Top 10 Marginal Gains to Save Watts on the Bike
Maybe you got into cycling during the recent bike boom and just signed up for your first race, or you are getting ready for your 20th season racing on the road; either way, we all are looking for ways to make our bikes go as fast as possible. We looked at some of our favorite Marginal Gains to upgrade our road bike to give you the fastest option for race day. Sticking with your current frame and wheels we take a look at how to save over 100w by making our top 10 upgrades to go faster on your road bike.
Tires/Tubes – Up to 44w
- Tires - We start with the biggest upgrade you can make on your bike. For somebody who is riding the local weekend group rides, putting in the miles with their friends, etc, a common tire choice is something like a Continental Gatorskin. These are some really great tires when your goal is to get the most miles out of the tires and reduce the chance of punctures. The same reasons these are a robust option for long days in the saddle are some of the same reasons they will slow you down on race day. Rolling resistance is one of the biggest factors in the speed of your ride. By switching from your endurance tires to one of the fastest options such as a Vittoria Corsa Speed tire, you can save 13w/tire or 26!
- Inner Tubes – Now that you have the fancy new race tires on your bike lets take a look at what goes inside of them. Swapping your standard Butyl inner tubes for Latex Inner Tubes can save another 5w/wheel or 10w for your set up. Latex Inner Tubes are the absolute best bang for your bike upgrade you can make to your road bike. They are a little lighter, roll much faster, and are typically only a couple dollars more than a standard tube.
- Tire Pressure - While we are on the topic of tubes and tires, lets take a look at the pressure rating on the sidewall. Most tires will suggest up to 120psi and that means most people will go ahead and pump them up to what their pump says is 120. The best part about this is that changing tire pressure is free. You can go to the SILCA Tire Pressure Calculator to find out what the fastest pressure is for your set up. Optimizing your pressure can save up to 8w if you are pretty far off on the optimal pressure. Accuracy is a big piece of this as going just 5psi over the optimal pressure can be 3w of loss. Most of your cheap pumps have an accuracy of about 5%. If your pump is off by 5% and you should be running 85psi, you could be off by over 4psi either direction. If you switch to the SuperPista Digital Floor Pump from SILCA, you get a pump accurate to 1% across the entire 0-220psi range. This means you are making sure that you are getting the optimal pressure in your tires.
If we take a look at your Tires/Tubes/Pressure, and optimize all of those areas, you are looking to get a massive 44w gain. This might be the best place to start if you are spending some money on your bike because you get such a big gain for not very much money.
Clothing choices – Up to 35 Watts savings
- Skinsuit - With aerodynamic drag being the number one force a rider must overcome to go faster, it is well documented that aerodynamic gains can be big. What you might not know is that 70% or more of the drag comes from your body, not the bike. With that in mind lets take a look how we can make the body faster and the best way there is to improve your clothing. The first item we need to look at is your club jersey flapping in the wind. All that flapping material might as well be a big parachute. Putting that club jersey in the closet and pulling out an ultra-fast skinsuit like the Body Paint 4.x Speed Suit from Castelli can save you 15w at just 25mph. If you are racing at 30mph that savings could double!
- Aero Socks - Maybe you were riding with some of your favorite knit socks as well. Consider keeping those for the coffee shop ride and upgrading to a pair of aero socks like SILCA’s that can save 4-8w! That’s right, aero socks. We wouldn’t have thought that either, but countless wind tunnel tests have confirmed that a good aero sock can save 4-8w.
- Aero Helmet - Now that you are looking great and riding faster with a new skinsuit and aero socks, you might be thinking you have thought of everything with that big brain of yours to go faster. Ironically one of the places that causes the most drag on the bike is that big brain. Upgrading your helmet from your standard road helmet to an aero helmet such as the Giro Vanquish MIPS, can save you another 15w.
Drivetrain – 18w
- Clean Your Bike - There is a reason you see the bikes at the Tour de France get a deep clean after every stage. As the old saying goes, a clean bike is a fast bike. Dirt, sand, water, etc can all get into your chain and not only slow you down by up to 6w after one wet ride, but it combines to act almost as liquid sandpaper. This can destroy the life of your chain, chainrings, and cassette. When you are at home, a deep clean with the hose is great and when you are on the go, check out SILCA’s gear wipes to make your chain sparkle when you don’t have access to the hose. Keep it clean so you can spend those hard-earned dollars to go faster, not just replace the things that wore out prematurely.
- Chain Lube - Once you have used some gear wipes to get that chain sparkling clean, it is time to look at your chain lube choice. This is an often-overlooked area and all chain lubes are not created equal. The best chain treatment ever tested is the Secret Chain Blend Wax. This can save 6-8 watts over some of the lower end chain lubes out there. If you aren’t up for the application process of hot wax, SILCA's Synergetic Chain Lube is the fastest oil-based option that has been tested. That can still save 4-6w over some of the other options out there. Having a clean chain and the best lubricant choice can save about 12w.
- Gear selection - This can also be a source of frictional loss. The move in recent years seems to be smaller chainrings and smaller cogs to come up with the same gear ratio’s. This makes sense when you are looking for the widest gear range possible from a 1x set up, but from an efficiency standpoint it is a hug step backwards. We seem to have decided that the 53x39 chain ring combo is not needed for us mere mortals at the local criterium and 50t or even 48t has become commonplace. When you move to smaller chainrings and cogs though, your chain has to make sharper bends around the cassette and chainrings which adds friction. It may sound like grasping at the smallest of marginal gains, but it is bigger than you likely thought. A 53x11 and 48x10 gear are more or less the same ratio of 126 gear inches. While it is the same gear, the 53x11 combination is 6w faster than its smaller 48x10 competitor. If you are looking to go faster for less energy it would be logical to have the absolute biggest chainrings and largest cassette options available to you. This also will help keep a better chain line which can improve efficiency as well! Save 6w by opting for the larger chain rings.
Handlebars – 10-14w
- Handlebar/Computer Mount - The leading edge of your bike is extremely important when it comes to aerodynamics because it is the first thing the wind touches. Cleaning up this front-end area can really make a big difference. If you are like many, your bike probably came with a standard round drop handlebar and stem clamped to it. It works great for that casual stroll with friends, but it is another great place to save watts. There are two directions to go here that are beneficial. You can upgrade to an aero handlebar like a ZIPP SL-70 Aero handlebar and save 6.5w over your standard round bar; or if you want to really go the extra mile, consider an integrated bar/stem combo like the Vision Metron 6D Bar that our friends at EF Education First Pro Cycling are currently riding. This can get you to the 10w savings over a standard round bar and stem.
Once you pick a new bar, you are certainly going to have a head unit that needs mounting. The standard out front mount from a computer company isn’t there to be the most aerodynamic option. Moving to an aero upgrade like the Mensola can give you another 3-5w gain. Upgrading your bars and mount at the front end can help you get to another 11-14w gain.
If you are the rider who sometimes forgets to clean their bike and has previously been opting for longevity over speed in some of their component choices, we outlined our top road bike upgrades to help you save over 100w for your next race. Paying attention to the little things can really go a long way along with spending a few dollars in key places to really capture the biggest marginal gains available. Tell us in the comment section below about your favorite Marginal Gains!
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