Written by - Joe Laverick
Aerodynamics. Quietly, a big debate in the world of gravel. Whether you like it or not, it’s a debate that is only going to grow. With races often won in seven hours or more, and won from a small group or in stylish solo fashion, “being aero” is more important than ever before.
I’m chasing back for what seems to be the hundredth time at Belgian Waffle Ride on Vancouver Island. The course takes us through a couple of mountain bike parks, each time we go into one, I come out close to a minute down. The elite front group is mostly made up of pro-MTBers and ‘cross riders, they’re more technically minded than me.
It’s in one of these many, many chases back on, as I’m putting out four hundred and something watts, that I realise this is why I need aero kit in gravel…to help my chase back be that little bit shorter.
I mostly race in the Velotec PRO SC Gravel suit and ALWAYS with Aero-socks 2.0. I can already hear the purists calling me out. “Aero socks in Gravel?! How dare you!?” You ask why, I ask why not. Gravel racing is exactly that, a race. Why put yourself at a disadvantage?
Of course, I want the aero benefits of my kit to be helping me win off the front of races, rather than helping me get back on due to a lack of technical skills. But, we’re not all perfect and that’ll come with time.
So, BWR Vancouver. I finished 10th after spending a lot of time alone. Remember those MTB parks I was talking about? All that chasing on final caused me to crack on one of the steepest climbs and I spent the final 70km or so riding in solo.
If you ever travel to do a bike race, make sure it’s on Vancouver Island. You have every single landscape you’d ever want in one place. Forests, mountains and water. The views are spectacular. In fact, it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever ridden, and that’s saying something.
Striking the balance on what you wear in Gravel is a hard one. Of course, you want to be aero, but traditional road suits are often poor at cooling. Gravel racing takes place at lower speeds than road racing, making you feel much much hotter. Having a suit that has cooling properties is arguably as important as aero.
Then there’s pockets. You can never ever have too many pockets in the world of gravel. You’re self supported, with just the odd aid station. You have tools, food, and who knows what else weighing you down. We admit we’re not perfect at Velotec and pocket placement is an area that we’re having a lot of internal conversations about.
While I’ve got my kit dialled when it comes to aerodynamics, there’s still a lot to figure out. Finding that balance between a position that allows you to tackle the most technical of terrain, but also be slippery fast on the flat is something I’m still trying to figure out. I need a faster helmet too.
Tyre technology is another balancing act. Of course, you want something that has a low rolling resistance, but racing on the loose stuff without support cars, you need puncture resistance.
Balance. That’s the key when it comes to off-road-aero.
I’ll probably take my gravel set-up into a wind tunnel this winter. Partially because it’s worth my while for my own performance, and we’ll get a great article out of it, but partially because it’ll annoy people in the gravel world and I find that funny.
It might be cool to wear a baggy t-shirt while shredding the gravel. But, it’s also cool to ride fast. Aerodynamics are only here to stay.
“Do you even want to win” - Unknown
An interesting video with American Gravel Pro, Dylan Johnson. Expect to see something similar with Velotec happening this winter.