In search of “free speed”
“Free speed” is something we all would like more of in our riding. Learning tricks to make your bike faster without spending a lot of money is not as hard as it sounds. While some of these methods are not completely free, they are very affordable and will let you ride faster than before without any changes to your fitness.
Start with these tips to make your bike faster with minimal effort and cost
1. A clean bike is a happy bike
Washing your bike not only keeps it looks great and running smooth. It also gives you the best look into how parts are wearing and makes it easier to inspect for damage. You would be surprised at how well dirt can hide damage such as frame cracks and cracking cable housing, especially if you have a mountain bike that routes your cable housing exposed below the bottom bracket.
Thankfully cleaning your bike is extremely easy and can be done with basic tools you have around the house.
We always start with degreasing the drivetrain as that is often the nastiest part of your bike and we don’t want grease from the drivetrain going all over a freshly cleaned frame. For this, we love Pedro’s Degreaser 13 but any decent degreaser will do.
After the drivetrain is clean, we move onto washing the wheels followed by the frame. For this we actually love Dawn dish soap and it is widely used by pro mechanics around the globe but if you prefer bike specific products, you can check out Muc-Off’s Nano Cleaner, it also works great with the only downside being that it costs more. Just make sure to give everything a good scrub with whatever brushes and sponges you find around the house and rinse it all off. Bike washing doesn’t need to be terribly complicated although there are some tricks to speed up the process. You can see how we do it in a Youtube video we made a while back.
*pro-tip, drywall sponges double as GREAT bike washing sponges. We like to have one for the drivetrain and a second “clean” one for the rest of the bike.
2. Treat your chain to a spa day
Lubricating your chain can save up to 3+ watts of friction in your drivetrain. It may not be the difference between cat 3 and cat 2 but it could be the difference in a close finish line sprint. For those who love some science behind their bike purchases, Friction Facts and Velonews did a very detailed Chain Lube Efficiency Test to see which chain lubes provided the least amount of friction in your chain.
If you don’t want to read the report, the top options were waxing your chain in paraffin with products like Molten Speed Wax or if you prefer a drip lube, Rock n Roll Gold tested fantastic. Later they added Ceramic Speeds UFO lube as the top lube but that came after Ceramic Speed bought Friction Facts so while it may be accurate, there is definitely some bias.
Track cyclists take note, waxing your chain in paraffin has the added benefit of making gear changes much cleaner in the infield.
3. Save rolling resistance by upgrading and maintaining your tires
Tires have a HUGE impact in rolling resistance. You can save over 20 watts of rolling resistance just by choosing the correct tire for your riding style.
Generally speaking, the faster your tire is the quicker it will wear and it will be more prone to punctures so be sure to factor that into your tire decision.
If you don’t want to spring for new tires, you can save 2-3 watts of rolling resistance simply by switching to a latex tube from a butyl tube. Just know that latex tubes will lose air much quicker than a standard butyl tube so we recommend pumping up your tires as close to your race start that is practical to minimize any changes there. Actually, we recommend that regardless of tube choice to save last minute surprises.
I am sure many of you are wondering if you should ride tubes, tubeless or tubular. They all have their own merits and the answer will largely come down to “it depends” so we will likely tackle that in its own article. For now I will leave you with I fully believe tubulars are not relevant for the majority of riders unless you are racing track or cyclocross. They do have the advantage of being much safer if you flat in a pack of riders but that is usually not worth the hassle for most riders.
4. Loose fitting clothing only acts as a parachute
Making sure you show up to the start line in properly fitting clothing can save you as much as 80 seconds over a 40km race!? That can be the difference between the podium and a mid pack finish.
That is not even getting into the nuances of highly technical fabrics, it is really just looking at a loose fitting jersey vs a tight fitting jersey.
5. Shave those legs
I am still amused that someone paid the money to test hairy legs vs shaved legs in a wind tunnel but according to the Specialized “win tunnel”, shaving your legs can shave as much as 80 seconds over 40 km.
Safe to say, a can of shaving cream and a razor is a whole lot cheaper than that new aero frame you have been eying.
6. Learn how to ride in a paceline efficiently
Cycling is a sport where the strongest rider often doesn’t actually win the race. To win against strong competition, you have to have both fitness and know how to maximize your efficiency and not burn all your matches too soon.
GCN has a great video teaching some skills to do this well but the best teacher is definitely experience. Try to find a fast group ride in your area or line up to as many races as you can to get the experience needed to make the most of your fitness.
7. Tune up your bike to save watts
Gritty bearings and worn out components can definitely be costing you watts. Bring your bike in for a tune up to make sure you are not wasting energy while riding.
If you prefer to work on your own equipment, commonly overlooked items are worn out hub and bottom bracket bearings along with making sure your hub bearings are still well greased and running smooth.
8. Get a bike fit
Your riding position makes up roughly 70% of the total drag while riding. Making sure your fit is dialed will absolutely give the biggest speed improvements in your cycling.
A great fit person can do wonders for not only efficiency but also your comfort and control when on the bike. We are a bit biased here, but we believe Robert Mayfield is the best bike fitter in Colorado Springs.
9. Upgrade your bike to race wheels
Ok, this one is far from free but after all, we do specialize in custom wheel builds and are not above shameless self promotion.
To be fair though, your wheels are roughly 10-15 % of the total drag between bike and body while riding, far more than your frame which is only around 3% total drag so they are worth considering if you have some extra money to spend.
Generally speaking, deeper section wheels where the tire and rim width are a close match tend to be the most aerodynamic and shallower wheels tend to have more drag. There are tradeoffs though.
Deeper section wheels are more prone to instability in cross winds, especially with lighter or inexperienced riders and they do tend to weight a bit more. If you are mostly doing flat TT’s without a lot of crosswinds, they are usually more than worth it. If you tend to do more climbing or want a better set of all around wheels, we would recommend looking at rim depths between 45-60mm