Performance Conditioning article on aerodynamics


tested wheel sets seem dated but information still holds true....tris-pokes are fast and training pays off more than spending lots of money   ;-) 




Greg Combs, U.S. Disabled & Collegiate Cycling Coach, University of Northern Colorado





Recent studies have shown that in cycling, wind resistance can comprise over 90 percent of total resistance to motion. So, various aerodynam- ic accessories and equipment have been devel- oped. At all levels of racing, aerodynamic equipment has been labeled as the major factor in winning or losing the race. Second to aerodynam- ic bikes, aerodynamic wheels are the costliest weapon in the racer’s arsenal.
Aerodynamic Wheels
As the cost of these wheels exceeds $1,000, manufactures advertise their wheels as superior. An enormous amount of information about the aerodynamic qualities of these wheels is available to the consumer. However, it can become confus- ing when determining which wheel is the fastest. Unfortunately, aerodynamic studies will continue to be a controversial topic because there is no established protocol in certifying aerodynamic wheels. Until a certifiable test is identified for cate- gorizing aerodynamic equipment and wheels, manufacturers will continue to claim their prod- uct is the fastest. As a cycling coach, I continually observe this controversy overlapping into the ranks of the developing racers.
A Racers Research
While manufacturers continue bickering about which wheels are the fastest, approximately one year ago I conducted my own aerodynamic wheel study. You may ask, “Why did I wait so long to publish my findings?” In short, I was racing as a category 1 racer, finishing my Master’s thesis and beginning my doctoral program in Sport Manage- ment at the University of Northern Colorado. During that time, I was also studying to become a USA Cycling Coach and training for the 1996 Summer Paralympics with teammate Stephen Awkward (we competed in the 120 Kilometer Tandem Road Race, 1 Kilometer Time Trial and the Match Sprint). After the USA Cycling Expert Coaching Clinic, I felt ethically compelled to share with fellow coaches and racers my aerodynamic data as well as my views regarding when aerody- namic equipment should become important.
The study focused on comparing the aerody- namics of popular wheels seen in today’s bicycle races. My research was based on many previous studies. However, I mainly relied on Dr. Chester Kyle’s wind tunnel research and Boone Lennon’s roll down test procedures. Although I want to pro- vide my cycling constituents the information I dis- covered that identified the fastest wheel, I also want to incorporate ideas on reducing the rider’s aerodynamic drag on the bicycle as well as train- ing to increase the racer’s chances of a podium finish. I feel much hype has been placed on aero- dynamic equipment and it has sidetracked many of our developing racers into thinking they need the aerodynamic advantage to be competitive.
Four popular racing wheels were tested. The study measured the aerodynamic qualities of the

standard 32-steel spoke wheel, the Specialized Tri- spoke, the Cosmic DeepDish and the Spinergy Rev- X wheel. A wattage test was conducted on each wheel at specific speeds to determine rotational drag using the Cateye CS1000 wind trainer. Second, a rolldown test was conducted to deter- mine maximum speeds for each wheel on a speci- fied course. The roll-down test was conducted to validate the results of the wattage test. The roll- down test concurred with my original findings. Therefore, the roll-down test results will not be presented.
Wattage Test Results

wheels are cheap speed. These wheels are the fastest.” However, rarely do I find anyone dis- cussing with riders the other factors of reducing aerodynamic drag (that are much cheaper than $1,000 wheels) to include training.
Spending No Dollars at First Makes
Most Sense
The most important aspect of reducing aero- dynamic drag is not owning an expensive aerody- namic bike and wheels but obtaining the optimum riding position. In Dr. Edmund Burke’s book Serious Cycling, an entire chapter is dedicated to aerodynamics. Dr. Burke explains that the rider comprises up to 70 percent of the total aerody- namic drag and the bike and wheels are only 30 percent to blame for slowing the rider’s perfor- mance. By obtaining the optimum position, the rider will have reduced profile drag by decreasing the frontal area of the rider and bike. If the rider uses the drops of the handlebars rather than hold- ing the brake-hoods, a reduction of more than 20 percent wind resistance can be obtained. Using the drops of the handlebars could mean a 3-minute reduction in a 25-mile time trial at no additional cost. The following is a list of equipment in my order of importance concerning saving time dur- ing a 25-mile time trial and estimated costs:



