Author Topic: Does thinner air make you faster ?  (Read 3323 times)

Panoramix

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Does thinner air make you faster ?
« on: 29 August, 2023, 12:08:44 pm »
Hello all,

It took me 20 years of marriage to convince Mrs P that cycling in Colombia was a good idea....

So a couple of weeks ago I managed to borrow a road bike and went on 2 rides. I always stayed at an altitude between 2500m and 3000m... The climbs were hard even if I had been staying in Colombia for 2 weeks but on the flatish and downhill portions I was flying! Bike was a racing bike 1 or 2 sizes too small for me (so my position was very "aggressive") with "semi deep" rims and geared for "tough Colombian legs".

I can't make up my mind, was it me (unlikely ;-) ), the euphoria of enjoying Colombian roads for the first time, the bike or the air thinner due to altitude ? Has anybody experienced "flying conditions due to altitude" before ?
Chief cat entertainer.

Mr Larrington

  • A bit ov a lyv wyr by slof standirds
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Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #1 on: 29 August, 2023, 12:38:10 pm »
Yes, Eddy Merckx  ;D
External Transparent Wall Inspection Operative & Mayor of Mortagne-au-Perche
Satisfying the Bloodlust of the Masses in Peacetime

Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #2 on: 29 August, 2023, 12:40:30 pm »
Yes, thinner air is faster. Your ability to produce power goes down, due to limited oxygen, that makes you slower. Your aerodynamic drag also goes down, due to thinner air, that makes you faster. Which one of these dominates depends on how long and hard an effort you are making and how fast you are going. The world hour record was set at a moderate altitude of a few hundred metres, the world 1km record (less than a minute) was set at high altitude. Temperature also has an effect as warmer air is thinner.

Mr Larrington

  • A bit ov a lyv wyr by slof standirds
  • Custard Wallah
    • Mr Larrington's Automatic Diary
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #3 on: 29 August, 2023, 12:45:20 pm »
TV's Nice C Boardman noted a couple of years ago that instead of going to $HIGH_ALTITUDE for track record attempts it's cheaper and simpler to go to Manchester and crank the heating up.
External Transparent Wall Inspection Operative & Mayor of Mortagne-au-Perche
Satisfying the Bloodlust of the Masses in Peacetime

T42

  • Apprentice geezer
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #4 on: 29 August, 2023, 12:45:44 pm »
Altitude builds up your haematocrit. It's why Boulder, CO is a great cycling centre.  When I was up at the Great Divide, at 4350 metres - higher than the summit of Mont Blanc -  there were cyclists arriving every few minutes.
I've dusted off all those old bottles and set them up straight

Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #5 on: 29 August, 2023, 01:29:37 pm »
Altitude builds up your haematocrit. It's why Boulder, CO is a great cycling centre.  When I was up at the Great Divide, at 4350 metres - higher than the summit of Mont Blanc -  there were cyclists arriving every few minutes.

That is somewhat lower than the height of Mont Blanc

T42

  • Apprentice geezer
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #6 on: 29 August, 2023, 03:24:08 pm »
Altitude builds up your haematocrit. It's why Boulder, CO is a great cycling centre.  When I was up at the Great Divide, at 4350 metres - higher than the summit of Mont Blanc -  there were cyclists arriving every few minutes.

That is somewhat lower than the height of Mont Blanc

Right enough, I was shifting the 8 one notch to the right. Still pretty high for cycling, though.
I've dusted off all those old bottles and set them up straight

Cudzoziemiec

  • Ride adventurously and stop for a brew.
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #7 on: 29 August, 2023, 03:44:57 pm »
Thinner air makes you faster, as do thinner tyres, thinner bodies – but for some reason not thinner hair???
Riding a concrete path through the nebulous and chaotic future.

Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #8 on: 29 August, 2023, 04:05:31 pm »
Thinner air makes you faster, as do thinner tyres, thinner bodies – but for some reason not thinner hair???

