Could fairings provide the biggest aero gain we're all missing out on?
Few people appreciate aerodynamic benefits as much as cyclists. After all, air resistance stands as the biggest enemy behind our very own physical capabilities. But in this world of wind-cheating frames, slippery helmets and aero handlebars is there something we’ve been missing?
The prospect of a partial fairing around the handlebar area of a road bike might seem extreme, and it sure is going to face a lot of criticism, but hear me out.
Take a look across to the world of human powered vehicles, where aero literally is everything, and you’ll rarely see a vehicle without a fairing.
Then of course there are motorcycles. Some barely travel faster than bicycles yet most will include some sort of fairing.
Numbers on the topic aren’t easy to find, but some that are regularly cited are extracted from David Gordon Wilson’s Bicycling Science. He states that a rider on a touring bike equipped with a partial fairing, and his or her hands on the handlebar, would require 63 watts less (157w vs. 220w) to overcome air resistance at 35km/h when compared with the same bike and rider without. Huge gains indeed.
Sure, winds may become something of a hazard, but this is nothing those riders with deep section aero wheels won’t be familiar with already.
None of this thinking is new of course, take a look at Zzipper Road Fairings, from Davenport, California. It has been producing and selling fairings for bicycles of all kinds since the early eighties.
At least a couple of legendary bicycle designer Robert Eggert’s e-bike concepts have included partial fairingsOliver Woodman / Immediate Media
It’s an idea that bike designers have flirted with in the past too. The most recent occurrence that I can recall is Robert Egger’s delightfully mad Specialized Bravado e-bike concept, photographed above.
Another example, also from Egger/Specialized, was the fUCI (that’s eff the UCI!), a concept bike that demonstrated the severe design restrictions put in place by the sport’s governing body.
Both of these concepts are e-bikes, but perhaps this is where a fairing could make the most sense — in an area where riders are less concerned about their image, and battery life is crucial. Because in a sport where a superior braking system is criticised continually for its looks, what hope do we have of getting a geeky perspex fairing accepted?
Perhaps then, the right place for these fairings could be with commuters, whose rides could end up faster for less effort and where practical enhancements to bikes are commonplace.
The idea of riding with a fairing has certainly got cogs turning in my head and I’m about to get our resident physics graduate Seb Stott involved to stage a few experiments on the topic. Watch this space.