Aero-Aware

LeMond1990

Bike racers have been aware of the advantages aerodynamics gave them for decades, perhaps from the very beginning of competitive cycling itself. Up until the 1989 Tour de France, nothing had made the differences more stark, than a colourful mix of imagery, marketing & race winning choices, to propel Greg LeMond to an 8 second advantage, turning around a 50 second deficit & winning the Tour de France on the final Paris time trial stage. Things have never been the same since, it set the scene for the public’s awareness of the importance of aerodynamics in cycling, which is still influencing professional racers, club riders, sportive riders & marketing departments to this day.

80’s to 90’s

Up until the 80’s, it was perhaps the UK time trialing scene that you could have looked to for some extreme examples of bicycle aerodynamics, Rouleur recently ran a story on Alf Engers & his realisation that drilling holes in everything actually made him slower (Rouleur issue 62: Drillium). Aerodynamics had been progressing right through the 1980’s, silk jerseys for time trials were replaced with full lycra skinsuits, we had carbon disc wheels, and we had Francesco Moser, pushing the limits with radical bike designs & wind tunnel testing (amongst some other stuff). Moser2These changes could all be considered ‘marginal’, the position was still relatively the same, just finer tuned with the help of technology. Once we got to the end of the 80’s, LeMond started working with Boone Lennon from Scott USA in developing a position using an innovation from triathlon (there’s also an argument it was first used in 1984 in the RAAM). The advantage this new arm, shoulder & body position, allowed by the use of tri-bars provided a ‘step-change’ in aerodynamics, almost overnight in cycling terms, this wasn’t a ‘marginal gain’, it was a Tour winning gain. The advantage of containing the arms within the frontal area of the body was so large that within a few months almost everybody was using the new position in the pro peloton, even Sean Kelly, still riding toe straps until the bitter end, took it up relatively quickly.

Wind Tunnels

The factor which multiplied the gains from the 80’s onwards was wind tunnel testing. Although the emerging aeronautical industry had been using these since the late 1800’s, their commercial availability & cost were out of reach for sports people, especially cycling, which had traditionally been poorly funded & relied on internal sponsors (i.e. bike manufacturers) to fund most of the top teams until a few decades ago.

As we now know, small changes can make all the difference, with the advent of wind tunnels cars completely changed shape & pro riders could now quantify every single change in equipment, components, position & clothing material, if they had sufficient funding. This introduced a new aspect to pro cycling, but wind tunnel time was expensive, so teams with bigger budgets could now use their cash to outperform their rivals, with very significant gains being made in this early period, compared to the current marginal gains we hear about in todays peloton. This was a game changer, 1989 shook the teams who hadn’t embraced the change, or hadn’t realised what could be achieved. We still saw riders with their jerseys flapping in the wind, you won’t see that now in your local race such is the level of knowledge available now.

Greg LeMond V Past & Present

1986-tdf-19-Lemond

A rider at the top of his game (for the 2nd time) during this transition period of aerodynamics was Greg LeMond, he was also the most prominent rider embracing it in the pro peloton, but he wasn’t the only one. If we look at how his position & the technology he used developed we can see the innovations that appeared in greater detail. The photo above is from 1986, differing from todays TT setup, note the shallow front rim profile, drop handlebars on standard road frame, no shoe covers, non protective aero shell helmet & more importantly, the lack of tri-bars. On the other hand, the skin suit looks as fitted as todays, but lacking the longer legs & sleeves we see in todays peloton.

Fignon-FrontLemond-Front

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The contrast displayed in the 1989 photos above, of LeMond’s tucked position, his arms in line with his legs & an aero helmet (which we now know is much faster than a bare head), to Laurent Fignon’s more classic time trial style marks a turning point in position, a stark contrast between the old & the new. It also marks the beginning of pro riders not just looking for small advantages in equipment & clothing, it marks the realisation that technology could provide huge gains over your rivals, not just refinements. Also note that LeMond’s skin suit has grown longer sleeves ahead of its time, which is standard now, as we know lycra is more resistant to drag than skin. Fignon’s position looks very similar to Lemond in 1986, but he’s perhaps gone for a front disc in desperation rather than common sense, while it may work in a windless velodrome, it may have cost him energy outdoors fighting any crosswinds, as we saw him “bouncing of the barriers” in the final 200m.

For comparison, just look at the image below of Tom Dumoulin in his aero position on a modern time trial bike. His position is further refined, rotating his body around the bottom bracket while maintianing hip-torso angle & therefore power development. Dumoulin’s helmet seems profiled to be in line with his back, LeMond’s was a last-minute UCI approved shortened (hacksaw presumably) version of a Giro triathlon helmet. Unlike LeMond in ’89, Dumoulin has a deep section front wheel with carbon spokes & an aerodynamic frame (and forks) with every tube profiled to the limit of the UCI rules (LeMond’s was more or less round tubing, apart from some added fillets). We also have minimal brake levers & various other details that all shave off watts, the big similarity remains the use of tri-bars.

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The Gist Of It

Stage 21 of the 1989 Tour was by no means the first time aerodynamics was considered of prime importance, but it was the event that caught the imagination & made ‘aero’ position & equipment just as important as training.

Just consider if the 1989 final stage had been a sprint into Paris rather than a time trial, if this event had not taken place in the spotlight of the world, how different would pro cycling look today? Would the UCI have rapidly banned ‘tri-bars’ without the drama & revenue generated from a thrilling end to the Tour to preserve the look of the machine to the Merckx era, as with their Hour Record rule changes. In UK cycling, would ‘that Lotus bike’ have existed, would Obree & Boardman have been able to use their innovations & skills on the world stage? Would the various people & technology that combined to create the advances that allowed British Cycling to rapidly ride to international track winners, and the subsequent influx of riders being provided a living while rising to the higher echelons or world road cycling, like Wiggins & Armitstead?

