My life is full of competing desires. I want to be a good father. I want to drink wine (or beer) with dinner. I want to stay married. I need to write on a daily basis. And I love riding my bike fast. The number of hours I’d like to do each of those every week works out just fine until I factor in six hours of sleep per night. The plan actually goes to hell at four hours a night.
I’m simply not going to get as many hours to train each week as I’d like. The weeks where 18 hours on the bike and soft-pedaling a 53×19 uphill were routine are receding like a shoreline in a storm. If I get 18 hours on the bike now, it’s because I’ve taken a vacation from at least two major responsibilities, and I’m likely to pay once enough blood is flowing to my brain again for me to think straight.
With due regard for the pressures of fatherhood, marriage and career, I don’t want to stop riding my bike as fast as I’m able. I recognize that’s a bit like saying, I can get a great shot of that water buffalo once I move the lion off of it. Making a bike lighter, if you follow the math, won’t pay much in the way of dividends, and lifting weights at the gym only starts to pay off once I stop lifting, so neither of those will yield the benefits I’m looking for. However, my experience with aero equipment over the last few years has told me that I can reasonably expect to pick up at least one cog’s-worth of fitness by doubling down on aero.
Normally, my story ideas don’t require much in the way of selling someone else on my escapades. I don’t have to write queries the way I did when I was freelance, or pitch my editor on what a terrific idea I have, what with me being the editor and all. But this occasion required some help.
I placed a call to one of my contacts at Specialized. The question was, would they be willing to allow me to visit their wind tunnel for some testing guided by questions I had? When I told them just what I had in mind, they gave a ready yes. Cool.
My idea was simple: I’d pretend I worked for the cycling equivalent of a women’s magazine and we’d do a makeover, just this one would be for aerodynamics. Kidding aside, when you encounter stories about pros going into the wind tunnel, the goal is to optimize equipment choices and position for the greatest possible gains. They change their position to achieve greater aerodynamic efficiency.
Um hello? I may not be old yet, but I’m getting old, so the last thing I want to do is mess with my fit. Any changes I make to my fit are meant to optimize comfort and efficiency. What if you used the wind tunnel to figure out what you can do to be faster without making yourself uncomfortable? I’d much rather give up some time and have a position that I can pedal in for a few hours than a position that renders me ninja to the wind but I can only maintain for 45 minutes.
That no one within Specialized had considered this and no one they worked with had mentioned it shocked me. It seems such a no-brainer, but maybe this is just another example of how I always end up at the shallow end of any given bell curve.
Slicing the pie
Because I wanted something that was direct in its analysis and appeal, and also because I knew I’d have a piece of one day to do all the testing, I suggested we analyze three different setups.
Test one was simple; it was as old school a setup as one might reasonably encounter today. I would don a traditional pair of bibs, a relatively loose-fitting jersey, an old helmet and ride my steel Bishop with a Dura-Ace group and box-ish rims. The cherry on top was that for five months I’d let the hair grow on my legs.
Test two would be the low-hanging fruit. I’d shave my legs and swap out my helmet for a Specialized Evade and trade my kit for a Specialized SL Pro jersey and bibs, a pro-fit kit. This was an upgrade any cyclist could make for less than $600.
Test three would be all-in. I’d keep the kit and add a Specialized Venge plus Roval CLX 60 wheels. We did our best to accurately replicate my position on the Bishop. According to the tape measure, we were off by less than a centimeter overall, but more importantly, in video analysis, my position on the two bikes looked identical. Test three was as aero a solution for someone riding on the road (short of going with a TT bike) as we could manage without going to other suppliers or geeking out over each and every detail. The point was to back up and look at the bigger picture.