Mark Cavendish’s victory in yesterday’s world road race championships put him - partially - on the front covers of the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Times. And the BBC asked Could cycling become the UK’s second-favourite sport, after football. Were he to follow up his Copenhagen sprint with a similar burst of speed at the London Olympics his place in the pantheon of British mainstream sporting greats will be for ever secure.
In 1893, an American sprinter was lauded for the same talent: A.A. ‘Zimmy’ Zimmerman had an explosive kick that saw off his rivals for most of his short career (1889-1896). He won the first ever ‘official’ road world championships and did so upon a Raleigh bicycle.
Zimmerman was one of the earliest professional sports stars. When he started riding for Raleigh, he wasn’t a pro, as - technically - this wasn’t allowed; he was a “maker’s amateur”, which amounted to the same thing. Raleigh owner Frank Bowden paid Zimmerman in diamonds, complained the National Cyclists’ Union, a racing organisation opposed to the payment of riders. Zimmerman had a huge following in the US and Europe. By 1894 he was openly a professional for Raleigh, was paid a fortune and made even more money from prizes and appearance fees. He also became one of the first athletes to license his name: there were Zimmy cycling shoes, Zimmy toe-clips and Zimmy clothes.
Raleigh sponsored him because speed sells. A famous poster of Zimmerman shows him astride his bike, in front of a sign listing his career wins to date, and watched by two cyclists in the touring garb of the day.
Frank Bowden - like Pope Manufacturing’s Colonel Albert A. Pope in the US - recognised that to sell bicycles to the masses, you have to stress speed.
Raleigh was still stressing speed in 1932, even when selling utility bikes to women.
Speed is still important. But not in the sweat-fest sort of way, all head down and Lycra. One of cycling’s key advertised advantages, from the 1890s to today, is the ability to go door to door, swiftly. Cycle routes which steer away from the fastest A to B routes may direct cyclists away from busy, motorised traffic but it’s not just sport cyclists who want to follow ‘desire lines’, the shortest and more desirable routes.
In the UK, dedicated cycle routes are often circuitous, interrupted by junctions where cyclists do not have priority. They can add precious time to journeys. For cycle paths to be effective, they must be not only made safe for hesitant cyclists, they must be made fast. By fast, read direct.
Copenhagen does this well. Traffic lights propel cyclists on a ‘Green wave’: pedal at 20kmh and you hit green for much of your journey. The green wave is set to work best towards the city centre in the morning rush hour; and away from the city centre at 12 to 6pm.
Those who use their bikes to get to work want to arrive in the least time possible. If bike paths are provided, they need to be very wide, and well designed. In 1996, the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, writing about bike paths, said:
“The fast cycle commuter must not be driven off the highway onto a route that is designed for a 12-year-old or a novice on a leisure trip, because if that happens, the whole attempt to enlarge the use of the bicycle will have failed.”
The ‘fast cycle commuter’ does not just mean a sports cyclist on a carbon road bike. Dutch roadsters can be pedalled fast, and so can Boris Bikes. Any well serviced bike with correctly inflated tyres - even dual-suss Bicycle Shaped Objects – can reach giddy speeds, especially downhill. For some people, bicycles may be ‘aids to walking’ but if bikes travelled no faster than pedestrians, why cycle at all?
At Interbike, I met up with Joe Breeze, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking. We talked about cycling and speed. He may have built the first designed-for-the-job clunker (it was Gary Fisher who helped popularise the name ‘mountain bike’) but Breeze got into the bike biz to spread his love of utility cycling, cycling from town to town. His father built race cars in California, but rode to work on a bicycle. Breeze Jnr started racing bikes to prove what Bowden, Pope, Zimmerman and others had been promoting: that bicycles are fast.
“In the 1970s, I saw road racing as a stepping stone. Bicycles in America were seen as a children’s sidewalk toy, for riding round your neighbourhood only. I saw cycling, through my father, as a way to get somewhere. And through racing you could show people how quickly you can get from A to B. Maybe there’d be a little squib in the newspaper about it the next day and people would go ‘oh, you can get from A to B in a short amount of time.’”
