Finding the Right Position for the Hour Record

Written By: Molly Van Houweling

Hello again! This is my second installment of blog posts from Mexico in the days leading up to my attempt on the UCI hour record on September 12. Today I’ll let you in on how I’ve dialed in my position on the bike.

My time trial position started out with a quality fitting by a knowledgeable bike shop about 10 years ago (before Beyond Aero came to town, alas!). I’ve made some tweaks to it over the years but that first step was key. The fitter made sure that I didn’t start out with a position that was too low or stretched out to produce power. Without a solid base position that allows you to produce almost road bike power on the TT bike, it’s very difficult to begin the process of tweaking and refining that position. So my first piece of advice is see a fitter. If you live in the Bay Area, Beyond Aero is a great option. If you live down in Southern California, my coach Dave Jordaan (aka cybercyclecoach) is also a master at bike fit.

After a solid initial fit, there is always room for improvement through endless experimentation, field testing, and wind tunnel testing. I talked about the mechanics of this a little in my last post.  My approach has been to identify a new position that performs well aerodynamically using a wind tunnel or field testing (as I described in my previous post). I try my best to quantify the gains the position provides in terms most modern competitive cyclists understand well: watts. Then I begin to experiment to see how many watts I can reliably produce in the new position, and use that information to decide whether to adopt it for racing. This is a slow and sometimes frustrating process, but really the only way to proceed. Otherwise you can find yourself in a super-aero position that is counterproductive because it sacrifices too much in terms of the power you can produce.

I’ll give two examples. In the first my choice was simple. On a visit to the wind tunnel in San Diego, I discovered that if I kept my head down (while still looking at the road—safety first!) I could theoretically save over 90 seconds over 40k. I was skeptical, but come the district TT championships at Sattley that year, I focused on maintaining my head positon and rode faster than two women who had beaten me by two minutes the year before. My power was identical. I didn’t have to sacrifice any power to maintain this particular aerodynamic position; and I didn’t need any more power to go much faster! To remind myself of my fast head position I think of a turtle peeking out from under his shell—which is why the turtle is my mascot (and turtle figurines are crowding every surface in my house)!

The second example is more complicated. It involves finding the ideal height for my armrests. With lots of experimentation over many years, I have narrowed the range to a few centimeters. But every year I wonder whether I have things just right. After my July hour record attempt, I thought maybe I could go a little further by moving my bars up in search of more power. It turned out not, as I explain in this podcast. In this case, the aero gains of being lower seem to more than make up for any small sacrifice in power. But that certainly isn’t always true.

Like lots of the ingredients of successful cycling, the key to a fast TT position turns out to be lots of hard work! There is no magic bullet or perfect solution for everyone—so practice and experimentation is key. A good fit will put you on the road to success, but then you have to ride that road … again and again until you get it right!

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