize, and you need to learn how to deal with whatever position you’re in.”
Rob Pickels 0:04
Hello, and welcome to bass talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Rob pickles here with Coach Connor. Many people claim that a position that optimizes aerodynamics does so at the cost of power. And as always, the answer is more complex than it is simple. To find the fastest position on the bike we have to consider not only power and aerodynamics, but also the needs of the rider in the event focusing on aerodynamics may unravel your performance in a heart race, or make it impossible for your sore body to push power in a long gravel event. Ultimately, the goal is not to maximize arrow or power it’s to maximize performance. To help us navigate this challenge. We talked with Todd Carver, head of human performance at specialized and Jason Williams, the head fitter at retool. They use a multifaceted approach to find optimal performance through balancing concepts like aerodynamics and power production. Today, we discuss this balance with them across a variety of cycling disciplines, including time trialing triathlon, road cycling, gravel riding and mountain biking will round out the discussion by talking with legendary bike gurus Leonard Zinn and Ben Delaney coaches Jeff Winkler, and Ryan Bolton and professional cyclists Petr vatic, and Robin carpenter. So let’s focus on balancing the inputs to performance, and let’s make you fast.
Rob Pickels 1:31
A fast talk listeners. This is Rob Hybels. Wouldn’t it be cool to decide what Trevor and I are going to talk about on an upcoming show? Or how about we answer a question on polarized training you’ve been dying to know what about a 30 minute zoom call with me or Trevor on your favorite sports endurance topic. This is all possible when you become a fast talk Patreon member, we have four monthly memberships to fit your level of support. If you enjoy fast talk, help us stay independent and dishing out your favorite sports science topics by becoming a fast talk Patreon member today at patreon.com/fast Talk podcast.
Trevor Connor 2:08
Well welcome Todd and Jason to the show. Really excited to have you come and join us talk with us a little bit about aerodynamics and power. Thanks for having us. Thank you. So what I’ll say about this episode is when we get into the biochemistry, when we get into the physiology, I get really excited and go okay, I think I can hold my own in this conversation. I am going into this episode saying I have taken a couple of biomechanics classes which compared to you guys, I basically know nothing. So really excited to hear what you have to say. But I’m mostly going to be asking questions and pretending I have even close to the knowledge you two have you two have been doing this your whole lives, you are two of the top experts in the world on positioning on aerodynamics. So really excited to basically have you impart your wisdom on us and pretend that just because I’m sitting in the room with you, I actually know some of this. So the focus of this episode is talking about that balance between aerodynamics and power, which I know has been a debate over the years, there’s people out there that believe you should get down in as low a position as you possibly can and then learn how to push the power. There’s other people that say no, you should be more upright and and lose a little bit of that aerodynamics for power. So we’re going to do a bit of a twist on it and say, You know what, there’s different disciplines in cycling. Is it one rule that controls all? Or does it really depend on the discipline? And I guess, Todd will start this right out by throwing this to you. And then let’s talk about the aerodynamic formula. Okay. You said you could cite in your sleep? Yeah. Right. Yeah,
Todd Carver 3:53
I mean, it is probably the purest form of science we have in cycling, right? The aerodynamic drag force is proportional to your air density, right? Air has density, so it takes energy to move through it. And it’s also proportional to your size. So your your frontal surface area and the shape of your body, which has a coefficient. And then most importantly, it depends on how fast you’re going. So that’s a big factor, and it’s an exponential relationship with your velocity. So the drag force is quite simply half of the air density times your CDA times your velocity squared.
Trevor Connor 4:31
And then when you bring in power, as I remember, so this is going back a few years and you might laugh at me for saying this. But when you’re looking at the power to go a particular loss, it is actually velocity cubed. That’s right. That’s not quite right. It’s it’s relative velocity squared times absolute velocity, right?
Todd Carver 4:49
That’s right, because power is always equal to force times velocity. So in your drag force equation, you have velocity squared, and then you have to times that by velocity again And to get to the power required to overcome that drag force.
Rob Pickels 5:04
And ultimately, that means, in simplest terms, that your speed has the largest impact on the power that you’re going. Nevermind, you’re rolling resistance. in some regard, I guess you could scale something so that it was gigantic. Right, right. But ultimately, for all things being equal, how fast you go really, really matters.
Trevor Connor 5:26
The other important thing, if you’re new to this whole concept, understand is because it’s velocity cubed, the increase in power to go from 15 to 16 miles per hour, is a lot less than the increase in power needed to go from 25 to 26 miles an hour with each increase in speed, you need more and more and more power to get that a little bit more speed.
Todd Carver 5:53
Yeah, I mean, you can think about it to double your speed takes eight times the investment in power, right. But I think it’s more practical to think about it in terms of percentages. So if you’re out there riding at 18 miles per hour, and you want to go 20 miles per hour, it takes 30% more power for the 10% increase. That’s right, yeah. So that’s the, that’s the power of aerodynamics. That’s what you’re working against. And that’s why as you go faster and faster on a bike, the arrow becomes more and more important. Right, right. And so really, the big breakpoint of where aerodynamics really starts to dominate is it about 10 miles per hour,
Rob Pickels 6:39
relatively low, relatively low, everybody assumes it’s closer to 29
Todd Carver 6:43
or 10 miles an hour, your drag force is the dominant force you’re working against.
Rob Pickels 6:51
And I want to clear up maybe early in this episode, a potential elephant in the room, right, we’re talking about speed, the faster you go. And that’s where aerodynamics becomes really important. But even if somebody is going a slower speed, they’re on course, for longer, correct me if I’m wrong, aerodynamics still matters to that person as well, even though they’re only going 10 or 12 miles an hour, right?
Todd Carver 7:17
We talked about this in triathlon a lot, because it’s like, they’re going slower than time trialists, typically, right. And everyone says, well, Arrow doesn’t matter as much. But I think you’re exactly right, it adds up, right,
Rob Pickels 7:30
a smaller slice over a longer time is still a big number. You got it. Now,
Trevor Connor 7:33
before we get too deep. Let’s hear from one of the legends himself Leonard’s in and his take on the importance of aerodynamics versus power.
Lennard Zinn 7:41
aerodynamic drag is the biggest thing resisting a bike rider except on a super, super steep climb where it’s gravity, but otherwise, aerodynamic drag, is it and if you can make a difference in that, you have the potential to save yourself a lot of watts, I mean, you to overcome the difference of say 10% difference in your aerodynamic drag would require at slow speed takes a incremental increase in in your power output. But that incremental increase double or triple the speed doesn’t double or triple the amount of watts required. It’s it goes up exponentially so that if you can increase your aerodynamic efficiency, and you can do it while still being comfortable on the bike and not sacrificing, you know, your safety and your ability to see and your comfort and your ability to continue pedaling efficiently, then, by all means, if you’re if you care about how long it takes you to get from point A to point B relative to the other people that you’re riding with, then it’s a no brainer to pursue that aerodynamic gain that you can get.
Trevor Connor 8:57
So interestingly, I read a couple studies leading up to this, you know, knowing no way I’m going to read enough to get up to your level of experience. But I did read this 2014 study that surprised me. So it’s called optimal cycling Time Trial position models aerodynamics versus power, output and metabolic energy. And so the gist of it, they’re trying to figure out the optimal torso angle, at each speed. The idea being the lower your torso angle. So if you have a completely flat back that you’re the most aerodynamic, but you’re going to lose power. So and the more upright you are, you’re going to have more power but be less aerodynamic. So there’s there theory is at each given speed, or velocity, there’s an optimal torso angle and so just a line I want to read out of it because this really surprised me. They said that, for speeds between 32 and 39 kilometers an hour torso angle, approximately 17 degrees was defined Want to be optimal, said well, but here’s what so the surprising part while above 46 kilometers per hour, the aerodynamic losses outweigh the power losses, resulting in an optimal torso angle of three degrees. So what they’re saying is, it isn’t until very high speeds, that the aerodynamic losses outweigh power losses, and you really want to get down low. And I was very surprised by that.