In ‘The Art and Pastime of Cycling’ of 1893, journalists R.J. Mecredy and A.J. Wilson wrote:
“The faculty for enjoying rapid locomotion is one which is implanted in the human breast from earliest childhood, and the fact of one’s unaided efforts being the active cause of this locomotion enhances the pleasures derived from it.”
In 1878, Gerard Cobb, president of the Bicycle Union and a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, wrote that cycling was “primarily of commercial importance” but was also of practical benefit:
“…the ease with which a bicycle can be driven, the distance it enables its riders to cover, its speed…added to its durability and comparative cheapness, render it by far the best form of road-locomotion for all to whom economy, whether of time or money, is object. As such its use is daily extending among professional men of all classes [and] working men are getting more and more to use them for their daily transit to and from work.”
Speed - to and from work - remains important. A survey of Copenhagen bicycle users found that the number one reason people ride is because it’s faster than any other mode of transport. Fifty-five percent of Copenhagen riders said they bike because it’s fast. Only 9 percent of Copenhagen bicycle users ride because it’s deemed good for the environment.
So, when pushing for dedicated bicycle infrastructure we must always bear in mind that today, and in the past, speed has always gone hand in hand with convenience. Make cycling slow and it loses a big part of its appeal.
I have certainly borne this in mind with the latest version of the Bike To Work Book (112 pages of bicycling goodness, available below or for iPads, free). This has lots of advice on why cycling doesn’t have to be a sweaty affair and to beat cars in major cities you don’t have to get hot under the collar: cars often crawl along, whereas bikes sail past the jams. The section on commuter challenges points out you don’t have to stress out to beat cars in town. Speediness does not equate to excessive perspiration (sweating is cited by many people as a reason not to cycle).
But I beefed up the cover lines, adding: “You can get around town QUICKER by bike.”
Click on the page to read in full-screen, and hit left or right arrows to navigate through the book.
Back in the dim mists of time (OK, mid-1980s) I started to write for Bicycle Times magazine. I was still at uni but was pretty much editing it within a month or two. When I left for Bicycle Action, then owned by Muddy Fox, I was given a two-page spread: Off Road Reid.
Drew Lawson, publisher of Bicycle Action and co-founder of Muddy Fox, asked me whether the market was ready for a full-on mountain bike magazine. I said ‘no’.
Mountain Biking UK launched soon thereafter, and it’s still thriving today, showing you how much I can be counted on for predictions. I started writing for MBUK from issue two. Living in the North East of England, I knew road- and touring-bike builder Dave Yates of M Steel Cycles. Teaming up, he built me some bikes, and I got commissions to feature the bikes - and the building of them - in MBUK
In the mid-1980s Dave built me a number of custom bikes, including the pig-heavy Pink Thing, which was pink. It was heavy because it had welded steel racks front and rear. I used that bike for a month long tour of Morocco during my uni vacation.
Tiring of heavy, touring MTBs, I suggested we build - and write-about - a fast, skinny-tyre MTB made from Reynolds 753, road bike tubing. And the pix above and below show the result. The M Steel’s paint crew even hand-painted our faces on to the bike (it’s Dave with the beard and the widow’s peak; I’m wearing original Oakley Factory Pilots and have yet to develop my own widow’s peak).
Years before Ridgeback popularised the fast hybrid MTB, I was riding one in Newcastle. It’s now gently rusting away in my dad’s garage. It’s no longer safe to ride: the seat post is fused into the seat tube. One day I’ll clean the thing and hang it up as a reminder of some great days.
Like-shit-off-a-shovel was one of Dave’s favourite sayings. That and Dog’s Bollox, I suppose.
Read the rest of "My handbuilt Dave Yates like-sh*t-off-a-shovel MTB, circa 1987"...
