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Chasing Marginal Gains – Aero Upgrades

By Jiri Kaloc

Some of the biggest aero gains are definitely going to come from your position on the bike. Getting aerobars and a good bike fit are the places to start if you want to cover your basics. But this article is about marginal gains – the less obvious aero upgrades. Let’s take a look at where to spend your money and focus if you want to go the extra mile.

Optimised clothing

Riding in cycling-specific clothing is a no-brainer – it is more practical and protects your behind. But you may not know just how much your clothing influences aerodynamics. Pretty much every piece of fabric you wear matters, so let’s get into a few specific examples.


Yes, something as insignificant as socks can actually make you faster. Especially for rides over 100 km long with a lot of flats and descents, aero socks are something to seriously consider. They are cheap compared to many other aero upgrades and tests are consistently showing meaningful improvements. Here is what experts say about them.

“$20 to $40 aero socks can save you more watts than a $500 pulley system,” said Josh Poertner, a former technical director at Zipp and an industry-leading expert in marginal gains, in an interview with Dylan Johnson. He continued sharing his experiences testing aero socks in a wind tunnel: “At 30 mph, the best aero socks can be worth like 12-15 watts.”

Jersey, bibs, skinsuits

Don’t be the type of cyclist that buys top-of-the-line deep-section wheels while riding in an old baggy jersey. The fit of whatever you put on while riding is crucial. Josh Poertner sums it up really well.

“Spending time to find the fit and the brand that fits you and buying it as small as you can is huge. Every wrinkle in your clothing is a watt, maybe not literally but probably not far from it. Every single wrinkle is penalising you in some way,” said Josh.

Road cyclist
The fit of whatever you put on while riding is crucial. © Profimedia


Gloves are something many cyclists wear just out of habit or with the aim of protecting their wrists from the vibrations. It’s time to rethink your gloves. If you’re going to wear them at all, you have to go for aero ones. That’s because regular cycling gloves are typically less aero than just your bare skin.


Helmets are there to protect but as we can see from pretty much any time trial, they are a huge deal for aero. Josh Poertner illustrates just how much of a difference it can make.

“A $300 time-trial aero helmet can save you 30 or more watts over a road helmet. But the aero road helmets can still be quite good. We’ve seen 12-15 watts of savings”.

If you’re trying to decide whether to splurge on the latest and most expensive helmet, he adds one more tip that mightsave you a bit of money while getting an even better aero performance.

“The industry secret is that some of the cheaper helmets are more aero than some of the most expensive helmets. That’s because the most expensive helmets have been focused on the number of vents and weight. You end up with helmets that have more holes than helmet. The less expensive helmets with fewer vents end up being more aero,” said Josh.


Coming back to the bicycle itself, your handlebar area is something to pay close attention to. All top-end group sets are either electronic or route cables internally, under the tape, to prevent creating any extra drag. So, most of the work is done for you but you still have your cycling computer to think of and the handlebars themselves. Carbon flat-top handlebar cockpits can be really pricy, but they really make a difference. If you have the budget, it’s a must for anyone chasing aero marginal gains.

“The cockpit aero flat-top handlebars make a huge difference. In a 30-mph wind tunnel test a good aero flat top handlebar can be 25 to 28 watts of savings,” said Josh.

Bike maintenance

The cheapest marginal gain you can make is to keep your bicycle really clean. Dirt adds friction and that’s a problem, especially on your chain and other moving components. But dirt is an issue even for your frame and non-moving components because it increases drag. Make sure your bike is squeaky clean for every race or important ride.

Next up in Chasing Marginal Gains series