Aerodynamic drag in cycling: methods of assessment

Sports Biomech. 2011 Sep;10(3):197-218. doi: 10.1080/14763141.2011.592209.


When cycling on level ground at a speed greater than 14 m/s, aerodynamic drag is the most important resistive force. About 90% of the total mechanical power output is necessary to overcome it. Aerodynamic drag is mainly affected by the effective frontal area which is the product of the projected frontal area and the coefficient of drag. The effective frontal area represents the position of the cyclist on the bicycle and the aerodynamics of the cyclist-bicycle system in this position. In order to optimise performance, estimation of these parameters is necessary. The aim of this study is to describe and comment on the methods used during the last 30 years for the evaluation of the effective frontal area and the projected frontal area in cycling, in both laboratory and actual conditions. Most of the field methods are not expensive and can be realised with few materials, providing valid results in comparison with the reference method in aerodynamics, the wind tunnel. Finally, knowledge of these parameters can be useful in practice or to create theoretical models of cycling performance.

MeSH terms

  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Biophysical Phenomena / physiology
  • Ergonomics
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Wind*