Tomorrow I’m heading to London for the Knog party at Look Mum No Hands, the new bike shop cum espresso emporium that seems to get more than its fair share of launch parties (so must be doing something right).
I know where it is. Roughly. And I could easily find it with Google maps on my iPhone. But why use car-centric mapping when I can use the Bike Hub cycle journey planner? I commissioned this app and am bursting to get it out there. I have a beta version installed on my iPhone. Bike Hub Version 1.0 is submitted to the iTunes App Store later today and all iPhone users will be able to get their hands on it very soon.
It’s a free app yet actually cost a load of cash to develop. iPhone users can thank the Bike Hub levy for the freeness of the app. [Next task is to create an Android version of the app so other smartphone users can be happy, too].
As well as the cycle journey planning - which, of course, uses Cyclestreets.net and OpenCycleMap – the app locates nearest bike shops. Here’s a few screenshots of how I planned a cycle journey from Kings Cross to Look Mum No Hands.
SEARCH (using placenames, although could have also used postcodes):
QUIETEST ROUTE (routing engine here uses some waymarked cycle routes, but not religiously):
SAVED FOR USE TOMORROW (I’ve favourited ‘quietest’ and ‘fastest’ and will see how late I’m running tomorrow before choosing which route to take):
ELEVATION PROFILE (I have some climbing to do):
LONDON CYCLE HIRE POINTS (the app has lots of extra features like this, such as feature articles on the Cycle to Work scheme, cycling and the law, and other such goodness):
Follow Bike Hub on Twitter (it’s me) to get first news of the app’s successful release and info on updates.
Read the rest of "Planning a cycle journey with Bike Hub’s iPhone app"...
Fietscompartiment is Dutch for a train bicycle carriage, for instance. And, fret not, should you shred your skin-shorts in Finland you merely have to ask for pyöräilyhousut.
The Bicycle Lexicon is a free download and has been placed on Issuu.com. Got an Android phone? Download the Issuu Mobile app and you could have the Bicycle Lexicon on your person for your next world tour. Issuu Mobile is also coming to an iPhone and iPad touch soon.
The winter of 2009/10 has been cold, icy and packed with snow. OK, it hasn’t exactly been Iditabike conditions but plenty of hardcore Brit cyclists spent much of late December and early January on indoor trainers.
I don’t blame them. Without my spike tyres, I wouldn’t have ventured out much either. I have other winter product favourites but, first, the tyres that have kept me riding, and upright.
STUD U LIKE When the first few days of snow hit just after Christmas I wondered whether I should fit my spike tyres. They’ve been in storage for years. And for good reason: they’re a faff to fit and make a startling clattering noise on ice-free tarmac.
I studied the weather forecast and was convinced there would be enough black-ice around - about three day’s worth, predicted the Met Office - to make the switch. As it turns out they’re still fitted to the Xtracycle and it’s been my winter workhorse. There’s been a thaw, but black-ice is still an issue and, at the weekend, we got another dump of snow. The spikes stay.
My history with Nokian carbide-studded tyres goes back a long way. I first encountered them in the mid-1980s. Geoff Apps - the ‘father of English mountain biking’ - had been using Nokia 2-inch 650B snow tyres on his early mountain bikes, including the Range Rider. Geoff invited me to stay with him for one of his ‘Wendover Bashes’, some of the very first MTB events in the UK.
This was 1986. I’d spent the previous year touring some of the deserts of the Middle East on a Dawes Ranger. Geoff Apps’ Range Rider - fitted with gripshifts long before SRAM came along - was a much better climber than the Dawes Ranger, partly because of its tyres. By using thick Nokia inner tubes, Geoff was able to run at stupidly low pressures and could climb through mud with a sure footedness I knew I had to have too.
I’ve had Nokia tyres ever since (known as Nokian tyres since the 1990s). They’ve proved strong, and trust-worthy. Heavy, of course, and so the rolling resistance is a severe drawback but, on hard-packed snow, this is a minor consideration.
