Part 4B: Rolling Resistance and Impedance

In Part 4A we covered the history of Bicycle Rolling Resistance study and discussed the concept of Impedance, a form of resistance caused directly by surface roughness.  The concept of Impedance is a relatively new and uncharted territory for cycling blogs, yet is something that each of us have a feel for.  Impedance is trying to start from a stop on cobbles, trying to ride over wash-board or a cattle grate, it is rolling full steam off of nice pavement onto a stretch of chip-n-seal and feeling your speed drop while your watts climb.  


While Crr or the coefficient of rolling resistance is inherent to the internal losses within the tire, impedance is an energy sucking force felt through your whole body.  Previously called 'Suspension Losses' or 'Transmitted Losses' this effect occurs when the tires are unable to do their job properly due to over-inflation, small size, or being ridden on unintended surfaces.

Rolling Resistance (Crr) and Casing Losses

When we typically talk about Crr or rolling resistance we are simply referring to losses within the tire.  As a tire is loaded, it will deform, and while  the air-spring in the tire is nearly 100% efficient, the casing of the tire is not.  As the casing deflects, heat is generated by the movement of the various casing materials.  This heat, is energy lost from the system.  


Historically, there were two solutions for casing losses, higher pressures to reduce casing deformation, and finer casings made from materials with greater efficiencies.  Traditional tire drum testing, the kind done by Tom Anhalt, BicycleTireRollingResistance, Al Morrison and others involve running a tire on a metal drum at various pressures.  These tests are all measuring casing losses within the tire. 

Anhalt Graph 1
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 This graph is an example from Al Morrison and Tom Anhalt of a very efficient tire tested on a steel drum.  Note that the rolling resistance decreases as the air pressure increases, this is a result of the tire deflecting less at the contact patch.  This type of data has existed for many years and is partly to blame for the 'higher pressure is faster' myth which we have all believed for so long. 


This data, however, doesn't take surface roughness or the inefficiencies of the human body on top of the bicycle into account and is therefore incomplete.

Impedance

Tom Anhalt was one of the first to take tires used in roller testing into the field to try and replicate data.  What he found was quite a shock! 

Anhalt Graph 2
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While the data matched at lower pressures, the real world data diverged somewhat dramatically from the roller data at higher pressures! 


This divergence is the result of impedance losses overwhelming the system as the tire is over-inflated.  Most interestingly, this initial test was done on 'good' asphalt, which really brings up questions about lower quality surfaces.


The new theory on Rolling Losses is that both Surface Impedance AND Casing Losses were adding together to create total rolling loss.  This concept has been inherently known for a long time as we have often discussed tires having different Crr on different surfaces, however, the new way of looking at it allows us to break the equation into 2 parts which look like this: 

Graph 3
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New concept of Theoretical (steel drum) Crr Plus Impedance = Total Rolling Loss 

graph 4
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Sum of Theoretical (steel drum) Crr and Impedance


This theory predicts that below the Breakpoint pressure the system will be dominated by Casing Losses (though still affected by impedance) and at higher pressures the system will be dominated by Impedance Losses, though still affected by Casing Losses.

The Test

In summer 2014, the SILCA team was presented with a local repaving project which completely closed 900 meters of road.  Over the course of the project, the pavement was completely scraped away and then re-paved over a month long project.  We decided to turn this opportunity into a tire pressure and Crr test using the Chung Method to determine Crr from field testing.  For this test, a rider on a Cervelo P4 in the aero position was used.  A TT position is helpful for this type of testing as it reduces the variability of the aerodynamic drag.  A TT bike also has nearly 50/50 weight distribution, so equivalent front and rear tires pressures were used.  Rider and bike total weight was 190 lbs, we used water inside water bottles to maintain equivalent total mass over the duration of the testing.


Our initial surface was a mechanically roughened by a pavement milling machine.  The roughness of the surface was an incredibly uniform 8mm peak to valley height with 1 inch peak to peak length. 

diamond plate road
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 The Milled Pavement Surface: Our test course had 900 meters of this!