Todd Carver 10:24
I’ll jump in real quick, I want to pass this on to Jason because he really has been doing a lot of the metabolic power testing. But in general, I’d say, let’s talk about a time trial bike where your torso angle is fairly angled down, what we have found is, because that’s such a great shape, it doesn’t matter too much, you can play with torso angle, up and down, to decrease the drag on other parts of your body. So if you can bring your torso angle up from 17 to 19 degrees, and it allows you to tuck your head in lower, that’s going to win every single time. Because your head is a sphere, it’s a very poor shape. So your head, your shoulders, your arms, basically everything around your torso, your legs, your arms, your head, are worse than your torso. So what we’ve been doing, we’ll be finding through a lot of our arrow studies, is we can play with torso angle, and if we bring someone up, a lot of times they get more arrow because they will tuck their head in. And at the same time, that opens up their hip angle. So their power outputs met not compromised. And I
Rob Pickels 11:34
think this is an area where traditional research is is almost failing the practitioner, right? Because in traditional research, a university IRB type of research, you need to be quite reductionist, to try to get down to a what is the statistical significance between these two variables. And aerodynamics is such a complex topic that if we could name the perfect torso angle aerodynamics would be easy. And we know that that’s not true, taught as you’re saying, because of this, but the researchers, they don’t have the knowledge to say if A then B, and then C happens, and to optimize where I think Jason and Todd, you both and Jason, I want to hear about your metabolic testing, too, because that’s exactly what matters here. You guys are in the position of optimizing individuals, not finding one descriptor that works for everybody. And I think that’s really, really important,
Jason Williams 12:28
right? Absolutely. The reality is, you know, a 17 degree back angle may be the the group mean, that gives best performance, but for an individual, if there’s limitations to us, you know, a hip joint, or if there’s certain considerations are the individual that can trump the 17 degree mean, that gives us a benefit across the population. So we really work in the realm of optimizing each of an individual to find where they can make the best gains. But that said, I think there is some sound insights from that study, Trevor, that, you know, going to the extremes, there’s a higher likelihood that you get into problems right, as you go to 16 and 15 degree back angle, some athletes may perform really well there. But we don’t know who those athletes are going to be without additional testing and additional insights that can help to define who can perform well at 15 and 16 degree, versus who’s going to perform better at a 19 or 20 degree back angle.
Trevor Connor 13:29
To that point, you know, and this is why it’s great to have you guys because you guys can talk from experience, I read another study leading up to this, the same thing was getting at optimal angles. And they said in the study, it was too difficult to get cyclists to come in and sit at a perfect angle. So they ended up using crash test dummies. And you’re good to go. That’s great. But you know, crash test dummies don’t have muscles, they’re not trying to put out power there, you’re not looking at all the other factors they have to deal with.
Jason Williams 14:00
That’s a perfect example. Because you can make a crash test dummy Super Arrow, but you try and put a person into that position and they’ll never be able to turn the pedals or generate the power like they might on a road bike or on a on a different discipline where they’re not, you know, wrapped into a position that’s so prohibitive.
Rob Pickels 14:19
Now, I think that there’s oftentimes an assumption that the most aerodynamic positions are the least powerful and vice versa. In practice, is that true? Is there this inverse relationship between a rider’s aerodynamic position and their sustainable power?
Todd Carver 14:38
I think it depends on how much they train into that position. So it takes time to adapt to a very aero position and we have athletes that can do it quite well. At the same time, if they don’t have a time trial bike at home and they’re not writing it frequently, they really lose a lot of efficiency. If we try to put them into the low position. And then that means at race effort. So when you’re at your physiological limit, that increased cost shows up as a penalty and mechanical power. So that’s where you hear riders say, I just can’t hold the same power on this bike because I can’t my road bike, because a lot of times, they just haven’t trained on that bike as much in but then there’s other times like what Jason’s saying is, they could just be a person that is better suited to sit up a little bit more. So we find a little bit of both at the end of the day when we’re trying to decide on what position riders should should take. Some of it comes down to how much are you going to train to make this position work for you? And we do see as they adapt, we do see their efficiency improve in that same position where if they don’t train into that position, it doesn’t.
Trevor Connor 15:54
The key message here is that you can’t just get into an arrow position and make it work. Let’s hear from experienced coach Jeff Winkler on that message.
Jeff Winkler 16:02
Yeah, this is a tough one. Because it’s like, it’s a problem you can’t fix quickly. And often. That’s how it presents where the athletes like, oh, yeah, I got, you know, a stage race that has a TT and and, you know, what should I do when you really need to be on that bike so much to be ready to perform. And I think, while I don’t do any bike fitting, I certainly have seen lots of fits. And I think, you know, the clearly the focus of the fit on the on the tongue trail bike has to be the priority has to be aerodynamics. But the problem is, is that the aerodynamic position is often one you’re not physiologically adapted to. And we all know that often athletes struggle, they don’t make the same power, but it’s often overcome by the fact they’re more aerodynamic. But it gets into that weird power of feedback, where you’re like, Oh, I’m not pushing the watts, I should be able to push and that can create problems. But so the short answer is simply if if time trialing is going to be a thing for a particular athlete. And that means they want to be a GC rider, or they want to be a time trial specialist, it has to be a regular part of their training, and you have to get a good aero fit. And, you know, we would only have access to wind tunnels, but at least you know, you can sort of get a decent setup on the bike, and then you have to just set about getting used to it physiologically so that you can generate the power.
Rob Pickels 17:27
So when you’re talking about training into this position, I’m trying to unpack what is actually training, right, because I’m gonna throw out some presumptions. And maybe you guys can take this list a little further, when somebody is in a different position than normal, the forces through their body into the pedals or maybe engaging muscles in a different manner. Or maybe even the same muscle is having to act at a different part of its range of motion, meaning that length tension relationships a little bit different, too, is that what you guys see, or is it something totally different?
Todd Carver 18:01
I think it’s specificity around muscle length, tension, especially in the in the hip. The other thing could be cost of ventilation, those are kind of the two things that we say, those are the things that could cause the problem. And that way, tension stuff is specificity. So if you train in that position, your muscles will adapt to be more capable. And if you don’t train in that position, then they won’t.
Jason Williams 18:28
And there’s the other side of things that that training the musculature of the upper body, the neck and shoulders to maintain an aero position that might be a little bit more committed. So the, the lower body adapts to that position through the through the pedaling and training, but there is a significant element of the upper body posture to hold a position that may be very aerodynamic, but actually does have a metabolic cost and a training element to train the upper body to hold shoulders and neck into a position that we find in the tunnel or on a velodrome to be most Aero. So there’s a training element to the upper body that needs to sort of develop before that position is sustainable.
Rob Pickels 19:06
It’s an interesting revelation, right? Because your whole body vo to your oxygen consumption is potentially going up. Because of the increased muscle activity that isn’t doing work moving you forward. It’s just supporting you structurally, right.
Trevor Connor 19:19
Something that this kind of leads to the one last study that I’m going to cite that I did think was a valuable study is they looked at women versus men, which hadn’t really been researched before. And the researchers of this particular study made the point, women tend to have a longer range, you know, optimal range of motion, so it doesn’t have as much of an impact on them. And the conclusion of the study and I’m interested in if this is what you’ve seen is well, there was a lot of individual variance when you put women at a much flatter back angle, so you got them down lower and more aerodynamic. You really overall didn’t see the loss of power. that you saw in men, because they just had that greater range of motion and could handle it. Is that something you’ve seen or?
Jason Williams 20:06
Yeah, I think that that kind of falls in line with one of our sort of running theories on on this situation is that when you put a rider up against their physiological limit when the rider is rate at or even beyond their flexibility limitation, that’s likely when we see a metabolic penalty for a position that’s overly arrow and detracting from the metabolic efficiency of the rider. So if an individual whether it’s male or female has an excellent flexibility, range of motion, the likelihood that they can be successful in a lower back angle, or more aero position is higher. And that’s part of our testing is to determine which athletes can perform well in that position in which athletes pay a penalty in a position because of flexibility, range of motion or other adaptive features.
