All cyclists, whether professional or recreational, are obsessed with everything that’s aero. Be it bikes, wheels, helmets, or bike apparel, going aero, as in aerodynamic, is the mantra for cyclists. However, many doubt the legitimacy of using aero cycling jerseys. You also are probably wondering whether your choice of bike clothing can actually impact your performance.
In order to grasp the importance of aerodynamic gear, and particularly aero cycling wear, it is essential to know how it works. Therefore there are a few things you should know to better understand how an aero cycling jersey can add to your speed, saving not just time, but your energy and effort as well.
What is Aerodynamic Drag?
Whether you are a professional cyclist or just someone who likes to go on bike rides with friends, there are two fundamental obstacles you face. These are:-
- Air resistance; and
Well, as long as you are on earth, there is no getting away from the latter. Still, you can mitigate the effects of gravity by riding on a flatter, smoother ground. However, air resistance is a bit tricky. And this is where a pair of aero bike pants can come in handy.
Air resistance is caused by wind. Even if you have picked a perfectly windless day, you are likely to create quite a bit of wind as you increase your speed while cycling.
The moment a cyclist crosses over 9 mph (+/- 14 km/h), the wind starts to hinder the speed by becoming a prominent resisting force. As a result, by the time you reach 30 mph, 90 per cent of your energy is invested in combatting the air resistance. This is the phenomenon that is scientifically termed as Aerodynamic drag. It is the single-most prominent impediment to the performance of a cyclist.
Components of Aerodynamic Drag
There are two aspects to be considered with aerodynamic drag:-
- The rider; and
- The bicycle
It may come as a surprise to you, but the bicycle does not account much for the aerodynamic drag, only about 20 to 25 per cent.
The rider is actually responsible for the majority of the aerodynamic drag, which is somewhere between 75 to 80 per cent.
How to reduce the effects of aerodynamic drag?
There are a few noteworthy things that impact rider-based aerodynamic drag.
- Size of the rider: The bigger the rider, the more aerodynamic drag it would produce.
- Riding position: The lower the position the lesser aerodynamic drag it would produce.
- Bike clothing: The primary reason why cyclists prefer aero cycling jerseys, are their ability to lessen the aerodynamic drag.
How does my cycling apparel impacts aerodynamic drag?
Have you ever watched a professional cycling race? In that case, you may recall that all the participants wore a very athletic-looking, skin-tight bike jersey. It is precisely to cut back the aerodynamic drag.
A form-fitting, adequately streamlined cycling jersey, could cut back on the aerodynamic drag. However, for it to be effective, it has to be specifically designed as aerodynamic bike apparel.
A slickly constructed pair of cycling pants can alleviate aerodynamic drag by about 4%. Whereas, if it are professional aero cycling jerseys, then they can lessen the aero-drag by a good 6%, or even more than that.
Even if you are wearing a cycling jersey, but if it is partially unzipped, then you are likely to experience more drag, compared to completely zipped-up clothing. But you are probably curious as to how, cycling jerseys of all things, can enhance your performance. Here is how.
How does aero cycling jerseys help cyclists?
Once you dive into the nitty-gritty of how aerodynamic drag works, it is quite interesting how important cycling wear becomes, for the overall performance of a cyclist.
As a rider picks-up speed and reaches the racing speed, which is around 25 mph or 40 kph, the arms, legs, and torso of the rider start to experience a change. As a result, this change occurs in the flow of the aerodynamic wake, that goes from laminar to turbulent. While this is happening, the size of the wake shrinks, which further pressurises the trailing surface. This doubles the aerodynamic drag of the rider almost instantaneously.
This is where aero cycling jerseys come into the picture. Aerodynamic gear, that includes aero bike apparel, are crafted with graded textures. As a result, it is able to alter the transitional air zones and alleviate the turbulent flow.
Are there any other advantages of aero bike clothing?
Aerodynamic bike apparel also have some other crucial benefits:-
- Bike apparel reflects light.
It is natural for your body to heat up as you paddle-on intensely while cycling. Bikewear aptly reflects light, thus keeping you cooler and lowering the amount of sweat loss. By lowering the sweat loss, your body can remain hydrated for a longer time. This is particularly crucial during long-distance races. The fabric used in professional aero cycling jerseys is good for heat dissipation. Hence, you sweat a lot less in bike clothing.
