How weight affects cycling speed
While there is a lot of argument on which aspect of road bike weight and rider weight plays the biggest role in cycling speed, research has found that cyclist weight is the most critical.
Your weight is usually the most important when it comes to speed since as an overweight cyclist you will typically have a bigger surface area in addition to the weight you have to push through the air.
If you are carrying too much body weight you will have a poor aerodynamic profile, a lower power-to-weight ratio, and more drag which will make you a lot slower as compared to a skinny rider.
Moreover, you will also get tired faster as you will have poor ergonomics which means you will be more susceptible to wearing out faster.
How much faster will I cycle if I lose weight?
How faster you will be will depend on variables that may include the terrain you are riding on and how much weight you lost. For instance, if you lose five pounds of weight on flat terrain it would not have that much of an impact as you would just shave seconds off of an hour’s ride.
However, according to Pittsburgh-based cycling coach Menachem Brodie, you could get significant savings on hilly rides that may be between one and a half to two minutes if you lost five pounds.
Still, you need to take into account the fact that some cyclists may lose power while slimming down and this could reduce gains in speed attained. This could happen when one loses significant muscle mass when losing weight.
If you really need to improve your speed by losing weight, it is important to lose at least ten pounds. This will significantly improve your aerodynamic profile and reduce the weight you have to push along thus making you faster on both flats and steep climbs.
As long as you lose the weight gradually you should be able to maintain your cycling power with weight loss as you will not be losing too much muscle.
Will losing weight help me bike faster?
You do not have to ride fast to be a cyclist, but losing that weight and becoming lean can help especially if you want to crush the speedy or hilly sections.
According to Chad Timmerman, the co-founder and head coach of TrainerRoad, any reduction in weight will result in some improvements in performance, particularly in any events where you have to fight gravity.
Lighter cyclists usually have it better on gravity situations such as short and steep grunt-inducing hills, sustained climbs, and criteriums that call for the cyclist to sprint out of every corner.
Do heavier cyclists go faster downhill?
You would assume that a larger person would have more drag as compared to their slimmer counterparts. While this is true on flats and ascents, it does not hold cycling downhill.
Even though a heavier person would have more drag, their mass usually increases their speed as a cubic function. However, increasing aerodynamic drag will typically decrease cycling speed by square function.
As such, a heavier rider will usually have a lesser air resistance as compared to the much stronger gravitational pull as their difference in weight is cubed while the surface area they present is only squared.
This makes the heavier rider have more momentum and speed going downhill as compared to a lighter rider, even if the latter can cut through the air more effectively due to their smaller aerodynamic profile.
How to make yourself faster
- Fasted RIdes – Time your nutrition so that you fast when riding which can improve riding intensity. You should fuel with carbs when doing a day of intervals but if you intend to go on a gentle three-hour ride you can do it in a fasted state which has been shown to be more effective at burning fat.
- Go Low Carb High Fat: While low-carb high-fat diets have been known to reduce power, they can help sportives and racers lose weight in the off-season.
- Skip the Cake Stop: Cut down on cake stops and energy drinks especially if you are not riding hard as these could interfere with your weight loss especially if you are not riding hard.
How to lighten your bike
Lighter bikes will typically require less power to move especially on steep ascents where the power-to-weight ratio plays a huge role in overall performance.
Even if it is only a few watts, it could make a significant difference in speed in racing situations. For instance, take two riders with similar weights, the one riding a lighter bike will expend less power and climb faster than their counterpart with a heavier bike.
That being said, here is how to lighten your bike:
- Get Lighter Wheels – Upgrade your wheels to lighter wheels not only save weight on climbs but also reduces rotational weight making pedaling easier. Swap out your wheels and get carbon wheels combined with lightweight latex rather than butyl tires for that marginal gain in speed.
- Get Carbon Components – If you ride an aluminum or alloy bike you can reduce that weight by a lot by replacing components with carbon fiber. Things such as seat posts, saddle rails, cranks, and bottle cages can usually be swapped for something lighter.
- Careful Cuts – The days of drilling out seem to be fading into the past but one can still find excess material to remove. The steerer tube and the seat post can always be trimmed in consultation with an expert. Of course, you should only do this if you do not intend to ever adjust your riding position again.