We further tested on the Chip n' Seal surface over top of this, the coarse asphalt and the final asphalt shown below.  

Rough road

Closeup of the Final Asphalt Surface of our Test Road.  This Photo was taken 4 Days after Final Rolling of the Surface.  You can see up close that 'Perfect' Asphalt Actually Contains a lot of Imperfections.


Each test was run using 25mm Continental GP4000s II Tires on Zipp 404 Firecrest Wheels.  Tires had an installed width of 25.8mm at 100psi.  

RR Graph
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 Crr Vs Tire Pressure for 3 Different Surface Roughness.  The Original Tom Anhalt, Al Morrison Data is represented in Blue.


From this testing, we learned that Tom Anhalt's data was repeatable, and Impedance does in fact dominate the rolling resistance beyond the breakpoint pressure as his initial testing had shown.  We are now going back for more testing with different rider weights and tire widths, but from the 5 data runs we took on in this test (only 3 are shown to keep the graph clean) all 5 showed Impedance taking over and dominating rolling losses beyond a certain pressure.  


Most interestingly perhaps is the non-linearity of these effects.  We have added Wattage values to represent the watts lost to these combined rolling forces.  Note the chart below the relative effects of being 10psi above the 'Break-Point' versus being 10psi below the 'Break-Point'. 

Wattage loss
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Wattage Differences at +/-10 PSI of BreakPoint Pressure for 3 Surfaces 

Tire Pressure Lessons Learned

The SILCA team is now planning to expand testing to look at more pressures, more rider weights, more tire widths and alternate surfaces.  You can imagine the size of data set this could lead us to, but the results are fascinating and exciting!  One lesson learned, is that 4 day old pavement while 'smooth' in appearance has a higher roughness than you might think, but is also still 'soft' which appears to have both increased the total rolling losses, but appears to have also steepened the impedance line.  Testing completed recently on the identical road surface, now nearly 2 years old shows a marked decrease in the Crr as well as a decrease in the steepness of the curve after the breakpoint.   

RR Graph 9
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 4 Day Old vs 2 Year Old Asphalt on Same Course

Lessons Learned

While we have learned many lessons along this journey, there are clearly many more still to come!  We hope to soon be posting more information and data on this topic, but here are some key takeaways: 

RR Graph 10
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  • Tire Pressure is NOT a Maximize or Minimize Variable, but Can be Optimized for your weight, tire size and course conditions
  • Better to set your pressure a few psi below the BreakPoint Pressure than to have it a few PSI above the BreakPoint Pressure
RR Graph 11
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  • Rough and/or Soft surfaces have steeper Impedance Lines making total rolling resistance higher and Optimal Tire Pressure Lower
  • More supple tires will have less steep Crr and Impedance Curves and are more forgiving of tire pressure errors
Rolling Resistance Graph 12

Tires with More Supple Casings Have Lower Rolling Resistance Everywhere and are More Forgiving of Over/Under Pressure.  Check out our Tire Pressure Calculator for your fastest pressure.


5 comments


  • Gus

    Hi Gmorly

    It simply isn’t true what you are spewing that you would puncture at 80psi. Sure if you weigh 110kg that might be the case and then again I highly doubt it, but not for anyone of a healthy weight. I even tried going back to tubed clinchers from tubeless and I have not experienced this puncture tendency despite the older guys from the club being oh so terrified of the potholes.

    Using italians as an argument has got to be the worst argument ever as they are notoriously rigid and traditional with their equipment. You might as well get your team tactics from Movistar if that’s the logic you’re pushing.

