Life on a bike-4: Air

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You can’t see it but the role of air in cycling is not to be underrated, perhaps most obvious it can either help or hinder progress in the form of wind.  Between 70% and 90% of total resistance is caused by aerodynamic drag on a flat road, add to that a headwind and it becomes hard work, with a tailwind it’s a pleasure – like having a motor if it’s strong enough!  Depending on wind direction, the noise of air movement whilst cycling can be loud when battling into a wind or when from behind maybe completely lost – resulting in the pleasurable feeling of almost floating along in a quiet bubble.

At its most extreme, in the case of track racing inside a velodrome, the ambient temperature of the air and air pressure can make the difference between winning or losing and world records due to its affect on resistance.  In such an environment, where results may come down to thousands of a second, every effort is made to make the machine and rider as aerodynamically efficient in the air as possible through equipment design and riding technique.  In road racing cross-winds can rip a peloton apart, which will then break into echelon groups in order combat the obstacle of air.  Depending on severity the outcome of a race can often be determined by such winds.

Air temperature and wind strength can also determine riding comfort.  When cold suitable windproof clothing is important and makes a big difference.  When hot or at least warm, the air helps keep muscles warm and supple.  At all times, especially when warm, the movement of air plays a useful role wicking away the rider’s sweat; whilst making for greater rider comfort, the affect can cause increased dehydration.

On a modern bike air plays one final critical role, in the form of inflatable tyres, without which cycling would be a much less comfortable experience that becomes abruptly evident in the event of a puncture.  When cycling we are literally riding on air.

To be continued ……………………………….

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