This defining event in 1989 opened all sorts of opportunities in cycling, ‘aero’ had been done many times before, but not displayed previously in such an establishment shocking manner. Development in cycling aerodynamics had been a slow boil most likely due to tradition, significant gains had been made, this blatant new position could not be ignored, it was the catalyst for others to look further & see what could be achieved. The results are now evident in your local bike shop.

(Note: All non-Getty images were identified as having a ‘Creative Commons’ licence on Google image search & Flickr.)

State Of The Art Technology?

BAE are claiming that “Experts at BAE Systems have revealed details of the highly advanced technology it has developed for Britain’s top cycling athletes to help propel them to success in 2016”. Now I know technology doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective, but has this been dragged out of a basement the 1980’s East German track program, dusted down, given a coat of hammerite & put forward as state-of-the-art technology. I thought they used WattBikes for testing, maybe I’m out of touch here?

I’d be genuinely interested if anybody has actually seen, or used one of these, or somebody’s milking a lottery sports development budget in some lab somewhere. I may be completely wrong on this, but it looks like a student project, the video is from the official BAE Systems YouTube account.

Update 1: I was initially a little rude about this, but it has been confirmed it is being used by GB sprinters, so hopefully that’s not scuppered the chances of finding out more, because I am genuinely interested. It seems that it’s possibly mostly useful for very high power outputs, which excludes it from a commercial market, which I assume, is why it’s not the prettiest trainer out there, it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully more to come….

Centre of Gravity

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I read with interest the Shane Stokes article on Greg LeMond’s ideas about how we can detect a motor HERE. These are all valid, but for initial identification I’ve a much simpler idea that any commissaire could use, it’s so simple it’ll no doubt be discounted as you’ll not need any special jigs or expense, other than a bit of training. After using this simple method, you can then use Greg LeMond’s ideas about expensive scanners & equipment in his point 4.

The Simple Initial Method

  • Lie bike on non-drive side, on a large mat (or 2 yoga mats)
  • Commissaire picks up bike, still keeping it on its side
  • Commissaire uses training to identify if bike seems “a bit heavy in the wrong place”
  • If it seems odd, consider it for further testing, if not, check next bike

Does this seem too simple? As the current rules, most bikes are somewhere around the 6.8kg mark, so if too much weight was focussed on the seat tube, or the rear hub, it would be really easy to detect. This would take 30 seconds tops, if you had 6 yoga mats & 3 commissaires, then you could check every bike in a 180 rider field in half an hour, at sign on. You could also randomly check a 60 rider field in any domestic road race in the same time with the one commissaire who usually does junior gear checks, just to put people off using the motors.

The Gist Of It

Obviously, if there’s anything that looks very dodgy, it’s going to require further analysis, but if you get a ‘suspect’ tick at a domestic race, all eyes are going to be on you & it might put some people off as these motors become cheaper & easier to fit. A motor is going to upset the normal centre of gravity of a race bicycle by some way, especially now that the crank based power meters are so light, it should be very easy to raise a red flag with a little bit of training.

Too easy?

Tomorrows World

As the year draws to an end, we’re going to have a look into the future, to see what may happen with technological developments in the bike industry & in the sport itself in 2016 & beyond.

ASO V UCI

All ASO events to be allocated to European calendar in 2017, allowing ASO greater freedom to select whichever teams they like to ride their events after the World Tour reforms are in place. ASO are organisers of many of the biggest races in the world, including the Tour, while our governing body, the UCI, have little punch in this fight & will undoubtably lose. In the meantime we’ll have a war or words from both sides, perhaps a few threats, but it’s hard to imagine what the UCI can actually do to counter ASO, the most likely answer is that they can’t. It’ll be getting plenty of press in 2016.

2016: Year of the lightweight

With the UCI likely to remove the 6.8kg rule completely (see this previous blog to see why it’s a nonsense), we’ll see a push from ‘everything aero’ to seeing more marketing aimed at light weight bikes & components.

The last few years have been dominated by aerodynamic improvements, partly due to the 6.8kg limit imposed by the UCI. Once it was easy to get a bike down to that weight, other things had to be done to increase sales. The marketers sold us ‘aero’, even if you were 30kg overweight, you were sold a bike with aerodynamic features. If you’d eaten less cake, you’d not only have saved money on your groceries bill, but your new sleek shape would cut through the wind much more efficiently than moving your rear brake under the bottom bracket, the worst place for brake block dirt collection. But that’s not what it was about, riders like to ride the same bike as the pro’s, so everybody needed aerodynamic components (a proper bike fit would likely gain much more for almost everybody).

So in 2016 we’re going to see some superlight bikes appear in the pro peloton, but they’ll have to pass the UCI tests first. Which consist of the manufacturer sending some samples to Switzerland & the UCI ‘testing’ them, as far as I can see for frames, it’s just measuring them. They then also have to pay several thousand Swiss Francs for each size, where these frames end up is anybody’s guess, but I doubt UCI friends & family are short of any of next years models. Having witnessed what destructive testing on frames involves, the UCI measuring-tape method doesn’t guarantee safety in any way, unless I’m missing something, have a read for yourself HERE.

By 2017, the manufacturers will have developed their new lightweight bikes, claiming there’s more gains from losing 100g than having an aerofoil shaped down tube, and so it will go on. Very pleased with an opportunity to buy a new bike, the manboobed Rapha kitted-out men will absolutely lap this stuff up. At least a bike weight saving allows them an excuse for another slab of chocolate cake, which I expect will be the biggest effect on a normal cyclist to the lightweight bikes we’ll see at the end of 2016, simply more guilt-free cake for everyone.