Trevor Connor 20:58
So talking overall, let’s not get into specific disciplines yet. What have you seen? What is your How did the two of you feel about that balance between aerodynamics and power? is one more important? Or are there ways to maximize both? How do you balance the two and you’re you’re fitting a cyclist?
Jason Williams 21:17
Yeah. So I’d say that we approached the individual cyclist as a unique puzzle where we want to look at their biomechanics, and what is an optimized biomechanical position for them so we the retool 3d motion captures, is really critical to for us to evaluate what’s appropriate for that individual. But then we ultimately want to additionally test their their physiology in that position. So we test metabolic response to a variety of different positions. And then we additionally test the aerodynamics. So for us, it’s a sequence the biomechanical baseline, with the retail motion capture, and then have a physiology test to determine whether there’s a penalty in a certain position. And then we test those best of positions on the Velodrome or in the air in the wind tunnel, to try and give this composite view of what do we think is the best for that athlete across sort of three different tiers of evaluation? So
Rob Pickels 22:14
Jason, are you actually taking, say, athletes to the Velodrome in collecting oxygen consumption or lactate data like then and they’re in different positions? Or how do you actually go about that, if you can share your secret sauce a little bit? Sure. I think
Jason Williams 22:29
a lot of this is sort of public knowledge at this point. We won’t get into too many details. But yeah, the reality is we do a mix of different tests. So we oftentimes will do you know, fit testing in a in a studio or in a lab. But then ultimately, to get the performance metabolic data. It’s a combination, we’ve done a lot of baseline testing in a lab. So we have an adjustable sizing bike that we can actually modify position in real time. So we can set the rider to a certain athlete and measure the response as we modify their position. So quite literally, in the early days, we tested an extreme range, you know, we go super low, and then we go super high, and we just look for the spectrum of response for a certain athlete. So we’ve done a lot of lab testing, we also have done some additional testing on the Velodrome. So we do both lab and velodrome testing for performance optimization using the metabolic system.
Rob Pickels 23:23
And is this something you’re just doing with, you know, World Tour sponsored athletes? Or is this because I know you guys both work out of the Experience Center here in Boulder, is can the normal people kind of come to this level of service to
Jason Williams 23:35
at this point, it’s still a service that we provide for our sponsored athletes and our in our professional teams. Certainly, there’s the there’s the sort of potential that we that we run this to something that’s accessible to more of the population. But as of right now, the time the effort, the expense to do this test is a little prohibitive to roll it out to the general public. But at the same time that that is a an interesting thought, you know, to see like whether this is something that could come to the public and actually give benefit to you know, the average cyclist who wants to compete locally?
Trevor Connor 24:10
And that does raise a good question. What about that athlete who can’t come out to Boulder, they can’t get this level of testing. They might have a retool fitter around them, but only has like the basic intro course under their belt. How should they be looking at this? What things should they be looking at to say I maximize that balance between aerodynamics and power? Yeah, I
Todd Carver 24:33
think they probably aren’t able to measure oxygen consumption, which is the gold standard, but that’s okay. There’s some other correlates. Using a heart rate monitor, and your power meter on on your bike can give you some insights as to whether you’ve overcooked your position or not. I think if you’re good at controlling the environment, so you ride on the same section of road with no wind, you know, same temperature, all of that stuff if you can To control the environment, you can get some good information from your wearables.
Rob Pickels 25:04
I mean, Trevor, I actually think that the best thing that you can do is just keep buying more and more expensive wheels, until there’s no more expensive wheels out there. And then you know that you have maximized your aerodynamics.
Todd Carver 25:17
That’s a good way you bring up a good point, because you can buy speed, we know that, and you should buy fast wheels, and you should buy fast tires. But your body is such a huge impact. You’re right. And so that’s, I think, what everybody wants to know, once you’ve bought everything, how do you then take it to the next level through your position, and finally got
Rob Pickels 25:38
to look in the mirror.
Trevor Connor 25:40
So when you talk about using a power meter and a heart rate monitor, I’m assuming what you’re saying is you try to ride at a steady wattage, and you look at the impact on your heart rate. And if you’re seeing your heart rate being higher in a particular position, that means you’re less efficient, you’re working harder to put out that power.
Todd Carver 25:58
And then also, for the given power, what’s your speed. So you can hold hold speed, or hold power, whatever is easiest. And
Rob Pickels 26:06
that’s where through golden cheetah and some other programs, you can do kind of a quasi computation. There’s some hard good products on the market. Now that’s looking at aerodynamics using pedo tubes and whatnot. I mean, we’re getting into some stuff that’s hard to pull off, maybe for the individual, and it’s pretty expensive. But people don’t have to go, right, you know, to these World Tour experts that we have sitting in front of us, but they should
Jason Williams 26:31
and ultimately, like in a non scientific way, if if you’re rolling down the road, and you’re you’re going faster, your heart rate is lower, and you have a perceived benefit that you’re more slippery in the wind. I mean, we don’t have it scientifically proven that that is arrow. But you know, those are markers for the benefit of those positional a lower heart rate. And you know, the speed relative to power expended is is definitely a notable way to just pick up on that, you know, on your own.
Trevor Connor 26:59
So, I’m interested, are there other factors that affect so often you’ll have an athlete, you test them in a wind tunnel, or they get on the track, and they do this testing and find this great aero position where they’re still able to put out power? But what happens when they’re in a peloton? Or what happens when they have a huge crosswind? You know, I always enjoyed it. Watching guys in the time trial who go, oh, this disc wheels so much faster and throw the disc on their bike when there’s insane crosswind. And they’re getting blown off the road and go, Oh, I wasn’t so much faster. So do these things impact position and what you should be focusing on? Yeah, I
Jason Williams 27:37
think we see that where, you know, you have not to call out an age group. But you know, young athletes who see what, you know, top level pros might be doing with a road position, let’s say and they emulate this sort of theoretically arrow road position that, you know, may even be aerodynamic, but then they get into a bunch and if that position is overly manipulated, you know, we hear back from coaches and team staff who say, Boy, this, this person may be a danger to the to the bench, right? Because this position, you know, the brakes are not accessible, or the hood position is just too extreme. And so, you know, some of our job is to kind of to optimize for performance and arrow but also to make sure that this rider stays upright and that the peloton is safe and so, so yeah, we do see some of that where you know, what might theoretically be aero single person out in the wind might be a very different response when you’re in the bunch riding with a large group at high speeds.
Trevor Connor 28:32
Robin Carpenter has raced in professional peloton in Europe, here’s his take on aerodynamics versus power, including the issues of handling.
Robin Carpenter 28:41
I’d say Why not both? That’s what it seems like everything is nowadays. Why not spend $5,000 on some custom extensions for your for your time trial bike, and you can then be in a nice upright position and still be quite fast. It seems like at the high level, it’s all about both these days, maybe slightly different trade off is a aerodynamics or handling your bike. That’s a good one. Yeah, I’ve seen in the past with the 30 centimeter handlebars. And I’m not going to talk too much about except like the the hoods being turned in, because I have mine slightly turned in just like everybody else these days. But yeah, I gotta say that, you know, I’m out of the Euro racing world at this point. But it’s all about arrow. There’s nothing else that matters anymore. It’s insane. I used to be the only guy in a breakaway who was tucking in and getting super low during his polls. I always have my hands on the hoods with the you know, flat forearm and for the last two years, whenever I’m in a break away with anybody else, everybody is doing the same thing. And it’s so annoying. I was here first Why are you guys all copying me? It’s astonishing how much it’s taken over the world of road racing and how much more aware of it everyone is.
Trevor Connor 29:55
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Rob Pickels 30:29
So we’ve been talking a lot about biomechanics and bike fit, which I know is where your expertise lays, but I’m a gear guy, hate to say it, I very much think that if I buy that arrow jersey, those arrow socks, that handlebar that puts your forearm angle in the perfect position, that that equipment also has a big impact on the aerodynamics. And I oftentimes have approached that equipment with, well, there’s no reason not to. And the question I want to ask is actually maybe from a different perspective, is there no reason not to buy those aero wheels to wear those aero socks to use that aero helmet Are you always gonna end up in a better place?
