The Cycling industry exists to sell bikes.
One way to sell more bikes is to create more categories of bikes. Mountain biking did this really well with gobs of various riding styles which all have their own requisite gear to match. On the road side of things in the 80s we began to see manufactures create some funky time trial bikes for racers. Now Time Trial bikes are their own seperate class of bike and have their own requiste gear as well.
Several years ago, Trek introduced the Pilot series of road bikes, they were comfort oriented road bikes and they went no where. A few years later Specialized does the same thing, with one big difference, they put racers under it and threw them at cobblestone roads in Belgium. The Roubaix was a smash and the “Endurance Road Bike” category was born.
A few years ago Specialized introduced the Venge, maybe the first modern aero road bike. Yes folks, a whole new category of bike, it’s not a vanilla “Road Bike” it’s a “Aero Road Bike.” This means that the design incorporates as much aero technology as possible into the bike while keeping a standard road bike type position. The trade off being the aero tubes have a less forgiving ride and the bike weighs like 5 grams more. See what they just did here. They gave you options, they created a choice. Heck, if you’re a serious rider you might need the Roubaix for those wild back road adventures, a Tarmac for your hilly group ride, and a Venge when you need to lay down the smack on your buddies in flat ride.
Or maybe not.
Well since cycling is all about science now and testing all manner of things is now possible and desirable, “Road Bike Action” dedicated their March issue to aerodynamics and called it the AERO ISSUE. On page 30 of this issue there is a rather startling discovery made, having a rider on a bike greatly effects the aerodynamics of the bike. Wow! So if a giant Ape sat atop an F1 car I guess it’s aerodynamics would be effected to.
See cycling companies have been touting how many watts their “Aero Road Bike” will save you over someone elses bike, and they do this by measuring the bikes in wind tunnel tests, this would be great if we raced bikes via remote control, but as always it comes down to the rider.
Here’s the full details on the discovery Road Bike Action made in the wind tunnel. They tested a TT bike, a Aero Road bike, and a plain old road bike.
Without Rider: Drag compared to the TT bike
Aero Bike: 29 watts
Road Bike: 58 watts
With Rider: Drag compared to the TT bike
Aero Road Bike: 80 watts
Road Bike: 86 watts
Wow, so the difference between a regular road bike and a “Aero Road Bike” is 6 watts. Now don’t get me wrong, 6 watts is 6 watts, there is a difference. But I’d wager that most of that difference is the “Aero Road Bikes” deep profile rims. Now with that particular “Giant” brand “Aero Road Bike” you’ve got to deal with hidden brake calipers and goofy cable routing, though goofy cable routing seems like a standard feature on most new bikes, but you’ll save a half second every kilometer you travel.
Now this is one test, it doesn’t completely discredit the aero road bike category, but to me it raises some questions. First off does any aero testing ever mean anything if you aren’t the one being tested. What’s it matter if some bike is 20 watts faster if you’re not the one it’s 20 watts faster under?