Disc Road Bikes

See above for the reason, I’m not sure this will become quite as popular as anticipated, which I’m happy with. The removal of the 6.8kg weight limit will undoubtably affect disc brake development in road bikes. With the beefed up forks & heavier brakes required, the rule change may scupper the development to some extent, it’s hard to imagine pro riders choosing a disc equipped bike if it’s a fair bit heavier (with no lower limit for bike weight being introduced). Maybe we’ll see them in the worst conditions, very wet stages, Paris Roubaix in the mud, but otherwise I’m predicting they’ll not be the weapon of choice, simply due to the 6.8kg rule disappearing. That rule would have allowed plenty of scope for the added weight of disc brakes to be incorporated, but not anymore.

Power Meters & Gadgets

We’re going to see more pedal based power measuring systems, they’re much more practical for riders with several bikes, plus may may see some shoe based systems coming out of their development phases (cue the £1000 ‘power-shoe’ by 2017). The 6.8kg rule will also affect power meters, currently the pro riders can fit a power meter & still hit 6.8kg, but with that limit removed, we’re going to see the push for development in even lighter power meters than the ‘Stages’ single-crank ones currently in use.

As weight & cost reduces for power meters over the next few years, it opens up some other practical uses for them other than simply athletic performance. I’ve noticed that Scottish motorbike chain lubing specialists ‘Scottoiler‘ are about to release an automatic oiler unit for bicycles. Rather than lube at set periods, as power meters shrink & become more affordable, a system like this could develop further & lube itself when needed (read the link, they’re claiming up to 12Watt savings with their system). With the use of two power meters, one at the pedals & one at the rear hub, if the differential in the readings between the two units reaches a certain value, then the system could automatically lube the chain until the efficiency returns to the desired level. Bingo, a system based on actual measured chain efficiency. Things like this could also shed light on gear choice, with efficiency reducing as the chain crosses at an angle, it could alter chainring & cog sizes that are normally available (we know Moser did some work on this & claimed that large cogs & chainrings were much more efficient). Power meters shrinking, reducing in cost & being easier to incorporate onto bikes can only be a good thing.

Power meter head units are currently quite large, compared to the bike computers of old, so expect to see them start shrinking too, in line with the rule change. At the extreme end of development for this, would be to remove it from the handlebars altogether. A heads-up-display in the riders glasses would be the ultimate weight saver, and the new ‘must have’ gadget for the techno hungry cyclists out there. You can be sure somebody has a prototype Ant+ compatible pair of glasses getting tested right now (cue the £1000 ‘power-shades’ by 2017). [Edit: I’ve been made aware Ant+ glasses already exist, see HERE]

Rio

The Rio Olympics is in some serious danger of getting overshadowed by the continuing deeper doping hole that Athletics is finding itself falling into. It appears as if systematic doping has been widespread for years & almost completely ignored by the authorities. Rio may be more about who’s not there, than who actually wins a medal. This could tarnish past icons, pundits commentating on the event, current athletes, national governing bodies, it’s hard to see who may not be involved if things look as bad as they seem. If this transpires as I suspect, there will be a clamber for good news stories among the madness, so there’s a potential for Cycling to take some glory from Athletics self manufactured & endemic problems. But we know a thing or two about those, Athletics looks much worse than cycling was around the time of the Festina affair, and we thought we had problems!

 

Track Cycling’s Strange Quirk

Embed from Getty ImagesAs you watch this Sundays Hour Record attempt by Bradley Wiggins, bear in mind that no part of him, or any static part of his bike has actually travelled the Hour Record distance he sets. It’s a quirk of riding on a velodrome compared to riding on the road, science gets involved & messes things up, during a quiet period of any hour attempt you can bore your family with this info, perfect cycling nerd territory. A long-legged rider has an inbuilt benefit from this, here’s why….

The Banking Effect

Let’s take a hypothetical vertical wall of death you may have seen motorbikes using as an example. This wall of death has Brad Wiggins cycling round it, but it’s quite a small diameter wall of death, so his head is sitting exactly at the centre of rotation. Even though he’s having to ride at 55kmh to keep going on this vertical wall, his head isn’t really going anywhere, he barely feels any wind there at all, it’s just rotating on the spot, causing little or no aerodynamic drag. The only point travelling at 55kmh is the point his tyre touches the wall of death. So Brad’s body or bike frame isn’t actually travelling at 55kmh, the fastest static point of his bike is his bottom bracket, which is travelling less distance than his bike computer would tell him.

A track rider, banked over on a velodrome experiences a similar, but not quite so dramatic effect. The riders body travels at a slower speed on the bankings than a computer measuring wheel rotations would indicate. Consequently, if an accurate GPS unit was affixed to the handlebars it would also read less distance & a slower speed in the bankings than the timekeepers would tell you, there’s nowhere on a bike you could fit a GPS unit that would record the exact track distance covered.

There’s aerodynamic consequences from the banking effect, Brad’s body will be causing more aerodynamic drag on the straight than it does on the bankings. His body’s air speed is slower in the bankings than on the straights, even though his track speed is the same. So as a rider gets taller, their effective body speed reduces on the bankings. It also makes wheel choice & even bottom bracket shape are more important than it originally seemed, as that as close to the point of consistently maximum speed as you can get, that point travels fastest for longest in the Hour Record.

‘Analytic Cycling’ Study

The excellent ‘Analytic Cycling‘ website, contains a wealth of information for cycling geeks, they’ve done a study using the geometry of the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Australia. The test is based on a flying 200m time trial effort, so our distance are not based on a full lap, but include a full banking & one partial banking, so our reduction in distance the centre of gravity travels per lap is more than shown here.