Jason Williams 31:14
Boy, I mean, there’s, there’s some equipment elements that are pretty cut and dry, where it’s like, you know, you can make an equipment change. And as Todd said, by speed, right, it’s pretty clear. And then there’s other equipment changes, where it may be a benefit, but maybe not on your body or in your position. And so, you know, some elements, you know, helmets being one of them, there were there’s some very fast helmets out there. But not every helmet is fast on every body. And so, you know, there’s some elements where it interacts with the body. And the benefit is questionable, depending on the individual. Whereas other pieces, definitely have a clear benefit across across the population.
Rob Pickels 31:52
This episode brought to you by the specialized evade arrow helmet, which works for everybody.
Todd Carver 31:57
And the other thing to think about with helmets is the thermal load to write anything about this with apparel, so things like wheels, yeah, go for it, you know, but things like helmets and apparel that you’re putting on your body, there are other factors that come into play, whether it’s really going to be an improvement for you or not, obviously, like Jason says, the body position and how it interacts with that’s important, but I also think of thermal, right. And in the Tour de France, you see a lot of, in some of those time trials where the end on a climb, and they keep their aero helmet on this practically off their head, right, because it’s so hot. Now, so there is a little bit of a factor there. But I would also say, you know, in the past year or so one of the biggest effects we’ve seen it are the new base layers, that writers are wearing under their jerseys, add a
Rob Pickels 32:49
little bit of texture, some some trips, kind of help smooth the
Todd Carver 32:53
flow, it’s amazing the benefit of some of that stuff. And then also just your clothing itself. Like we say your skin is slow, right? So the fabrics in these kits are super fast. It’s got to fit right, right. It’s like it doesn’t look good when you’re standing around at the coffee shop. But when he get on the bike, it’s super fast. So yeah, stuff like that have huge impacts on your performance
Rob Pickels 33:19
in specialized. You know, if you follow the YouTube channel has done a really interesting job in the wind tunnel, right of putting some of these myths or some of these questions to test. But, you know, Todd, I’m really glad that you brought up the thermal side of things, because that was the inspiration for my question, where, as listeners know, I just did the transportable mountain bike race. And I said, Hey, I’m gonna be out on that bike for five hours riding on a lot of double track. I might as well try to do some aerodynamic advantages. And so like aero socks, man, why the heck not, I’m gonna wear socks anyway. And then I had an arrow jersey that was short sleeve, but the short sleeves came basically all the way down to my elbow, because skin is slow, as we know. And I wore it on one stage. And it was beautiful in the first half of the stage, which was flatter and faster. But I overheated, like I’ve never overheated in the second half, even even just wearing taller socks that came up over my calf. On those hot stages thereafter, I didn’t wear those arrow socks and I physically felt cooler. And so I had gone into this like there’s no reason not to. But it’s amazing the thermal impacts that you can have from a sock that’s three inches taller, four inches taller than the other ones you would have worn.
Todd Carver 34:37
Yeah, I totally agree. That’s the thing you have to keep in mind when you’re looking for aero gains. If you’re riding in hot environments for sure which most of us are, you know, in the big races in the summertime. So you’ve got to factor in your body’s capacity to dissipate heat. And that’s different for every writer, right? It’s like me, I’ll just say it. I’ve got a dad but now It’s like it’s little thermal is becoming more and more important for me, right? Because like, it’s harder for me to dissipate heat in number one I have to put out more power to so I’m building more heat, and I’m having a harder time getting rid of it. So thermal super important, where you look at the top riders in the world, whether it’s Demi bouldering, or Remco, they’re smaller, they’re not producing as much power and they can dissipate it better. And their
Rob Pickels 35:24
body surface area is larger relative to their muscle mass. So their heat production, there you go.
Jason Williams 35:30
And ultimately, in the the time trial application, they’re just moving faster, they’re moving through the wind faster. And so the potential to shed heat is greater in the case of a mountain bike race, where you’re climbing and you still have all of those aero garments on, but you’re not going very fast on a climb, your ability to shed that heat in that situation goes downhill. That’s exactly
Rob Pickels 35:50
it. And also, you know, you go back and you mentioned the helmet being pushed back on people’s heads. That was really noticeable. When Roble ich lost lost the tour, what, two, three years ago or whatever, at this point, same thing, but he looked exhausted and his helmet was barely it was like perched on the very tip top of his head there. So that image flashed into my mind. Yeah.
Trevor Connor 36:11
But I think that’s one of the things you have to be careful of. And I’m interested in the response the two of you have to this. But you know, I’ve heard a lot of athletes quote that, oh, I read online that a helmet saves you 30 seconds, a disk wheel saves you one minute. And I know most of that research was done on tracks in optimal conditions. And the question is, how much does that actually really apply in real life? And you know, it’s not factor in things like what we’re just talking about right now. And you might find that superfast helmet, overcooked your head, and the 30 seconds again, you’re gonna lose from just being overheated?
Rob Pickels 36:46
Well, it’s funny, you could add up all those savings and be like this 40k. Tt is going to take me five minutes. Perfect.
Todd Carver 36:51
Yes. And then it takes you 25 minutes What the heck happened. And that gets back to the point of you’ve got to test this stuff in the real world. You got to get the economy, you got to test it in race situations and see, we know it’s more aero, but is it faster? It’s for you.
Jason Williams 37:08
And ultimately thinking about each race scenario as an individual situation, right? So fastest for 40k. On the track is one thing, but you know, a fastest 40k mountain biking in Portugal is totally different. And so I think we’re seeing more of that with our top athletes who really target specific races, and they’re really tailoring their entire approach to an individual time trial or a specific set of races. So to think that one position is optimized for every race this coming season is is completely off the mark. So I think we’re seeing a little bit more acknowledgement that each race is an individual situation that could be optimized for
Rob Pickels 37:47
this episode brought to you by the specialized prevail helmet, which is the lightest and arias on the market and much faster than
Trevor Connor 37:56
Well, I remember we two years ago now we had, I think was two years ago, we had Kristin Armstrong on the show. And she was talking about getting ready for the Olympics and said she kind of made fun of because she before the Olympics, she was going to these local time trials that nobody at the time trials could touch her but she was showing up fully kitted like everything she was going to have at the Olympics and they’re like why are you doing this? It’s just a local time trial. And her comment was being in you know, on the disk wheel in the gear is different from my training gear and I need to practice being and what I’m actually going to race and one of
Rob Pickels 38:33
my favorite pictures I’ve ever seen is in the UK, they have this great weekly, more grassroots Time Trial series. And there’s a picture of Bradley Wiggins, totally kitted out like 100% kitted out next to some guy that’s like 65 years old and on a steel bike and but it’s that exact same thing. He’s doing it to get more time in the position with the equipment to be used to it. And I’ve also noticed it because I’ve been watching Tour de France unchained recently. And in the lead up to the tour, you see a lot of World Tour riders cooling down after stages on their time trial bike. Is that because of this or is it just because it’s convenient, or
Todd Carver 39:17
it? I don’t know the exact answer, but I think it’s probably a little bit of both, it probably is convenient, because they can just have the bike on the Turbo Trainer right there and hop on it. But I also think there’s the riders probably trying to get some training into that position, some specificity, things go and so I think it’s probably a mix.
Trevor Connor 39:32
Let’s hear from another pro Petrovac arch and his thoughts on how to balance aerodynamics and power when dealing with all of the factors in racing.
Petr Vakoc 39:40
Yeah, definitely try to balance them and yeah, the best way I think to do it, it’s to do this thinking the most aerodynamic tunnel or on the track, which could be difficult for many people to access but then what the approach that we choose was to To make the position as aerodynamic as possible without any detrimental effect on, on the performance. So just like make sure that that you can keep the power and then try to make it aerodynamic. And then from from that point, we were just testing the positions, again, like backwards to keep the economy dynamics, but then make it more comfortable. So it was like going on this back and forth approach which we found the best ergonomic position. And then we managed to make it even bit more comfortable, which, which mainly possible to keep the power even better. So is the approach that I think work the best.
