What makes racing bikes go so fast?

I usually ride on a sort of hybrid/fitness bike - there is no front suspension and the frame and fork look like similar to racing bike’s - but I have a flat bar and wider tires.

A couple of weeks ago I was in France to d o some biking with friends and rented a proper race bike and was amazed at the difference with my own bike. It felt like I cuold go twice as fast with half the effort (a bit of exaggeration, but still). No I’m thinking about ‘updating’ my bikeand was wondering what makes is the biggest difference between the bikes.

Should I start with getting thinner tires? Is the lower position of the racing handle bars? The weight difference between the bikes? (not so large really)

Thinner tires (and hard from high pressure) = less friction and lower weight. Better wheels are lighter and straighter, too.

Lighter frame and overall weight allows for taller gearing (low number of teeth for more direct gear ratio = higher top speed).

More gears for better accel and top end.

Gears and all supporting hardware would be top quality, low friction (less loss of power from your legs to the gears/tires/ground).

True and straight wheels. Brakes that don’t drag.

Proper position over the seat, bars, pedals will result in better use of leverage.

Basically, the human engine is going to be more efficient at getting power to the ground because all the friction points are reduced, the gearing is better and more direct, and the leverage offered the human engine is going to result in more power, too.

Wheels and tires make a huge difference - those solid or 3-spoked (and ultra-super-light) wheels you see in pro races are insanely expensive and insanely good at reducing drag - the fewer spokes, the fewer individual surfaces to move through the air. As for tires, you want them as smooth and thin as possible, to reduce rolling resistance (friction, more or less).

As for whether better wheels on a frame like yours would really help, I have no clue. If your aim is to go fast, I’d suggest getting racing handlebars and getting used to riding in that position, and also asking for guidance at a local bikeshop and/or biking oriented communities online. I do know that prices for high-end bike anything can be unbelievably high.

Yes, it’s the wheels, predominantly. Rotating weight (i.e. spokes, rims and tyres) is far more important than non-rotating weight, as it has to be accelerated faster.

I have a spare set of wheels for my mountain bike which I swap over when I know I’ll be doing a lot of road riding. They are thinner and have fewer spokes, and have much thinner tyres. It makes a huge difference.

Do you have disc brakes on your bike? If so it makes swapping wheels over much easier, as you don’t have to adjust the brakes to fit different rims.

As a very basic upgrade, you’d be surprised how much difference simply swapping to thinner tyres (and choosing slicks, not knobbly ones) makes if you are riding on road.

The bent-over posture also reduces aerodynamic drag pretty significantly. Sitting up adds several square feet of your flat, draggy body to the equation, which doesn’t make a difference at low speeds but is absolutely huge at top speed. I, too have a general purpose city commuter bike, and I can’t get much over 20 mph (flat surface, no headwind) if I’m sitting back. If I bend down (as far as I reasonably can without drop bars), I can push that up to 25 mph. A racing bike with drop bars lets the rider tuck down even further.

Add that the frame is probably a lot less flexible / more stiff on a race bike.

Yes, what everyone else said above. The racing frame is lighter, more rigid, thus transmitting your muscular input with less loss to the wheel, puts you in a more aerodynamic position, and generally is designed to go fast. The wheels and tires make an enormous difference. Wheels especially, tires less so than you might think (lately, all the go-fast riders have discovered that 700x23 tires will work just as well as the insane 700x20 or even 700x19 that were in vogue a decade or so back). Where racing frames really suck is comfort. It’s just not a factor, any more than designers of Formula One cars (or even Lamborghinis, I expect) worry about where to put the cupholders.

If you want the best of both worlds, look into what’s called a randonneur frame. There aren’t too many companies making them, but they give you the performance advantage while still allowing for a degree of comfort.

Wheels and tires can make a huge difference. The same bike with a different wheelset can be noticeably faster and/or more efficient to even a novice rider. However, everything involves a trade-off. An extremely fast, aerodynamic wheelset such as something you would see on a Time Trial racing bike may perform very poorly if there is a crosswind. Even aerodynamic flat spokes (as opposed to round spokes) can have a negative performance effect in a crosswind.

Also, the fastest, lightest (read: expensive) wheelsets may not be very durable and should never be used for long distance touring.

Tires are another thing. Very fast tires are great if you have a mechanic following you that can change a wheel in 7 seconds. For the rest of us, puncture resistance is extremely important. Nothing will slow you down more than a flat.

Pick your poison.

**What makes racing bikes go so fast? **
The riders?

OK, I kid. Really it’s the racing stripes in the paint job, combined with the bright colors of the jersey.

Seriously, as everyone has said the narrow tires/tyres and light wheels matter a lot. But the body position is also very important. The high-seat, bent-over tuck position isn’t just for aerodynamics; it’s also a much better position for physical efficiency than the mountain bike sitting-upright style. Assuming you’re already starting from slick road tires (as opposed to knobby mt bike tires), the best improvement would be getting your seat higher and getting lower drop bars (and this may or may not be doable with your current frame).

Thanks for al your responses. It seems to be pretty much as I expected, with tires being important followed by position. I’ll probably try some thinner tires and maybe change my position.