Over the last few weeks I’ve gone out of my way to find stretches of unsalted road and have confused motorists who’ve assumed as they’re stuck, I should be too. I’ve amused pedestrians who’ve been descending slopes holding on to hand-rails: it shouldn’t be possible to ascend slopes covered with sheet-ice but, taken carefully with no silly sudden moves, it’s been my spiked bike party trick.
According to the latest CTC magazine, UK suppliers of studded tyres have seen sales go through the roof (I shan’t say there was a spike in demand), with Schwalbe and Continental shipping in extra supplies from Germany. If you want to get spiked up, Peter White Cycles of the US has the definitive advice page on ice tyres, including blowing away all the myths about stud ejections and tarmac shredding.
OIL HAVE SOME OF THAT An awful lot of bike lubes can’t hack winter crud; Chain L can. It’s super gloopy. So sticky, in fact, that when applying, it strings out in a most pleasing fashion.
Technically, it’s a mixture of extreme pressure lubricants in a high film-strength mineral oil base. It also contains rust inhibitors and other additives to improve its longevity and wet-weather performance.
In use, it’s simply amazing. I picked up a sample at Interbike last year and started using it this winter when normal lubes weren’t coping with the extreme weather (extreme for the UK, that is).
There’s a time and a place for dry lubes: winter ain’t the time and NE England ain’t the place. If you ride through foul weather, I can recommend Chain L.
WASHED OUT I’m a huge fan of Nikwax products. They’re green and keep me dry.
My breathable shell layers get washed with Techwash, a non-detergent cleanser, and then re-activated with TX.10. I also waterproof my fleece garments with another Nikwax product and, when I’ve got a (stinky) full load of base-layers, wash them in Basewash.
Synthetic shell-, mid- and base-layers work partly because of textile tech but also because of a variety of treatments. Shell garments, for instance, often have Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coatings. These chemical enhancements wear off with every wash because detergents, being surfactants, pull the treatments away from the fabrics. Surfactants do the same job with dirt, loosening bonds and pulling it away from the fabric.
If you don’t re-treat your tech garments, they lose their effectiveness. Washing waterproof jackets in standard detergent is a great way to make them not waterproof. Detergent residue starts pulling water through the fabric.
Nikwax stuff appears expensive, but it’s worth it.
BUZZED UP OK, so I’m now stable on black-ice, well-lubed, and cossetted from the vagaries of the British weather but I’m going nowhere if I’m not caffeinated to the eyeballs. I have to start the day with an espresso. Just have to.
A mid-morning long black tastes great in a handlebar-mounted Soma Fabrications’ Morning Rush insulated coffee mug, available in the UK from Fine-Adc (the same guys who now do Action Wipes). Rather conveniently, the Morning Rush mount is the H-27 from CatEye, so you can switch over to an LED at night.
I may have taken the pic outside a snowy Starbucks, but I’m not fuelled by the Great Coffee Satan, my espresso bean of choice is Daterra’s Bruzzi of Brazil, roasted by Pumphrey’s Coffee, a Newcastle fixture since 1750.
That’s 1750 the year, not the hour.
Read the rest of "Grippy, gloopy, dry and buzzin’: riding through the cold snap"...
This year’s Cycle Show was extra special for Digi Foo-Kune. She was taken to the show by her husband and, to her surprise, she was presented with a custom-built titanium bike, personalised with inset diamonds and 18ct gold parts and trim. Foo-Kune Elle, you could say.
Digi’s trin-mad husband Lee had promised her an Enigma frame after her bike was stolen but he then secretly commissioned award-winning jeweller Nicholas James of Hatton Garden to customise the bike to create a unique wedding anniversary gift.
After months of labour the British bike bling was unveiled on Enigma’s stand to the unsuspecting Foo-Kune: “Nicholas James is my favourite jeweller; I love their contemporary style and attention to detail, so this really is the perfect present. I’m a very keen cyclist and ride daily. I’d just come to find some parts for the frame so this is amazing. The finish is perfection; it’s truly a work of art but one that I can take out on to the open road.”