Rob Pickels 40:50
Let’s shift gears here real quick, Trevor, I know that you put some time into the Cherry Creek Time Trial series this year. And so I’m wondering if we can switch the conversation more into some specific disciplines. How do we make Trevor faster on his time trial bike?
Trevor Connor 41:08
I’ll give you the first one. Don’t get hit by a truck. Master of that hadn’t happened
Todd Carver 41:15
to good student. I’ll give you the second one. It’s like, we cannot come close to answering that question until we see what he’s currently doing.
Rob Pickels 41:22
Right and just make something up sounds.
Todd Carver 41:24
Okay. Just slam No. Slam that stem.
Rob Pickels 41:27
Todd Carver 41:28
I would do the exact opposite.
Trevor Connor 41:30
So let me give you this story, because you’ll get a good laugh at it. So I Andy Pruitt convinced me to come and do the time trial series. I had not touched my time trial bike since 2013, I think.
Rob Pickels 41:44
And the bikes. Oh 1999. So yeah, pretty
Trevor Connor 41:47
much. So I found it. I dusted it off about four weeks before the series. I’m like, I need to do some time on this. And discovered the bottom bracket was shot. Yeah. So took it to the bike shop to get it fixed. And I had to miss the first one because it didn’t have my bike fixed yet. And so this is a weekly Wednesday series. The next Wednesday, they had the bike ready Wednesday morning. So I pick it up a dive drive to the time trial, instead of warming up. I’m installing my cranks on the time trial bike, and then do five minutes on the bike my only five minutes on a time trial bike and almost 10 years and start the race.
Rob Pickels 42:27
So we’re identifying problem number one.
Todd Carver 42:29
Yep, yes. And we’re hitting on a key point that we’ve already talked about is like, if you want to get arrow you need to practice in that position. I’m gonna tell I’m gonna jump in just tell a quick story. But one of the garment camps we did, if you guys don’t know who the garment cycling team is, it was the EF team of old right. And it old school. Used to do fits there. And I remember one time I think it was Vandevelde came in. It was an offseason fit camp and fitting looking at the road bike, well, hey, let’s throw the TT bike up in the stand. He gets on that thing. And he’s like, that’s not my bike. And then so we pull the mechanics over. And we’re like, Is this is this the right bike? And they’re like, yep, that’s his bike. Chris was like, that’s not my bike. It’s like, I couldn’t possibly ride that position. You know, but they’re like, Yeah, this is the bike. You won the last time trial in three months ago, or whatever. But he got on that bike after not riding it. And he’s like, I can’t do this. Right. Yeah, right.
Trevor Connor 43:29
So let me let me finish the story because it gets better. Okay, good. And this is my begrudgingly admitting that gear makes a difference. Because in that race debt last in the 50 Plus category, I was horrible. So Andy actually chided me and he’s like, Trevor, get a real bike going Craigslist, buy a time trial bike. So I look on Craigslist and I see this track time trial bike with a disc wheel and with the stages power meter $1,100 I’m like, that doesn’t add up. Right. There’s something wrong here. But I might as well reach out because the guy was in Boulder, no name or anything. So have a quick chat with him. And then he gives me his address and says come by tonight and take a look at the bike. What was Pat Warner engineer over it. Yeah, stages. Yeah. So I show up and it’s always beautiful, barely touched bike with practically new 808 Front Zip rear desk. And he’s like what like crank Do you want I’m like whatever’s on the bike. He’s like no, you don’t get it shows me this shelf of all these practically new stages power meters. He’s like pick one. So puts a brand new stages power meter on it. And as I’m writing the check, I’m like, I don’t feel right giving you $1,100 For this, can I pay you more? And he was just like, No, no, this is fine. I’m happy to have you have it. So show up the next day again, had not written the bike yet because I bought it the night For the time trial, go to the time trial off the gun. I’m actually surprised how fast I’m going. I hit the brakes because it startled me. So here’s the funny part the previous week, everybody was like, perfect conditions, the record was set on the course. And that like said I was dead last in the 50. Plus, this week, it was raining on me as the race started. There were huge winds. When I finished it was snowing. Everybody was like two minutes slower than the previous week. I was 30 seconds faster.
Todd Carver 45:32
Nice. So it worked. That bike must have been fast. This episode brought to you by the specialized ship.
Rob Pickels 45:44
Sorry, guys been trying to I’m trying to earn your money here.
Todd Carver 45:46
What I’d like to see on that, okay, I know it had the wheels and everything. How many spacers? Did you have under your arm pads? You remember?
Trevor Connor 45:53
Oh, well, that was the one issue was I threw my arm pads on it. I didn’t tighten them down enough. So the arrow bars kept dropping. And by the end of the race, I was actually holding them up.
Todd Carver 46:05
Jason Williams 46:06
The other big question is Which length crank did you go for?
Trevor Connor 46:09
Oh, I just went with the 170 2.5. I use the time to 175. But I know you guys are going to tell me That’s old school.
Robin Carpenter 46:19
Trevor Connor 46:21
no, Pat, when he was trying to convince me to go shorter,
Todd Carver 46:25
Trevor Connor 46:26
Yeah. So yeah, let’s shift gears. So let’s talk about these different disciplines and talk about them in terms of the balance between power and aerodynamics, you know, which one outweighs the other. And so obviously, I think you’re gonna say in time trial and triathlon, getting into that aero position is going to be really important, as I discovered, because I was not putting out great power,
Todd Carver 46:50
no, I think is generally a function of speed. Like, as you go on, as we talked about, at the onset, the faster you go, the more important aerodynamics is. In, the slower you go, the less important and then as you get more aero, you do sacrifice some of your power production. So as you’re in mountain bike races where aerodynamics aren’t typically as strong, you should focus on your efficiency and your power output in in time trials and triathlons tried to focus a little bit more on aerodynamics with the key point of you need to train into that position. So you don’t lose too much power.
Rob Pickels 47:30
Yeah, and it’s something to know right? With time travel, and to a lesser extent triathlon, you’re not riding in groups, right? At least with triathlon, there are other people on the road around you. And I don’t ever want to downplay safety, but it’s not as if you’re trying to, you know, negotiate overly technical courses or riding groups with people. And so maybe you’re able to make some decisions that affect your bike handling a little bit, and otherwise optimize aerodynamics? Or how do you look at that, as fitters to the stars, how compromised is handling,
Jason Williams 48:07
where, you know, handling has to be a really high priority, right? Because you you can’t win if you’re on the ground, right. So, ultimately, handling is a huge priority. These athletes are incredibly talented, right. So, the top level athletes can handle anything and they would like out out pedal all of us but no handling is is incredibly important. And ultimately that is part of the balance to find a position that is is aero is metabolically efficient, but also as a position that they can stay upright and maneuver the bike because, you know, as we saw with with Yves Lampard, last year in the tour, it was about handling in the rain and it was about tire contact patch and interaction as much as anything else aerodynamic or metabolic. So, handling and weight distribution on the bike is huge. You can have a position that’s very arrow, but if there’s just too much weight on the front tire and not enough weight on the rear, you know, you could slide out in a corner or or vice versa. So, weight distribution and handling is critical as part of this process
Rob Pickels 49:09
on the weight distribution side of things. Super interesting point. Is that something you’re evaluating by feel and experience are you actually collecting data on weight distribution for riders?
Todd Carver 49:19
Yeah, we do measure it. So we through the kinematic model we can estimate center of mass center of gravity from that if we know where that is, we know how much weights on each wheel. So we we are able to directly measure or estimate that I will say
Rob Pickels 49:36
so because you have landmarks on where you know, maybe the front and the rear axle are on the bike, and also rider position. Interesting, really interesting.
Trevor Connor 49:44
This is a good place to hear from top triathlon coach Ryan Bolton who echoes his idea that our position doesn’t have to be more aggressive to be faster.
