The cycling time trial is known as the race of truth because your performance is based entirely on your ability. There is no drafting or team tactics. In fact, there is no support whatsoever. Every cyclist rides independently and whoever navigates the course in the shortest amount of time wins. It’s really that simple, however, your time trial performance isn’t based solely on your athletic ability and determination. There are 3 pieces of clothing that can significantly improve your results. These include an aerodynamic helmet, skinsuit and shoe covers.
An aero helmet is that funny-looking helmet with a pointy back. While it may not seem like it would make a big difference, wind tunnel tests have shown significant performance gains for cyclists who use an aero helmet versus those wearing a standard helmet due to reduced aerodynamic drag. For example, one study showed a 67-second time improvement for elite athletes competing in a 40 km (24.8 miles) time trial. You can expect to spend between $150 and $300 for a good aero helmet.
Another way to reduce aerodynamic drag is with a skinsuit, which is a one-piece, tight-fitting garment that is held to the skin by elastic tension. It works by lessening air drag along the skin and by eliminating the parachute effect of tight-fitting clothing. This may come as a surprise, but the skinsuit is among the best ways to reduce wind resistance and increase bike speed. Wind tunnel tests show significant performance gains for cyclists using a skinsuit over a standard cycling kit (i.e., shorts and jersey). The very best skinsuits have delivered performance improvements in excess of two minutes for elite athletes competing in a 40 km time trial.
Many skinsuits come with long sleeves because it has been shown that the suit’s material is “faster” than human skin. A high quality skinsuit will cost between $150 and $300. However, you can probably get one for a lower price if you buy through a cycling club or team. You may also find this to be a more efficient strategy because skinsuits are not as plentiful as cycling kits. While cycling kits can be found in every bike shop and most sporting goods stores, skinsuits are more difficult to locate.
If you are surprised by the performance benefits provided by a skinsuit, you will probably be even more surprised by the performance gains that are possible with the use of shoe covers. While the reduction of aerodynamic drag is not as significant for shoe covers as it is for an aero helmet and skinsuit, wind tunnel tests have shown a 30-second time improvement for elite athletes wearing shoe covers vs. those without shoe covers at the 40 km time trial distance. This is a significant increase in performance provided by a very inexpensive piece of clothing!