Marginal Gains - on controllable variables, equipment. Road cycling

I post this as it seems its very hard to find the very small things you can do to maximize your equipment. So lets here the things that you can do to make yourself 1% faster. The goal of this thread is not to banter about what is best, more to post things that you have seen that work, that might have some data to back it up.

Chain lube - choosing a product that has been tested and shown to save watts.
Tires - Choosing a tire that rolls quickly
Tire pressure - making sure your using the right pressure for your weight
Helmet - Aero Helmet
Socks - Aero socks - is this real?
Shoe covers - cant really wear if its hot or a long race. Maybe a crit?
Skinsuit - not sure which brand is best, but they have proven to be faster
Gloves ?
Wheels - yes deeper is faster
Aero frame - that works per wind tunnel. 50% of your ride is at a yaw angle
Aero bars - one of the reason aero frames work well, but if you can hide cables its better
Body position - holding elbows flat for longer
tubes - latex over standard

very small gains
over sized pully wheels
bottom brackets
bearings in wheels
removing grease and dust sheilds and putting in oil and bearings - (don’t do this takes a ton of work)
Chain line - larger rear cassette

Some significant gains to be made from eliminating flappy fabric and creases from a well fitting skin suit. The gains from specific features like ridges to trip airflow is far more marginal.


Non-marginal gains are seating position, wheels and aero frame. Note that some aero frames will put you in a very aggressive position and you have very real gains that have nothing to do with tube shaping and the like. AFAIK clothing is also a non-marginal gain, going from floppy to tight-fitting clothing will give you a significant gain. Veloce shoe covers and skin suit should yield marginal improvements when compared with tight-fitting clothes. Keeping your drive train and bike clean could be a non-marginal gain, depending on the state of your drive train. If your current helmet is non-aero, an aero helmet might also be worth it.

Gearing is marginal gain for sure, if you can manage, use larger chainrings so that the most used gears have a relatively straight chain line and use larger cogs with larger bending radii. But if that comes at the expense of gears that you need, it is not worth it.

The rest is probably too marginal to matter for mere mortals.

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To me the best bang for the buck is:

Form fitting, race fit jersey. Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t going to buy a $300 skin suit. I see guys in my club with flappy nylon jackets and they are the slow guys! Race fit jersey = 20 watts. Flappy nylon jacket = -30 watts.

If you are buying a new helmet, then get an aero road helmet. Supposedly 10 watts. I have a Ballista and you can feel it interacting with the air.

Going from regular wheels to aero wheels is huge. It’s a ton of watts at race speeds. Try and match tires to the width of rims (105% rule). Putting 32mm tires on 25mm rims defeats the purpose.

I agree with fast tires. Tires are cheap. Why buy slow ones? I see guys in my club buy aero wheels and then install Gatorskins - that’s like a 20 watt penalty.

Bearings - meh. Spin tests are BS. Even if you believe all of ceramic speed’s posted data, you are talking about saving 5 watts after spending a couple grand. And that’s when those bearings are all perfectly maintained and fresh.

I think aero frames are overrated for what they cost. Put aero wheels, aero bars, and etap (no cables) on a regular frame and you have achieved many of the gains.


Aero sock, gloves, aero shoe covers…I’ve tested all three of those together & individually & could never get a consistent benefit/deficit with or without. So whatever benefit they provide it’s small.

Biggest gains are always position (but aerobars can be part of that!), wheels, clothes, helmet. The data I’m about to link puts clothes ahead of wheels…could be depending on the clothes & wheels! But in my experience good wheels are hard to beat.

So, right here is already one thing that didn’t make your list: shave your legs.


Now let’s get into the super secret stuff that most people don’t think about! :smiley: #1 is chainline. If you can get the new hanseeno drive train with the floating front chainring you can save yourself big watts on a hilly course. In any event, study the friction facts data on drive train losses in different gear combinations & shift accordingly.

Bigger chain ring, bigger rear cogs. If you can do the whole ride on a 60t chainring, reasonably straight chainline, and a couple rear cogs that suit your power profile you can save a gob of watts. Again, refer to the Friction Facts data & infer.

And finally, if it’s a super flat time trial, get rid of the rear derailleur. That will save you 2 to 4 watts in drive train losses alone. The aero gains will only pile on.

