How do I go faster on my bike without going bankrupt?
How do I go faster on a bike? An age-old question ever since the creation of our beloved two-wheeled companion. Moving from a ‘push bike’ to a crank and chain, and then on to gears was a dramatic technological shift. Nowadays, such fundamental mechanical overhauls are more limited. Yet riders are forever seeking simple solutions to their velocity woes. Unfortunately, the most effective, healthiest and cost-efficient option stares us all in the face.
Get fitter, eat better, drink fewer beers. Fitness goes up, weight goes down, power: weight gets better. Simple really. Put any one of the Pro Tour riders on a heavy road bike from Gumtree, they’d most likely still dominate your Sunday club run. But we can’t all be tour riders toeing the ambiguous and murky dividing line between right and wrong.
Second best, throw money at a problem. If you’re going to do this, you might as well make sure you’re getting the best value in terms of time saved vs cost. Below we’ve listed several drag-reducing options and what they cost. For this we’ve re-used the study conducted by Aero Sports Research in 2010. They used the constant comparison of a rider able to do a 40km time trial in 48 minutes (towards the top end of the UK time trial circuit). It goes without saying that the various items tested in 2010 will have evolved and improved since then. But the principle remains.
Below is a summary table of the drag-reducing options tested with each one explored in more detail below:
In David Millar’s excellent autobiography, he discusses his constant struggle to find a speed suit that was up to scratch, his team often ignoring his requests. Nowadays, you can buy them very easily and relatively cheaply from a range of suppliers. If you haven’t first attempted option 1 of get fit and lose some fat, this particular garment may not be your most flattering look. But you may be able to overlook that in light of the near 2 minute saving donning this elastic playsuit gives you. Admittedly this particular test used the Nike Swift Suit which you can’t actually buy. However, we feel options such as this would give you a similar effect whilst bombing along a damp A-road early on a Sunday morning.
The must-have for any entry-level triathlete or time-trialist. A simple clip on pair of forward pointing arm rests converts any rider from a moving wall to a marginally more aerodynamic moving wall. For as a little as £40-50 you can purchase some very comfortable and lightweight options such as these. You’ll need to tweak your saddle height and position to compensate for this change. Try moving it up and forward, allowing your shoulders to be above the elbows and hips almost above the front cogs.
Helmets: the most divisive item of clothing in the cycling world. Chris Boardman actively opposes compulsory helmet usage, in favour of improvements in cycling infrastructure. I for one advocate them, especially after I only split the helmet when I came off last month and not my skull. Regardless, this point is moot; helmets are compulsory for any event you may want to participate in. In which case, you might as well get the best looking one, that also saves you time.
Most normal helmets favour weight and ventilation over aerodynamics. In the case of a flat time-trial (or winter riding), a marginally heavier helmet with fewer holes will save you time. Just over a minute in fact. They’re not cheap however. And may make you the subject of a few unwarranted races on your commute. There are more cost effective options available too: certain manufacturers offer stretchy covers to reduce the drag so worth considering these as well.
Access to a wind tunnel was once reserved for Formula 1 cars, the military and well-funded sports teams. Nowadays, any cyclist can pay and get their bike fitted correctly then adjusted in a wind tunnel for optimum aerodynamics. The concept of this is quite appealing, but the price tag is not. And unless you’re confident of holding a specific position for an extended period of time, any benefit could be lost. The principle is a good one though: make sure the bike is correctly fitted to you, positioning yourself in a way that offers as little frontal resistance as possible.
The wheelset is typically the first upgrade any cyclist makes to their off-the-shelf bike. And with good reason. Retailers and manufacturers will often include lower grade wheels in the package to bring the price down. After a year, the hubs have worn, you’ve noticed they’re quite heavy, the rolling resistance is getting worse and they aren’t that aero. You don’t have to spend thousands on better wheelset by any means. But if you’re looking for some TT gains, spokes, rims and hubs need to be taken into account.
For the purpose of this test, a 10 degree yaw was used. Yaw is where ‘meteorological’ wind combines with the wind you generate against yourself simply by cycling. The overall resistance is known as yaw. In simple terms, if you ride at 40kmph, with a cross-head wind of 10 mph hitting you at 45 degrees, the yaw is 8.5. (If you find this in anyway interesting, there is a great article here that goes into much more depth on the principles of yaw and its effects). This is why simpler spokes were chosen, as they’re less affected by cross winds.