The model they generate shows that even though the track distance is 200m (199.99m), the distance the centre of gravity travels is about 3m less (196.7m) at a pace equivalent to a 14.166 second over 200m. This also shows that there’s a 0.3 second advantage gained on their baseline model, caused by the leaning affect & the riders centre of gravity not travelling as far as the track distance. In the next test the speed is increased & we find that the distance the centre of gravity travels reduces again, as the rider leans in more, essentially cutting the corner yet again. The final test shows that a rider sitting 200mm higher on the bike, with longer legs, also reduces the time for the 200m based on the same power & reduces the distance travelled even further.

So in summary, a taller rider (or one with longer legs to be precise) travels less distance each lap than a shorter rider, they benefit from the leaning effect of the banking, it reduces their time for the same power output. If the additional wind resistance from the longer legs can be minimised, a taller rider (such as Wiggins) has a distinct advantage. It also means that the faster you go, the more benefit you get from this reduced travel effect, which may slightly counter the huge increases in wind resistance you get from increased velocity, anything is a bonus.

The Gist Of It

This is a bit of fun for cycling nerds, but it does show a measurable improvement in speed. Those with the analytic tools to make these estimations correctly have perhaps identified an ideal body type for a pursuit/hour-record rider. But not just on the aero characteristics they display on the road, but from how their body type translates to track cycling. It may be the case that similar to rowing, a certain size of athlete is particularly gifted at these very specific disciplines in cycling. I’m pretty sure British Cycling have got this sorted already, those team pursuit riders look very similar indeed. It looks like Brad’s centre of gravity travels approx 5m less per lap than his track speed, which would mean in a 55 km Brad only travels 53.9km, while if he rode 55km in a straight line on the road, his body would also travel 55km. I was always told “you’ll go quicker on the track than anywhere else”, this may have been true, due to the reduced distance & work required caused by the banking. All this does is explain a strange quirk of track cycling, which the cycling geek may like, others, well, they stopped reading a long time ago.

 

Position, position, position

Embed from Getty ImagesThe adverts in bike magazines try to convince you that their components are more “aero” than somebody elses, the tech time trial geeks in your club are obsessed with “aero”, aero wheels, aero frames, aero handlebars, aero seatpins, aero chainrings, even aero pedals, the list goes on. This is all well & good, aerodynamic kit does make a difference, especially in a time trial, but if you’re concentrating on having the most aerodynamic bike, you’re maybe spending vast sums of money on vanity, rather than first dealing with the real issue, you.

The ‘You’ Issue

A quick study shows that somewhere between 65 to 85% of aerodynamic drag is reported to be caused by the rider, the rest by the bike. The massive 20% variance across riders is caused by many factors. For example, take two riders with the same limb & body lengths, but one carries lots of weight in muscle or fat (or both), while the other is running at ‘pro-level’ body fat. The two riders would therefore fit exactly the same size bike, which has the same drag for both. Where it varies is that the large rider’s forward motion is affected by his size much more than the smaller rider, so of his overall greater drag, his bike’s percentage share is smaller. There is no standard percentage drag apportioned to your bike, it’s different in everybody, it’s even different depending on what clothes you’re wearing. So any figures you see on ‘time saved over 40km’ for any particular component, are based on many assumptions. We can safely assume the marketing information is going to be at the more generous end of possible savings, while not being untrue, only a very small number of people may get this maximum benefit.

Bits n Pieces

This brings us back to component choice (I include the big items like frames in this, but not wheels, see later for that). If you’ve not got your optimum position, or something reasonably close to it, buying all the aero kit in the world may not to help you at all, it may even hinder you. Bad equipment choice, from a ‘fit’ aspect, can lock you into a less than perfect position by not allowing your body to get as aerodynamic as possible. It’s all too common, when I see time trial pictures posted, there is a strange draw to have a look at the bike-cost versus position, quite often it’s incredible that so much is spent without ever going for a proper bike fit or taking good advice.

As a start, a fully adjustable set of aero-bars & an adjustable stem are very cheap options considering the cost you’re intending to spend. That should allow you to set up a position correctly on your current bike, which, may not make your bike look pretty, it may save you a lot of money in the long-term. Then you have the opportunity to know exactly where your saddle & handlebars should be in relation to the bottom bracket, a quick check with a tape & a spirit level on your desired frame (with wheels in) should indicate which size it is you’ll require. Not going along this route may result in you buying what would be your normal road bike size. Often, riders will require a different size, with a longer or shorter top tube, or a lower stack height. You’ll need to get your body to fit this new fast-looking bike without compromising your ideal position, while using available kit. So if you buy one with too short a top tube, you may not find a stem long enough, time trial bike fit is not simply a case of ordering a medium, if you normally ride an off-the-peg medium road frame. It requires a bit more work, you may require something different to what you expected.

The Wheel Question

This is another vastly complicated subject, in this instance it comes under a completely separate topic, as wheel choice has zero impact on position. So you can probably buy your wheels first, use them on the new bike, especially as wheels have a relatively large impact on your speed. But as with other components, there’s no hard & fast rule as to which wheels are best for you. Weather conditions, a rider’s weight & ability to buffer cross winds also come into play here, so trying wheels before you buy could be another valuable piece of testing before you reach for the bank card.

The Gist Of It

Spending some time really looking at your position, or getting somebody with some knowledge to look at it, probably doesn’t give you that instant gratification of buying a shiny new component, or a flash time trial bike. It’s maybe the non-sexy option, maybe it’s difficult, maybe you’ve “not got the time” or maybe you believe the adverts to the letter. The fact is that you could buy ‘the fastest frame in the world’, but if you buy a size you can’t replicate your ideal aero position on, then you’re going to be catching a lot more wind.

The golden rule should be to sort your position first, then (and only then) find the aero frame & components that allow you to replicate that position. This is where buying your new TT frame from a local bike shop really helps, they should be able to let you ride a bike of similar geometry & give some valuable advice on the matter, before you spend your hard-earned cash.

Time trial bikes look great, having one makes people feel ‘a bit Formula 1’, they’re a desirable addition to your stable. But always bear in mind the advantages you get from components are minimal compared to your body position. Be sure you can transfer your highly efficient position across to the geometry of a new time trial frame.

Don’t get carried away by a bit of shiny aerofoil bling, choose the correct bike by spending some time getting your aero set-up dialled in on another bike first.

 

 

 

 

Malboro Gains

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With the marginal gains philosophy entrenched across the majority of the top teams these days, I find it surprising that most use a bulky radio system in time trials to communicate to their team car. It looks like they’ve stuffed a packet of fags up their skin-suits, surely there’s a better way than this?

Radio Technology

When all of us carry a mobile phone, pro cycling teams are using a much larger & bulkier unit than an i-phone to relay information to & from their riders. I’m was very confused about this, it blatantly gets in the way of the airflow over the rider, a device like a mobile phone would have a much smaller profile & save a few more watts.

After my ranting on twitter about this, I think I’ve overlooked a few things, these radios are not designed for bike racing, and mobile phones only work if they’re in range of a transmitter. When we see bike races, we admire the amazing scenery, but as anybody who’s been to the mountains of Europe (or the general rule in Scotland, if you’ve got a nice view, you’ve got no phone signal), they probably don’t work for the majority of European race routes, traversing 200km of wilderness.

So lets imagine somebody who’s in charge of in-race communication at Team Sky, we’ve discounted the light & compact mobile phone option as unusable during any normal race, so we go back to radios. As anybody who’s experimented with anything other than ‘CBs’ in domestic race organising, as soon as you use the light & low power radios, once the event gets split up, or there’s a hill bigger than a railway bridge, you can probably forget communication. So we generally revert to ‘CBs’, but even these get out of range pretty easily & voices become crackled. Now what units are available? Not many that meet our requirements unfortunately, it has to be slim, aero, without a giant antenna. It may be the case that Sky & others are using the least worst option here, finding communication more important than the lost watts they incur by having a ‘packet of fags’ under their jersey. There are other very short distance radios that are much smaller, so I’m assuming that riders are not just communication with the following car, but also getting info in time trials from other sources who also have radios.

Aero Profiles

The placement of the radio on the back may seem like the worst place to put it, but perhaps this is simply to get the best signal at all times. We saw Fabio Aru with a pocket sewn into the outside of his skinsuit to carry his, which must be an even worse option than the under-the-suit position. The radios we see also have very sharp corners and as anybody who’s done even basic studying of aerodynamics, this is far from ideal, smoothing out corners to even slightly rounded can have a significant effect (I can’t find an actual photo of the Sky radio unit anywhere, can anybody help?).

There are likely some other places to put these units, but maybe these have been tried & discounted. Such as under the tail of the helmet (may raise tail & disrupt flow), inside the helmet (probably against UCI rules), fitted aero on the bike (again UCI rules) or behind the saddle as the track team do with their SRM units. The latter idea may be blown out of the water by the final item on this blog, carrying a six pack of beer, where there’s less drag with the beer in a rucksack on your back, than on the rack behind the rider. Beer used in aero performance tactics, you heard it here first!

But looking into the aero effects a bit more, I found some surprising sensible information from the Specialized wind tunnel, which showed that carrying a bottle in the back pocket was more aero than carrying it on the bike, although not a radio, it should give some idea of what’s going on. But bear in mind this was with a cross rider, so not in an aero position, we can assume an exposed item on somebody’s back would have a greater impact. Here’s the video.

Conclusion

It looks like wind tunnel tests may have shown the teams that the position on the back, under the skinsuit, although slower than no radio, is the best option currently available. It may also be that they’re looking for a product that doesn’t yet exist on the market. This may be one of the next innovations that we see in the peloton over the next couple of years, a communication company teaming up with a professional cycling team to develop a lightweight, waterproof, low-profile radio with excellent range that can be used in other sports. Maybe sports car racing where drivers can wear the radio, so cuts down time on having to plug in to the car radio, marathon runners if it’s featherweight, there are likely many sports applications and even more leisure ones. The problem is with a product like this, it’s currently only allowed to be used in the top level races in cycling, under the rules would have to be commercially available, so they can’t sell very many until other markets are identified, it would probably be incredibly expensive. Looking back, I was probably wrong to give the teams a good slagging, it seems they may have some valid reasons, but it’s not pretty & there are improvements to be made in the near future. I’ve no doubt that teams such as Sky have already identified this & are working on it, who knows, they may be saving up their innovations for the Tour.

Further viewing for the everyday cyclist

If you’re still interested in the more practical uses, and judging by the interactions I have with readers on this blog on twitter, the following data on the most aero way to carry a six pack of beer may be an everyday benefit to most riders, over saving a few seconds in a time trial.

Field Testing: Handlebar Width

Embed from Getty ImagesSome time ago, my ‘Bend It Like Clancy‘ blog looked at narrow bars for road riders, I promised I would be doing some testing a while ago, I have been, the results are not quite as I expected.

The Findings

From the outset, I’d assumed that wide bars would allow better breathing, it’s what I’d always been told, but rather surprisingly I found the opposite to be true. It kind of makes sense now, when riders are climbing on the tops, their arms are in a narrower position than their shoulders, the elbows are naturally used to regulate the open-ness of the chest. I’ve found the same rules apply to the drop bar position, with the neutral setup (of not actively trying to tuck my elbows in by having the correct bar width) as the ideal position for breathing & for body mechanics.

