Pro riders have become ever more obsessed with aerodynamics over the past few years in an effort to improve speed and reduce energy loss. Here are some of the aero features that we’ve spotted so far in this year’s Tour de France.
Aero helmets used to be reserved for time trials but many riders now use them for standard stages, especially when the terrain is flat and the weather is cool so there’s less chance of overheating.
Giant-Alpecin riders are using a new Giant Pursuit helmet. Giant claims that it offers an aero advantage without any compromises in weight, ventilation or fit.
You rarely used to see a skinsuit in anything other than a time trial but now riders of all types are using them to get an aerodynamic advantage in normal road stages.
Race leader Chris Froome, for example, has been wearing a Rapha one-piece with a mesh upper and mesh panels down the sides of the legs.
Many bikes have forks with legs shaped for aerodynamics. Lotto-Soudal’s bikes are unusual in featuring Ridley’s F-Splitfork with a slit running down the centre of each leg.
Ridley claims that the design draws air away from the spokes and counteracts turbulence generated by the wheels.
All teams have wheels shaped to minimise drag at their disposal. We saw Sam Bennett’s Argon 18 Nitrogen Pro fitted with these deep section Vision Metron 81s, for example, the 81 referring to the rim depth in millimetres. This is really a time trial focused wheel.
At 45mm, Romain Bardet’s Zipp 303 Firecrests are a more typical depth. The Firecrest profile is designed to reduce drag at both the front half (tyre leading) and the back half (rim leading) of the wheel. Zipp also reckons it moves the centre of pressure of the wheel backwards so the wheel has the stability of a box-section rim in crosswinds.
Bike designers have several tricks for reducing the amount of drag caused by brakes.
The front brake on this Argon 18 Nitrogen Pro is a V-type design with legs that sit inline with the fork legs so as not to increase the size of the bike’s frontal area.
The proprietary front brake on this Trek Madone sits flush with the fork crown with the upper section hidden inside the head tube.
This Specialized S-Works Venge Vias has front and rear brakes that are shielded by the fork and seat tube respectively and are specifically designed with aerodynamics in mind.
Many seatposts are made with aerodynamics in mind. This Merida Reacto, for example, has a seatpost profile that, like the frame tubes, is based on a NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) airfoil with the tail cut off square. The idea is to maintain airflow stability without causing turbulence.
We saw a few riders with aero bars on their road bikes ahead of the start of the Tour de France. Aero bars are usually reserved for time trial bikes but there’s a hilly/mountainous individual time trial this year and riders are likely to want to tackle it on a lightweight road bike with better climbing characteristics.
Quite a few bikes in the peloton are fitted with drop handlebars that have aero-section tops.
This Specialized S-Works Aerofly is on Tony Martin’s S-Works Venge Vias, for example. Specialized claims that it saves time compared to a traditional shallow bend road bar due to the distinct aero shape, reduced tape on the tops, and full internal cable routing.
And check out the Madone XXX Integrated bar/stem on Gregory Rast’s Trek Madone. It’s made to Trek’s KVF (Kammtail Virtual Foil) profile and also has invisible cable routing.
Aero frames would make up a whole article by themselves. Every team has access to a bike with frame features such as aero-optimised tube profiles, a seat tube that’s cutaway around the leading edge of the rear wheel, an integrated headset and fork crown (the head tube is shortened so that these elements don’t increase the size of the bike’s frontal area), and seatstays that meet the seat tube lower than normal.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.