- Cycling jerseys come with a zipper
Depending upon the nature of the terrain, and how steep it is, you can regulate your body temperature by using the zipper of the aero cycling jersey. In sections where aerodynamic drag can impact your performance, you can zip all the way up. Whereas, you can open up the zip and let your body cool down in sections where there is less drag.
- Cycling wear is Body-hugging.
With professional bike jersey, you don’t have to worry about rubbing and resulting fiction from the rubbing, as you paddle hard. Aerodynamic form-fitting cycling apparel is the perfect clothing for a long bicycle ride.
The ultimate aero cycling jerseys
The ultimate and best performing aero cycling jerseys are in fact aero suits which are referred to as aero speed suits or skin suits. They are one-piece cycling clothing which decrease the aerodynamic drag to a minimum. Covered zippers (often only one), elastic fabrics creating a second skin effect, golfball structure and tested in a wind tunnel… that’s what skin suits are about.
There has been extensive research in the domain of cycling aerodynamics. All the available research points to the fact that wearing an aero cycling jersey do have a lessening impact on the aerodynamic drag. With such definitive research in the field, you must not doubt a professional gravel cycling wear. Irrespective of whether you are pursuing cycling professionally, or just want to impress your friends, going for full bike wear is the right choice.
Frequently asked questions
- What is the benefit in percentages of wearing an aero cycling jersey?
A tight fitting aero cycling jersey manufactured with the right fabrics can lessen the aero-drag with about 6% compared to lose fitting cycling jerseys. Add to that the fact also your aero shorts can decrease the drag with more or less 5% and you know aero cycling clothing can have a huge influence on your performance.
- What mainly adds to aerodynamic drag of a cyclists?
When talking about aerodynamism most people will probably think it’s a 50%-50% game more or less equally divided between the bike and the rider. In reality though the bike only account for ¼ or 25% of the aero drag. It is the rider who infleunces aerodynamism the most. And when we talk about the rider we do not only talk about his body and his position but we also talk about his cycling clothing and general cycling wear like his helmet, glasses,… Cycling apparel like aero cycling jerseys, aero bib shorts and so on are therefore of crucial importance.
- What is aerodynamic drag?
It all starts when you cross the 9 mph (+/- 14 km/h) barrier. As a cyclist you are probably familiar with the wind being an annoying resistance factor. How much we love cycling with the wind instead of facing it. Well, this 9 mph barrier is the moment the wind starts becoming the main resisting force. The more you speed up the more energy will be required to combat this force. This phenomenon is also known as aerodynamic drag. Enhancing your position on the bike and wearing aerodynamic cycling clothing can drastically reduce the aerodynamic drag.
- Where can I find interesting scientific studies about aerodynamic drag and aero cycling jerseys on a bike?
In 2011 “An Experimental study of bicycle aerodynamics” was published in “The International Journal of Mechanical and Materials Engineering”. It compares amongst others the huge advantage from an aero perspective between TT bikes, road bikes and mountain bikes. TT bikes for example have 36% less aerodynamic drag than mountain bikes.
Interesting article on the aerodynamics of a cyclist taking into account factors of changing wind etc. Simscale also has the Simscale simulation platform which allows you to make your own aero analysis.
Article about the history, state of the art and future perspective of bicycle aerodynamics. Most complete article about this subject we have found on the Internet. Worth reading if you are interested in all the details.
Video from the Economist about the influence of aerodynamic drag on the speed of a rider. It also includes a wind tunnel test.
- Where can I find aero cycling jerseys?
These days almost each brand has one or more aero jerseys available. Some popular aero jersey brands are:
- What is the ultimate aero jersey?
The ultimate aero cycling jersey is in fact an aero speed suit aka skin suit. Indeed, a one-piece cycling suit which is the perfect reflection of aerodynamics. An Aero speed suit is ideal for time trial racing or classic road racing whereby you want to set a new speed record. It is designed in order to maximize aerodynamics in the time trial position. Aero speed suits, also called aero race suits, time trial suits or skin suits, have a compression fit and are made of ventilating and elastic fabrics which create the second skin look and feel. Other characteristics of aero speed suits are a golf ball structure and aerodynamic stripes on particular parts of the body to guide the wind with as little resistance as possible over the body. They are often tested in a wind tunnel and sometimes even contain covered zippers.
Aero speed suits can be found at