OPTIMAL SETUP FOR CARBON AERO HANDLEBARS
Whilst the FastTT brand is all about designing and manufacturing the fastest carbon aero handlebars (and mounting accessories), we certainly believe there are equally big speed gains to be made by setting up your Tri or TT bike optimally. Note we say 'optimally' and don't use the word 'correctly'. This is because there is no single 'correct' way to set up a race bike.
We don't profess to be professional bike fitters, and we recommend you engage a bike fitter to optimise your setup to suit your body, physiology, strengths and weaknesses. However, we do have quite a bit of insight and knowledge into bike setup through our own racing experience as well as feedback from our elite riders and pro triathletes. What we will share with you is common sense, but it's surprising how many riders and triathletes don't apply it.
The most important thing to remember is that you are an individual unlike any other, so don't try to copy or mimic other riders in their bike setup and strategy. Find your own path, one that works for you, and you will become a better, faster, stronger bike rider. Here are our insights in no particular order...
Probably one of the most contentious and debated subjects, and everyone has their own theory. Over the past couple of years it's become popular to run increasingly steep bar angles, as much as 25°. Most times this is just because they saw a pro or someone faster than them doing it, and copied it with no technical understanding of what's going on. Don't follow - read this article about bar angles and decide what's best for you. If you have the opportunity to engage an aero testing agency to run some numbers on you it will be money and time well spent.
EXTREME FORWARD SETUP
A lot of TT riders watch pro triathletes sitting well forward with their bars way out over the front wheel and dream of matching them. With the latest changes to UCI setup rules we expect to see many TT riders shifting as far forward as the rules allow. What these riders don't appreciate is that triathletes setup well forward in order to open up the hips in preparation for the upcoming run leg. In some cases this may be the most efficient position to put down the most power, but in many cases it isn't.
Riding forward engages the quads mainly, whilst a more rearward position allows the larger glute and hamstring muscles to be engaged as well. And as we know from physiology, smaller muscles tire out first. Our recommendation is to NOT see the UCI reach rule as a target but to experiment with different positions until you find one that allows you to put out the most power with the least effort, and to be able to maintain it for the longest time.
GETTING LOW AND AERO
It's a brilliant concept - the lower you get, the faster you go (mainly due to lower CdA/better aero efficiency). Sadly it doesn't always work that way. Your favourite pro is almost lying on the top tube and flying, so why can't you do the same? Very few weekend athletes and riders have the natural physical attributes to match what the pros do, that's why they're pros and we aren't.
The average weekend warrior simply does not have the flexibility to put out optimum power in a super-low position. We have to accept our limitations and find other ways to be faster and more efficient. Find the setup that works for you, no matter what it looks like. Don't be afraid to raise your bars a little higher if it allows more opening of the hips and results in less effort to turn over the pedals. Being aero is only one aspect of being efficient and fast - putting together a well-optimised setup package (and cadence strategy - see next section) that suits YOU is what will allow you to be your best.
We're moving slightly off the topic of setting up carbon aero handlebars, but cadence strategy is important to optimal performance. Watch any pro tour cycling race and the average cadence will be high, maybe around 100-110rpm, whereas in the Eddy Merckx era the cadence would have been significantly lower. On the track today you will see elite pursuitists up around 130-135rpm, but this has started dropping from even higher cadences as trackies move towards larger gears and lower cadence.
The popularity of high cadence in pro cycling is partly due to most modern riders having learnt their craft as juniors on restricted gears (having to spin to build speed), as well as many of the top road and TT riders having track experience riding at very high cadences. So it's quite natural that overall cadence is high in pro cycling. Plus it's energy-efficient on long multi-day stage races and it allows them to conserve energy for the intermittent hard efforts and surges.
On the other hand, pro triathletes have a much more varied range of cadence. Analysis of average race cadence for the top 10 pro male and female triathletes in 2022 showed a range of cadences from around 75rpm to more than 110rpm. Clearly in triathlon there is no single cadence to suit everyone, a good lesson for TT riders and aspiring track pursuitists.
In selecting your optimum cadence bear in mind that a higher cadence places a high demand on the cardio system, whereas lower cadence has less cardio demand, but taxes the neuromuscular system more. Instead of watching your favourite pro rider and trying to replicate their cadence, you should experiment to find out which cadence strategy works best for you, and that generally comes down to what type of physiology you were born with i.e. fast or slow twitch muscle fibres, high VO2 max or high lactate threshold, muscle strength, as well as which type of pain you can endure more of - bursting lungs or bursting legs. Of course elite and pro athletes can usually endure both, thats why they're elite pros and us enthusiastic amateurs aren't!
When you start to experiment with cadence you will quickly discover which strategy delivers the fastest speed with the least effort. Don't focus on your power output - speed is all that matters in any timed event. The idea is to ride as fast as you can with the least amount of effort, rather than trying to put out as much power as possible to hit a target power number. That's optimum efficiency.