Is there such a thing as being TOO aero? Despite only just beginning, 2023 has already shown us that aero is still indeed king. Teams and manufacturers seem more willing than ever to sacrifice just about everything else in the name of cheating the wind. Here are some of our 'favourite' examples...
Don't get me wrong, despite what I’m about to say I’m no aero sceptic! It’s a surefire way to make yourself quicker on the bike or, even better, go the same speed for less effort. I love carbon deep wheels, and can often be found riding an aero-ish frame. I even have a soft spot for aero-profile handlebars.
Even so, is it just me or is aero tech getting more and more ridiculous? We saw some radical designs throughout 2022 and this is showing no signs of slowing down in 2023. Has aero gone too far? In no particular order let us convince you, and let us know any that you think we've missed down in the comments section below...
Kicking us off we have the infamous Specialized Balaclava. It’s certainly not pretty!
This was first seen in July last year at the Tour De France when some sponsored riders wore it under the latest S-Works TT5 helmet. It should be noted that not all of the athletes from Quickstep, Bora Hansgrohe and Total Direct Energie joined in with this trend, whether that was to prevent overheating or simply because they didn't like the aesthetic we still don't know...
The most notable head that the balaclava was missing from was Yves Lampaert, the eventual winner of the opening TT stage. In fact, the balaclava didn't even cut the top 10 - we've seen much more successful debuts from Specialized kit in the past!
At the time we ran a poll on Instagram (@road.cc) and out of 400 votes, 80% of you said that you wouldn't wear one even if it was proven to make you quicker.
And yes, while Specialized sponsored athletes were dressing up as cops and robbers in the name of aero, our very own Geraint Thomas was forgetting to take his parachute (sorry, gilet) off…
Speaking of Ineos, our next aero gain to make it into the ridiculous corner is in fact a Mercedes C-class estate. Not the car itself, but this is the vehicle that regularly gets stacked up to high heaven with spare bikes and then driven around TTs as closely behind Filippo Ganna as possible.
From 1st January 2023, a 15-metre minimum gap between the rider and team car has been implemented. This aims to completely eliminate any aero advantage caused by the car 'pushing' the air in front of it. Many cycling fans have tried to calculate the benefit of having a car following a rider, and most studies tend to agree that the advantage is small but not negligible: around four seconds over 50km and one to two seconds on a typical road race TT.
Time trial helmets have always been a bit...rogue...The POC Tempor worn by EF Education is ridiculously wide, Ineos' latest Kask looks like an oversized pair of motocross goggles but this Sweet Protection lid as worn by UNO X surely takes the biscuit.
The flared edges aim to deflect the wind around the rider's shoulders but the helmet’s stand-out feature is a large central vent with a splitter seemingly designed to separate the airflow hitting the helmet (and not, as one Twitter user suggested, to control minds).
We’ve already been treated to some great racing in 2023, and one of these early-season events was the Tour Down Under. It was during the prologue here that we saw some absolute aero monstrosities. How do these turned-in shifters sit with you?
Bilbao (first picture) was by no means the only one turning in his shifters to try and overcome the UCI’s new rule banning handlebars narrower than 35cm. The whole fiasco did have one silver lining, because it was also responsible for one of my favourite tweets of the year so far: “It comes pre-crashed to save time later”.
Surely it won't be too long before the UCI intervene with new ruling on shifter angle or simply measuring the width of the cockpit at the hoods.
It was also during the Tour Down under that we were introduced to these aero sunglasses! Yep, even your shades aren’t safe from the wind. Now formally released as the POC Propel, these £230 glasses claim to deflect the air around your ears, which don’t you know are supposedly very unaero. Come on evolution, keep up.
This Rule 28 aero base layer drew our attention when worn by Magnus Sheffield under his young riders jersey at the Tour Down Under. It’ll set you back £149.99, but Huub makes a similarly cropped (but long-sleeved) version for £159.99.
Here at road.cc we predict that we'll see a lot more of these as the year progresses and other teams cotton on. According to the Rule 28 website it works in the same way as the special trip fabrics that we saw on speed suits a few years ago... until they got banned, of course.