Science aside, spending money on a fancy front wheel will save you a good amount of time. But they’re not cheap.
Whilst riding, your feet move the most of all of your body parts. So you might as well make them as smooth as possible. As it stands, they’re most likely covered with ridges, clips and laces. Good news readers: what can only be described as cycling marigolds can save you 30 seconds, keep you warm and even make you more visible to other road users. What’s not to like? Oh, did I mention they’re dirt cheap?!
This tested wheels in a controlled environment: representing either a windless day or direct headwind (hence the 0 degrees yaw). Because of this, wider and fewer spokes were used as they wouldn’t be affected by cross winds. Clearly this must be taken with a pinch of salt. But it gives you an idea of what difference those fancy wheels on the bloke you saw the other day actually make. The answer, not much, other than a considerable hit on the bank balance and the risk of the inevitable quizzing from your partner: ‘how much?!’. ‘Don’t worry, they were on sale…’
With no cross wind, why not remove a few spokes and get a solid carbon front wheel. Pros: they look great, and make a fun sound. Cons: they only really like smooth surfaces, cost a bomb and are a nightmare to repair. The choice is yours. You may have exhausted all options above and want the next upgrade to be form over function, in which case, fire away.
Last and by no means least, the coveted aero frame. Every other bike on the road these days seems to be aero in some degree or another. But none seem consistently quicker than your average road bike. This test seems to confirm that. They do look pretty jazzy, and often come with better components, but the aerodynamic benefit of a more angular frame appears minimal. As mentioned before, the technology in this department will have improved since this test was first carried out. Nonetheless, this option seems an expensive way to gain a few seconds.
The outright winners here are the speed suit, clip on aerobars and shoe covers.
If you’re in need of speed, these should be your first port of call. But if money is no object there clearly are other gains to be had out there. Before splashing out on a new wheelset though, it might be worth double checking that power to weight!
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6 Essential Pieces of Kit for Early Autumn Cycling
After the ease of a summer cycling outfit – bib shorts, jersey and you’re ready to hit the road – dressing for autumn can be a lot trickier. Autumn cycling is only predictable by its unpredictability; leave the house in sunshine yet return in rain. As early autumn rolls around, the most important thing to focus on for your cycling gear is flexibility with kit that that can be layered up or removed through the changeable weather.
Here are my top six items of cycling gear I’d recommend for early autumn cycling.
1. Full back gloves
In the summer I ride in gloves with as much ventilation as possible to keep my hands cool (and for the awesome tan lines), like these Lizards Skin SAL 1.0. These are a bit nippy for early Autumn but I’m not moving onto full fingers gloves just yet, so step in, my Endura Aerogel mitts. These are a bit thicker and have no ventilation on the back so are much better for when the weather decides to turn. Having multiple pairs of gloves is a luxury as I easily could survive with just one or other as I did when I first started cycling. Invest in one good pair and build your wardrobe as your budget allows.
2. Arm warmers
You’ll find arm warmers on every one of these Autumn cycling kit round up style posts. Why? They’re just so useful! Roll up your short sleeve jersey, put these on and roll your sleeve back down over the top and suddenly you have a brand new element to your jersey. At this time of year it’s amazing how quickly the wind can change or the sun disappear even if it felt warm enough at first, so these are worth rolling up and stuffing into a back pocket. Arm warmers provide the aforementioned flexibility we’re after here and save you investing in a long sleeve jersey. I like the Mid Zero by Sugoi as the fleece liner keeps the wind out really nicely.
3. Base layer
A decent base layer will help to keep your torso warm and also prevent any cold weather related chafing (we’ve all been there). I normally wear mine under my bib short straps to stop the rubbing. With this bit of kit you need to make the call early, as it’s not as easy to remove mid-ride as something like the arm warmers. For me, the 12 Celsius mark is when I put on a base layer, though I also tend to use one if the wind is up. Use your weather apps (or go low-tech and just step outside!) but remember you’ll warm up a lot on the bike, so it might take a bit of trial and error to decide. My favourites are by Under Armour, though the cheap Craft ones from Aldi are pretty decent too. I am also currently experimenting with a bamboo T from GRN sportswear who are an ethical sportswear company, which is why I’m happy to pay the higher price to support their values.