Ryan Bolton 49:52
It’s a very, very delicate balance between power and aerodynamics, especially in the sport of triathlon, you know in cycling mean, I think you can jam yourself into a position where you can push good power and be incredibly slick in a triathlon, you have to think about that. But more importantly, you have to think about what are my legs going to be like when I get off this and or am I going to be able to, you know, run a good 10k or 21k or 42k After being in this position. So I think there’s, there’s so many factors involved with like the balancing between the aerodynamics, and generating power and also using the right muscles to save your legs for the run. The thing about that you’re seeing with aerodynamics now is there’s more and more the baits are becoming more slicker than ever. The, you know, helmets are and just in positions and what we know about positions, and I would say one thing that you’ve seen is physicians have actually maybe become a little bit less aggressive, but more aero because of what we can do with bikes now. And that’s, like, really cool to see. And I mean, you’re also seeing it, both in bike splits and Ironman, and 70.3 and Olympic distance racing, but also like the our world record, you know, in cycling, those things are going down. So clearly, I think the advances are being made on almost a monthly basis in that realm.
Trevor Connor 51:15
So what about road racing? And road racing is an interesting one because now you have a peloton to deal with. And so you’re gonna get a drafting effect there. There’s a lot of other factors to consider here. Is it more important to just be powerful? Or is it still is aerodynamics king here?
Jason Williams 51:34
I think aerodynamics for sure. And of course, it depends on the rider right. So you know, in the pro peloton, we have a huge spectrum of of rider, you know, specialties, right. So you could have a powerhouse rider like Tim declerck, who’s on the front. Now he’s a really big guy, he’s tall, he’s got wide shoulders, but he also spends a huge amount of time on the front of the bunch, right. So for him optimizing his large stature, aerodynamics is a really big benefit, because he puts a lot of time into the wind. Whereas other riders, they spend a lot of time tucked in the bunch, and they don’t come to the front until they’re on a climb. And ultimately aerodynamics are still important. But the the power and the physiology is, is a stronger criteria for that climber who really only comes to the wind when the speed is slower. And when the physiology and the the power element is more important than the aero aspect. So it’s important across the whole peloton, but some athletes are for sure optimized for for aero more than others in the road position.
Rob Pickels 52:35
I think this is a really interesting point that I love about cycling. A successful team is composed of different riders with different skills, different abilities, different body types. And the answer, the best answer is ultimately individualized for all of them. And I think that if we take this thinking to the amateur rider rate, you need to evaluate yourself, who are you in the race? What are you good at? Where do you need the help? What types of races are you trying to be the most successful in? And how do you make decisions, holistic decisions that ultimately impact at Todd, as you said, your performance, we don’t want to impact your power, we don’t want to impact your aerodynamics, we want to impact the holistic, the performance.
Todd Carver 53:21
Yep, I think there’s some misconceptions here on that topic, too. So you might have like, so if you’re a climber, right, you’re gonna be sitting in the bunch, and then you’re gonna hit it on the climb, that rider might choose a lower handlebar position, then a rider like Tim declerck, who sits on the front of the bunch, because aerodynamics are super important for him. And what I’m saying is on a road bike, your fastest position aerodynamically is on the brake hoods with your forearm level to the ground, in your head tucked in, right. So you might have someone for focus on aerodynamics on a road bike, you need to be able to hold that kind of breakaway position, right, head down, shoulders and forearms level, right. And to do that, you might have to raise your handlebars, you might have to go against what you think traditionally with aerodynamics to really get arrow. On the other hand, you have a climber who wants to go up out to as as fast as they can, they’re going to benefit a little bit more by having a forward rotated position as that hill goes up, ie longer stem less spacers. So it’s there’s some misconceptions here. And I think it’s worth it. My message to people would be realize those are misconceptions and think outside of the box a little bit.
Rob Pickels 54:44
And so, you know, Todd, what you’re saying the underlying thing here is on flat ground, that rider is in a more forward rotated position, but as they go up hill and the front end raises, it actually brings them back to a neutral powerful position and they’re
Todd Carver 54:58
more efficient climbing.
Jason Williams 54:59
You Always, we see a number of athletes who really do optimize for the climbing position, especially during that period when a lot of athletes were ever staying right, the Everest thing trend, we saw a lot of novel exploration in position where people were really optimizing for just the Everest in effort. And that’s a unique sort of little sub niche, that is really fun to kind of see how people explored ways to optimize for that effort.
Rob Pickels 55:28
And I think for me, coming out of the mountain bike world, you see a range of C tube angles, depending on the value proposition of that bike, right, the more that bike is designed to go straight up a hill and straight back down a hill, the steeper that C tube angle is to gain that efficiency. And some of the more traditional fit, things might go out the window, because you’re just nose to the stem ratcheting up the steepest thing you can find.
Trevor Connor 55:55
And I’ll certainly say I was a breakaway rider, as you know, and I always optimized my position, as you said, to ride on the hoods. The only time I ever went down in my drops was in crits. And that wasn’t about aerodynamics, that was about better cornering control. That’s right. So to other and Jason Todd, please feel free to run with these. But two other interesting facts that a lot of our listeners might not know is one. We all know that if you are behind somebody, you’re getting a really nice drafting effect. But the person on the front also gets a bit of a drafting effect from riders behind. It’s only about a 556 percent. But you do get some benefits from having a rider on your wheel,
Todd Carver 56:39
like the push. Yeah, as a group travel faster. Yep. Yep.
Trevor Connor 56:43
And then the other thing that I found really interesting, and this is particularly important, if you’re in a breakaway, when riders are side by side, there is increased drag. So you are going to go slower when you’re side by side. And that’s particularly important. If you’re in a breakaway, it means every time a rider comes off the front and goes back, they’re going to create that extra drag as they pass by the other rider. So if it’s just two of you, in a breakaway, spend more time on the front. So you’re minimizing that drag effect,
Todd Carver 57:13
take longer poles is what you’re saying. Yeah, and rotate less frequently.
Rob Pickels 57:18
Yeah, Trevor, that’s an interesting fact. But when you when you mention it, it kind of makes intuitive sense, right, as a rider is going through the air, they’re building up a high pressure in front of them. And then typically a low pressure behind them, right, which causes a little bit of drag and suction. But two people riding next to each other, those high pressures could be interacting with each other, and creating more of a wall of high pressure that they’re trying to push, as opposed to maybe a flow that’s a little bit more laminar around the body. It’s interesting.
Jason Williams 57:46
And I think it’s, you know, looking into this in detail, there’s some great studies have been published about this, the, you know, what’s really eye opening is the effect of aerodynamics at a distance that’s much greater than you might imagine. So if you’ve been gapped, you know, the rubberband has been stretched, there’s still benefit to stay tucked in that wheel, even though you’ve, there’s a gap there, you’re still getting a benefit from that rider in front of you. So, you know, being aware of that aero benefit to tuck in behind the rider. Even if you feel like you’re already off the wheel, there is benefit to stay in place there and put the head down and try and bridge back across the gap. The distance is much greater, you know, the arrow benefit is extended to a greater distance than I imagined when when you look at some of these studies, it’s it’s small benefits, you know, and it diminishes the farther back you go. But boy, the benefit is there. And it’s worth acknowledging
Rob Pickels 58:41
you might feel despair, but don’t give up. Yeah. So let’s let’s shift up our cassette a little bit here to the other drop bar discipline and that’s gravel. When you guys are working with gravel riders, are you treated from this standpoint? Right from a fit and an aerodynamics perspective? Are you treating them just like a road rider?
Jason Williams 59:05
Well, the nice thing about our current situation is that we have access to a huge database of of retool fit data that we can draw from so we can draw insights from all of the gravel racers that we’ve worked with over the last decade and, and really honing in on where gravel athletes perform and where the differences fall between a top level gravel athlete and a top level road tarmac performance athlete and so we can pull out some differences to find where athletes perform well on gravel. There certainly are some differences. But there’s also athletes who ride an identical position on their gravel pipe that they do on the road bike. And so there’s potentially some an argument to be made there as well that if you have a position that you’ve adapted to, there’s some athletes that ride well in the same position on gravel. But other athletes really have a very optimized position for gravel specifically and at think a lot of that really depends on the style of gravel race, again, kind of that case by case scenario. So steamboat gravel is very different from Unbound, etc. So there’s there’s case by case scenarios that really could be optimized for depending on the contour of the the landscape. And of course, the the surface, right, the road surface that they’re riding on the arrow, the arrow side is huge, right? There’s a lot of exposed time out in the wind on a gravel race. And so I think acknowledging arrow is definitely important in a gravel situation.