However, Foo-Kune will have to wait a little longer before getting in the saddle as the bike will be on display at Nicholas James’ showroom in Hatton Garden until the end of December. Bugger.
Enigma ‘Elle’ frame 50cm with mirror polished logos
2 x Collection quality diamonds (D flawless) in the top tube
3 x 18ct gold badges by Nicholas James
18ct gold plated Campagnolo Centaur carbon Group Set
700c hand built wheels: Ambrosio hubs, Mavic Open Pro Rims
& 32 x 18ct gold plated spokes per wheel
Continental GP 4000 gold tyres
Carbon fibre seat post
‘Elle’ ladies handle bars by ITH
San Marco Ladies Saddle
Easton Carbon Fibre forks
Read the rest of "Flowers? Phoeey! Say you love her with a £10k diamond-studded ti bike"...
The new X170 from Drift Innovations: A rugged all-in-one bike-cam with a small screen. Could this be it, could this be the perfect extreme sports video camera?
The X170 from Drift Innovations is so called because of its 170 degree wide angle lens. The screen lets you line up your shot - a brilliant feature for a bike-cam - and you can watch your video masterpiece there and then without hooking up to a computer.
The camera is an inch longer than a Garmin GPS and can be fitted to helmets and handlebars with the included straps and mounts. Or, screw off the shoe and you’ll find a standard tripod thread.
Noticed the black dot yet? It’s caused by the curvature of the ultra wide angle lens. There’s nothing you can do about it but will only appear when you’re shooting into the sun. The company told me in an email: “This was a compromise we had to make to get the 170 degree wide angle lens.”
The X170 can shoot 5 megapixel stills or hi-res video at 720 by 480 pixel quality, 30 frames per second.
There’s some onboard memory but fit a 16 GB SD card for grabbing your footage.
The dead easy screen menu lets you toggle tons of stuff, like recording to AVI or MP4, or auto switching off the screen after you’ve lined up your shot. The X170’s screen is a boon, of course, but it’s a battery hog. Power is supplied by two AA batteries.
The lens rotates so you can fit the camera to any plane and still line up the shot correctly.
The X170 can be started and stopped with the included wireless remote control, dead useful for when you strap the camera to your helmet or when you’re in stealth mode, ten metres from your bike.
The camera’s auto exposure control is very good, switching quickly between contrasty scenes. The 170 degree lens is nearly but not quite a fisheye lens and there’s some barrel distortion of vertical objects.
In use, the X170 has been childs’ play to operate. The controls and menu are intuitive, the screen is a dream and - black dot aside - the video quality is top-notch. The X170 costs a touch under £200 and is available from ActionCameras.co.uk.
I’m all for ridding the world of stabilisers (US = training wheels). They prevent children from learning how to ride their bikes. The Gyrowheel wants to change all that.
I can’t say that it will. Learner ‘running bikes’ are much more fit for the purpose, of which the Like-a-Bike is still the cream of the crop despite many and varied imitations.
The Gyrowheel is a child’s bike wheel stuffed with electronics, a battery and some seriously clever gyroscopes. It ain’t no Segway but at $100 a pop, it’s a lot cheaper.
But at one hundred bucks it’s about eighty five bucks more than most people will pay for a child’s front wheel.
Sadly, I can’t ride the 12-inch Gyrowheel. Even though I’m small, I’m not that small. However, at Interbike, I was able to feel the wheel and can report that it’s pleasingly odd to hold. It wobbles and wants to pull out of your grip.
Alongside Cannondale’s Simon, a neat piece of electronic suspension vapourware, the Gyrowheel was possibly the most innovative product at Interbike. And for innovative read ‘interesting’, ‘head-scratchingly different’ and ‘who’s gonna buy that?’.
