By spokesman | February 15, 2010
Retard (verb) - to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.
Most bicyclists, especially racers and triathletes want to ride faster. However there are a number of factors that retard their forward motion and slow them down. Cyclists try of overcome these factors through training, technique and buying more expensive equipment. Let’s take a look at the factors that retard the motion of cyclists.
The primary forces that a cyclist must overcome are gravity and air resistance. The force due to gravity is proportional to weight. Given two cyclists who can produce equal power, the lighter one will go faster. The bicycle industry has embraced this fact and sells lighter bicycles each year. However cyclists need to consider not just the weight of their bicycle but the combined weight of the bicycle and themselves. A 150lb cyclist on an 18lb bicycle has a total weight of 168lbs. The same 150lb cyclist on a 20 lb. bicycle has a combined weight of 170 lbs. Changing from the 20lb bike to the 18 lb bike reduces the total combined weight by only 1.17% (2lbs/170lbs) for that cyclist.
The second factor that slows cyclists is air resistance. Air resistance increased exponentially with speed and does not become a significant factor until you reach about 15 mph. At speeds less than 15 mph, gravity is a more significant factor than air resistance. In order to decrease the force due to air resistance, you need to decrease your profile. Professional cyclists optimize their riding position in wind tunnel tests and have custom made bikes that minimize their profile. However even with the optimization of rider position and equipment, the cyclist’s body accounts for 80% of the drag due to air resistance. For amateurs, it is even higher than 80%. Most of the benefit that amateur cyclists can gain from minimizing their profile can be achieved with an aerobar and aerodynamic helmet. The extra benefit of an aerodynamic frame is insignificant for most riders. Unless you are a serious triathlete or racer who does time trials, an aerodynamic frame will only give a marginal improvement. Often the uncomfortable position needed to minimize air resistance will reduce the cyclist’s output power.
Cyclists tend to spend more money to increase speed. Often they will spend hundreds or thousands of dollars more on a bicycle to save a few pounds or gain an aerodynamic advantage. While this can make a difference for professional cyclists where the difference between victory and a loss can be a few seconds, the gain for an amateur cyclist is often not significant. If I had a nickel for every overweight person that buys a sub 17 lb bike or every triathlete that buys an aerodynamic frame that is so uncomfortable that they sacrifice a significant amount of their power, I could retire. As Rahm Emanuel would say about spending all of that extra money to gain a marginal increase in speed - “That’s just f–king retarded”
There is a campaign to stop the use of the word retard. A website at http://www.r-word.org is asking people to pledge to stop using the r-word. I decided not to take the pledge. So did Christopher Fairman, who wrote an article entitled “Saying It Is Hurtful. Banning It Is Worse.” in the Outlook Section of the Washington Post.