4. Shower coat
No need for a Gore Tex, a basic shower coat will do you fine if the weather turns. Generally classed as wind breakers, shower coats are a multipurpose item that do a great job in the wind, a half decent job in the rain and often pack down to a size not much bigger than an orange. So, definitely a worthwhile item to shove into a back pocket. You can find a great round up from Road.cc.
Cycling caps are perfect for this time of year for two reasons.Firstly, they add some much needed warmth. A fair bit of heat escapes through your head and whilst caps are generally made of cotton they are better than wearing nothing at all. We’re not quite at fleece beanie temperatures yet, so until then a cap will suffice.
Secondly, the sun has started to get much lower in the sky now, so you’ll find glare becoming a real problem at certain times of the day. Sunglasses do part of the job (though ironically they may be too dark to see everything else) but the peak of a cycling cap is the perfect way to keep the sun at bay. As with most of the kit in this article, caps pack down nice and small so are ideal for shoving in your back pocket when you’re not wearing them.
It’s not just yourself you need to deck out for the changing seasons, and as the nights draw in you definitely want to have a strong set of lights on your bike. Even in daylight, however, all it takes is a stiff breeze to bring in some dark cloud and before you know it you’re surrounded by gloom. It can also be really hard to pick out a cyclist in the early evening when the sun has dropped low in the sky. A set of lights are certainly not going to overpower the sun, but they help, especially if they’re flashing. There are loads out there but I tend to strap a small one to the back of my helmet and then have a full set for the front and back of the bike itself. I like the Lezyne strip lights as they sit well on the saddle post with a Micro Drive on the front, which has more than enough power for both cycling in the dark and making myself seen in the glare.
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The (Somewhat) Definitive Guide to Mountain Biking Disciplines
XC. Trail. All Mountain. Downhill. Enduro. Freeriding. Mountain biking has evolved into many different disciplines, each using its own kit, design and terrain. It can seem complicated at first, but don’t fret – this handy guide breaks down what each version is all about.
CROSS COUNTRY (XC)
For those who like a mix of thrill and adventure, cross country is where you’ll find it. It’s the most common form of mountain biking, involving off-roading through a variety of terrain. Trails incorporate long climbs and flowing descents, and sometimes you’ll come across more technical features like rock gardens. In the same run, you can move from open fields and paved parks to rough forest roads and snaking singletracks. But wherever XC takes you, you’ll need the endurance to survive extended sessions in the saddle.
The discipline is more challenging when it gets competitive. Cross country racing is the only form of mountain biking in the Olympics. At these levels, swift riding and smooth handling are crucial, so XC bikes are the lightest, nimblest bikes on the trail. For starters, you may want to pick up a hardtail and then progress to a full suspension bike.
Trail riding is XC’s more aggressive cousin. Although the two mountain biking disciplines are similar, this style focuses on rugged singletracks. Like cross country, trail riding covers a range of terrain, but it can present bigger obstacles. When hitting the ol’ dusty trail, expect a challenging mix of climbing, descending and technical features.
As for the ride, these bikes sport strong wheels and tyres to take extra punishment. Ultra responsive breaks and wider handlebars give you control at short notice. If you have to choose, full suspension provides more comfort, but a hardtail will be more efficient at climbing.
ALL MOUNTAIN (AM)
100% pure mountain riding – this discipline entails overcoming extreme natural obstacles. AM trails get the adrenaline pumping with big jumps, daring drops and other challenges you’d expect from a mountain.
And that means you’ll need a bike that can handle mountain-sized demands. A hardtail with a generous amount of travel (at least 6 inches) is a safe bet. We also recommend a lightweight frame, sturdy wheels and puncture-proof tyres to roll over any hurdle that comes your way. When going all mountain, extra armour is advised, including a more protective helmet, knee pads and elbow pads.
In downhill mountain biking, gravity reigns supreme. Riders will walk or drive up a trail or catch a ride to the top on a lift system. Then there’s only one way to go. Unlike cross country trails that involve winding paths, downhill trails are designed to plummet riders straight down the mountain as fast as possible. The goal here is blazing speed, and you’ll need lots of it when committing to steep descents, massive gaps and huge jumps.
