Track cycling tech: rider engines

Peeking under the bonnet of world class track riders

With the UCI track world championships in full swing in Melbourne, Australia, we thought we'd give you a closer look at what the world's best riders are capable of.

Without taking anything away from the athletes, track cycling is one of the most quantifiable disciplines of the sport.

The environment plays a big role in this: fixed length tracks, controlled climatic conditions and smooth, even surfaces. That makes working out how fast a rider can go (and how much faster they need to go to win) a lot easier. It's a big reason why track is so popular with governing bodies whose funding depends on getting medals, preferably Olympic ones.

A rider's speed can be accurately predicted by knowing their power output, potential and kinetic energy and balancing that against the forces opposing them: drag, rolling resistance, gravity, friction. Power, measured in watts, is the best insight we have into a rider's engine, and it's for this reason that so many are equipped with power meters.

The most popular power measuring device on the track is the SRM system, which measures torque at the crank spider and wirelessly transmits the data to a computer, often mounted on the bars or underneath the saddle, converting it to power in the process. Coaches use the data to monitor how the rider is performing - whether they're getting fitter, peaking or tired.

Our photographer Rob Wilmott was shooting at the Track World Cup in London in February (see his Track cycling tech: bikes of the stars for more) and noticed a number of saddle mounted SRM computers on display. Zoom in a little and you can see the numbers the riders are putting out at a given moment. This is just a snapshot of what's going on, as instantaneous power is quite variable - average power and how it's distributed is more important.

This gallery gives a glimpse of what's under the bonnet of a number of world class track riders. Bear in mind there's a lot more to it than just power.

306W - a female pursuit rider at work

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