Myth 4: Stiffer Frames Are Faster

“…On the flexible bike, pedaling faster didn’t seem as hard. We were out of breath, but our legs didn’t hurt. Once we got in sync with the frame, its response to our pedal strokes felt like a boat rising out of the water, going faster with only a little extra energy input. “You mean, it ‘planes’,”-

Off The Beaten Path

To celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we are examining 12 myths in cycling – things we (and most others) used to believe, but which we have found to be not true. Today, we’ll look at frame stiffness.

When we started Bicycle Quarterly, the thinking about frame stiffness fell into two camps. The majority of cyclists subscribed to the notion that frame flex wastes energy and that stiffer frames are faster. A few scientific types believed that the energy lost to frame flex was small, and thus frame stiffness probably does not matter. There were a few builders, like Bill Davidson, who extolled the ‘lively ride’ of lightweight tubes, but they were mostly ignored.

At Bicycle Quarterly, we mostly subscribed to the notion that it didn’t matter. And so we were happy riding relatively flexible frames… Sure, stiffer frames might offer marginally better performance, but seeing…

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7 thoughts on “Myth 4: Stiffer Frames Are Faster

  1. The guys at GCN just did a quick and dirty test on frame flex that showed the flex could actually HELP forward motion… Again, it’s like BQ wrote, the frame has to flex in the right way. Neat stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They did the vid based on Jan’s research!
      BQ and Jan are always a step ahead of the industry! He and his team have such great insight. I love when they blow up the long standing narratives…

      Like

      • I think they take some of it too far… suggesting that 45’s are faster than 23’s is just plain nuts. The ride is better, sure, but you put Sagan on 45’s and he never wins another sprint. Ever.

        On the other hand, if you want to say 26’s are better than 20’s or 23’s, I’m right there with you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You know, I can’t say that his research is definitly wrong. I mean, you look at the evolution of moto tires and they keep getting wider. With no power loss due to any higher rolling resistance. I would have to ride 40s and 44s compared to 35s and 38s to see the numbers myself. But I’m inclined to believe the research as it stands. We’ll have to wait…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, a lot of variables in there Jim. You may be correct, but I think it is one of those slow changes that we’ll have to wait and see to be proved either way.

        But I will say this, I have about 90 sprint koms over the past 3 years on 2 different bikes. Tire iterations ranging from 23mm, 25mm to now 28mm.

        The latest version has 28s on 23mm wheels, that helped me bag about 50 of those sprint koms. Running anywhere from 80 r/75f psi to 75r/70f pressures. Now I’m not Sagan… 😀 but I was able to blister many segments on the wider tires with lower pressures.

        I’m betting that pro peloton moves to 28mms from 25mm by 2019. In fact I think you will see some 28mm tires on wider rims this season on pro tour bikes. Where is the diminishing return? I don’t know. Could it be 32mm? Maybe. 35mm?

        Frame weight, design, materials, road surfaces, weather, etc are considerable variables. I think the jury is out, I think the whole ‘feel’ and perception aspect is a major factor. A negative one at that. Riders feel faster on certain equipment, but are not always faster in real world conditions.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Neat indeed!

      In fact, two years ago,
      Honda MotoGP team began making their chassis less stiff and more flexible and boom! Faster bike… more grip, more power to the wheels.

      Liked by 1 person

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