Thinner hair makes you more aero

Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #9 on: 29 August, 2023, 06:22:15 pm »
You have to spend some time at altitude for it to have an effect on your haemoglobin, at least several weeks, ideally, your whole life. But, there’s always a but, this raised haematocrit is only really useful at sea level. This is because the partial pressure of oxygen in the air is lower at altitude meaning there is less oxygen for your body to absorb. Haemoglobin saturation, as measured with a pulse oximeter would be lower than at sea level. However, at altitude the body produces more of something called 2,3 DPG which allows haemoglobin to release more oxygen to the muscles. But this disappears when you return to sea level. So you win some and lose some.
Here endeth the physiology lesson. 😉
I am often asked, what does YOAV stand for? It stands for Yoav On A Velo

IanDG

  • The p*** artist formerly known as 'Windy'
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Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #10 on: 29 August, 2023, 07:35:23 pm »

Panoramix

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Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #11 on: 29 August, 2023, 08:48:39 pm »
Thanks all, this is what I thought.

I could definitely feel the difference...

As for the lack of oxygen, the climbs were definitely harder, I had to walk some very steep bits that I might have just managed at sea level.
Chief cat entertainer.

bhoot

  • MemSec (ex-Mrs RRtY)
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #12 on: 29 August, 2023, 10:45:52 pm »
TV's Nice C Boardman noted a couple of years ago that instead of going to $HIGH_ALTITUDE for track record attempts it's cheaper and simpler to go to Manchester and crank the heating up.
Several years ago I went to an interesting talk about designing a fast (record breaking) velodrome (the London one) where one of the engineering team explained all about getting the temperature high for the elite events but not bothering for other general usage of the place.

Panoramix

  • .--. .- -. --- .-. .- -- .. -..-
  • Suus cuique crepitus bene olet
    • Some routes
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #13 on: 30 August, 2023, 05:56:09 am »
TV's Nice C Boardman noted a couple of years ago that instead of going to $HIGH_ALTITUDE for track record attempts it's cheaper and simpler to go to Manchester and crank the heating up.
Several years ago I went to an interesting talk about designing a fast (record breaking) velodrome (the London one) where one of the engineering team explained all about getting the temperature high for the elite events but not bothering for other general usage of the place.

Somewhere high under the equator must be pretty fast then (heat + altitude! )....
Chief cat entertainer.

rogerzilla

  • When n+1 gets out of hand
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #14 on: 30 August, 2023, 07:51:47 am »
Yes, Eddy Merckx  ;D

...and Moser.
Moser had some extra "training aids", as did Merckx (probably to a lesser extent).
Hard work sometimes pays off in the end, but laziness ALWAYS pays off NOW.

PaulF

  • "World's Scariest Barman"
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Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #15 on: 30 August, 2023, 07:59:57 am »
Yes, Eddy Merckx  ;D

...and Moser.
Moser had some extra "training aids", as did Merckx (probably to a lesser extent).

Just a different sort of high :)

Mr Larrington

  • A bit ov a lyv wyr by slof standirds
  • Custard Wallah
    • Mr Larrington's Automatic Diary
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #16 on: 30 August, 2023, 12:32:30 pm »
TV's Nice C Boardman noted a couple of years ago that instead of going to $HIGH_ALTITUDE for track record attempts it's cheaper and simpler to go to Manchester and crank the heating up.
Several years ago I went to an interesting talk about designing a fast (record breaking) velodrome (the London one) where one of the engineering team explained all about getting the temperature high for the elite events but not bothering for other general usage of the place.

Somewhere high under the equator must be pretty fast then (heat + altitude! )....

A few track records have been set in La Paz, Bolivia.
External Transparent Wall Inspection Operative & Mayor of Mortagne-au-Perche
Satisfying the Bloodlust of the Masses in Peacetime

LittleWheelsandBig

  • Whimsy Rider
Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #17 on: 30 August, 2023, 12:43:13 pm »
Pilots will tell you that hot, high and humid conditions don’t give much lift. The same conditions mean less wind resistance for cyclists.
Wheel meet again, don't know where, don't know when...

Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #18 on: 30 August, 2023, 01:02:15 pm »
Acclimatisation period is roughly 11 x altitude in kilo metres.  Thus at 4,000 metres it’d take you approx 44 days for your output vs. internal effort to match anything you could do at sea level before heading there.

Re: Does thinner air make you faster ?
« Reply #19 on: 06 November, 2023, 10:54:53 am »
I went to school with someone who came from a very high altitude South American country. He looked odd in Surrey because he had a barrel-like chest.
Sheldon Brown never said leave it to the professionals.