Marginal Gains: 5 ways to Increase Efficiency on Your Next Ride
Marginal gains are one of those terms in cycling that has been overused to the point where it loses its power. Like going on an 'Epic Ride'. If you go on an 'Epic Ride' every weekend, it just becomes your Saturday Local ride. But do tiny improvements really make a big difference? Does it always have to do with a bike bracket, wheel bearings, pulleys, and derailleur cages? If not what else is there?
For the sake of this article, let’s take marginal gains at face value: small improvements that you can make on a path to becoming the best version of yourself. Skipping one trip to Dunkin' Donuts or buying a set of aero bottle cages are not going to help much to get to the finish line faster.
BUT if you consistently skip your Starbucks Run for breakfast and lunch or make the bottle cages the 5th purchase in a line of bike improvements, THEN the result can only be a more enjoyable (and higher performing) cycling experience. Going faster with less effort.
The 5 Ways to Increase Efficiency on Your Next Ride
While there are many factors that will affect your race times, the core things to have under your knee that make an immediate difference are not what you may expect - diet, tires, aerodynamics, clothing, and drivetrain (derailleur cages) all add up to make an impact on your performance. Take a ride with me and learn how small decisions add up to help you go faster with less effort.
Diet for Performance
Let’s start with the hard part first. The only one that can not be solved with Amex as your sole solution. Cycling efficiency is all about power to weight ratio. There are two ways to go uphill faster: increase power or decrease weight. This requires a consistent eye on your diet. Spend the entire week dieting, cutting 600 calories per day and then eating a family size pizza because it is Friday Cheat Day? No dice. Consistency is key. Are you familiar with the 75 Hard program? 75 days, two workouts daily and ZERO cheat days. It’s called hard for a reason.
If most of your races are downhill instead of uphill, the same rules apply. Body fat is dead mass that will try to throw you over the bars or into the course tape when you hit a G-Out at warp speed.
Take it from a guy that raced at 6”3’ and 173 lbs. and is now… hmmm… not at that weight: the uphills are less enjoyable today and to add insult to injury, they take longer too. Watching your diet works. Don’t even bother skipping to the next steps until you fix this!
Tires to Get You through the Race
It doesn’t matter if you are a road racer on a World Tour team or a non competitive Enduro rider. The one bike change that makes the most difference to your results is tires. There is a balance between 'grip' (which is good) and 'drag' (which is bad).
Find the set that works best for your riding style and terrain and don’t be afraid to experiment and change often.
Aerodynamics - not just for jets.
So at first glance at the big fancy 'A-word' you may be asking yourself what you have hanging on your bike now and does it really matter?
As speed increases, the aerodynamic component of your total drag will increase exponentially. It can reach up to 80% of your total resistance. This is why in cycling there is such a big emphasis on aero gains. No single component is going to be the holy grail of aerodynamics, so you have to tackle this problem piece by piece. The best way is to treat your components from large to small, starting with the body.
Investing in a bike fit will fix the biggest cause of wind resistance: keeping your head low, elbows in and buying a skin tight outfit to replace the flappy rain jacket will make you faster once you reach the pointy end of your race or ride.
Next up are frame and wheels, aero bars, internal cables, bottle cages and most definitely get an aerodynamic derailleur cage.
Sorry, I just had to go there. I am not saying that Kogel will never make an aerodynamic derailleur cage, I am just saying that I need a bit more time to wrap my head around the fact that we as an industry are doing this now. As with all our components: we will release it once we find a way to make it strong enough to resist the abuse of an Enduro MTB track.
Photo: Nils Laengner
Clothing that Drives Cycling Performance
I already touched on loose vs tight clothes for aero gains. There is so much more to the right kit for the job. Roadies will know the difference in comfort between a good and a bad chamois. Bikers will prefer sturdy bike shorts over lycra because crashing is just part of the sport.
Getting dressed for the climate is another important one: layer up for cold weather and make sure you wear as little as possible for hot summer days. This all sounds like Captain Obvious Advice, but there is no quicker way to ruin your performance than with frozen toes and fingers or with a heat stroke on a hot day. Have a look at the weather forecast and dress accordingly to set yourself up for success.
This would not be the Kogel Blog if we did not have a conversation about drivetrain improvements. At our company we offer bottom brackets, wheel bearings, pulleys, derailleur cages and soon chains. None of these components will turn a donkey into a race horse by themselves. But if you stack them up - it will make a difference!
We have close connections with our friends at the NeXT e-bike racing team. They are well on their way to become the world’s number one team in their field of indoor racing. Because Zwift requires double data collection at the crankset and at the rear hub, their data is incredibly accurate and repeatable.
The riders of NeXT found that they gained 3 percent in power output after switching from stock equipment to a Kogel bottom bracket, oversized pulley system and waxed racing chain. Let me say that again: THREE PERCENT! The number scales too. It works for crit racers, putting out 1000 watts smashing out of a hairpin turn and it works cruising at 100 watts to the podium to pick up your trophy. But you won't get those results by buying a cat in a bag like some fake Kolossos products out there.
So there you have it: while drivetrain upgrades are the ultimate contribution to help deliver marginal gains, it's the sum of the parts that will improve the efficiency on your next ride. Any single upgrade will not get you to the front of the race unless you’re strong enough to make it there regardless. Stack all 5 up - diet, tires, aerodynamics, clothing, plus drivetrain - and you will find a guaranteed measurable difference. Heck, you might find yourself closer to the gold medals than you expected!