Any cyclist will remember the first time they used clipless pedals, or wore padded lycra shorts, and the subsequent spring in their pedal strokes. Aside from the performance benefits, there is a positive mental association in play too. It all just feels right. And it’s no different for professional cyclists either, as Iain Paton, of Team WIGGINS says: “As strange as it sounds, feeling fast in your kit makes a difference. You feel more switched on and race ready.”
Paton was talking about using a skin-tight, all-in-one lycra suit – or speedsuit – when racing on the road. It is a trend that, before Team GB wore them during the Road Race World Championships in 2011, was not common outside of time trials and track racing. The day that saw Mark Cavendish win the rainbow jersey was the scene of one of the great team performances in cycling, with the British squad controlling the race from start to finish. The fact that every member of the team wore a speedsuit was just one small step in the ‘marginal gains’ master plan that Sir Dave Brailsford and Rod Ellingworth had put together. The rest of the peloton may have laughed on the morning of the race, but this flimsiest of armour helped bring the Team GB riders together, entering the race battle-motivated and ready to deliver Cavendish to victory. The days where forward-thinking cyclists would coyly roll up to the start line in their speedsuit, hoping nobody would make a comment, are now long gone.
Rapha is the kit supplier for both Team Sky and WIGGINS, the continental level team launched by Sir Bradley Wiggins this year to foster talented British cyclists. Paton, 20, has a background in mountain biking and little experience wearing speedsuits. “The first time I wore one was for a UK School Games mountain bike event. I remember how different it felt, much closer fitting around the arms, and thinking there wasn’t much protection between me and all the trees and rocks!” he says. While wearing an aero suit may be an awkward experience at first, once that zip is done up to the top, everything changes; the speedsuit becomes your second skin. There are no rubbing seams or bunching fabric to distract you when riding and you begin to feel like an athlete; you don’t even think about your clothing.
With its proven aerodynamic advantages, “a speedsuit is free speed, in a sense, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?” says Paton, and knowing he has the best clothing available is one less thing to worry about when racing. This mental lightening-of-the-load is not to be underestimated in professional sport, where doubt is the poison to performance. In his book ‘Faster – The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists’, British time trial stalwart Michael Hutchinson writes of overthinking his upcoming performance at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. “What I was endeavouring to do was brainwash myself into trying harder… What I achieved instead was to carefully and diligently wind myself up into a state of the highest possible anxiety.” The results were disastrous, and Hutchinson resolved to forever after think less before he competed, by making sure he had as many variables as possible covered beforehand.
Andy Tennant, World & European track champion, is a WIGGINS rider with extensive experience in aerodynamic gear. “Of course wearing a skinsuit helps with your mental preparation,” he says. “Knowing you have the fastest kit at a road race always helps because you know you will be trying that little bit less than everyone else. 1% is the difference between winning and losing so it is very important.” In ‘Faster’, Michael Hutchinson also writes at length about the ground-breaking suits that were developed for the Team GB track cyclists at recent Olympic Games, and the undeniable improvements they had on performance. He concludes that “your skinsuit matters more than your bike.” Surprisingly, whilst aerodynamic bikes and helmets have been tinkered with for decades, the speedsuit is a rather new science to be tackled properly. “I can assure you my skinsuit has come a long way since the first time I wore one,” says Tennant. “Then it was essentially just a shorts and jersey as a single piece. Now every seam and panel is considered. And the WIGGINS one looks the coolest, too.”
As Rapha launches the Pro Team Aerosuit and Jerseys in the Data Print design, the latest developments in aerodynamic clothing are being made available to the public. “For our commercial aerosuit, we made use of all of the wind-tunnel and road data collected from testing the one we made for Team Sky & WIGGINS,” says John Kirkby, Product Designer at Rapha. “Our Pro Team Aerosuit is engineered for a perfect on-bike fit, in all types of racing, and we’ve even included some new details, like an interior rear pocket construct, which sits perfectly flat when empty, as well as a lighter gripper on the legs and arms. Each small development has proven performance benefits behind it, and there’s nothing like data for a cyclist’s peace of mind”. With pro performance exclusives such as these, you can now arrive at the start line already feeling fast. The ‘going fast’ part is then up to you.