64G 146G 67G 148G 65G 148G 67G 149G

283G 284G 285G 285G

475G 482G 484G 486G



The wattage test illustrated the power requirements for each of the four wheels in main- taining a predetermined speed. All wheels were similar in the power required to maintain a lower speed. However, the Specialized Tri-spoke had shown that less power was needed in maintaining 50kph in comparison to the other wheels.
The rationale that the wheels did not differ- entiate in wattage at lower speeds, but indicated a significant difference at higher speeds, is due to the aerodynamic efficiency of the wheels. Noted in previous research, aerodynamic drag-force increases as the rider’s speed increases. The Specialized Tri-spoke revealed that it had the same characteristics as the other wheels at the lower speeds. In fact, there was only a 2- to 3-watt differ- ence at 20, 30 and 40kph in comparison to the other wheels, but at 50kph, the Specialized Tri- spoke was advantaged 7 to 11 watts. The wattage test demonstrated that it takes less energy to maintain higher speed with the most aerodynamic wheel. In this case, the Specialized Tri-spoke demonstrated the highest aerodynamic qualities.
Why Do You Need Aerodynamic
Before purchasing an expensive set of aero- dynamic wheels, I recommend you ask yourself the following questions:
1. Did my coach recommend aerodynamic wheels because I am competing at the elite level and every second counts?
2. Am I focusing on timed events, and is my training and aerodynamic position on the bike so refined that I am now at the point of truly needing that extra aerodynamic edge? In short, purchasing a set of aerodynamic
wheels to save a few seconds or having that extra edge over your competitors should not be a con- sideration for everyone in the peloton, especially, for developmental riders such as juniors to include category 3, 4 and 5 licensed racers. I often hear from other racers and coaches and read arti- cles that state, “having a pair of aerodynamic wheels is to everyone’s advantage. Aerodynamic

Training the aero position Aero bars
Aero clothing
Aero helmet

Spoked aero wheels
Two specialty wheels (Tri-spoke and Rear Disk) Aero bicycle frame

Time Savings Cost


up to 70% 60-120 sec. 20 sec. 25 sec. 40 sec. 70 sec.
45 sec.

$700 and up $1000 and up

$1,500 and up


Effective training is the most important aspect of bicycle racing, but it is often misunder- stood or not held in as high a regard as it should. I’m amazed by how many racers show up at the start line with the newest high-tech gizmo or con- traption attached to their bike. Or even more shameful, witness a racer digesting a faddish herb or gel from a tube. My recommendation to these racers with deep pockets is spend that money on a coach and become a better racer through sound and effective training. If you are a developing racer, find a coach that can help you with the basics in training the different physiological sys- tems. If you are unaware of a licensed coach in your area see the “More Information Please!” sec- tion at the end of this article.
Time Trial Tips Dynamics
I would like to provide the following tips to train for time trials. For time trial events, first obtain the optimum aerodynamic position for your anatomical build. In general, work on bring- ing your elbows in as close as possible using aero- dynamic bars and make getting your back flat a priority. For some riders, but not for most, obtain- ing the aerodynamic position is a natural occur-





rence. I recommend gradually making position changes and practicing riding in the aerodynamic position each week. Daily stretches focusing on the ham- string and gluteus muscles greatly assist the rider in developing a flat back, and stretching the triceps and upper back helps get those elbows in close. Stretches for tight hamstrings and gluteus muscles–I recommend lying on your back and pulling your knee(s) to your chest. Once you are able to do this, try pulling your knee to the opposing shoulder (right knee to left shoul- der). For tight shoulders and upper back, do hangs from a chin-up bar with palms facing toward you and hands together. If this is too difficult, place your hands farther apart and gradually move them inward. These stretches should be conducted daily, isolating the muscle being stretched for up to 45-60 sec- onds for three sets. Also, during recovery rides (Zone 1 & 2), spin on your bike in the time trial position to stretch out those tight muscles.
Next, I recommend setting short- and long-term goals. If you are train- ing for a specific time trial, plan early enough in the preseason to effectively prepare for that event. If you are familiar with the course try to simulate the conditions in which you will be competing. If possible, practice on the same course as early and as often as possible. Depending on your experience and fitness level, the improvements will be obtained accordingly. If you are a beginner, your time trial ability will improve immensely; it’s possible to cut minutes off your time. However, if you have been competing for a few seasons the time bonuses will not come that easy. It is vital to plan early and prepare for certain events. If the time trial course has many turns or climbs it will be to your advantage to work on quick accelerations, climbing out of the saddle and recovery.
Obtaining high levels of fitness sounds easier than it really is. To be suc- cessful at time trials you must have great fitness. A coach can help take the guesswork out of making the most in fitness gains. Every rider is different and there is no cookbook formula for training for time trials. One person may be able to train at a higher intensity level and more often than someone else. Therefore, it is advisable to have someone that is trained as a licensed coach help you make the most of your training. I recommend the following activi- ties and timelines to enhance your time trials:
Activity Aero Position Spinning
Timeline: Oct-Dec:2-3timesweekly,withagoaltoobtainoptimumtime trial position, Zone 1or 2 (low intensity) Ride 5-10 minutes in aero position two or three times per session with a short break in between. Focus on stretching muscles while in aero position, stretch tight muscles during breaks, use a wind-trainer and mirror to check your position. If possible, videotape these sessions for future reference and review with your coach. This activity should be after lifting weights.


