Fundamentals of Performance

You want to ride further, faster or both. You want to improve your road race placings or complete a target event such as a time trial, cyclo sportive or triathlon in a particular time. You want to train towards these goals in the most efficient way; efficient in terms of time invested, energy expended or progress made in a particular time period.

If you are a cyclist or coach who has identified any of the above objectives then you have made the first step towards adopting or facilitating a structured training programme. The process of designing and implementing a good programme in an optimal way hinges on some key performance related questions which ought to be based on facts.

  • How fast am I now? (Benchmarking)
  • How fast do I need to be? (Goal setting)
  • What is the gap? (Gap analysis)
  • What is causing the gap? (Rider profiling)
  • Can I close the gap? (Realism)
  • How? (Training)
  • How can I measure progress? (Monitoring)
  • How can I give myself the best possible chance in my target event(s)? (Event research)
Just as these questions ought to be based on facts, the answers to these questions ought to be based on scientific principles which cut to the fundamentals of cycling performance. Good answers will find a place for several scientific disciplines – physics, physiology, aerodynamics, etc – so long as these are not allowed to overcomplicate the task. Modern training theory should be adopted because its sophistication has the power to reveal simple efficiencies, not because it feels alluringly complicated or justifies a coach’s role.

The remainder of this page focuses on some of the most asked questions in the area of cycling performance and power training. Beneath each question is a brief summary of how a forward thinking cyclist or coach might try to answer the question and within this are links to the relevant performance models on this site. In other words this page motivates, for the newer user of power based training techniques, why you might want to use some or all of these power and performance models.

Scientific models of cycling tell us there are a few things a cyclist can do to ride faster. In ascending order of importance you could:
  1. Reduce your rolling resistance. Good tyre selection is the only option in this area and it is important to realise that rolling resistance is the smallest of a riders problems at higher speeds.
  2. Reduce the mechanical inefficiencies inherent in your bike. Various ceramic bearing upgrades have been suggested as the most profitable action in this area.
  3. Reduce the weight of your bike. Money, physics and the UCI minimum weight rule are the only constraints, but nowadays many decent bikes are close enough to the limit that there isn’t much to be gained.
  4. Reduce the aerodynamic drag component of your bike. Certain bikes, wheels and components on the market now (Cervelo, Felt, Ridley, Boardman, Zipp, etc) are reported to offer demonstrable savings which can be quantified in terms of watts. Once again money, physics and UCI rules are the only limits.
  5. Reduce your body weight. This is most relevant to climbing, accelerating, and manifests with an improvement in power : weight ratio which theoretically improves until the cyclist becomes so weak and frail as to experience a reduction in power output. This site cannot provide dietary advice but the options in terms of weight loss are the perennial two: eat less energy or burn more. Of course motivation and determination is an important and hard to find catalyst.
  6. Reduce the aerodynamic drag attributed to your body. Most cyclists have much to gain from a more aerodynamic position. In selecting a riding position there is a clear trade-off between aerodynamics, comfort, and power generation. The cyclist who truly values speed can always compromise comfort to maximise his ratio of power generation to aerodynamic drag. Bike fitting services tend to overemphasise the comfort component while testing (e.g. in a wind tunnel) probably overemphasises the aerodynamics component.
  7. Increase your power output. For most people “more power” is by far the most profitable and achievable way to ride faster, it comes with focussed training. Measures 1-6 have all focussed on reducing the forces and factors that serve to slow the cyclist down, power is the only force that can speed the cyclist up.
Forward thinking cyclists and coaches should be interested in the magnitudes of improvement that can be achieved by addressing the above factors. The Power Components Calculator  and Power-Speed Scenarios Model  allow a lot of experimentation in terms of how different parameters will impact a riders speed and ultimately time trial or road racing performance.