What Makes a Bike Fast?

By Peg Labiuk | 06/21/11
Untitled Document


We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mountainpedalscoaching80903 Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at http://www.voler.com. To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at Marilyn@MountainPedals.net, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.

Voler E-Mail List member William "Bill" Howard is our 78th winner of a $20 Voler gift certificate! His training question that follows was answered by Peg Labiuk (nee Peggy Maass), a colleague of Marilyn Trout, and a certified NCCP level 3 coach with a career in international road and track racing. She is a World Championship medalist, World Record holder, U.S. Olympic Team member, former British national team coach and Kreb's Cycle co-founder (British Columbia, Canada).

What Makes a Bike Fast?

Hey Coach,

I know about the aggressive lower angle of the stem and I have mine at the lower option of the two available angles. The top tube and the down tube are what I am curious about. Many times I have seen advertisements about the various angular configurations of bikes and things that make them fast. As I understand now, there is a Cervelo which has been dubbed the fastest bike made and I was just wondering all other things being equal, what makes a bike a fast or faster bike?!


William "Bill" Howard

Dear Bill,

Bikes built for speed specifically, i.e. time trial bikes, have steeper seat- tube angles and lower head tubes than road frames. The top tubes also tend to be sloped, lowering the center of gravity and improving aerodynamics. Bike manufacturers spend mega development time and money on creating bikes with the best geometry for speed. Here are two web articles I think you would find interesting to read, especially the VeloNews review of the Cervelo S3:


We can have lots of fun with this topic of what makes a bike fast. So, to open the debate, I'd like to start off by suggesting that there are many things that make a bike, i.e. a rider cycling the bike, faster. These would include:

  • Cyclist's fitness, preparation, ultimately watts/kg produced
  • Position the cyclist rides in, determined by bike fit and the frame geometry
  • Lightness of the equipment
  • Improved aerodynamics of the rider and bike, from wheels to aerobars, shoe covers, water bottles, and helmets
  • Stiffness of the bike, improving the translation of power to speed

Decreased friction, as in tire pressure, ceramic bearings, surface textures (skin suits, dimpled helmets) In addition, I'd also like to propose a percentage of importance of the above. Let me suggest the following percentages:

  • 93% is the cyclist
  • 2% is the positioning
  • 2% is weight savings
  • 1.5% is aerodynamics
  • 1% is stiffness of the bike
  • .5% is decreased friction

So, what do you think Voler wearers? Write in and state your case!

Coach Peg

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