test it. Do a time trial. Weather conditions and your fitness dictate the duration. I recommend conducting this training on a familiar route that enables you to gauge your weekly progress. If you are training for a 25-mile time trial, first try dividing the distance by one third and doing 2-3 efforts for approximately 5-8 miles, grad- ually increasing the distance. Once your efforts reach half the dis- tance of your event, I recommend doing two efforts at maximum effort. It’s advisable to work up to the 25-mile time trial distance 3 or 4 weeks before the event, then drop down to 60-75 percent of this distance the remaining weeks and train at higher intensity and speed.
The second day of the week during this phase, focus of the tech- niques of time trial starts, turn-arounds and other transitions
that occur such as accelerations through corners and climbing. These efforts should be of short duration but high intensity. The goal is to get to your race pace as fast as possible without going anaerobic. This is also the best time to test your equipment under extreme effort and develop techniques that work for you. The more confident you are in your equipment and techniques in transitions, the greater your performance will be during the event. Weight lifting should be conducted after the session focus- ing on explosive power at approximately 75 percent maximum weight at 8 to 10 repetitions. During squats or leg presses, begin steadily bending at the knees, then push with a deliberate effort.
Time Trial Racing


Time Trial Strength

Timeline: June-Sep:Twiceweekly,withagoalofmaintainingtimetrialfit- ness. During one recovery ride spin in your aero position for 10- 15 minutes with a short break andrepeat for another 10-15 min- utes to maintain flexibility and comfort (Zone 1 or 2). The other session should include efforts at Zones 4 or 5 with duration depending on the events on which you are focusing. For longer time trials consisting of 10 miles or more use the 1/3 rule times three. Do 3 intervals at 1/3 the distance with a short recovery between efforts. For shorter distances do 3-4 minute intervals at Zone 5. Ensure a longer recovery between sets. For example: Do three sets of three intervals for 3 minutes at Zone 5.Between inter- vals recover for one minute, but 5-10 minutes between each set. Weight lifting sessions should be limited to once or twice a week at minimal effort for maintenance purposes only.
As stated previously, I found that one of the wheels demonstrated a 7- to 11-watt advantage over the other wheels tested at 50 kph. Research shows that this reduction in aerodynamic drag equates to approximately a 25- to 30- second advantage, with all things considered equal during a 25-mile time trial. If you are an elite athlete and every second counts for that national title, I recommend you spend the extra $1,000. On the other hand, if you are a developing rider with room for improvement, I recommend spending your money more wisely by investing in a coach. For about $20 to $30 a month you will have a loyal adviser to assist you in becoming a more efficient, faster and clever competitor. By investing the $1,000 on a coach versus a set of aero- dynamic wheels, you can receive over three years of assistance in becoming a better competitor and have a greater chance of achieving categorical upgrades (winning time trials will not award category upgrade points.). Wouldn’t you rather evolve to the level of a professional or category 1 racer? Did you know that most elite racers receive many perks such as bikes and aerodynamic wheels from sponsors? Wouldn’t it be great to receive these perks versus spending your own money on aero-wheels for a few measly sec- onds? Invest in a coach. O
More Information Please!
For a list of references send a SASE to:
AERO, P.O. Box 6819, Lincoln, NE 68506

Or e-mail us at Be sure to visit our web site at click cycling conditioning resources, click Cycling Performance Biomechanical to find out more about aerodynam- ics.
To order Serious Cycling call 1-800-524-4972. Cost is $18.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. For coaching assistance call your U.S.C.F district rep- resentative or Mike Niederpruem, the National Director for Coaches at (719) 578-4845, ext. 9, to find the nearest coach in your area.

Timeline: Jan-Mar:Twiceweekly,withagoalofdevelopingstrength. Strength in time trial specific muscle groups, Zones 3, 4 and 5 (moderate to high intensity), 3-15 minute efforts. Longer duration (15 minutes) means less intensity (Zone 3 and lower Zone 4—lac- tate threshold). Begin the first 2-3 weeks with longer sessions, complete 2 to 3 15-minute efforts with a short recovery. After the initial weeks in this phase increase intensity by increasing speed (race pace Zone 4 or 5) or push an oversized gear (Zone 4) which is called strength endurance (SE). SE requires pedaling a gear at 50-55 RPM while focusing on pedaling form and isolating specific muscle groups. This activity should also be conducted after lift- ing weights.


Time Trial Training
Apr-May: Twice weekly, with a goal of developing warm-up proto- col for effective time trial starts as well as techniques and increased fitness level for time trials at Zones 4 and 5. Emphasize one day on time trial efforts at Zone 4. Begin the session with a structured warm-up. Try to develop a timeline and, working back- wards, plan everything that occurs at a time trial event. Many rac- ers do not know how much time they need to prepare for a time trial. It is important to know for how long and what type of warm- up you require before the day of the event. Competitors are often rushed to meet their start time. Without a proper warm-up they are stressed out and burn nervous energy before even starting the race. You can stay focused on your goals if you have an effective plan. The U.S.C.F. has warm-up protocols already established that can be an outline for you. All certified and licensed U.S.C.F. coach- es have access to these protocols. After you conduct your warm-up, 

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