Cycling, as a sport, is all about the union of man and machine. It takes both elements performing optimally to truly get the best out of one’s self. So, if you are struggling to meet your performance goals through your training, then it is time to start shopping for some faster equipment. Today, I will be going over the most beneficial road equipment for different situations.
First off, it is important to figure out what your weaknesses on the bike are, what you want to improve the most, and lastly what the terrain of your area is. A few rules of thumb follow:
- If your front wheel tips skyward a lot or you just want to improve this aspect, then lighter equipment is what you need to look for.
- Conversely, if you live where the land is flat and the wind is strong, aerodynamic equipment should be your main concern.
However, if you (like probably the majority of people) live in rolling terrain, then you will need to mix aero and light-weight equipment.
Wheels are by far and away the most important piece of equipment when it comes to going uphill easier. The most important part of the wheel, as it pertains to climbing ease, would have to be rim weight. This is simply a physics problem, as it will take more force to keep a heavy rim moving up a hill than it will to keep a light rim going. So if your dollars are tight and you want to go up hill faster, spend it all on a crazy lightweight set of wheels. Now when it comes to actual equipment to purchase, that becomes a little more difficult to suggest, as cost comes into play, but below are a few simple guidelines at specific price points:
Entry Level Lightweight Wheels (<$1,000):
I personally love my Bontrager RXL aluminum wheels. They are roughly $1,000 and weigh around 1,440 grams, but they feel solid when sprinting and are incredibly durable.
Mid-Tier ($1,001 – $2000):
The best wheels in this range will likely come from smaller wheel companies (Psimet, Williams, November, or Stan’s NoTubes to name a few) as they generally have lower costs than firms like Zipp, HED, and ENVE. Stan’s will likely offer one of the lightest and most durable wheelsets in this category (under 1,300 grams for an alloy clincher).
Upper Echelon ($2001-$3000):
I would have to say the best wheel in this price range is ENVE Composites’ Classic 25mm Tubular rims laced to a set of DT Swiss 180 hubs. They’ll set you back about $2,900, but will only weigh 1,025 grams!
For the flats, aero is king! Again, the wheels are one of the most important equipment choices, but in this section we will focus more on frames, as all you have to do to is choose a set of wheels from Zipp, HED, Bontrager, or ENVE that is deeper than 55 mm and you’ll be fine. For frames, however, there are two different approaches for minimizing aerodynamic drag: narrow or wide tube shapes. The traditional idea is to utilize narrow tubes to decrease frontal area (and therefore drag). However, more and more frequently engineers are using a design called a kamtail, which is a traditional air foil that is just chopped off towards the end, to help smooth airflow over the spokes of the wheels. This “wider is better design” also leads to a more laterally stiffer bike (better for sprinting), while still allowing it to absorb bumps (more comfortable). Some of the best frames on the market, for aerodynamics, would have to be the Trek Madone, Scott Foil, Specialized Venge, Cervelo S5, and the Giant Propel. These will all offer solid wind tunnel results while still allowing you to throw the bike side to side without it feeling like a noodle.
Now here is a situation where the benefits of aerodynamics and low-weight both play a large part. If you live in rolling area it is best to look at your riding style and determine which direction you need to go. If you are a bigger individual, lighter equipment will help you get up the hills, but may hold you back on the flats. If you look more like the Italian that just won le Tour, than maybe aero equipment will be more beneficial, but, again, it may slow you down on the climbs. However, something that will benefit you in both instances is looking to the body for aerodynamic gains. Getting jerseys, bibs, helmet, or shoes that decrease your wind resistance would be a great compromise. It will keep you fast on the flats, but also not hold you back on the climbs.
All in all, when it comes to equipment choices, it is best to look inward at your strengths and weaknesses before buying (as the majority of us live in rolling terrain). However, and arguably most importantly, focus on equipment that you trust and will keep you safe.