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What makes a bike fast?

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

What makes a bike fast?

Old 11-02-15, 04:26 PM
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Trackr
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What makes a bike fast?

I've been riding a 28c Cannondale 'Bad Boy' for about 6 months now.

When looking at a possible upgrade (for future interest) I came across a ton of super-expensive bikes that virtually all look pretty much identical to my Cannondale.

So, my question is - what sets these bikes apart?

Is it the wheel thickness? Because I can probably get 23c tires.

Is it the decrease in weight? Because I don't notice a big difference when biking with cargo.

Appreciate the input.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:31 PM
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The rider.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by andr0id View Post
The rider.
So why get a road bike? Might as well get a cushy 29" mountain bike if it's all the same.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:33 PM
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Frame material and weight. Even one ounce makes a difference.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:34 PM
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Expensive components, especially the rear derailleur...
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Old 11-02-15, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Trackr View Post
So why get a road bike? Might as well get a cushy 29" mountain bike if it's all the same.
Road bikes put the rider in a more aerodynamic position, as well as one that is further over the pedals for better leverage. There are plenty more reasons, it's definitely not "all the same."
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Old 11-02-15, 04:40 PM
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You can spend $15,000 on a top of the line race bike and still be slow. It helps but the engine is still the main source of power.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Trackr View Post
So why get a road bike? Might as well get a cushy 29" mountain bike if it's all the same.
If one bicycle were faster than another, then there would be no need to pay pros to actually ride them.
You could line them up and let them all roll downhill (using some method to keep them upright) and see which got to the bottom of the hill first.

The company with the fastest bicycle would be declared the winner and the marketing departments for all the companies that lied to you would then be taken out and shot.

Above a bicycle shop entry level bike, it doesn't really matter. Mark Cavendish could just as easily leave you in the dust riding a $1000 Specialized Diverge A1 as he could riding his S Works Venge.

Last edited by andr0id; 11-02-15 at 04:47 PM.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:42 PM
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Yeah, the bike you have is fine if you just enjoy riding in general but it seems you'd like to be faster or you wouldn't be here asking the question, right? Best response is the rider and his/her conditioning, followed by the equipment they have to put their abilities to use out on the road. You will never be as fast as a seasoned road rider on a proper road bike with your current bike.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:43 PM
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It helps if the bike fits properly...
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Old 11-02-15, 04:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Trackr View Post
So why get a road bike? Might as well get a cushy 29" mountain bike if it's all the same.
Why not go down to your LBS and ask to test ride one of their road bikes and compare?

A $1000 road bike will likely be 5lbs lighter than your bad boy, a $2500 road bike 10lbs. The lighter weight will let you get up hills faster. The gearing will be slightly higher so you can go faster for the same rpm on downhill or tailwind roads. The drop handlebars will let you get more aerodynamic. The steeper angles on the seat and head tubes will push you into a more forward position, allowing you to attack corners harder and come out of them faster.

In theory.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:46 PM
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Originally Posted by sloar View Post
You can spend $15,000 on a top of the line race bike and still be slow. It helps but the engine is still the main source of power.
But you can finish a 40 mile ride 13 seconds sooner as opposed to a $5000 bike. Because of the weight. Physics don't lie.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:46 PM
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Facing downward on a steep hill.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Lazyass View Post
Frame material and weight. Even one ounce makes a difference.
I see what you did there.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:48 PM
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What's cargo? I that short for escargot? That surely wouldn't be fast, would it? Or S-car go?
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Old 11-02-15, 04:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Trackr View Post
So why get a road bike? Might as well get a cushy 29" mountain bike if it's all the same.
Oh, you'll be fast on that. You will be first...to get dropped.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Trackr View Post
So why get a road bike? Might as well get a cushy 29" mountain bike if it's all the same.
Has to be the rider. I have and have had a lot of bikes, and not a one of them has gone anywhere at any speed without a rider.

I'd like to know which Cannondale the OP rides? And also, what are his/her goals? is this an academic question, or is the OP seriously about to embark on a program to increase his/her speed, and if so, how far is s/he going to take it?

As far as perceived speed increases, lighter wheels and tires allow quicker acceleration, which makes a bike "feel" faster, though in terms of top end, pretty much nada. Hard skinny tires Might decrease rolling resistance, but there is a lot of debate there.