Rob Pickels 1:00:32
Yeah, it seems gravel racing. Oftentimes, people end up as an individual, right? peloton is packs try to stay together. But you have more individuals out there who aren’t in a group as opposed to road racing, right where you’re in that group, you know, for the majority of the race. And so I can certainly see, maybe having a little bit more of that breakaway rider type of mentality, because you’re doing a lot of that work yourself could play into gravel.
Todd Carver 1:00:58
In general, on a gravel bike, if it’s a long, they’re usually longer races, so you got to factor that in. So don’t really look for speed and all the wrong places. I like slamming your handlebars down and going for a real aggressive position, you need to factor in the duration and the fatigue. And the fact you probably are going to be alone. So there will be times where you need to get into that breakaway position and be quite comfortable there. Right and then having a little higher handlebar gives you the option to relax out of that position, and really take some of that built up fatigue out of your body.
Rob Pickels 1:01:34
And that’s where the road surface matters, right on smooth tarmac, you have relatively little vibration through your body, there are no impacts you’re dealing with. And being in I think that a lot of people might fall into more of a locked out rigid position on gravel, you have to be a lot more supple, right? And then that’s another place of higher handlebars can be beneficial, because it’s your role to absorb that. This episode brought to you by the specialized
Todd Carver 1:02:01
diverge. Yeah. And to absorb that you need you need some bend in your elbows, right. If your elbows are locked out, because your handlebars are too low. You’ve lost your biggest shock you have. Right. So yeah, it’s Yeah, I think about that kind of stuff.
Trevor Connor 1:02:15
But that’s what I was gonna raise is if you’re doing let’s say, six, eight hour gravel race, you might find this really aerodynamic position that is faster, but a four hours into the race, your neck and your back are killing you. Are you going to lose all that time?
Todd Carver 1:02:29
And more, you’re going to lose everything you’ve gained, and more likely?
Rob Pickels 1:02:33
What if I’m doing a six hour gravel race and I drop out after two hours and I’m rushing home to see my family? What should I optimize? Oh, like
Todd Carver 1:02:39
the race you did last weekend? Okay. Yeah, exactly. If you just want to get halfway through a race, I’d say just go for
Rob Pickels 1:02:46
it. Then slam throw everything.
Trevor Connor 1:02:49
It’s perfect. As in your car.
Jason Williams 1:02:52
If you can have a high placing in that first checkpoint, right? Oh, man, I was cooking. But you know, the family.
Rob Pickels 1:03:00
You just need a few pictures on the front of the peloton. People think you know, there you go, you’re done.
Trevor Connor 1:03:06
Ben Delaney has become one of the top experts on gravel racing. Let’s hear his thoughts on aerodynamics versus power in this form of racing
Ben Delaney 1:03:14
era was the one thing you can tweak in real time. As far as like just getting low and hiding your power is rather fixed. Yeah, you can improve it a little bit with training. But you can improve your aerodynamics considerably both from an equipment perspective of buying deep wheels or aero helmet or just hunkering low in critical times on the bike. So that’s the that’s the one thing that I focus on, because that’s one lever you can move more.
Rob Pickels 1:03:39
And for most people, should they be focusing on equipment that’s more aerodynamic or equipment that’s more lightweight.
Ben Delaney 1:03:44
We want to have our cake and eat it too. Right? I think we’re seeing more bikes that are not dedicated aero bikes, or all rounder bikes, but I can have the latest tarmac has have arrow elements, mid depth wheels of EQ in the 50 mil range, so they’re fast but not unwieldly to handle. I think that’s the sweet spot for most of us.
Rob Pickels 1:04:02
And then what about in alternative events, as opposed to just road does arrow or weight figure into gravel or mountain bike racing the same
Ben Delaney 1:04:11
arrow for gravel for sure. Just because these events are so long, even if you’re not moving quickly, you’re out there all day and the physics still apply. You’re still moving a shape through the air for a long amount of time. So yeah, aerodynamics absolutely matters. But just being able to be comfortable, also matters. That’s the sweet spot there if finding a position that’s fast, but also sustainable
Rob Pickels 1:04:34
on the mountain bike side of things, is
Ben Delaney 1:04:35
there a place for Aero? Ignorant?
Rob Pickels 1:04:39
Ben Delaney 1:04:40
for cross country racing, we see women and men wearing aero helmets and skin suits so it can’t hurt for the short distance events.
Rob Pickels 1:04:51
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Trevor Connor 1:05:20
Well, one last discipline to talk about, and that’s mountain biking. What are the thoughts there and I’m gonna throw out I think that’s all about power and control the bike,
Todd Carver 1:05:31
you talk in lead, here’s the thing and I know you’re kind of pride teeing this up, but you got to split apart like the modern XC Oh, style racing to x c m, the marathon and things like Leadville right where it is. The courses are totally different. So I do think power is super important on most mountain bike courses, more than arrow but you look at races, like Leadville. And I’d say it’s more of a balance.
Rob Pickels 1:05:59
Yeah, I think maybe you got to look at that single track ratio, right? As single track goes up, power goes up as double track and dirt roads, like Leadville can be then arrow is important. It’s a good way to put it. I mean, I think that positionally, and I’m not saying that anybody does this. But you know, there are riders that will do Leadville and their hands will be off the handlebars and on the crown of their forks trying to get lower right. I mean, people are going to some extremes out there. Yeah. And when we talk about safety, not sure that that’s a good value proposition for you.
Jason Williams 1:06:32
But you know, the speeds you know, for an event like Leadville, the speeds are quite high at the front of the bunch. And so, you know, on an open faster Road, yeah, aerodynamics is an important piece of the puzzle in that situation. Whereas, you know, some of the the short track cross country where it’s just very technical and a lot of ups and downs, the speed is quite high, but it’s definitely a short, you know, punchy event. It’s a it’s an entirely different discipline. And then I’d even throw out the example of enduro and downhill racing that this is a mountain bike discipline where arrow is incredibly important, right? So we see a lot of our downhill gravity athletes really considering aerodynamics for performance, because they’re going fast enough that aerodynamics in a downhill enduro situation are part of the calculation,
Rob Pickels 1:07:19
I think that you’ve seen a lot of change over the years in the clothing that people are wearing. And those disciplines, right. I mean, it’s borderline skin tight at this point, you know, which I think regulation wise, they’re not able to do that. But they’re trying to get as close as possible to gain seconds there. And I know, that has nothing to do with fit. But it does emphasize the importance. Jason, like you’re saying, that arrow does matter when you’re going downhill.
Trevor Connor 1:07:45
But yeah, I think you’ve touched on something that’s really important of any discipline, when you’re talking about cross country, mountain biking, especially when there’s a lot of up and down, you see riders putting out bigger torque than any other discipline. So being in a position where you can really grind on those pedals is going to be really important. Granted, most of those times, you’re gonna be out of the saddle. So but you still need to be able to put that power out.
Rob Pickels 1:08:10
And I want to bring up here again, something that we mentioned before Todd, and that’s on the thermal side of things, especially in the mountain biking, low speeds, high powers, climbing, some of the downsides of aero equipment can become really, really apparent, especially on the helmet side of things, where on the flat ground, the Leadville is maybe that aero helmet makes a lot of sense. But when you’re doing that climb with the sun beating down on you. I’m not sure it’s the best choice there.