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Amp Human Bicarb.

Oh…one more thing…I’ve tested a vie13, velotec, specialized, and coure silver skinsuit. The coure tests fastest for me every time. Your mileage may vary.

Helmets…it’s not worth talking about what helmet is fastest for two different people. For me a kask bambino is slower than a bontrager velocis. Every time. By quite a lot. So sometimes you just can’t tell. If you want to pick a helmet that seems to make just about everybody at least a little faster…go with the bell javelin.

@Brennus what are the red and blue watt savings numbers referencing? Meaning why for the aero frame 23W & then (11W)?

Also, IIRC, aero gains are not additive (80W). Someone correct me if I’m wrong but, that needs to be explained better by math and physics.

World Tour vs Mere Mortal speed.

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@Landis definitely every time I went out and did some testing there was at least one thing that just seemed hard to understand. Many times data has disproved my intution on aero matters! So if this has been your experience than I believe you.

But, for me, if I put on aero bars, I got faster. If I put on aero bars and a disk wheel, I got even faster. If I put on aero bars, a disk wheel, and a time trial helmet, I got even faster. If I put on aero bars, a disk wheel, a time trial helmet, and a speed suit, I got faster still. That’s the way things went with me.

Oh, holy crap. I just realized I forgot the biggest marginal gain for @ABG list!

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I think if you keep speed constant and measure the watts needed to achieve that speed, then gains pretty much are additive. Assuming of course that the changes you’re making are discrete and don’t impact each other. I.e. That switching to an aero helmet changes the airflow over your back and impacts the watt savings of using a skinsuit.

In real life you’re generally fixing your wattage not your speed. In which case the gains may be more than additive, since the more watts you save, the faster you go, and aero gains save you more watts at higher speed. If switching from slightly loose clothing to a skinsuit allows you to go at 41kph at threshold instead of 40kph, then the gains from also switching to deeper wheels are now greater, since those wheels are going faster.

@ABG I forgot the biggest bang-for-the-buck marginal gain of them all: LATEX TUBES!

If you’re running butyl tubes or tubeless with the manufacturer’s recommended amount of sealant you’re going to go much faster by switching to latex tubes. That’ll probably get you more savings than shaving your legs or switching to a road aero helmet.

Butyl vs latex absolutely. But are you saying that latex is faster than sealant? And/or that it depends on the amount of sealant used? The data I’ve seen seemed to generally have tubeless with sealant vs tubed with latex as about even.

Being in a good mood adds at least 15 watts.


Integrated cables and shaved legs are the most comical of marginal gains IMO.

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Yes. I’m just going by the data on :smiley: People are usually astounded when I show them this!

Here is the tubeless vs latex vs butyl vs light butyl data:


Here is the tubeless data by sealant:


Note the first column of both tables is the same data. Same tire, same rolling resistance. ZERO SEALANT!! Ha! And Latex is still better.

Now pay attention to the second table. Middle column is about a tablespoon of sealant. Are you comfortable rolling out with a tablespoon of sealant in your tire? Right-most column is about what most people would use. 30 to 40 ml of sealant. Guess what? About the same rolling resistance as a standard butyl tube.

helmet seems head specific

I think the extra length of toe straps cost lemond 2 sec or something. Didnt specalized test shaving legs really saves time, shaving face saves no time

On the positioning, it’s not just how your bike is set up but how you ride it. There are huge gains to be made from learning to ride in an aero position for long periods of time. E.g. Hands on top of hoods with flat forearms and and with your head turtled down low and then looking up at the road through your eyebrows/top of your glasses. Or if you’re not comfortable with that position or need more control and braking for a technical section, then being on the drops with the same flat forearms and turtled head.

Getting your bike setup to be able to ride that way while generating good power may require changes to position, saddle choice, crank length, etc. But there is also a lot of physiological adaptation and you need to spend time working on it. Maybe also more time spent off the bike on core strength and mobility.

In the UK I’m seeing people get some crazy fast road positions recently. I think partly due to lockdown - lots of solo riding which provides both the means and the motivation to work on getting more aero. And also TTs have been about the only races you can do, and road bike TTs are getting more and more popular over here.

Good call, being able to hold the “attack” position def can result in gaining watts.