With all of the media last week regarding “super bikes” and their release at the Ironman World Championships, I saw a lot of athletes talking about which bike they want and which they will get this next year. While I love the bike industry and absolutely support innovation, I feel that the marketing of these companies has misguided some athletes. I fear that many athletes want to buy free speed which in itself isn’t bad, (its actually very smart) but that they are not seeing the returns on their investment that they could be.
For the basis of this blog, the new “super bikes” range in the price point from $10-15,000. For that amount, it appears that these bikes save somewhere around 20 watts (different figures from different analysis) at 30 mph. So, is it worth it, maybe. But if you aren’t tapping into these other investments first then you are likely not getting the results you should be.
The best investment you can make in endurance sports is time. While I understand time is money and you may spend far more than $10-15,000 with your time alone, you won’t ever make improvements if you don’t put in the time that is required. So, before you go drop $10-15,000, be sure that you can at least put in the time to build the engine.
#2 Data Recording Devices
Hands down the best thing you can do outside of training time is track your training data. Before you even look at #3, you should look into a power meter or heart rate monitor to measure output. While training in the past has been done for many years without data, technology has allowed for specific training and monitoring of training loads. Getting a Power meter for a cyclist may be the best investment you can make.
#3 Hire a Coach
While I understand mentioning a coach here just looks like a sales pitch, it truly is the best thing you can do once you have the tools in place (Time committed to training and technology to properly monitor performance). To make this argument quickly, a $10-15,000 bike may save you 20 watts, but by being coached properly with power you can gain 20 watts on your FTP in roughly 30-50 days. So if you have the time, tools, and coaching plan, you can gain the same amount of watts in 30-50 days as you can buy with a $10-15,000 super bike.
#4 Look at Nutrition
If you’re willing to spend $10-15,000 on a bike, I sure hope that you’re body is where you want it to be. By having a proper diet in place, you can lower your body weight and body mass which also makes you a faster cyclist/runner. By looking at nutrition and macro-nutrients and making correct food choices, you can increase your overall performance by a large margin.
#5 Get a Bike Fit!
This probably should be higher on the list but with equipment changing along with flexibility each year, I feel that you should get fit once a year to your bike. The four investments above should remain constant. The single largest thing you can do for immediate speed is to reduce your CDA (drag). The biggest factor of CDA is the human body on top of the bike. Therefore, the more aero you can become the faster your speeds will be at the same watts. And no, this isn’t a normal fit done in 20 minutes to make you feel comfortable, this is a performance fit intended for maximum speed. While its important to be comfortable on the bike, you also don’t want to be a wind block. Many athletes have poor fits for performance and while they will argue all day that they would rather be comfortable, you can train your body to adapt to positions and be comfortable, it all comes back to Investment #1 (TIME).
#6 Enhance Your Own Bike
You’d be surprised at how fast you can become on your bike right now if you have a performance bike fit, time to train in it, and enhance your bike. The quickest thing to do for most bikes that makes a large difference is to reduce cables showing on your bike which can be done through a new front end system (bars, brakes, cable routing). This in total may cost you some money to get the fastest set up, but it will save you quite a bit of time for a fraction of the cost of the new bikes. I would put this above wheels/tires as its the leading edge of your bike and the cleaner it is, the less drag you will produce.
There is a reason why this is #7 and not #8. Because regardless of how fast your wheel set is, if you’re running them with slow tires then you’ll be slow. You can take a slow set of wheels and make them much faster by improving the tires and tube choices. Just as cyclists are aware of aerodynamics, there is also a big contributor to speed called rolling resistance. The best way to reduce rolling resistance is to have the proper tires on, proper tubes in the tires, and proper PSI in the tires. Just for a general recommendation (but not the overall fastest set-up), try riding on Continental 4000S tires with Latex Tubes at your desired PSI, you’ll gain some easy speed if you’ve been using hardshell tires or cheap tires that often come standard on a bike.
These are flashy, no doubt. They look nice and complete the bike. If you are buying wheels before you go about the other investments then you will make some initial improvements, but you won’t get that much faster overall. Not much else to say here as they do make a difference, but I feel that they are probably the 8th Investment you should make for overall success.
#9 Location of Accessories
Did you know that putting a bottle on the seat post vs down tube is actually slower. How about having a bottle between your aerobars on a tri/TT bike can help reduce CDA. How about where you place your garmin on your bike matters? If you are willing to spend the money on a new bike, please don’t give away 20 watts due to poor placement of accessories. Think about that, you could get a new $10-15,000 bike and make it slower than your old one by poor attention to detail.
#10 Race Selection
Often times as amateurs we want to go do a bunch of races and don’t take the time to analyze our strengths and weaknesses. This comes back to #3. Don’t go buy a super bike and neglect race selection. You may actually get slower compared to your competition if you select a race that doesn’t suit your strengths as an athlete. While this is more of a tactical investment, it is a huge part of performance that is often neglected. Pick the races that allow you to utilize your skills as a cyclist/triathlete and enjoy the work you’ve done with the bike!
While the bike industry is a great thing and there are fantastic innovations coming out, you also need to be aware of the major improvements you can make that don’t carry a huge price tag. Don’t get me wrong, a super bike will help you as an athlete and it could be the difference between winning an event and coming in 2nd. However, If you aren’t paying close attention to the 10 Investments above, then you aren’t maximizing your current set-up and no amount of money spent on carbon is going to get you to the level that you could reach. So, before you go out and make a huge purchase, ensure that you are maximizing what you have.