Downhill bikes are built burly with chunkier tyres for extra grip and control. They feature full suspension setups with 7–9 inches of travel to glide over gnarly rocks and tree roots, along with fewer gears for added clearance. Before you drop in, you’d be wise to wear a full-face helmet, eye goggles, body plates and additional protection.
Of all the mountain biking disciplines, enduro is the most multifaceted, blending the physical endurance of XC, the steel nerves of downhill and the power to climb. And it all revolves around racing. In most events, there are 3–6 timed stages of combined climbing and descending, but some, like Ard Rock in Yorkshire, have even more. Neutral transfer stages must be completed within a time limit but are not part of accumulated time. Each race has its own rules and requires different skills, which always makes enduro a fun and inspiring mountain biking discipline.
In any case, enduro bikes can handle the most challenging range of terrain. They’re usually full suspension and have long travel, allowing you to take bumps and jumps with confidence. Always wear a helmet with deep coverage and goggles, especially when racing or hitting high-speeds on Alpine descents.
Freeriding is fast becoming one of the most popular mountain biking disciplines. It’s closely related to downhill but highlights technical trail features and the art of tricks. Different types of trails emphasise challenging natural areas dotted with dirt jumps, ramps, ladders and beams.
As the name suggests, freeriding doesn’t have too many rules. It’s all about creativity, and riders show off different skills to flow from one obstacle to the next. Modern freeride bikes are like downhill bikes but are lighter and have slightly less suspension. The added stability alllows them to be ridden over technical sections with ease. Most have shorter wheelbases and other geometry tweaks to help you manoeuvre and perform stylish stunts.
There’s much more to MTB than that, but we’ve covered a fair bit. Agree with our guide? Disagree? Either way, let us know how you like to ride.
And if you’re up for an adventure, check out our picks of the best mountain bike holiday destinations in Europe.
Dont forget, with mountain biking, sometimes thrills come with spills. Our mountain bike policies offer coverage for accidental damage, even if it’s from a crash, and theft from vehicles.
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Cycling commuter kit list
A few years ago I spent a year living in Strasbourg, France and was completely spoilt by the cycling culture there. The city boasts over 560km of cycle paths which form the largest cycle network in France. It’s no surprise that everyone from toddlers attending the local nursery to the office workers in heels with smart briefcases would travel by bike. I can count on one hand the number of people I ever saw wearing a helmet and/or hi-vis. My hassle free rental bike – which came equipped with dynamo lights and a sturdy lock – cost me just €40 for the year.
Having come from this frankly idyllic set up, the prospect of cycling on UK roads was daunting to say the least. However, I’ve been commuting by bike 2 or 3 days a week for a year and it’s been one of the best changes I’ve made. Inspired by Love to Ride’s Ride to Work Week next week (25th – 31st March), I’ve compiled my ‘beginners-on-a-budget’ commuter kit check list.
With the days getting longer and warmer, now is the perfect time of year to commute by bike so I hope this encourages you to do the same.
Cycle to Work schemes are a great option here, allowing you to start cycling straight away without any upfront costs. The payment is taken from your monthly salary (and you’ll save money in the long run, too) You can now get e-bikes on the scheme, so don’t worry if your commute is a hilly one.
For help choosing a bike, Road cc’s guide is a good place to start: the BTwin Hybrid Triban 520 won their Cycle to work scheme bike of the year (2018/2019).
As much as this is a budget list, lights are not something you want to scrimp on. It’s as important for you to be able to see well as it is to be seen. It’s also a legal requirement to have your lights on after dusk. Look for lights that you can recharge via USB; you can just plug it in at your desk and won’t be left stranded for the journey home. My main light is this Cateye Volt 800 that lights the road up nicely.
Lights can be, broadly speaking, split into two categories: ‘be seen’ or ‘to see’. In urban areas, with street and ambient light, 400 volts is more than enough to be seen. Anything more and you run the risk of blinding other road users. If you need lights to illuminate your commute on unlit roads like me, you may need more (800+ volts). Just make sure they’re angled downwards so as not temporarily blind the oncoming drivers!
To make sure you’re never unexpectedly unlit, it’s definitely also worth having a backup set, which for me is this little pair from Cycle Republic.
