When it comes to clothing, road racing has been slower to adopt the advancements in aerodynamics that have long been utilized in track racing and time-trialing. These disciplines have attracted watt-saving experts who scrutinize both the rider and the bike in search of any possible aerodynamic gains. However, if you take a look at the pro peloton today, you’ll notice that they are almost indistinguishable from time trial riders, except for the absence of disc wheels and aero bars. Their helmets, shoes, and clothing are all designed to be as streamlined as possible. Some are still wearing aero jerseys, others are wearing so called – cycling speedsuits aka aerosuits. Let’s take a closer look at this new peloton trend.
Aerodynamics and watt saving… cycling speedsuits have it all
However, the unique demands of road racing require a different approach to clothing design. Riders need to carry food, may require comfort breaks, and can face unpredictable weather conditions. That’s where the speedsuit comes in – it’s the road racer’s answer to the TT skinsuit. The addition of rear pockets and a full-length zip, along with the use of more versatile fabrics, make the speedsuit a practical and comfortable combination of a jersey and bibs, while still providing the aerodynamic advantages of an all-in-one suit.
According to Simon Smart, the founder of aerodynamics company Drag2Zero and the man behind Enve’s aero wheel system, “The body contributes the largest proportion of drag, so more aero clothing can significantly reduce it.” He believes that the introduction of speedsuits is a natural progression for apparel. And that this type of garment can provide ratified performance benefits.
Furthermore, cycling speedsuits can be more cost-effective than purchasing an equivalent jersey and bibshorts set. And, perhaps most importantly, they offer the rare opportunity to wear a onesie outside of the house without feeling like you’re still in nappies.
Speedsuit or Aerosuit vs skinsuit
The aim of an aerosuit is to tackle the drawbacks of wearing a skinsuit during longer events. While at the same time still providing an aerodynamic advantage. This is achieved by creating a more practical garment that retains the snug, one-piece design of a skinsuit.
A typical aerosuit is a race-fit jersey attached to a pair of shorts, eliminating the need for bib straps. This design allows the front quarter of the garment to remain loose. Just like a regular jersey, providing more ventilation and making it easier to put on and take off. Additionally, the inclusion of two or three pockets on the back enhances practicality. These pockets allows riders to carry essential items during extended road races.
Unlike traditional skinsuits that use heavier Lycra materials throughout, aerosuits utilise lighter fabrics in the jersey portion to offer improved comfort and breathability.
The best cycling speedsuits and their benefits
Cycling is all about speed and freedom, which is why cyclists wear specialized suits known as cycling skinsuits. As the name suggests, these suits fit like a second skin. They reduce wind resistance and maximize the rider’s freedom of movement. Other cycling clothing is also designed to fit snugly, but not too tightly as to impede blood flow.
To excel in cycling, it’s important to understand basic physics principles. Gravity and friction are constantly working against the rider, and the best cyclists choose clothing that minimizes these negative forces. Cycling skinsuits are specifically designed to reduce wind resistance by hugging the body and eliminating loose areas that could catch the wind. This allows the rider to move forward with minimal resistance.
Comfort is also a crucial consideration for cyclists. Skinsuits are designed to provide a comfortable and flexible fit that allows for maximum movement. Ordinary clothing can cause chafing during long rides. Skinsuits on the other hand have become a standard piece of gear for most cyclists due to their ability to prevent this issue.
Additionally, it’s important for cycling clothing to be breathable and allow moisture to escape, as trapped perspiration can be uncomfortable and lead to overheating. Skinsuits are made from breathable fabrics that allow moisture to evaporate. There are also skinsuits designed for colder weather that help trap body heat for added comfort.
Overall, the fabric used in cycling clothing is critical to performance and comfort, and skinsuits are just one example of the innovative and functional designs that have been developed to help cyclists perform at their best.
Downsides of a cycling speedsuit
While speedsuits are a popular choice among competitive cyclists for their aerodynamic advantages, they do have some drawbacks that should be considered. For instance, while the snug fit of a skinsuit can provide a sleek look and reduce drag, it may not be the most practical option for all situations.
Temperature regulation and fit
When temperatures rise, for example, a jersey and shorts combo can offer better temperature regulation and improved breathability. This keeps the rider cool and comfortable during long rides. Additionally, a more relaxed riding position may also make the looser fit of traditional cycling apparel more appealing. It allows for more freedom of movement and a greater range of motion.
Another factor to consider is the aesthetic appeal of the cycling outfit. While a skinsuit may look impressive on the bike, it may not be the most stylish choice when walking into a cafe or stopping for a rest. A traditional jersey and shorts combo, on the other hand, can provide a more casual and versatile look. It is therefore more suitable for a wider range of social situations.
Another disadvantage of cycling speedsuits is the potential cost of replacement in the event of a crash. While a jersey and shorts combo may only require the replacement of one item if damaged, a speedsuit is an all-in-one garment that could be more expensive to replace if damaged in a crash.
