I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one of the Team GB track bike frames used in the Rio Olympics at a recent motorsport engineering show that I was attending for work. Having recently read Chris Boardman’s book and learnt about the “Secret Squirrel” program developing the equipment for the next Olympics and the Team GB medal factory. It was fascinating to see the latest creation, the product of wind tunnel testing and computer based aerodynamic modelling simulations. At this point in time it’s probably the most aerodynamic bike frame in the world, until the next Olympics that is. With aerodynamics being one of the most important factors in performance cycling and the general public having no more insight into the drag coefficients than the sales brochures; it’s fascinating to see the pinnacle of the current development if only as a visual reference point. I wanted to share this as I find not just the engineering, but also the process interesting.
The frame was on display on the Lentus Composites stand, a company offering the kind of carbon fibre expertise required to manufacture carbon drive shafts for race cars. Cervélo and Lentus Composites worked together on the frame to produce the final results. I’ll let Lentus Composites explain the process:
“Cervélo are world leaders in making aerodynamic frames and are known as a manufacturer of the worlds fastest bikes. Lentus were given the task of taking a low drag aerodynamic shape developed by Cervélo and matching or exceeding the performance of previously used ultra-stiff, ultra-light UKSI bikes within the tight packaging constraints and reduced cross sections of the Cervélo’s new aerodynamic geometry. The challenge was to build frames that are stiffer, lighter and more aerodynamic than anything on the market today whilst exceeding Cervélo’s strength and longevity targets – ‘the world’s fastest bike’.”
“Initial prototype frames were tested at Lentus and Cervélo prior to being tested on track. Athlete feedback was quickly incorporated into the engineering process to iterate the frames and meet the requirements of each individual and track discipline. As part of this process frame development was split into two streams; one to further develop the endurance frame and the other to optimise the frame for sprint events. The output of this was an even lighter, ultra-stiff sprint frame with new geometry that provided a significant performance benefit in short races and an endurance frame optimised for aerodynamic gains in long distance races, both frame types met or exceeded all performance targets. Further customisation was enabled through the design and manufacture of athlete specific handle bar assemblies using a combination of composites and metal additive layer manufacturing. This collaborative and iterative process ensured that the athletes were delighted with their new bikes.”
“To further optimise the performance of the bikes Lentus designed and manufactured a suit of other weight saving composite, polymer and metallic components which were used throughout the bike.”
So finding the perfect aerodynamic shape is only half the battle, if you haven’t got the ability to make it into a strong, stiff and efficient machine then the advantage is lost. I’m off to the garage to custom fit some aero-bars to the shape of my hands and forearms using duct tape and modelling clay, should shave a few seconds of my personal best, marginal gains and all that.