Some tires offer a lot less rolling resistance than others, but not so much that you would Be much faster, just maybe would Feel a little faster taking off and speeding up.

Aero actually increases top end, but unless you are hitting 25 mph on the flats regularly the difference is negligible. And there is a website which says the important thing is matching actual tire width to actual rim width (that 23-mm tire might actually be 24.5 mm wide, and if it wider than the rim, Huge aero loss!!)

For the people who really want to squeeze the last few inches per hour out of their machines, these are the things they look at.

Most riders would gain a Lot more speed by using a regimented training program designed to maximize gas transfer, circulation, and in-ride recovery. At the very least you need to get a power meter and a bunch of ride-analysis software to figure out how to make the most of the power you do produce, and also how to produce more.

Going really fast on a bike is a pretty advanced science. And to really max out, you have to be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices.

Easy answer, I guess, is to buy an aero frame with really light wheels, spend a lot of money of lightweight components, and upgrade constantly. That will make the Bike faster---or at least increase its performance potential.

The most important thing of course, is wearing the right kit when you pull up at the cafe.

Having fun is for losers. If you are enjoying the ride you aren't trying. Push 'til you puke or park it and watch the "real" riders go by. You know, the ones with the right logos on their gear.
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Old 11-02-15, 04:55 PM
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The Bad Boy is a cool bike; I was lusting after one at REI, this past spring. It had road-like geometry, but with flat bars and hybrid gearing. You could likely dial in the fit to road bike position. The biggest difference would be the handlebars - flat bars (or other non-road bars) don't allow for you to comfortably maintain an aero position, for long.

For rides under a couple of hours, your average speed is unlikely to be improved much, with a road bike, over the bad boy. I would add bar-ends, to allow pulling on the bars, while climbing, try 25mm tires, mtb shoes and pedals, and concentrate on handling and getting stronger. Roadies love it when folks on hybrids show up on a group ride and drop them... : )
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Old 11-02-15, 06:56 PM
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90% engine, 10% equipment. A rookie on Team Sky could kick my ass riding a WalMart Huffy Cruiser Sad but true.
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Old 11-02-15, 07:12 PM
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The only thing that makes a bike fast is the rider. However there is a difference between riding a lighter road bike with road wheels compared to a heavy department store mountain bike. I can ride at a great pace and ride pretty fast on my 27lb vintage Huffy road bike and I'm just as fast but not any faster on a high-dollar lightweight road bike. If I ride my wife's brand new 42 lb Huffy MTB, I am slow as a snail.
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Old 11-02-15, 07:25 PM
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Originally Posted by andr0id View Post
The rider.
Yes the rider and light wheels!
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Old 11-02-15, 07:34 PM
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If the rider is made of carbon fiber and painted red .....

Easiest way to make a bike faster is to only ride downhill. It works for downhill racers and their bikes weigh 40+ lbs. Everyone needs a Huffy MTB ... and a ski lift.
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Old 11-02-15, 07:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Trackr View Post
So why get a road bike? Might as well get a cushy 29" mountain bike if it's all the same.


Yes, you can get a light, aero bike, yet the rider is what makes it fast.
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Old 11-02-15, 08:08 PM
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Rider position, weight, rotational weight, rolling resistance and aerodynamics/drag coefficient.

Oh, and of course, color!
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Old 11-02-15, 08:11 PM
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What makes a bike fast? Good questions with more than one answer. First, a good fit to the rider followed by good set up and proper adjustments and maintenance. Now, after all that, assuming they are correct for the rider and his needs, the rider is the engine that makes the bike go, fast or slow. So, time spent getting into condition and working on endurance, high intensity interval training, proper nutrition and hydration play key roles in making the bike fast.
Line up all the bikes in any bike shop and have them race...... they will all be tie until a rider hops on one. Which rider is what will make the difference.
For me, I see differences on any given day, some days I am strong but the wind is to my face. Other times I feel a bit weak and there is no wind, so times are about the same. Then, about once a month, the stars align, my nutrition and hydration are spot on and my body got a good nights sleep and then, like magic, the wind is at my back. Wow, is my bike fast on those days.
After all, anyone who has been cycling for a while knows, it's all about the bike!
Bottom line, a good rider will be fast on a lesser bike, but a lesser rider will lot be fast on a good bike.
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