7-10 watts lost: The best gear that makes you slower

Watts lost, funs gained. We take a look at all the marginal losses that make for maximal enjoyment gains.

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With all kinds of everything getting more aeroer, less draggy, lighter, more efficient, and stiffer in the hunt for marginal gains, we wanted to take a look at the “slower” things in cycling that are just more fun. We’ve run a lot of stories lately about gear that can “save you X watts.” This is a story about the opposite.

Granted, I’m probably the last person at CyclingTips who should be writing this. But the reality is that I’m only all-in on marginal gains when the clock is running (or Strava hunting) and almost the opposite when it’s not. Or at least that is what I am trying to tell myself. While I love all the aero geekery and efficiency hunting, and I have used that to make myself faster on a bike now than I have ever been, including when I was racing WorldTour riders week in week out, I can equally appreciate the enjoyment in slowing down, forgetting about average speed or segment times, and enjoying the bike for the escapism it provides.

So with that in mind, here is my list of things to make you slower and happier for it. Think of this as the unplugged acoustic live version of modern cycling. When all your watts are saved, you’re freewheeling uphill, your body is mummified in aero kit and the fun is gone, here are things that are an order of magnitude more funner, comfortabler, or just ooze class.

To help your research and decision making, we’ve added handy “watts lost” and “funs gained” metrics to each item. All figures are calculated on the back of a beer met travelling 45 kph.

Relaxed fit kit

It is possible, with adequate training, to ride a bicycle in regular clothes without getting bucked off. Photo: Tim Bardsley Smith

Estimated watts lost: 15 watts
Estimated funs gained: 13.2 funs

For all the advancements in frames, wheels, components etc, kit is arguably the biggest marginal gains frontier in cycling right now. Aero socks, race suits, aero helmets, £600 overshoes, the list goes on. All great stuff if every millisecond counts but not always the most comfortable for the rider and dam right awkward for non-cyclists at the cafe stop. We even tested a jersey without a zipper recently.

Hands up if you are Tim Declercq tractoring at the Tour, Phil Gaimon on a Strava mission, or Ashton Lambie riding 4km in circles. Alright, everyone else, let’s try a more relaxed fit jersey, skip the overshoes to show off your nice cycling shoes, and feel the wind in your hair with a vented helmet. Best of all, enjoy the fact your 90minute loop no longer takes only 87 minutes.

Try it, you won’t look this cool, but you’ll have a blast trying. Photo – Ken Rodriguez-Clisham

Even better, ditch the somehow aero, lightweight mesh, see-through jersey and grab a t-shirt, pull on a pair of cargo bibs or a bar bag (more on this later) and have all kinds of fun in non-cycling, aka normal, clothing. Be warned though, we won’t all pull it off as well as CyclingTips social media editor Michael Better.

Bikes with round tubes

The travel bike of our Editor-in-Chief, Caley Fretz.

Estimated watts lost: 5-15 watts
Estimated funs gained: 12.8 funs

Hell yes, I love aero bikes, and I have an unhealthy affection for a good time trial bike. Is there anything better than a top-of-the-range bike, exactly as seen in the Tour de France? Well, yes, there is for most of us. 

One of the best things about our sport is the option for you and me to buy the exact bike Pogačar wins the Tour on, or Kasper Asgreen wins Flanders with. But just because we can doesn’t mean we always should.

The bikes our WorldTour idols are riding are light (I know, there are lighter bikes), stiff, and quite often fragile. The geometry is aggressive for these gazelle-like athletes at the top of their sport. Are we all gazelles? Most likely not, I know I struggle to ride my racing position with even just a couple of weeks neglecting to stretch or riding as much.  

When you combine our mere mortal physiques with long and low frame geometry the result is a short stem with stacks of spacers, and not only has the bike lost some of its World Tour aesthetics that made it appealing in the first place, but it will likely also have lost a lot of its intended ride feeling and handling. 

That 20 out-of-10 stiffness and UFO-grade carbon fibre is lighter, but it’s also most likely a lot more fragile. We often hear how the latest high-end carbon layup provides increased stiffness but coupled with that aggressive geometry, a day spent in the office chair and hoisting children around like bags of spuds at the weekends, that added stiffness might not be the best thing for an already bad back. These modern bikes are truly incredible design feats but maybe not always right for everyday use.

A custom, round tubed thing of beauty… but I would say that, it’s mine.

So what is the alternative? Well to start with, many brands now offer WorldTour-lite options, very similar looking to the WorldTour machines but with a more relaxed geometry, lower grade carbon or, ideally, both. Some of them are even metal. Trek, for example, offers a H1 (aggressive geometry) and an H2 fit offering a more traditional and more upright position. While Specialized has the Pro and Comp level frameset with Fact 10r carbon and the S-Works model has the stiffness ramped up to 12, if I’m thinking for fun bike rides it’s the Roubaix and especially the Aethos models that catch my eye. 

