School/Novice Position & Equipment

I recently spoke to a school group about bike setup and thought it appropriate to summarise the topics I usually cover for school/novice groups in an article.

While the points are focussed towards teenaged riders, the only things that change for a new adult rider are some of the rules limiting equipment so the general precepts apply at any age.


The most important consideration for a young rider is position on the bike. There are many adult riders (myself included) who suffer from issues that originate with poor position while their bodies were developing. Poor position increases injury risk, can reduce power output (and therefore your chances of racing success), is harmful for handling confidence and generally makes riding less comfortable and enjoyable.

A general guide to road bike positioning is a topic for an article on its own but I’ll mention some of the particular perils for young riders:

  • Upsizing – like school uniforms, bikes are often bought a bit large with the expectation that the rider will grow into it. This usually leads to all the worst mistakes of positioning – over reached, too far forward, saddle too high
  • Shortening reach by moving the saddle forward – common practice in bike shops and a big no no for riders of any age. Back, shoulder and hand pain plus hip instability (and thus injuries) result
  • Imitation – don’t try to look like a Pro rider – they’re not always good examples and your bike needs to be set up for you.

It’s best to get a good set up done early in a riders cycling career and ask the fitter for guidelines on dealing with growth (ie saddle ~5mm higher for every 2cm height gain). Or visit the fitter once a year – without being too biased in favour of what I do – it’s a lot cheaper than dealing with injuries.

If a young rider is complaining of aches and pains after riding then something is wrong (unless it was a really hard race) – one of the advantages of youth is recovering quickly and it shouldn’t be hard to achieve a position that doesn’t lead to pain.


The topic of faster kit is always one that makes a racing cyclists ears perk up. The factors I like to emphasise are:

  • Tyre choice
  • Chain condition

Choosing the right tyres can make much more of a difference than having flash wheels or an expensive bike, plus tyres are a lot cheaper than wheels/bikes so it makes sense to optimise that choice. It’s what’s called ‘low hanging fruit ‘ – an easy change to make with a good return on the effort.

Tyres are important because they’re your sole contact with the road. Likewise the chain is important because it transfers every bit of force you produce to the wheel and on to the road. A dirty chain can cost as much as 5-10% of the power you produce – which makes a big difference to how fast you can go. So not only is keeping ¬†your chain clean good practice in terms of maintaining your equipment it also makes a real difference to your performance.

After those two major (and quite un-exciting) factors are addressed we get into the more costly (and lower benefit) elements like wheels and frames.

Novices and schools riders are limited to non carbon wheels. If you are considering race wheels for your young rider the basic rule (from a performance perspective) to stick to is that they must have a rim depth of at least 30mm and a low spoke count (18-24 on the front and 24-28 on the rear).

There are a lot of expensive wheels that fit the Novice rules that are terrible aerodynamically. If you have Mavic or Fulcrum or any other wheels with a square shaped rim then the news is all bad for you I’m afraid. With the exception of the Mavic Cosmic Elite which is a very good option.

Rather than go into detail on every minor equipment choice I’ve prepared this chart showing the effect of equipment changes on a 16km (the usual team time trial distance) race.


The base case is for a 65kg rider with a mildly dirty chain, training wheels (like Fulcrum Racing 7) and tyres (like Continental Ultrasport) and a standard road helmet.

What is obvious is that the road surface makes a huge difference and that good tyres offer less of a gain on smooth roads than rough. It’s also clear that having a really clean and well lubed chain can make as much of a difference as a $300 aero helmet…

However, the aero helmet is good value (in speed per dollar) compared to wheels (usually $800+) and a good aero frame ($5000+).

The final cumulative figure shows the effect of changing everything. It’s not quite that simple though as the gear restrictions for Novices mean that going 2mins faster means learning to spin a lot faster so it’s not an immediate benefit (when gears are not restricted we’ve tested many times to show that the effect of helmets/tyres is immediate).

Obviously the benefits that can be gained from equipment changes depend on what you have at the moment. The gains shown here are for a particular situation that may or may not be applicable to your own racing/setup – the purpose is to illustrate that equipment changes can make a meaningful difference but that it’s not necessarily the expensive kit that you should be looking at first.

Of course, if you are looking for gains then I can build/supply appropriate wheels (like these ones), tyres and helmets. And obviously, if you wish to address the most important part of your bike set up (your position on the bike) then get in touch to make an appointment.

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