    Rolling resistance is in fact very important going up hill, because you can’t compensate as much aerodynamically with the body or with a nice tyre profile/tread pattern like conti tyres have. The whole “I’ll just get stronger legs” argument is complete bogus. If you want to get stronger legs, train well and maybe just push harder on the pedals. All you are robbing yourself of is comfort, grip and speed. In reality you are the only pseudo scientist among us, but that’s okay… some people thrive best on their own delusions. Out here in the real world, the pros ride 80-100psi on 25mm tyres(many train on 28mm) and as low as safely possible for Paris Roubaix. If they use tubulars or clinchers with latex tubes, they will actually calculate what pressure to start at to still have decent rolling resistance for the normal asphalt and then have dropped enough pressure to go well as the cobble sectors start.


  • The Pinnacle

    Tubulars are falling out of fashion because roller test data shows that they have more rolling resistance for a given pressure compared to clinchers or tubeless. My understanding is that the reason for this is that the glue is adding additional compliance which is then converted into waste heat.
    This explanation seems square with anecdotal experience with tubulars feeling smoother. So if there is additional compliance from the glue, or maybe some other mechanism making the tubular feel ‘smoother’, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that the impedance break point of a tubular would occur at a higher pressure?
    In other words, are tubulars really slower when compared to clinchers or tubeless at each tire’s optimal pressure? Part of me suspects that the watt differences at optimal pressures are less than what an equal pressure comparison would indicate.
    Has this been tested by anyone?


  • Robert Miskines

    Great explaination of impedence in cycling.


  • Travis Verhoff

    That is certainly an interesting take on actual tests being Pseudo Science but feelings being “proven fact.” No one is forcing anybody to let air out of their tires. In pro races it is increasingly rare to see riders above 100psi. We have in-fact seen riders running much below 80psi for the cobbled races.

    While pinch flatting is a reality when running tubes, it is rarely a concern when riding at the optimal breakpoint pressure. Now with the mass adoption of tubeless in the World Tour, pinch flatting is a thing of the past.


  • GMorley

    1. I trained with Italian riders and their training method was to train at low pressure 100 psi and race at high pressure 120 psi – regardless of what the data suggests – the result in the race was that you felt like you grew wings – point being – all the test data in the world cannot replicate the reality of what the rider feels in his legs – point being – test bias is inherent in ANY biological-based study – what instrumentation is being used to measure the impedance and rolling resistance
    2. let us forget that when out riding or racing – one reason we avoid a LOW tire pressure in general is to avoid snake bites when hitting deformations in the road that pinch tube against rim – so we tend to ride higher pressures to avoid this tire collapse occurring – can we think of any rider who would prefer riding or racing with lower tires pressures to reduce rolling resistance with the cost being more tire punctures in the race or your ride ? – exactly – reality sometimes interferes when we least like it to – the entire 25mm better than 23mm argument is in my mind pseudo-science – I ride 23mm Michelin Pro Race 4 at 120psi and intend to continue to do so – if that means greater rolling resistance on the flats then great – I will get stronger legs to climb the mountains where rolling resistance has far less importance – point being – the reason we ride a bicycle is for fitness not for comfort and less demanding workouts – go do Yoga if that is what you are looking for – no Pro Team will ever ride at less than 120 psi so they can avoid punctures – unlike your test surface – the REAL roads have pot holes galore and 80 psi tires will puncture – fine if you are prepared for that outcome but never in a race
    3. to write an article with misleading arguments just so you can win over the masses who cannot understand is to ignore those in the masses that can understand – it seems a false way to present your argument – while I know this is not quite true but I want to convince you and you are too stupid to understand so I will simply stretch the truth until it breaks but as long as I convinced you I have succeeded – and anyone who dares to question this approach must be an elitist who prefers facts to be convinced – pseudo-science is just that – fake science to prove something without sufficient support – so basically what you are saying is that your supporting test data and argument are false but your conclusion is correct ? – would it not be better to argue to convince those who know better than to lie to convince those who don’t – this type of argument suggests to me that you are more concerned with framing a narrative to support your hypothesis so you can avoid the uncomfortable truth that your conclusions are wrong – bad science does not make truthful claims – give it to us straight up no chase – we can take – maybe stop treating your readers like idiots and talking down to them because those that are not idiots will see through it all and know that the real idiots are the pseudo “scientist” authors


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