The Gyrowheel press release makes some high claims for the product:
Gyrowheel replaces the standard front wheel of a bicycle and is installed the same way as a standard bike wheel. When powered on, Gyrowheel’s inner disk spins up. It then senses unbalanced riding and re-centers the bike underneath the rider’s weight when the bike starts to wobble, whether riding straight or turning. This action not only helps to keep riders from falling over, it also fosters and reinforces correct riding technique, resulting in a natural and smooth transition to conventional two-wheeled riding.
Gyrowheel comes equipped with internal rechargeable batteries and a charger. It operates with one button and has three stability settings – high, medium and low. As a rider’s skills and confidence improve, the stability setting can be adjusted. When powered off, Gyrowheel behaves like a standard bike wheel.
I was prepared to whizz by the booth, laugh at the product, and move on. That I stayed awhile had everything to do with the product and nothing at all to do with the fact the booth was staffed by cute women.
“The vast majority of children who tested Gyrowheel learned to ride in less than an hour,” said Gyrobike’s marketing director Ashleigh Harris.
That’s all well and fine but that’s how long it takes to teach even a four year old child how to ride a bike using the scoot-weeee-scoot method. I use this method at a local primary school and offer a one-hour guarantee: if the tot isn’t pedalling independently by the end of an hour, they can come back for another hour.
I’ve taught lots of kids. Just a couple have required that second hour. However, there’s a brilliant niche for the Gyrowheel, a type of student I find it hard to teach. Kids with balance problems or learning difficulties take much, much longer to get stable on two wheels. Some I’m still teaching. The Gyrowheel could be perfect for these kids.
At the moment the Gyrowheel comes only in a 12-inch version but a 16-inch version is in the works. I’d also like to see a 24-inch version and perhaps even an adult version.
A bike with a Gyrowheel fitted can just about balance by itself for a few metres, as demonstrated in the pic above. It’s a clever wee thing and could be an excellent training tool for hard-to-teach children but, in the meantime, the method I outline below in my ‘Family Cycling’ book (click the pages to flip through on Issuu.com) works fine for the majority of newbie nippers.
In July, the blazers of FINA, swimming’s governing body, banned Speedo’s polyurethane swimming suits despite having okayed them in June. Cycling’s UCI also has a slew of rules on go-faster clothing but, despite being poked and prodded in the above ‘weapons of mass acceleration’ spoof from Pearl Izumi, the gnomes of Aigle have yet to come down hard on those companies breaching the clothing rules.
There are lots of ways of making cycle clothes faster – dimples; placing seams away from the airflow; fabric rugosity (ie roughness); body-mapping (ie designing clothes with athletes’ muscle groups in mind); trapping air around the upper arm; wire inserts under jerseys to aid air-flow - some of which are allowed by UCI, some of which are banned, but not routinely enforced.
Given their propensity for pristine, UCI tech wonks may soon turn their focus on fabrics and could one day ban a lot of the clothing innovations that have been trickling down to you and I over the last three to four years.
“After months of research and development, Castelli created a jersey that features a new aero-slippery fabric, a wrinkle-free fit, and critical areas of dimpled material. In the wind tunnel, the Split Second jersey delivered a CxA drag coefficient of 0.359 compared to 0.377 for a standard Castelli jersey. In a zero cross-wind environment, this computes into a savings of 15 watts. And across various cross-wind measurements, the average savings was 13.8 watts – which equates to a 58 seconds savings over 40 kilometers at an approximate pace of 25 mph.” Castelli press release, 2006
And not just dimpled fabrics, the UCI doesn’t like anything that smacks of “performance enhancement.” I have it on good authority that at one meeting to discuss clothing rules, the UCI seriously wanted to ban materials which wick moisture as this helps cooling and thus aids performance. It was carefully explained to them that banning wicking materials, which are now commonplace in all sports, would be like banning composite frames (hang on, I shouldn’t have said that, don’t want to give the buggers ideas).