Todd Carver 1:08:39
Now, I would agree you’re especially on the longer races, the shorter races, hour, hour and a half, you can push it a little bit more with thermo, but as you get into the two, three hour plus durations, you really got to factor that in. Sure. And I’d say also keep in mind, there’s other ways to get air, like with your fit, right. And then you can have the best of both worlds. You can wear cool clothing, and you can be arrow. So it’s all about what we’ve learned is that about your head and your shoulder position, right? So you can get arrow other ways than slamming your handlebars down. Right. And so and then you can have good power and you won’t have the metabolic penalties and you’ll be aerodynamically faster. So there’s, I think, a lot of misconceptions there. So like for Leadville, right, you’re like okay, I need to get arrow. What most people are going to do is like put on a longer stem and pull some spacers but in that position you might be writing with your elbows locked in your head sticking straight up. And right and what you need to do is get get your forearms down in your head down, and it might mean raising your handlebars to get more arrow where vice versa on a single track climb. If you want to be efficient and powerful. You want to rotate your center of mass forward. So going with a longer stem and less spacers could be more powerful, right? More efficient. So you got to think about those sorts of things. And that’s what we think about when we’re setting positions.
Trevor Connor 1:10:13
So what I’m hearing you saying is when people talk about the sacrifice of aerodynamics versus power, really what they’re talking about is how far down you are. So your your backing angle. And what you’re saying is, there’s actually a lot of other ways to make yourself more aerodynamic, where you don’t have to sacrifice that and you might not have to lose power. Exactly.
Rob Pickels 1:10:33
Can I ask you guys, and maybe as we’re rounding out this episode, we can take a step back and look at some big picture things. When you were talking about the equation for power from the motion of a cyclist. We talked a lot about the frontal area, the size of the object, but you also slipped in there, the shape of the object matters to write a giant cube going through the air, not very arrow, you could have an airfoil, that’s twice as big as that and it’s dragged numbers are lower. Is there anything that we can do to alter our shape? Right? I’m just thinking, you know, in my very layperson, things like, Oh, if I really rotate my hips forward, my back is going to be flatter. Is that better? Or what if I posterior really rotate a little bit in my back has a little bit of an arch to it? Is that a cleaner shape? Going through the air? Is there anything big picture like that, that we can talk about?
Todd Carver 1:11:27
Yeah, I think in general, yes, for surface areas, important shapes, important. A lot of people think to get rid of surface area, you need to lower your torso. But you can also get rid of surface area by raising your torso, if you drop your head in eight centimeters, and you can narrow your shoulders 10 centimeters, because you’re more relaxed there. That’s a reduction in frontal surface area completely. And to do that, your torso is a little higher, right. And you can hold that a long time, you can hold that for three, four or five hours when you need to. So I just think you got to think about that, those sorts of things. And then in terms of the shape of the body, yeah, you’re rounding of your back. And things can also be important. But I think surface area is very key, because he can’t change the shape of your body that much. You’re still a cyclist, right, you’re still on a bike. But you can change your surface area a lot. And it’s counterintuitive as to how you want to do that.
Rob Pickels 1:12:31
One area, though, that you can change your shape, right is kind of hand position for time trials. And I think that we’ve seen a trend more towards a higher hand position, where I think initially people wanted hands as low as possible, right. And now with that higher position, you might be punching a better shape through the air, is that a Universal Recommendation? Or is it again, is just so individual,
Jason Williams 1:12:54
I would argue it’s it could still be individual, but we’ve seen a lot of trend towards or a pretty consistent trend that the higher hands usually performs better aerodynamically. So for some athletes, high hands is not a huge benefit. For others. It’s it’s significant. So I do think there is something there and the UCI sort of acknowledged that with some recent changes, right? So we were able to explore this recently because of the UCI rule changes prior to that high hand was only relegated to triathlon. So we saw athletes and triathlon having good success there. After the UCI made some rule changes that allowed for higher hands. In some cases, we saw a pretty consistent trend towards an improved aerodynamics with a high hand position. That to me seems quite clear.
Trevor Connor 1:13:41
Well, guys, it’s been a great conversation, I think it’s time to finish up the show. You’re both new to the show. So we finished out with our one minutes, which is everybody gets one minute to give what they think is the most important thing to leave our listeners with from this episode. So Jason, I see you nodding. Let’s start with you.
Jason Williams 1:14:03
Yeah, I think the big takeaway from our discussion today for me is that we see some trends where we’re athletes can find a consistent aerodynamic benefit, and maybe even a power improvement or a power savings in a certain position. But as we said, it’s it’s very individualized, and each athlete has a unique recipe for success. And so I think for us, that’s a big part of it is trying to define that recipe for an individual. So it’s it’s based on the individual but also based on the event or the discipline. So as we talked about a lot of different disciplines, and within disciplines, some subcategories, so really thinking about very specific, you know, targeted races or targeted events and tailor your, you know, both training plan and aerodynamic sort of strategy for an individual target race.
Trevor Connor 1:14:55
Todd, what are your thoughts?
Todd Carver 1:14:55
Yeah, I think I’ve kind of been saying this the whole time, but I’ll wrap up with too, if you want to start to experiment with making yourself faster on a bike, I would start high, I would start at a position you can hold in a position you can handle the bike well in and in, perform well, and then start to think of ways to optimize that. So start to think about moving into a lower position, right, you start to think about a position that will drop your head and then do some real testing in that position in the real world environments, to see if what you theoretically are thinking is going to improve your performance is actually going to improve your performance.
Rob Pickels 1:15:39
Yeah, Todd, I’m gonna take what you said in a slightly different direction. I love that you started with experiment, because I think that that’s key here. Don’t make one decision, right? And enact that and think that it’s better it might be, it probably isn’t, do some testing. And there are ways that you can test yourself, you need to be diligent, you have to control a lot of variables. It’s not an easy thing. But you can do it yourself. You can also work with experts, like you guys and many others. But you need to do experiments to find out. But you also need to take these decisions into the real world. And you need to see, can I ride like this, you need to test that not for five minutes in your garage, right. But for the for the duration, or similar of how you would have to do that event. Write it in hot weather, write it in cold weather, write it in traffic, write it in quiet streets, write it everywhere, so that you’re prepared for race day, and you’re not surprised, and you’re not ultimately in a detrimental position, because you forgot to test something. Race Day is not the day you want to find that out. So I
Trevor Connor 1:16:43
guess we’re gonna we saved the worst for last, because I don’t think anybody’s ever going to accuse me of buying speed, probably the exact opposite. But you just told us you bought speed. So that’s, that’s my one exception. But I’m gonna finish out that story, which is after that second time, I went and did a whole bunch of practice on the time trial bike, I was all excited for my third time go into the Cherry Creek time trial, and got hit by a truck on the way there and discovered that made me much, much slower.
Rob Pickels 1:17:14
But how is the bike Trevor that’s what we need to know,
Trevor Connor 1:17:17
bike is fine car is not the bike is fine. But I think the thing that I will will say which I don’t think it’s anything new over what the three of you just said, which is we started this conversation with a formula. And it’s actually a remarkably accurate and good formula. When you have somebody on a track. It’s amazing how well it can estimate what their time is going to be. But I think when you take that out into a real world scenario, where you’re dealing with different winds and how well you can hold that position and feel dynamics and everything in thermal effects, and everything else you think about, it’s not that simple. And I think it’s just a reiteration of what the three of you said, which is, you need to individualize, and you need to learn how to deal with whatever position you’re in.
Rob Pickels 1:18:04
And I will say just to close this out, it’s amazing how common of a theme I feel like we say that Trevor with every topic that we talk about, and you take something like this bike fit, fluid dynamics, everything else that should be the sciency thing that we do where there’s just such a definitive answer. And even in that situation, the answer is, it depends.
Trevor Connor 1:18:24
Which kills me. Sorry, but it is. Well, guys, thanks so much for coming on the show. It was a real pleasure having you.
Todd Carver 1:18:33
Thanks for having us.
Jason Williams 1:18:34
You bet. Glad to be here.
Rob Pickels 1:18:36
That was another episode of bass talk. Subscribe to bass talk. Wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on bass talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Tweet at us at Bass talk labs or join the conversation at forums dot fast talk labs.com Learn from our experts at fast talk labs.com Or help keep us independent by supporting us on Patreon. For Todd Carver, Jason Williams Leonard’s in Jeff Winkler heterodiegetic. Robin Carpenter, Ryan Bolton, Ben Delaney and Trevor Connor. I’m Rob pickles. Thanks for listening.