AERO TOYS: How to Be Faster without Training ;)

Here are some Ways to get Faster:

A.  Train, work really hard and increase your fitness!  Build that engine.
B.  Train your brain and increase mental toughness to make use of A.
C.  Get lighter by losing weight so you  have less to lug around.  (This involves reducing chocolate intake which I do not enjoy)
D. Buy FUN Triathlon Toys!  Lets focus on the TOYS as that is the most fun!  : )

Recently I put my aero helmets up for sale and have been told by a few semi interested shoppers that they are saving up for race wheels instead.  Now, this makes no sense to me.  An aero helmet is far more bang for the buck, costs a lot less and depending on the conditions and a number of factors gives you just as much time savings as race wheels, at far less cost.   I thought this was common triathlete knowledge.  Turns out, it is not.

Mark Cote from MIT in Bicycling Magazine’s “Revenge of the Nerds” he comments, “Most people don't realize that a nonaero helmet creates four times the drag of a nonaero wheelset. So you can spend two thousand dollars on a wheelset, or spend two hundred on a helmet and be faster”… “And wearing gloves in a time trial will slow you down more than using a nonaero front wheel.”-

I’ve taken a 2nd interest in aerodynamic TOYS and what we are doing when we “buy speed” as triathletes.  I am not in the business of tri.  I have no sponsors.  I do however have an insatiable curiosity and a ton of great friends who ARE experts in triathlon so I’ve learned a lot along the way and continue to do so.  Here’s my attempt to summarize what I’ve picked up and compile it all in one place!  Feel free to debate and play with this!

When we buy these fancy aero toys, that are making us faster, we are not only spending our money on cool shiny objects that have the potential to make our training partners drown in puddles of their own drool… we are also buying ways to save watts. 

What is a watt?  Basically, it takes power to move your bike forward… and a watt is a measurement of that power.  It takes a lot of power to move your bike and body through the air and the faster you go, the more that air will resist your efforts to move through it.  This force is called drag and to be aerodynamic means you are a fierce, wind cheating force slipping through the air triathlon style to defeat the dreaded DRAG.  Being “SOOO AERO” lets you use less energy to hold a certain pace.  Triathletes want to be “aerodynamic”.   Anything that is not aero is a total drag.   The easier it is for you to slice through the wind and conquer that aerodynamic “drag”, the faster you can go.  The idea is to train that engine so its all reved and ready, get your mind sharp, and then get super aero so you can really fly!

Some people might just want to buy a pair of Zipp carbon fiber wheels and a tri bike that is top of the line… because they want to show off, need a new FB profile picture and they see it as art and/or they think they look cool.  Maybe they think they won’t have to train if they just buy Zipp carbon firecrest deep dish or disc race wheels.  If that is your idea of a tri dollar well spent, you and I will not get along.  I will make fun of you and you will hate my aero helmet. 

Here is what you should buy to get faster.  In THIS ORDER.  If you ignore me, I will not like it and I will scold you, but we can still be friends.  

1.  Professional Bike Fit with aero bars.   Your bike needs to fit you.  Do NOT buy a bike that some yahoo tells you to “stand over” to test fit.  You need a bike that is dialed in just right.  They will try to find the balance between comfort, power and AERODYNAMICS.  They are often total bike geeks and will talk a lot about hip angles, and efficiency and throw out terms like stack and reach.  The fast watt saving result is worth having to learn all about that stuff while being measured and gawked at while you ride on an indoor bike trainer and get a perfect fit.  Aero bars reduce mega drag only if you ride the aero bars.  Just having aerobars doesn’t help…you need to be able to use them!
Passing others in your road bike and not having aero bars is cool… sure…until you get aerobars and pass MANY MORE others!  Bike fitting yourself to save money sounds like a good idea … until you are injured from a bad bike fit and can’t ride and have to pay co pays for MRIs and physical thereapy.   At best, you fit yourself and then you are just squandering the ability to take advantage of your aero equipment because your bike fit isn’t a good balance of aerodynamics and power.

2.  Clothes: Don’t be that guy with cotton t-shirts puffing out like a cobra in the back while cruising around in zipp wheels riding the hoods.  That is ridiculous.  I do not understand how this happens, but there is always that guy.

3.  A SEXY Aero Helmet:  Sperm helmet, alien helmet… whatever you want to call it… it can make you faster and faster is sexy tri world.  You want to finish as fast as you can, no matter your pace or ability- just admit it.  If you didn’t want to see how FAST you can finish, you wouldn’t be signing up for a RACE. 

Not everyone thinks aero helmets are sexy. I will admit… it took me a full year after my race car driver, aerodynamics and speed obsessed husband bought me an aero helmet, to actually wear it to a race! I didn’t think I was fast enough.  He said, “That is exactly WHY you need to wear it!”  I didn’t listen to him until my triathlon friend said she was going to take it from me and beat me while wearing my own helmet.  Then I wore it and  I definitely PR’ed on the bike that first time out with the weird helmet.  A little bit of a wind cheating advantage combined with the fear of being passed by a mountain biker while I wore such a fancy/fast person alien hat really took me a long way.. faster! 

The newer “short tailed” aero helmets like the GIro Selector Pro, Louis Garneau Vorticce, Kask Bambino and Rudy Project Wing Span also look kind of cool, and less creepy than the long tail helmets in my opinion and probably work best with a much broader spectrum of rider positions and styles.  If you have what I’ve heard referred to a “fidgety head” you don’t have to worry as much about a tail sticking up in the air messing up the aero-awesomeness.  

Train hard and Pass me with your "I'm too cool for this" regular helmet which I’ve read has like 400% increase in DRAG (making you slower) than any aero helmet and laugh all you want, but KNOW in your heart that you would probably be passing me FASTER if you had an aero helmet.   I happen to be selling the Giro Selector Pro and Louis Garneau Vorticce REAL great deal- very new and in their original packaging if you want to try (shameless plug). 

4.  Race Wheels.  I am researching these now so I’ll blog about them later but they are expensive!  They are the most expensive per watt savings, so I think buying these first is a mistake.  I used to own HED3s when I rode 650s.  I sold them to a friend (so I could buy a new road bike).  Said fried PR’ed by leaps and bounds her first time out in those wheels.  They did work… but she ALSO had a great bike and fit in the aero position, an aero helmet…a great engine AND a ton of mental fortitude before she added the  sexy 3 spoked toys to her race arsenal.

Bike Radar Article gives you some great perspective on the COST of the watts.  Here is the chart I thought summed it up well:

$/watts saved at 40km/h
Clip-on bars
Aero helmet
Time trial bike
Aero wheels
This article is even more detailed and helpful than the bike radar chart above and more helpful than my entire blog post:

Here are some other articles to check out: