Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Positioned for Speed

Last week I had the pleasure of co-delivering the first "Positioned for Speed" Course held in Australia, which is part of Retül University's growing list of international course offerings. Many thanks to Matt and Nick at Retül and Andy and the guys at Alphamantis for the opportunity, it was a lot of fun. Looking forward to doing more of them (if they'll have me back that is!).

The two day course was aimed at bike fitters and coaches primarily, and gave attendees an introduction to the theory of aerodynamics relevant to cycling, an understanding of how the theory applies to the practical considerations of bike fitting, what elements of aerodynamics we can influence and improve, how we quantify the impact to performance, as well a chance to design and conduct an aero testing session with a test subject.

I had fun explaining the theoretical aspects, then helping the participants understand and experience exactly how to translate these into actual testing scenarios, and using the Alphamantis track aero testing technology to measure the impact they have on a rider's performance.

We tested bike position options, equipment options (helmets and wheels), body shaping options while riding, and clothing options. Over the course of the session, incremental improvements in the rider's aerodynamics were identified, all while ensuring the rider's position was still bio-mechanically effective and comfortable for the rider when considering the events they are targeting.

Thought I'd share a few examples of comparison test results along the way. I can't say much about the rider, or the exact details of each options tested, but suffice to say they are targeting road time trials and track endurance events.

Put a lid on it

Aero helmets are known to give good aerodynamic benefit but which helmet is best for any individual is quite variable. In any case, the team immediately saw the sizeable benefit of one aero lid over the rider's existing standard "mass start" helmet. These were not the only options tested but just shown as a comparison example.

Putting that into perspective, at this rider's Function Threshold Power, that's a gain of more than 0.6km/h or 1.1 seconds per kilometre on flat road terrain. Some people will gain more speed and some less from an aero helmet, and no one helmet brand or model is the best choice for every rider. Some provide more speed gains than others.

The value of a good shrug

Next example is how you can gain speed by "shrugging" (or "turtling") such that you bring your head down and narrow your shoulders while riding in the TT position, but do so without compromising your power output. Sometimes riders learn to be able to do this for extended periods of time, but it's a technique mainly for shorter road TTs and individual pursuit, not so much for the Ironman athletes out there. The gains can be well worth it if you are able to hold onto a shrug for a while.

In this rider's case, they can increase road time trial speed by nearly 0.5km/h or gain nearly 0.9 seconds per km while they shrug. For some riders there are bike position set ups and helmets that enable the rider to shrug more easily or hold it for longer. Ideally you'd like to set up the bike such that the effect is a full time enhancement, however this is not always feasible, so being on the lookout for more free speed-gaining opportunities is worth a go.

Skinsuits. Choose wisely.

The final example I thought I'd share from the testing session was some skinsuit options. Here we can see the difference between three suits tested.

The best suit is about 0.4km/h or 0.6 seconds per km faster than the team issue suit at this rider's pursuit power on a track. That gives them a 25 metre lead over the slower suit by lap 12.

Overall we identified a 0.033m^2 reduction in this rider's coefficient of drag area, which is equivalent to a 35 watt power saving, or a little over 3 seconds per km or a speed gain of 1.7 km/h.

Talk about a winning margin.

Discussing track test routine with one of the course participants.


Allan Kobelansky said...

Well presented, Alex. Putting these numbers into perspective really highlights the benefits of Aero testing.

Arthur Russell said...

Alex did you do any testing of front wheel types? I'm curious to see how front discs / tri spokes / 80 mm deep sections come out in testing against each other?