I dislike a soggy bottom just as much as Mary Berry. Full mud guards like these – or even a plastic folding ass saver – will keep off the worst of the splatter from the road.
If you choose to wear a helmet, it needs to be comfortable and fit you correctly to have any benefit. The Bontrager Starvos MIPS was highly rated by Cycling Weekly for an entry level purchase. Just like your lights, this and other accessories can be bought on the Cycle to Work scheme.
Rucksack / panniers
This Ridge rucksack cover is only a tenner, so there’s no need to splash out on a whole new bag if you don’t want to. It’s kept my leather rucksack clean and dry for the office even in the worst weather. I find it easier to use a rucksack than panniers as I like to pack just about everything bar the kitchen sink. If you do opt for panniers, bear in mind that you will also need a pannier rack to attach them to, and they’re not compatible with all types of bike.
Wear whatever you like. Personally I ride in some combination of gym kit because:
- It’s comfortable and designed to be sweated in
- I tend to wear skirts and dresses at the office which are not the easiest to cycle in (I have tried this only once, not a mistake I’ll be repeating)
- I already have it so it was no additional expense!
Because you can’t trust the British weather, you’ll want an outer layer that is breathable, waterproof and windproof in various combinations. I’m not going to get into the hi-vis debate here, just choose what works for you. This Provis nightrider kept me going through the winter but I’ll soon be moving to a more lightweight one for the spring, like this Dare2b.
Should you get stung with a puncture or broken chain, you need to be equipped to deal with it on the roadside. Stick a £20 note in your saddlebag for emergencies, too.
This is pretty crucial. Get the best quality lock you can afford with a confirmed Sold Secure rating, ideally gold. Wearable locks like this one from Litelok don’t take up space in your bag and won’t rattle around hanging off the handlebars.
If you’re not used to exercising in the morning then be prepared for your appetite to skyrocket. Bring a good breakfast (or two – second breakfast is not just for Hobbits) and keep yourself stocked up with snacks for the rest of the workday! Overnight oats are easily portable and a good source of slow release energy, great with peanut butter and berries.
Clothes and cleaning
Workplaces well equipped with lockers and showers make this bit easy, as there’s no need to be carrying stuff back and forth or forgetting things! If you don’t have adequate facilities then dry shampoo, baby wipes and deodorant are perfectly adequate, especially if you’re riding at a more leisurely (read, less sweaty) pace. Opt for items that don’t crumple; I’ve found packing my bag much easier if they’re rolled up instead of folded.
Other pearls of wisdom
- Because there will be days where you WILL forget your underwear / shoes / entire outfit, no matter how organised you think you are, leave a spare of anything essential at work.
- I get paid to cycle to work. Well, sort of. The IFTTT app transfers a set amount of money into a savings pot on my Monzo account for every ride I log on Strava. Some days it’s that little boost of motivation I need and it’s a challenge to see what amount I’ve ‘earned’ each month.
- Take the scenic route. Using a platform like Cyclestreets.net to plot your route allows you to compare options. The best route for you might not be the shortest as the crow flies but if there’s less traffic and more dedicated cycle space, it’s probably going to be a more pleasant and safer experience. Then test run your route at the weekend or at a quieter time of the day to get a feel for it.
- Learn simple bike maintenance like how to repair a broken chain or a puncture.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. Whatever your reason for commuting by bike, there’s always going to be a day where you just don’t want to. And that’s fine. Even one journey a week is better than none after all.
We don’t just cater to racers. We provide an “essentials” version of our Bicycle Insurance which includes liability, theft, and accidental damage cover, specifically aimed at commuters.
It only takes a few seconds to get an online quote. Find out how much it would cost to protect your bikes today.
Carbon bike repair, fact or fiction?
Cracking or breaking your carbon bike frame could be the stuff of nightmares. Have you ever wondered if carbon bike repair is possible? Global Cycling Network presenter Ollie visited Yellow Jersey’s supplier Carbon Bike Repair (HERE) to see what goes on behind the scenes. From thermographic x-ray to microscopic imaging, watch this video to learn everything there is to know about carbon bike repair.
Hungry for more? Read our blog Don’t be afraid of carbon, it’s stronger than you think.