We thought we’d seen it all at the Tour Down Under including, road bikes with disc wheels... however, when Dylan Groenewegen then won at the Saudi Tour we spotted yet another aero goody. Riders have long been using aero helmets, but how about this aero cover over his Giant Pursuit helmet? A helmet that already claims to be quite aero!
Covering the vents in helmets is by no means a new idea. Cav did it back in 2011 when he won the world champs, Lazer has long offered a removable Aeroshell with some of its road helmets and Velotoze released its "helmet condoms" (that's not their official name) in 2016. None of these ideas really took off though, most likely because they can look quite silly and you get a VERY sweaty head. We hope that the cycling world continues to see sense...
The other problem with using an aero cover is of course that it’s too cheap. For maximum results on the local TT you need something that screams money. Luckily CeramicSpeed has come up with the aero oversized pulley wheel system, and it costs 739 euros!
What’s the benefit? Well, CermaicSpeed claims a drag saving of 40% compared to a standard cage. That sounds pretty good until you realise that it equates to 7.2 seconds over a 40km time trial. You can do the maths on that one.
Then there’s the fact that this testing was done without a rider on the bike. Now, I did enough aerodynamics at university to know that some moving legs in front of this area is going to cause some serious turbulence. Personally, then I’ll be taking these claims with a pinch of salt…
Of course, bikes themselves have also been sculpted by the wind. The Cadex Tri frameset (shown above) gave us a glimpse of what’s possible when the rulebook is chucked out the window, but there’s plenty of radical aero tech on road bikes too.
The Trek Madone gained a hole, the Bianchi Oltre RC gained headtube 'air deflectors' - which you can't legally road race with, and Ribble gave its handlebars a lot to eat.
Just look at these! Designed to work in unison with the rider, the bars are shaped to cause a wake in which the rider's moving legs sit.
Despite being more draggy by themselves, they claim to reduce the overall drag of bike and rider. In my opinion they’re not exactly pretty, but in fairness to Ribble the Ultra SLR to which these are attached starts at £4,799, which is quite a few thousand pounds less than most brands' top-end aero bikes of a similar spec.
If you feel like you still haven’t spent enough on marginal gains, then how about these £239.99 Wahoo Speedplay aero pedals? Wahoo says these offer not only a “sleek look on the bike" but the "decreased drag makes higher speeds easier to hit.”
Is it just me or does that sound a bit wishy-washy? Even some favourable in-house testing and published watt saving is better than no number at all!
Last but not least, our final entry is not an actual product, but the increasingly extreme positions we're seeing riders adopt to get more aero. While these positions might be well and good on a velodrome, in recent years there’s been a flurry of road time trial crashes on training rides and in races, with some riders even calling for TT bikes to be banned.
Aero innovators such as former F1 aerodynamicist Dan Bigham, currently the performance engineer for Ineos and a former Hour Record holder, undoubtedly know their stuff when it comes to performance-enhancing aerodynamics; but is there a chance these gains could be coming at the expense of rider safety?
Bigham is someone I have a lot of respect for, his results speak for themselves; however, while the rules allow it, performance engineers will continue to put riders into more and more extreme positions in the name of aero.
Chris Froome, a well-decorated time trialist, famously said: "Is it really necessary for us to have time trial bikes in road cycling? At what point do we start thinking logically about our sport and introduce measures to make it safer?"
And after Egan Bernal’s sizeable crash Tom Pidcock said: “Positions are getting more and more extreme and we spend more time trying to hold these positions.
“You don't necessarily see where you're going.”
When you can no longer see where you're actually going, does that confirm once and for all that aero has indeed gone too far? It's difficult not to be concerned about how far innovators will keep pushing it in the future when it comes to extreme aero positioning on the bike.
Has that convinced you that aero has gone too far? It certainly seems to have been the main reason for sacrificing weight (aero bikes are heavier), aesthetics (many examples above) and safety (those time trial positions). Will it stop? We highly doubt it, and there will no doubt be plenty more examples coming our way throughout 2023.
Which of these aero innovations would you consign to the history books, and which would you consider actually spending your own money on? Let us know in the comments section below...
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...