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Cycling and Aerodynamics

Laney Butt

Mrs. Graves
June 9, 2016


What I Already Knew/What I Wanted to Know

The modern bicycle has many implications ranging from transporting groceries home
from the store, racing, or just riding with friends. I love racing my bike and learning about how
to solve mechanical errors when they appear, but aside from adding deeper wheels, I knew
nothing about how to make my race bike more efficient in the wind, or more aerodynamic. I saw
videos on YouTube from the team of aerodynamic experts at the Specialized Win Tunnel in
California, which sparked my interest and inspired me to learn more.
I knew the data gathered from testing in the Win Tunnel could be analyzed to find a faster
bike setup, why it was given the name Win Tunnel. I also knew that the tunnel is linear with a
rotating platform. The platform can rotate to test the aerodynamics of a rider or their equipment
at different yaw angles. But these were just observations from seeing a few videos, I wanted a
more in depth knowledge.
My starting questions were specific, focusing just on the Win Tunnel in California. How
does the Specialized Wind Tunnel measure efficiency of a product and how is the data
transmitted to the computers? How do human participants impact the data? What is considered
a good reading in the wind tunnel and how are testing standards established? I also wanted to
learn more about the manufacturing of parts at specialized Bicycle Components and if prototypes
are made in a different way than final products for efficiency in testing.
Before even starting the true ISearch part of my research, I researched the Win Tunnel for
my first flow post leaving with even more specific questions. If a stem in integrated into the drop
bars, is the added aerodynamics worth the loss of instant adjustability? How is rider position
regulated? How many trials are needed to confirm a result?


Using all of these specific questions, I came up with my overarching question for my
research, How do equipment and rider position affect aerodynamics?

The Story of My Search

Diving head first into an unknown field was terrifying at first, and made for a stab in the
dark to find a reliable source and start my research. I started by searching for cycling
aerodynamics in Google Scholar. This search gave me a reasonable amount of papers to look
through, but most were above my understanding. In my very first source I looked at I found
notation for drag force, the dimensionless drag coefficient and frontal area for the rider.1 These
were all combined to make a formula to calculate the dragon on the rider and bike combined. In
all of my following sources, I didnt find this formula ever used again. In other sources I saw that
data was collected and compared in a before and after style.
The next resource I used did not come from Google Scholar. I decided to start looking for
information in a way that would be more applicable to my everyday life, specifically cycling. I
enjoy riding my bike and finding out how to go faster for less work, or becoming more
aerodynamic, would really benefit me. I started looking at sources that would give me wattage
savings, something I could easily understand. I knew that each rider has a different kilogram to
watt ratio, based on their function threshold power, or FTP, but I didnt know how this could
relate to aerodynamics. Through my research I learned about how FTP is calculated, tested, and
applied. I also learned more about clothing and the impact of rider position.
My final research attempt was to move from online sources to speaking with an expert in
the field of cycling and aerodynamics. I composed a letter of request and an academic resume


showing my qualifications to mail to the team of Chris Yu, Mark Cote, Chris DAluisio,
Cameron Piper and Chuck Teixeira at the Specialized Win Tunnel, returning to my initial
searching. I had to mail my letter rather than call or email, as the only contact point I had for the
team was the general office address on the website of specialized bike components.
When sending my letter off, I did not have high hopes for a reply, so when none arrived
back to me, it wasnt terribly disappointing. By writing the letter as part of my research possess
and having it peer reviewed for me, I learned a new style of writing that I know will be useful to
me in a future professional career.

The Search Results

When digging deeper into the concept of FTP I found that it is the highest power a rider
can maintain for an hour. It is calculated with one of two tests, the first being a 20 minute all out
test on the bike. To get your FTP from this you then subtract 5% of the power you generated in
the 20 minutes. 2 The second test involves two 8 minute intervals, 10 minutes apart which are
then averaged and 10% is subtracted from that average.3 both tests are useful, the important part
is to use the same test each time to be able to compare results.4 This relates to aerodynamic
testing because a rider must have benchmark to test from. A 10 watt savings over a 40k time trial
means nothing if it is unknown what the 10 watts are coming off of.
In this scenario the 10 watts saved would still be outputted by the rider, they would just
be unneeded for the given speed and can be used to maintain a faster speed then the previous
speed. Wind tunnel testing can find where these watts can be saved. The rider tested must


maintain a constant position and keep other factors that arent being tested constant, just like
with any other scientific test.
In testing, it is common to use a test length of 10-20 at 40 kilometers per hour. Having a
fast speed, one close to 25 miles per hour, allows for simulation of a race pace where this data
would be applied, while the short time keeps the test subject from tiring. It is important for a
rider to stay fresh enough between tests so that multiple tests can be run in one day, maximizing
time in the tunnel and keeping tests consistent.
In my third day of searching, I found that the rider makes of 60-70% of the drag from the
wind, so instead of focusing on bike components like I was intending to, I turned my attention to
clothing. I found that different brands all have different techniques. On this topic, I found that
tighter fitting clothing allows the air to flow more smoothly over the rider. An interesting topic
that many bands payed specific attention to was the seams of clothing. I thought that a smaller
and tighter seam would be the best option but testing in the Specialized Win Tunnel lead to
results showing that a wider and raised seam was the best, using the trip line effect to disrupt and
simultaneously smooth the air before it hits the next piece of fabric.

My Growth as a Researcher
By choosing a topic I had a vested interest in from the start, I was more motivated to
research and maintain my blog. I learned a lot about cycling and aerodynamics from spending
time researching it and digging into the nooks and crannies of details. In the future I hope to use
the research skills I have learned as well as the cycling knowledge I have gained.


1. Aerodynamic study of different cyclist positions: CFD ... [accessed 2016 May 7].
2. How to Test for FTP and Set Training Zones. Kurt Kinetic Blog. [accessed 2016].
3. CTS Field Test: Why two 8-minute efforts instead of one 20-minute effort? - CTS. CTS.
2014 Jun [accessed 2016].