Karen Parnell

Can I get more power and speed on my bike for free?

February 23, 2022

Can I get more power and speed on my bike for free?

By Karen Parnell

Is it possible to increase your speed and power on your bike for free? This may seem like a strange question but unlike running and swimming you can do this!

Because you are using your body to move a mechanical object you have two variables to play with. One part is your body which you can train to lay down more power and therefore more speed. The other part is your bike which you can optimise for producing more power and speed.

Of course, you can spend loads of money on a super lightweight bike but are their cheaper and simpler ways to do the same thing?

Here is a list of 8 free (or low cost) ways to get faster on your bike:

Clean your chain and Lube Sparingly

Cleaning your chain and drivetrain is an easy win. The 'drivetrain' of the bike consists of all the bits that you use to push (or pull) the bike along. The key components are the pedals, cranks, chainrings, chain, cogs (cassette) and derailleur. Based on this it makes sense to keep them clean and keep them functioning correctly, so they don’t hold you back. Studies have shown you can benefit up to a staggering 20 watts if you ride on a clean chain. Bear in mind that you should not use too much lube and match the lube to your conditions (wet or dry).

Cadence

Increasing your cadence could increase your power output.

It is important to consider cadence as a part of cycling training, because cadence is directly related to cycling power. Here is the equation:

P = F x V

This equation is the basis of calculating power in watts (P) for each cycling power meter. F is the force we apply on the pedals or how hard we push the pedals. V is the angular velocity or how fast we turn the cranks, the cadence. Therefore, there are three ways to produce more power:

1. Apply more force on your pedals

2. Increase your cadence  

3. Do both things at the same time, as when we sprint!

Longer ride – lower power and cadence

As we increase the duration of the discipline, the values for power and therefore of cadence decrease. Here are examples:

1km TT – Track: 60 seconds @ ~1000w ~130rpm
4km Pursuit – Track: 4’20” @ ~500w ~115rpm
Pro Cyclist – 40km Time Trial: 50’ @ ~400w ~95rpm
Pro Triathletes – Ironman distance: 4h15’ @ ~300w ~85-90rpm
Top Age Group triathletes – Ironman distance: 4h40’ @ ~250w ~80-85rpm
Age Group triathletes – Ironman distance: 5h30 @ ~200w ~75-80rpm

It is therefore worth working out what cadence is best for you based on your specific physiology and target A race bike leg distance.

Bike Fit

A professional bike fit will ensure you are not only in a position to provide the best power output but also comfortable enough to sustain this power over your race distance. Some cyclists recorded a power increase after a bike fit of 5 to 10 watts or more. A professional bike fit can be quite expensive and if you are low on funds then here a DIY bike fit as a starting point.

Getting Aero

Getting into a time trial aero position on your bike is an obvious way to reduce drag, increase air flow around you and increase speed. This can be achieved on a road bike and triathlon bike with aero bars. Without going too extreme you can go between 8% and 12% faster on a road bike in an aero position. This can equate to between 10 to 60 watts gain!

Different cycling aero positions

You can buy a triathlon bike with built in aero bars or add clip on aero bars to your road bike to sustain your aero position. Racing over Olympic distance with them can save you 2 minutes or more over the 40 km distance. In longer events they can help drop your time considerably while allowing a more comfortable position on the bike. It’s always worth checking if aero bars are allowed in your event and what is the maximum length allowed.

GCN have put together some low-cost hacks to ensure you and your bike create less drag.

Bike Skills

It’s worth spending time honing your bike skills, in particular cornering, descending and braking. These skills will make you cycle smoother and gain valuable minutes over your competitors. It’s worth looking at your A Race bike section profile to make sure you are able to take advantage of the downhill sections and know how hard to attack the uphill’s.

Hydrate

Making sure your hydration is right on training rides and race day is extremely important to make sure you are riding optimally throughout the bike leg. This includes getting your salts right so make sure you do a sweat test under predicted race conditions before race day to make sure you know the hydration you need including isotonic drinks.

Mobility

To ensure you can get in to a comfortable and aerodynamic position then it’s worth spending time on your mobility. This takes time so add it in early in your training program.

Tyre Pressure

It’s important to match your tyre pressures to your conditions using a track pump with pressure gauge rather than just feel. You may find that a slightly lower pressure may suit you for better comfort and grip on corners. Very high tyre pressures might feel fast, but they are not. Once you go past a certain point, adding more air to your tyres actually decreases grip, increases high-frequency vibrations and causes extra muscular fatigue. All of these things will slow you down. This article in BikeRadar will help you find the tyre pressure for your tyres and conditions.

Tubeless Tyres

GCN believe that you can save 4-5 watts if you change to tubeless tyres due to better rolling resistance plus you also get the advantage of self sealing if you get a puncture. The sealant can dry out so make sure you check it every 3-4 months. They can leak air so know your system as leaving your bike over night in an IRONMAN transition may leak a little but the newer tyres this is not as bad as it used to be and have better seals. If traveling to an event by air you will need to deflate the tyres and this may be messy if the sealant leaks and also stressful when you get to your race destination and need to inflate them. In this case it may b better to use a latex inner tube.

Weight Reduction to Improve Speed

Reducing the weight of your bike and yourself are other ways to get faster but I will leave this up to you as to the best ways to do this that suit your pocket and lifestyle.

If you would like to boost your bike FTP in 4 weeks take a look at this plan.

Get a FREE pre and post training session recipe book.

Karen Parnell is a Level 3 British Triathlon and IRONMAN Certified Coach, NASM Personal Trainer and Sports Technology Writer. Are you training for an ATW event?  Make it your best event: ATW training plans on Final Surge.

Triathlon cycling power for free infographic