For this experiment I used 3 sets of bars, all with shallow drop, in widths of 38cm, 40cm & 42cm. Each was initially on a different bike, but with identical saddles, saddle position (fore/aft & up/down) & identical reach. With a few short sessions on the rollers, what became immediately apparent was that the 42cm bars feel absolutely wrong compared to the narrower ones. Surprisingly, I found that attempting to get the elbows tucked away, in-line with my shoulders, actually closed my chest with the wider bars. The effect of this was quite surprising, the general historical opinion that gets passed about is that wide bars allow better breathing. This may be correct to some extent, but only if the bars are the correct width & you don’t try to bring your elbows in. So effectively, when you’re riding at your hardest, you may have a detrimental breathing effect with wide bars, but otherwise you may feel better when you don’t require the extra lung function, not ideal for performance or comfort really.

What I Found

The 38cm bars felt best for me, here’s why.

Measuring across the recommended bones, the acromium, gives me a slightly wider position than 38cm on paper. But I think there’s a posture issue here, the back may become arched, posture when hunched over is quite different to taking the measurement standing up. So if you’re going down this route, bear that in mind, your bones may adopt a different position when riding than when standing up (this may be identical for some body types). So for me, the ideal way to sort out your bar width for cycling, is by cycling (see below for how to do this).

If you’re riding behind somebody, quite often you’ll see their hands gripping the bars & the wrist rotated to (consciously or subconsciously) bring the arms in line, some tuck their forearms inside the line of their levers when riding ‘aero’ on the hoods. You’re best to avoid these twists altogether by simply riding the correct bar width, then you’ll never have your hands sticking outside the profile of the rest of your body. I’ve now realised that I’ve probably not paid too much attention to bar width on the road, on the track I always rode narrow bars. I didn’t think it was too important on the road & thought that there was some kind of breathing advantage on climbs by choosing wide bars, I was wrong.

Your body wants to be perfectly aligned, that’s when it’s strongest, it’s when it uses the least energy to fight things other than propelling yourself forwards. As an example, take your pulse sitting down, raise an arm, watch your pulse rise. Everything you do, no matter how small, that forces your body to use additional muscular energy to counter any misalignment or dodgy bike setup, results in energy diverted from forward propulsion.

Advantages

I did some power testing on the various bar widths, I didn’t really find any absolutely huge differences between 42cm & 38cm, but readings were always a little lower, somewhere between 5 to 15 Watts in general for the 38’s at 40kmh. Although that’s a wattage gain that’s hard to get from training alone, it’s in the margin of error zone & I don’t think I spent too much time trying to get exact measurements. I’ll take it as a gain, if it’s 5 Watts, great, if it’s 15 Watts, even better. I expected an advantage somewhere around this, but wattage gains of 40 or 50 Watts I’ve seen hinted at are probably false, but they may exist as you reduce bar width even more.

The main advantage I found was in overall efficiency, having everything in line makes a huge & significant difference to how your bike feels, it also seems to make riding on the drops much more comfortable. I’d go as far as saying the mechanical differences I found were dramatic. I rode 38cm bars while on one of those warm very windy islands, I’ve never felt so strong & stable in cross winds, bigger riders were getting blown all over the place & I felt very secure & controllable. A week after I used the wider bars at home on an old bike & I’ve never felt so bad in a lesser crosswind & felt very unstable, it wasn’t a fitness thing, the additional control was down to posture & alignment. Seated accelerations also felt like seated accelerations on the track, could that be down to alignment & efficiency too, everything seems to work much better. I’ve been riding the wrong bars on the road for many years!

How To Choose For Yourself

First, give this a try…..

  • Set up a mirror directly in front of your rollers (or turbo will do if it’s all you’ve got), but not too close, so you can get a good look at what’s going on without too much foreshortening.
  • Ride on the drops in your normal position & RPM, get relaxed, roll along for 5 minutes.
  • Start making some observations.
  • Are your hands straight & in-line with your arms? (sometimes riders compensate by twisting hands out to keep things in line)
  • Are you upper-arms & forearms in-line vertically?

If everything is perfect, you’re probably on the correct bar width already. If not, or you think something could be improved, you need to start experimenting with different bar widths.

I’ve worked out a simple way to go about this without buying new bars, simply base it on one side at a time. Loosen the bars in the stem & slide the bars across a little, you’ve probably got at least a couple of centimetres you can move without the handlebar reducing in size in the stem clamp, but a reduction in 2cm on one side, results in a 4cm drop in overall bar width (remember the other side will be way wide). Repeat the steps above & get one side aligned, then check that the other is more or less the same, get a happy medium for both, in case you’re built kind of funny. Now you can source new bars, they’re generally measured centre to centre.

The Gist Of It

Bar width was probably something I never really saw as terribly important, I always opted for narrow-ish bars, but didn’t realise until I tried a few different ones is succession how dramatic the effect of having correct bar width actually is. If you’re riding the correct width, you won’t need to listen to the advice to “tuck your elbows in”, you’ll already be perfectly aligned. The only reason you’ll need to tuck your elbows in is if you’re already on the wrong bar width, otherwise you’re creating more frontal area with angled forearms & it might even close your chest.

The number-one thing to learn from this is that your bike set-up is best tested on the rollers, if you’ve not got them the turbo is a poor second best. Rollers allow you to develop a much more balanced & natural position, with nothing supported artificially compared to riding on the turbo. Set up your position this way & you’ll be able to spot smaller differences easier & also realise what really doesn’t work for you (its ideal for aero positions that don’t make you too extreme & end up losing watts by fighting the bike, the turbo will lie to you in this case).