Ultimately, the choice between a cycling speedsuit and traditional cycling apparel comes down to personal preference and the demands of the ride. For competitive racing, a speedsuit may provide the aerodynamic advantage needed to shave seconds off lap times. For casual riding, a traditional jersey and shorts combo may be a more practical and comfortable option. Regardless of which option is chosen, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each and choose the apparel that best meets the rider’s needs.
Are speed suits faster than your classic cycling kit?
The Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub conducted a comprehensive study to test the impact of different speed suits on the performance of riders in time trials or triathlons. The study involved two riders with varying lengths and weights to ensure that the impact of rider physiology and position on the bike was taken into consideration. The first rider was 6 feet (183 cm) tall and weighed 80 kg. The second rider was 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm) tall and weighed 71 kg.
Five different cycling speedsuits were tested at two different speeds – 40kph and 50kph. Besides two yaw angles of 0 and 5 degrees, which are representative of the conditions typically encountered by riders in time trials and triathlons or road racing positions when they are escaping from the peloton, were used. The results of the study showed that there were some trends between the two riders. Both riders for example consistently finding Skinsuits 1 and 2 to perform well. However, the results varied across the remaining skinsuits, depending on the speed at which the riders were traveling, the yaw angle, and their physiology and position on the bike. This proves comfort is also an important factor. It is therefore worth testing and wearing the speed suit before buying it (if possible of course).
Conclusion of the study
The differential in power required between the slowest and fastest skinsuit was significant for both riders, especially for Rider 1, who had the potential to gain 25w at 40kph (at 5 degrees yaw) and 22w at 50kph (at 0 degrees yaw). The results of the study clearly demonstrate that selecting the right skinsuit can result in significant gains for an athlete. However, the results can be quite rider-specific, depending on how the suit performs at the typical speeds achieved during racing or riding and the rider’s physiology and position on the bike.
Comfort and fit
It is worth noting that the study did not test the impact of the speed suit on the riders’ comfort or fit. These are also important factors to consider when selecting a speed suit. A speed suit that is uncomfortable or ill-fitting can negatively impact a rider’s performance. Even if it is technically the fastest suit for their physiology and position on the bike.
Therefore, when selecting a speed suit, riders should consider not only its aerodynamic performance but also their comfort and fit. Testing different speedsuits under different conditions can help riders find the optimal speed suit for their individual needs and preferences. With the right speed suit, riders can achieve significant gains in performance. This can make all the difference in a race or competition.
Since we are also big fans of our GCN cycling brothers and sisters, find below a nice video telling you if it is worth buying a road cycling speed suit and what the watt gains are:
Are cycling speedsuits also beneficial and worth the money for slow riders?
The idea that skinsuits are only meant for fast riders is a common myth in the cycling community. However, it is simply not true. Skinsuits are designed to reduce drag and improve aerodynamics, and they can benefit any rider regardless of their speed. In fact, larger riders may benefit more from wearing a skinsuit due to their greater surface area. This means they have more wind resistance to overcome.
Aero equipment and skinsuits do not work in a “u-shape” or “v-shape” where only the fastest riders can benefit. Rather, they work on a continuum, with every rider experiencing some degree of improved performance when using these specialized cycling clothes. It is important to understand that expensive skinsuits or disc wheels are not solely for fast riders. Such claims are often just a ploy by marketers to sell their products to a specific group of riders.
It’s also worth noting that a quality skinsuit will be fast for everyone. So not just for those who are already fast. Therefore, investing in a good skinsuit is a wise decision for any rider looking to improve their performance. However, it’s equally important to prioritize comfort and fit when selecting cycling clothes, rather than focusing solely on speed.
In the end, choosing the right gear for cycling involves finding a balance between comfort, fit, and performance. While skinsuits can be a valuable addition to any cyclist’s wardrobe, they are just one of many tools that can help improve performance. Ultimately, the key is to experiment with different types of gear and find what works best for your individual needs and preferences.
Check are full FAQ guide on cycling speedsuits aka aero road cycling suits here.
The aero jersey as a decent alternative: cycling speedsuits vs aero jerseys
We’ll call this a speedsuit, because that’s what it is. But we could also call it an aero jersey, because that’s what it is.
The difference between them is the fit. A cycling speedsuit fits like a one-piece suit (hence the name). It’s designed for aerodynamics. It has no seams and although there are pockets on the back it’s not that easy to tuck away your gels or energy bars. It all tighter and less flexible so don’t disturb airflow.
An aero jersey is also designed to be worn with other clothes underneath. That means that its fit is determined by how well it works with other garments you might wear over it. Not only during competition, but every time you go out training or commuting as well. So if you are planning to wear base layers an aero jersey is the way to go.
Besides, If you want to be comfortable on longer rides go for an aero jersey. Using a speedsuit isn’t all fun and games. If you are not used wearing a cycling speedsuit it might feel unpleasant and not comfortable at all during your first or longer rides. In this case an aero jersey might be a suitable alternative. Read all about aero jerseys in our elaborate aero jersey article.