Gnehm, P., Reichenbach, S., Altpeter, E., Widmer, H., & Hoppeler, H. (1997). Influence of different racing positions on metabolic cost in elite cyclists. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29, 818-823.

Spectacular improvements of the 1-hour world record in cycling in the last four years have highlighted the importance of aerodynamics in modern bicycle racing. The metabolic consequences of the low-crouched aero-positions necessary to reduce air drag were investigated

Male bicycle racers (N = 14) were tested for oxygen consumption and heart rate at 70% VO2max in three different riding positions during a single test run. Ss rode racing bicycles on a wind-braked roller; following a randomized sequence of positions:

  1. upright cycling with a cadence of 90 rpm;
  2. hands on drops at 90 rpm; and
  3. hands on clip-on aero-handlebars at 90 rpm.

VO2 and heart rate values in the clip-on aero-handlebars condition were significantly higher than in the upright cycling position.

It was concluded that riding a bicycle in an extreme aero-position increases the metabolic cost of cycling when wind resistance is not taken into account. However, when the mechanical power losses are compared with the expected aerodynamic power savings, it appears that aerodynamic advantages by far outweigh their metabolic cost.

Implication. The metabolic cost of cycling in an aerodynamic position is greater than performing in a comfortable upright position. However, the mechanical power gains far outweigh the increased difficulty.

This study is an example that demonstrates a new and more difficult technique reaping far greater gains for performance than the cost of performing it.

Return to Table of Contents for this issue.