It would be cruel to imply that some UCI types hanker after the type of woolen cycle shorts that would weigh twice as much when wet as when dry but what was good enough for Eddy Merckx in 1970 should be good enough for us now often seems to be the guiding principle behind the UCI’s tech regulations.
However, as Jason Rance, vice-president of marketing at Speedo International, pointed out in July, preventing sports equipment companies from innovating is point blank stupid.
“In order to get rid of the wrong of having wetsuits in the pool you’re actually going to take back innovation in the sport and throw the sport back two decades. My analogy would be next year at Wimbledon Federer and Nadal are about to start a game and you say, ‘Hang on a minute, mate. Give me your nice carbon graphite racquet, here’s a cane one from back in 1990. Have a good game.’”
Critics of the give-technology-free-rein approach point out that some performance-enhancing clothing isn’t just slippier through the water or air, it’s biomechanical cheating. ‘Compression’ clothing is getting a lot of attention right now and there are almost claims it’s another form of propulsion. For instance, Power Lycra “controls and reduces muscle vibration, maximizing power while reducing energy loss, muscle fatigue and the risk of cramps.” Sounds reasonable, but what about elastic-band exoskeletons? There are garments for elite cross-country skiers which use Thermoplastic urethane (TPU) bands to store and release energy upon movement.
adidas uses TPU ‘Powerweb technology’ on its cross-country ski suits. TPU bands “support the natural expansion and contraction of the musculoskeletal system while performing. They provide elastic support and performance enhancement of key muscle groups.”
Working on such garments for adidas was James Lamont of Scotland, now based in Germany. He used to work in the adidas Innovation Team but is now a freelance consultant. He has worked across many different sports, but his abiding interest is cycling.
I first met James in the early 1990s when he worked for Raw Experience of Edinburgh, the then importer of Clif Bars and other niche brands into the UK cycle trade. He often emails me with highly-technical critiques of so-called innovations in cycle clothing. Compression togs from well-known brands, for example, are often only minimally ‘compressive’ and mostly in the wrong places, he whispers in my online ear.
And when he tells me stuff, I tend to sit up and take notice because when it comes to go-faster fabrics, he’s the go-to guy. It was he who developed the adidas Ian Thorpe swim suit; he who led the research to make TPU bands for cross-county skiing; and he who married polyurethane to swimming suits. He’s also worked on go-faster cycle clothing for pro bike teams, including trying to ‘compress’ Jan Ullrich’s tummy legs.
Here’s his take on a bunch of the latest developments in bike clothing tech:
AERODYNAMICS & COOLING
Aerodynamics is always key in cycling. A little more attention could be paid to specific riding positions, and not just for time trialling, also for long breakaways, chases at the front. In cycling there seems to be a fascination with surface drag, which relative to form drag is a tiny proportion of the drag load on a rider. We constantly see quotes for power savings or ‘gains’ which, as a percentage of the drag load from surface friction, effects are bigger than the total power lost by the drag factor they suggest they are dealing with.
The governing body rules have been very strict on clothing and footwear, and must always be respected, although this year some teams have been experimenting in early season races like the Tour of California with devices on clothing which are clearly against the spirit and the law of the regulations. Given the attention that the UCI has recently been giving once more to equipment, particularly aspect ratios and fairing, there are nevertheless still major steps which can be made in drag reduction.
I am still very surprised that very few people have looked at aerodynamics in the context of cooling, as they have say in braking systems in Formula One. This is a huge potential area to make improvements for performance and comfort. A little focus and exploration here could yield major benefits.
SOLAR LOAD & COLOURS
Colour makes a big difference in terms of solar load, we saw that clearly with teams changing jersey and short colour for the Tour de France this year. However, there are issues to do with opacity caused by water, particularly liquid sweat, which could be dealt with much better to deal better with heat load. There have been improvements in use of different fabric weights and constructions such as mesh, single jersey or mock eyelet, plus incorporation of stretch, even in wovens. However, placement of areas of lighter or more closed fabric is still an area which seems very old fashioned compared with work I have done on heat production and heat load on the body. This is an area of potentially big improvements.