From my experience during this experiment, I’ve become a convert to a narrower bar than would be traditionally considered ‘correct’ for me, even by the bone measurement. I’m not quite as sure about keeping reducing the width for an aero advantage, as I found the biggest differences to be technical rather than watt-saving (which may in itself result in some watt-saving through more efficiency). I’m assuming (but I’ve not tested it yet) that the mechanical gains would reduce as bars get narrower, unless you have the muscle bulk of a track sprinter to counter the mechanical losses & reap the aerodynamic gains that must exist. Everybody will have a different ideal width, but increments are generally in 2cm steps, so choose wisely, from what I’ve found I’d err on the lower value if you think you’re in between. It’s really worth checking out for yourself & it won’t take you long to find out if you’ve got rollers (or a turbo) & a mirror.

Bike fitting is becoming a bigger deal these days, but if you set up yourself up in a mechanically correct position it is beneficial & from what I’ve found, you’ll not lose out on breathing efficiency. Don’t just go for the bar width I chose, do your testing as explained above, my 38cm maybe your 44cm, it’s all down to body shape & alignment. One thing’s for sure, I wish I’d done this little test years ago. If you’re not sure, get an expert to have a look over you, whether that’s in a shop like Hardie Bikes or one of the mobile bike fitters like VisualBikeFit, or many more now appearing across the country, they’ll be able to sort you out. Happy testing.

Free Garmin Maps

Embed from Getty ImagesAnybody who’s been unaware of exactly where their Garmin device cover, may have experienced that sinking feeling when on holiday. You are about to go for a ride, switch on the Garmin & all you can see is one road, on the large island you’re on, you’re looking at the standard Garmin basemap, you’ve screwed up, here’s how to fix it without buying a new map.

There is an easy & cheap/free way to do this (only costs you money if you need to buy a new SD card). Garmin maps will cost you about £100, so when you buy your unit, don’t go for the map bundle, save yourself some money & go for the ‘Open Street Map‘ option, they’re constantly updated & is open source, so you can update whenever you like.

I followed the excellent DC Rainmaker‘s detailed instructions on how go about it, it’s quite simple & quick if you take it step by step. The maps it produces are very detailed & ideal for cycling GPS, I got one to include UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Balearic islands, Canaries, the usual cyclists haunts, the download was a 1.4GB zip file.

I highly recommend this method of getting hold of free maps for your GPS device, the full instructions are HERE, get downloading….

The DC Rainmaker site also has product reviews, ‘how to’ guides on various cycle related products, website guides, it’s well worth a browse, there’s plenty of information in there, especially if you need help setting up a device.

Riding In the Rain & Cold – #1 Mudguards

Embed from Getty ImagesWinter cycling in Scotland is often seen by some as one of the most miserable things you can do on a bike, that’s not strictly true, I’m writing a series of posts on not just surviving it, but enjoying it. In this post we discover that mudguards are fundamental & the number-one necessary evil.

Riding without mudguards during a winter of “getting the miles in” really is a terribly miserable experience, it likely leads to plenty of riders becoming big sellers on ebay & gumtree while taking up snooker, darts or some other indoor pastime. This also allows them to indulge in their new-found alcoholism from having the after effects of repeatedly chilled wet feet & bumhole. It doesn’t have to be this way, fit some bloody mudguards & your winter of misery turns into an experience that a little bit of freezing rain can’t dampen.

The Advantages of Mudguards

  • Protects frame & parts from salt corrosion – If you ride your ‘good bike’ during winter without mudguards, it won’t be any good by March, you’ll be needing a new one, or at least some new parts. The roads are soon to be covered in grit & salt to keep the ice at bay, your bike will suffer hugely from this. Under the accumulated dirt, the components will start to corrode, as the winter progresses & you clean off the surface dirt, underneath the bearings, springs & moving parts in your drivetrain & brakes will deteriorate to the point they’ll need replaced.
  • Protects cycle clothing from degeneration & discolouring – Your expensive state of the art winter kit is going to suffer from getting repeatedly sprayed with road dirt & salt, so is your chamois, it’ll take a beating from repeated attack from salty gritty water. Treated fabrics lose their waterproof coating much quicker & you’ll also have to wash your outer layers on a continual basis to avoid looking like you’re a minger. Forget wearing anything white, it won’t be white for long.
  • Keeps you warm – Summer road spray is much more tolerable, winter road spray is a different beast altogether. Winter spray is generally just a few degrees above freezing, which makes all the difference. In summer on the worst of days a rain jacket will protect you, sometimes you’ll even be too hot. In winter the spray causes a constant chill which your body has to fight, it also costs you energy. Your body uses additional fuel to attempt to keep your body at the correct temperature while it’s extremities & your backside are to a continuous tap of water at chilled-beer temperature.
  • Stops feet from getting soaked (with addition of mudflap) – Mudguards without the addition of a mudflap will lose you one of the best & most useful advantages of mudguards. A correctly sized & positioned mudflap bolted onto the rear end of your front mudguard will protect your feet from all but the worst of soakings. Without the mudflap, the spray from your wheel seems to spray under the back of the mudguard & disperse directly onto your toes. Fit the mudflap & make it yourself from a plastic bottle, just cut it out & bolt it on, it’s easy & will make things much more pleasurable.
  • Makes the cafe stop a pleasant experience – With mudguards, you can sit in relative luxury sipping your coffee at the cafe stop, while your ‘road washed’ comrades are soaked through to their base layers & want to leave as quickly as possible before you’ve stuffed a cake down your gob. The water has been thrown up & drained over-the-top of collars & overshoes, having fully waterproof kit doesn’t make a difference in this situation, the water finds its alternative route in.
  • Chaffing – Grit ingressed & soaking wet chamois & pedalling don’t make happy companions, your bits & pieces won’t be happy for too long & your partner may ask you where you got that nasty rash, answering “the club run” is going to throw up more questions than answers. If anybody left a baby in a wet nappy for the period of time that your club run takes, the social services would be called in, it’s just not going to be good for you, fit some mudguards.
  • Allows you to train with mudguard-users without becoming a social leper – People with mudguards hate riding with people without mudguards in winter. It’s disrespectful, all the above issues become problems for the mudguarded riders due to inconsiderate riders who inflict their freezing cold spray on others. The reasons are often lazyness, vanity (they think it ruins the look of their bike, but don’t care that it covers them & others in dirt). For extra brownie points with other riders, the addition of a rear mudflap doesn’t protect you, but it sends out a message, it means you consider others by preventing any water at all spraying up into your club-mates faces, it’ll make you the most popular wheel to follow.

