In the endless pursuit of aerodynamic perfection, there is always scope for improvement. Technology and textile developments play a great part in this, and whether it’s a small position change on the time trial bike, a new aero helmet launched on the market or almost see-through skinsuits, the advantages can be quite significant.
Skinsuits range in price from £75 right up to £1,000 so will an expensive one bring you more gains (in terms of watts saved and seconds gained) or will a cheaper one suffice?
We’ve already tested the benefits of wearing a skinsuit instead of a normal jersey and bibshorts and the results speak for themselves. On a 25-mile time trial ridden at 25mph, the skinsuit saved around five watts on both a normal road bike and a TT bike.
However, it is harder to quantify the effects of wearing an expensive skinsuit compared to a cheaper one.
Time triallist and writer Michael Hutchinson, says: “It’s hard to say which one is good or not. Some of the most expensive ones show average performances, and one or two cheap ones are extremely good. You’d need to do a wind tunnel test.”
The performances of the suits, adds Hutchinson, also depend on the speed the athlete is riding. For example, Etixx-Quick Step’s Tony Martin uses a skinsuit designed for speeds above 50kph, so this wouldn’t give the same benefit for lower speeds, below 40kph.
Do you really need a skinsuit?
Price and performance
Champion System produces both entry-level and top-end skinsuits, ranging from the basic £75 Short Sleeve Skinsuit to the £169 CS Carbon Rear Zip Speedsuit (developed with the Italian Lampre-Merida WorldTour team).
“The entry level garment uses good quality compression Lycra and it’s more relaxed in the fit,” Wayne Greenhalgh, company director of Champion System, says. “It’s a cheap product for saving watts.”
The high-end model features a rear zip that, it’s claimed, reduces drag, along with carbon-fibre injections in its fabric that contribute extra compression and help with thermoregulatory control.
In addition, it features a more ergonomic and aerodynamic cut than the cheaper Short Sleeve Skinsuit.
“The rear zip is seven per cent more effective than the front one in terms of drag,” Greenhalgh adds.
On the other hand, UK manufacturer Rapha — which now provides skinsuits to Team Sky who used the first iteration at the 2016 Giro d’Italia — strongly supports the correlation between high investments, high prices and high performance results.
“The price of the suit can often be a reflection of the R&D investment that has gone into the suit to ensure efficient aerodynamic performance,” says Rapha’s head of product development, Simon Huntsman.
Nevertheless, he agrees that it’s not all about the money: “Higher priced fabrics and workmanship can often push the price up but these ingredients don’t necessarily make a suit faster. Fit can have a huge impact on aerodynamics, leading to a watts and time saving.
“With the right fabric technologies and seam positions, it is possible to save between 10-15 watts even in top-end suits, which is significant in the world of TT racing.”
What’s the most cost effective gain you can make?
Even though it’s hard to know exactly how much you can save in terms of watts and seconds when comparing an expensive skinsuit to a cheap one, it is has been proved that a skinsuit brings its benefits.
Just riding your local 10, you’ll certainly get a basic aerodynamic gain from a ‘standard’ cheaper skinsuit over any other road-specific clothing.
However, if you’re really searching for that marginal gain, spending a little more can bring you that. Bear in mind it’s likely to be a single-use suit though, so make it count.
Will a cheap skinsuit do?
Yes: Michael Hutchinson, Time triallist and author
“The top-end skinsuit development has slowed significantly over the last few years. In 2007-2008 there was a lot of interest in development, while nowadays high-end skinsuits are fitted
to a particular riders and events, but this process is expensive. Customers can get very good skinsuits off the peg, but it’s hard to say what is good and bad.”
No: Simon Huntsman, Head of product development and R&D for Rapha
“The price of the suit is often a reflection of the R&D investment that has gone into ensuring efficient aerodynamic performance. Entry-level suits are generally off-the-peg and top-end suits are invariably custom-fitted. Top-end suits are also the result of serious R&D that involves wind tunnel testing to ensure the gains are proven. This is an expensive business.”