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If you want to spend thousands of dollars to swim, bike and run faster, plenty of companies have speed-boosting gadgets for you. But if finishing your next race with a PR and your bank account still intact is your goal, these proven low-cost clock-beaters are the ticket.
Backyard wind tunnel
Aerodynamic testing is the only way to find an individual’s ideal position and equipment. Wind tunnel trials are the gold standard, but they’re expensive. However, cycling scientist Allen Lim, Ph.D., discovered an alternative to wind tunnels years ago—all it takes is a flat stretch of road and a power meter.
Lim’s research found that “power meters are sensitive enough to … detect the changes in aerodynamic resistances associated with modest changes in body position,” which is precisely the goal of a wind tunnel. Meaning: You can collect data from a road test to refine your position. If you don’t own a power meter, consider borrowing or renting one.
» Step 1: Mark a flat stretch of road with consistent pavement. Lim’s testing ground was about 200m long.
» Step 2: Using a rolling start to get up to speed, ride the course at a constant speed while holding your body still. Return to the start and repeat two more trials with the same position.
» Step 3: Make a single change to either your position or equipment and repeat step 2. Record the time for each trial.
» Step 4: Average the power from each group of three trials and find the condition that required the least power. Ride it for a few weeks to find if you can sustain it comfortably.
Minimum Is In
Although biomechanists can’t all agree on the benefits or drawbacks of minimalist running technique, research conducted by Harvard University’s Evolutionary Biology department showed that hard-soled shoes improve running economy. The study, published in January, showed running in minimalist footwear improved economy over traditional shoes by about 3 percent for both forefoot and heel strikers even when accounting for differences in shoe weight.
Triathletes racing on road bikes almost always creep to the tip of the saddle when riding in the aerobars. This is because lowering the body onto aerobars constricts the hips, which interferes with key muscle groups. If you race triathlon on a road bike, get a forward-oriented seat post that moves the saddle under your body’s preferred position, mimicking the key feature of triathlon-specific geometry.
Disc wheels are the undisputed champs of aerodynamic performance, but they can be cost-prohibitive. Disc covers (sold at Wheelbuilder.com), however, cost less than some tires. Two sheets of plastic sandwiched around the rear wheel give it the same shape and aerodynamic performance of a disc. The sheets can rattle slightly and make your wheel look portly, but you now have a very fast wheel without blowing your race budget.
Suited for Speed
Aero clothing isn’t as sexy as aero wheels, but it can be worth just as much speed. “Since the rider is a major portion of the total drag, we can make a bigger impact on [an athlete’s] total effort than even the most aerodynamic wheels or frame,” says Pearl Izumi’s director of innovation, Ted Barber. Pearl Izumi makes three changes to its tri suits specifically to reduce drag. The suits are designed to fit tightly, are cut to be worn on aerobars so the fabric doesn’t bulge or wrinkle and they’re made with textured fabrics that help to shape airflow. Barber says these aero alterations save a rider wearing the company’s premier P.R.O. Tri Suit ($240, Pearlizumi.com) 15-25 watts at 30mph over its entry-level race kit. “The beauty is the materials are relatively inexpensive when compared to frames and wheels. We can achieve those gains at a level of affordability everyone can reach for.”
This article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Triathlete magazine. Subscribe to Triathlete magazine and save 51% off the cover price.