Heat is a huge issue for riders as they become more tired over the course of the race. How they deal with heat load and heat stress has a big impact on performance. When a rider is producing 400 watts or more on a climb to stay with the leaders, given that even a top athlete’s body is only 25 percent efficient in energy conversion, the body is creating nearly 1600 watts, 1200 watts of which then is mostly lost as thermal energy. Combine this with external heat load, quite a remarkably high number of watts per square metre on the open road in the Alps in July directly from the sun, plus reflected and radiated heat from the external environment (Mont Ventoux’s final kilometers being one of the most striking examples of this later effect), there is a great amount of heat to be lost from the body through evaporation, radiation, convection and conduction, along with a large heat load from the external environment. Clearly, what is next to the skin, or major organ, to lose that excess heat generated internally and resist external heat load, that is the rider’s clothing, can have a big positive impact on performance.
It is great to see ideas like pre-cooling before the event, along with ice pack interventions during the race, but much can be done for the future in clothing. There are many solutions available in other industries and fields which can be incorporated.
In the high mountains, weight, or rather gravity, is of course a key issue, as I always see on my SRM power meter as I hit a climb. Garment weights are also approached rather peculiarly. As for much equipment (and I have always been a proponent of the idea of ‘clothing as equipment’), there is an obsession with weight. However, this is typically always looked at as a dry weight. We know from research, our own riding experience, and from watching top riders in the tour, that water as sweat is a major factor in weight. In fact, there are some quite counter-intuitive approaches to system weight of a rider’s outfit which could yield much lower weights in a race.
COMPRESSION & BODY-SHAPE
This has really become a huge trend in the past couple of years. Based on research first carried out in the early 1990s with athletes, it seems as though every team has a different sponsor providing a variety of products all making big performance improvement claims. We can see from riders’ SRM power meter data over the course of a grand tour, that for riders the challenge is to recover from each days’ efforts, and perhaps over three weeks try to delay the inevitable reduction in performance.
For recovery, compression garments offer great potential benefits. However, most products I have seen, both on the general market and supposedly custom made, offer very little compression, compromise freedom of movement and also do not have the correct compression graduation engineered into them. Most would seem to offer no more than a placebo effect. In addition, many garments I see being used are of very low compression force compared with the trained muscles of a professional cyclist, and in addition pay scant attention to the very specific body shapes of these athletes.
While this is disappointing, it leaves much scope for improvements to be made in the products and in maintaining rider performance for recovery, travel and warm-up. At least these are becoming more accepted in what can be a very conservative sport.
LAYERS & SYSTEMS
There has also been little attention to all the layers and components of what the rider wears, and although sponsor manufacturers would like us to buy only their products, there is still, in something key like heat load, very little thought going into clothing as a system. More of a systems approach in all the areas above could yield great benefits in terms of performance, comfort and also sensation.
SKINNY & WET
As we saw in the stage Heinrich Hausler won, this can also be a big issue, and we saw one particular example in the late 90s of a German star who lost much time due to cold, wet conditions. With very low body fat (insulation) at peak condition for the Tour, high riding speeds (thus cooling rates) and also water from precipitation plus thrown up water from other riders wheels, we end up with big issues. Given that water conducts heat typically at least 26 times faster than dry air, the potential for heat loss and catastrophic loss of performance is huge. Combined with high power outputs (and thus necessary heat loss) up climbs, then inactivity and high speeds on descents, rapid cooling is a natural result.
This year I was struck by how poorly prepared in terms of clothing most teams were. This is an area in which pro riders, tied to sponsors product and the need to show logos and names, can actually be at a disadvantage to what amateur riders can buy and wear. There are a whole range of products which could also be built specifically for pro riders needs in an event like the Tour de France.
A version of this interview with James Lamont appeared on srm.de and is used here with permission.
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