To go aero or lightweight?
So aero or lightweight? What's more important and where should
you spend your money, a super light bike or one that maximises
aerodynamics? Clearly both would be ideal, but currently most
aerodynamic products, whether frames, wheels or handlebars, carry a
weight penalty compared to products that are solely focused on
weight and not the concerns of airflow.
Which you choose isn't an easy decision, but where you live and
the nature of the roads you regularly ride can help inform your
decision. If you predominantly ride flat roads your biggest hurdle
is wind resistance, so an aero setup is going to provide a better
return on your investment than a super lightweight bike. On a flat
road at speeds of about 20mph up to 90% of your energy is consumed
with pushing through the invisible barrier that is air
If you live in a very hilly area or only ride up big mountains
(lucky you), then aero concerns will be replaced by weight, as air
resistance is replaced by gravity as the biggest hurdle you face.
For this type of terrain, a lightweight setup is going to be
preferable and help you get up the climb more quickly. But the
gradient can decide at which point you're better off with an aero
or lightweight setup.
According to an engineering paper by Cervelo, ride a gradient
under 5% and you're better off with an aero setup because you're
travelling fast enough for wind resistance to still be a factor. A
steeper gradient, however, sees the tide turn in favour of a
lightweight setting, as you're not going fast enough for aero drag
to be your biggest concern. The more power you can put out and the
faster you can climb will influence the gradient at which the
balance tips from aero to weight.
For riding on mixed and rolling terrain with flat roads and some
climbs, the decision gets a little more tricky, but you can use the
gradient rule of thumb above to decide which setup is going to
benefit you the most. Whether you ride alone or in groups will also
be a factor in the bike you choose. If you prefer to attack the
climbs then you might be better served by a lightweight bike, but
if you prefer solo breakaways on the flat, an aero road bike is
probably going to serve you best.
Next: We look at different aero and lightweight bikes,
components and accessories