So there are plenty of options just beneath the WorldTour weapon, but honestly, I’d have a custom-made steel or carbon frame on my letter to Santa. Or maybe Ti like our EIC Caley. Most often featuring non-aero round tubing, external cables, and carrying a little excess timber, what a custom frame lacks in outright speed, it can more than make up for putting a smile on your face on every ride. With custom, I can have the tailored fit, geometry, ride characteristics with a personalised finish for a truly one-of-a-kind bike. Furthermore, I can have all that fun and style in a more comfortable package with less focus on stiffness (unless you decide to build in more stiffness) or aero, plus more forgiving materials and tube shapes.   

Bigger tyres

The relatively firm ride makes it even more important than usual to choose your tires carefully. Challenge’s latest 30 mm-wide Strada Bianca tubeless handmade clinchers worked perfectly here.

Estimated watts lost: 12 watts
Estimated funs gained: 37.3 funs

Ok, this might be a controversial one. I know gravel and MTB are the home of chunky tyres, and yes slightly wider tyres are the trend on road racing bikes now, but I am talking wider, more robust, slower tyres here. I’m thinking 28, 30, or 32mm, semi-high performance yet robust road tyres. Tyres I can ride uphill, down dale, on rural back roads with winter storm debris or summer sportives in the high Alps. 

Of course, I have low weight, low rolling resistance, racing tyres as well. But I wouldn’t dare venture onto some of my local roads with some of them. Instead, I prefer slower tyres with more puncture, cut resistance, and better durability.

The beefed-up versions of popular road tires are a great place to start. The Control version of the Vittoria Corsa, for example, comes in a gorgeous 30mm width. The Hell of the North version of Specialized’s Turbo Cotton makes it far less likely to flat. The Continental GP 4 Season instead of the GP5000, in a nice fat 32mm, will put a smile on your face.

Traditional handlebar and stem

It’s a handlebar. Why are we making things so complicated?

Estimated watts lost: 10 watts
Estimated funs gained: 18.2 funs

Almost all of the road bikes I rode this year had a one-piece cockpit, and I hate it! That includes two of my own road bikes, so I guess I partly have myself to blame, but wow do I miss good old fashioned traditional drop bar and stem. 

I get it. If I am racing (and can find the right fit) I wouldn’t race without a one-piece cockpit (and integrated cables), but those forearm bruising aero shaped tops and the lack of adjustability just aren’t worth it the rest of the time. 

Yes, some manufacturers have found ways to incorporate the aero gains of a one-piece cockpit with a bar and stem, but these systems still feature flat and wide aero-shaped tops. Nothing compares to comfort in wrapping your hands around a round handlebar on a long climb, and that’s not to mention the slippier nature of flat tops with inherently less grip sans bar tape, which I have seen cause crashes. 

Frame and bar bags

Estimated watts lost: 12 watts
Estimated funs gained: 41 funs

Any day now some brand will announce an aero-shaped, wake generating, ribbed, latex bar bag, designed to save 40-80watts on gravel. Be warned, if it’s not already here, it’s coming.

When that happens, it will be a particularly sad day, because at the moment the bar bag or frame bag is the universal symbol for “I don’t care about aero”. 

Bike bags, whether frame, bar, fork, saddle, wherever, could almost be mandatory on every bike. Just a simple little pack can carry multiple layering options, all your ride food, easier access to your phone, wallet, keys etc. I’m no aerodynamicist, but clearly, by emptying the pockets on your back into a bag, a bike bag can indirectly provide at least a 4-8 watt savings. It’s just math.

I am a recent convert to bike bags. Unfortunately, I haven’t used my bag as much in recent months, afraid to scuff those pesky aero integrated handlebars on review bikes I don’t actually own, but once back on my own bike, I’ll be packing bags again. I was met with shock and horror on one of my first outings with a bag on the local group ride. “Try it and tell me I am wrong” was my response. 

Ditch the head unit

Estimated watts lost: all of them
Estimated funs gained: 35 funs
+ bonus scenery views gains

I guess this could potentially provide an aero gain, but it’s the scenery gains, disconnecting from the world, and mind-clearing benefits I am advocating with this suggestion. Sure, there is no drag or weight penalty to make you slower with this choice, but the freedom from ride tracking, average speed chasing, or interval smashing will likely lead to a slower ride. That’s where the fun starts.

Look over the hedge on the road less travelled for no other reason than to switch off from the world and get lost in the pleasure of bike riding. Sure ride tracking and the specificity of structured training have their place, but the training did happen even if it’s not on Strava (or any other training tracking software). The pressures of comparing rides to those of others and hitting every interval don’t always get the best out of an athlete. Through coaching, I have prescribed this kind of ride for every athlete I have worked with to rest the mind and keep the rider in touch with what first attracted them to cycling.

Just ride your bike

Truth be told, ignorance is bliss. I wish I didn’t know all the marginal gains and aero hacks I do. As much as I love all the fun enhancing, comfort improving suggestions above, I do have to make a conscious shift from aero-geek to fine ride connoisseur. Quite often I don’t want to make that shift, because fast is cool, and fast can certainly be fun. But slowing down is inevitable, all the watt-saving tricks in the world can only compensate for the declining w/kg ratio for so long. The question then is, when I do go slow, do I want to look fast or enjoy the ride? 

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