Go Faster Now!
As spring rolls in, racing heats up, group rides begin and even that morning coffee ride gets a bit jumpy as the city limits sign comes into sight. Racers are hoping all that winter training pays off, while group rides among friends become local Spring Classics. As fenders and rain capes return to the closet, team kits and race wheels enter the regular rotation. Many riders look to make a few key equipment upgrades in search of that 2% advantage that can be the difference between making a breakaway or winning that county line sprint.
Cycling is a unique sport, in that, buying stuff really can make you better. Basketball players can't buy a better jump shot, runners can't buy shoes that make them go faster. Cycling manufacturers know this, and would have you believe saving every gram, aero-this and carbon-fiber-that are going to make you a better rider. Industry marketing can make it very hard to find the products that will actually benefit your riding.
Our staff of racers here at WesternBikeworks.com have tried about every weight saving, wind cheating shortcut out there. We've also spent way too much company time reading up on wind tunnel test results, analyzing rolling resistance data and interpreting our power-meters. Here's a quick guide to what we've found will make your dollar go farthest when buying speed.
A good set of race wheels is the single most important factor in the performance of your bike. Race wheels should be stiff, aerodynamic and light. These factors are somewhat mutually exclusive, so it is key to find a balance that suits your riding style.
There is a reason pro riders almost uniformly choose deep-section carbon rims, like the Fulcrum 2012 Racing Speed XLR Tubular Wheelset. Speed at race pace is primarily determined by aerodynamics. Wheel weight mainly comes into play when accelerating. In most race conditions, the draft from the peloton allows easy acceleration up to race speed. A racer's goal is to go faster than race speed, and aero rims make that happen.
Light weight wheels accelerate much faster than average weight wheels. Ultralight wheels will best suit riders who excel on long climbs and recreational riders looking for a faster feeling wheel. For riders lucky enough to be born with climbing legs, an ultralight wheelset like the Easton 2010 EC90 SLX Tubular Wheels will be noticeably quicker on long steep climbs. Light wheels also produce a livelier ride than their deep section counterparts. If you're not a racer worrying about efficiency over a 150km course, lighter, shallow wheels will deliver snappy acceleration for the coffee ride sprints. Reynolds 2010 MV32C UL Clincher Wheelset DNU finds a happy medium between aerodynamics and light weight.
Campagnolo Shamal Ultra Clincher Wheelset and Fulcrum Racing 1 2-Way Fit Clincher Wheelset 2009 are great all-around racers. Light enough to climb and plenty durable. They're not the most aero hoops out there, but aren't going to hold you back in a crit or shorter road race. Plus add a Boca Bearing Ceramic Bearing Upgrade. How fast do you wanna go?
Ceramic bearings will be most effective in wheels. We carry ceramic options for Mavic, Campagnolo, Shimano and Fulcrum. New Campy or Fulcrum wheelsets can be fitted with ceramic bearings with our Boca Bearing Ceramic Bearing Upgrade.
The bottom bracket would be the next most effective ceramic component upgrade. SRAM BlackBox GXP Ceramic Bottom Bracket Cups, and the FSA Ceramic Mega Exo Bottom Bracket keep their respective cranks spinning smoothly. As for Campagnolo Ultra-Torque, that's a little more difficult. The Ceramic Speed Campagnolo Ultra Torque Ceramic Bearings are available, but we would suggest seeking out a very experienced Campy expert for installation.
Ceramic Pulleys are last on the must-upgrade list. As they don't bear any weight, ceramic derailer pulleys aren't going to deliver the performance boost of the above parts. But if you want full ceramic, this how you'll get it.
One of the most subjective equipment choices in the cycling world, tire makes and models inspire fierce devotion from riders. The actual differences between competing tires are not quite as clear as manufacturers would have you believe. Rest easy though, if any tire was 10% faster, all the other tire companies would be out of business. Practical differences are subtle, and often based on rider preference.
Vittoria is another well respected tire brand, and the Vittoria Open Corsa EVO CX II (320 TPI) Clincher's tubular counterpart is on probably half the bikes in the European peloton. If you're into matching grams, you'll notice that the EVO-CX is actually quite a bit heavier than the GP4000 or the Pro Race series. Just ask the pros -- lightweight isn't everything. Vredestein Fortezza TriComp offer a similar "European" file tread and low rolling resistance.
Seatpost - While seatposts serve a very important function, supporting most of your body weight, many are overbuilt for the job. Yes, even that lightweight carbon post probably has a heavy aluminum clamp at the top. Thomson Masterpiece Seatpost is light, 180 grams, and is built to last.
Saddle - Pick the lightest saddle you're comfortable on. Emphasis on comfortable. If you can ride a Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio, do it. Plenty of pros ride Fizik Aliante Carbon with K:ium Rails or Selle San Marco Regal Saddle. Saddles are a great place to save weight if you can, but comfort is paramount.
Drivetrain - There's a reason Dura-Ace, Record and Red hold a special place in the hearts of cyclists. Light, strong and reliable. While component weights look close on paper, the cumulative effect of a few grams here and a few grams there is a kilogram or two at the end of the day. 105, Centaur and Rival are all great component groups, but like a Porsche, race bikes run best on premium.
Our staff of experienced racers at WesternBikeworks.com can help with any of your race day equipment decisions. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-651-4050 with questions regarding your race set-up.