Fitting Options

If you’ve got mudguard eyes & a bit of clearance, you’re laughing, if not, you still have some options if you want to fit the best option of full mudguards with stays. Personally, I’d only fit the ‘race-blade’ type of mudguards if it was my last option, I’ve tried a few & they’re not nearly as secure & don’t offer the best protection for yourself & your ride-buddies. But ‘race-blades’ may be the only option if you’ve got very little clearance to fit mudguard between your fork crown & tyre on the front, or between your brake bridge & tyre at the rear.

  • Additional Fittings – These come in two options, fitted to either end of your quick-release skewer as seen HERE, or as metal clips with a plastic or rubber coating that clip round your frame HERE. Once you’ve got these fitted, you can fit any of the traditional mudguards that are available in your local bike shop (assuming you’ve got that necessary clearance). These fitting parts are hit-and-miss whether they’re in stock at you local bike shop, but they’ll all stock mudguards. They’ll also be able to tell you if it’s possible to fit mudguards, so if they give you their free advice, buy the mudguards from them regardless of whether they’ll supply you the fittings.
  • Clip-On Plastic Mudguards – If you really have to use a close clearance race type bike in the winter, these are your only options. You’ll often see them waving about in crosswinds & while mostly offering protection to the owner, other will sometimes get a face full of winter road dirt. It’s also less easy to fit effective mudflaps to these as they’re less secure. You’ll get these in your local bike shop & the most popular are branded ‘race-blades’, but plenty of options appearing on the market. A bit of advice I’d give is to forget the rubber fittings that allow you to take them on-and-off easily. You’ll get a much more secure fitting if you use cable ties to fix them on your bike for the whole winter, they tend to move a lot less & provide the protection from the elements you need in the middle of winter. It’ll also remove the need to constantly move them & the incessant rubbing can cause a bit of annoyance to you & others.

The Gist Of It

You’ll see photos & articles about the pro riders riding on training camps on their race bikes, that’s unrealistic for the amateur or club rider. They go somewhere warm, you might too, for just a week in the spring maybe, but the rest of the time you’re on the UK roads, the further north & west you get the worse the weather is. Fitting mudguards won’t make you look Italian, but over time it will save you money & help avoid time off the bike feeling unwell or with the bike requiring spares. It also protects others from your spray, it’s generally the inexperienced or inconsiderate riders who choose not to have mudguards, perhaps some just haven’t thought about it, so let them know, show them this & you may get a much cleaner bike ride next week. Fit some mudguards this winter, you’ll never go back.

 

 

The Horner Effect

Embed from Getty ImagesA contact close to the UCI has divulged some details to spokeydokeyblog of a new plan due to be introduced for the 2016 season. One previously unaddressed aspect of aerodynamics will be tackled & a level playing field will be attempted. Experts have carried out a series of advanced calculations, using stopwatches & guesswork, to determine that if Chris Horner had possessed a full head of hair at the 2013 Vuelta Espania, he would have lost the title to Nibali by 23 seconds. This advantage has been seen as against the rules of a fair sport by Brian Cookson, well endowed with his full head of hair & ample beard.

The Science Bit

According to our source, the aerodynamic experts have created two versions of Chris Horners head for the wind tunnel, one with hair & one with a Cancellara style mullet. The airflow & turbulence under the helmet produced by the mullet was significant, although actual figures will not be released for data protection reasons. This data was analysed & calculations applied to determine the expected advantage Christopher Horner gained over a crew-cut Vincenzo Nibali. The results were apparently “staggering” & it’s now likely that a middle-aged man will never win a Grand Tour again if the new regulations are applied.

The AigleWig™

Embed from Getty ImagesIn Tennis we know that players such as John McEnroe have employed the use of wigs during competition, we currently don’t know in which form the UCI standard wig will take. What we do know according to our source, is that the wig will be named the Aiglewig™ & will be the only approved turbulence producing device able to be used during UCI events. The source confirms that if a hat is worn, then the AigleWig™ will still be required underneath. It will be identified as valid by the introduction of a UCI sewn badge system.

Bike shops & other retailers will be allowed to stock the AigleWig™ for what the UCI will describe as a “fair & appropriate purchase fee, which will obviously include a distribution of the costs involved in carrying out the research & paying the experts.”

The AigleWig™ will be also required to be attached in a recognised manner. On the track this will be by the use of approved rim cement only, while road & TT use will only require tub tape. It’s expected that the mechanics will not require any additional training.

 The Gist Of It

We are likely to see even more beard growing in the 2016 peloton, as the UCI are reported to be considering removing the requirement for an AigleWig™ if there is sufficient facial hair growth on any folicly challenged individual. This will be measured using a special jig which national federations & race organisers will be required to purchase from UCU headquarters for a “fair & appropriate hire fee”. 2015 may be the last chance for middle-aged gentlemen to attempt to win bike races if the alleged UCI proposals are voted through, Chris Horner may yet have his 2013 Vuelta title revoked if the rules are backdated. I’ll be reporting on any further developments on this story from some more reliable sources.