Chris Boardman has given BikeRadar an insight into how he has helped British Cycling to mount its most intensive ever assault on the Olympic cycling events.
According to the Barcelona gold medallist no-one has ever attempted to do what British Cycling has done in terms of it racing equipment – i.e. develop an entire set of road and track bikes for an Olympic team – so there was no blueprint to follow.
Chris got involved four years ago but he says that the process of developing the bikes which will ultimately be used in Beijing actually began well before that and he pays tribute to the man who has acted as British Cycling’s lead engineer, Dimitris Katsanis.
“It all started with one imagination, one brain,” said Chris. “Dimitris has a fantastic engineering background and works for one of the biggest carbon firms in the world, ACG of Derby. He’s made some great machines, some of which have lasted six years and are still use today, so it all started with him.”
This phenomenal engineering mind also happens to belong to a man who, as a cyclist, understands the need of the end user. But Dimitris is just part of the story and things really kicked into high gear when UK Sport got involved, says the Olympian.
“They have an innovation department and acted almost as an agent for us. They go out and speak to all these other industries and so when we have a problem they say: ‘Okay, go and talk to these people.’”
One of those industries has been Formula 1 which, as a leader in carbon composite technology and aerodynamic computer modelling techniques, has much to offer bike designers.
With funding from UK Sport, Chris and the team were able to laser-scan two cyclists, Jason Queally and Rob Hayles and feed that data into a computer.
“Then we were able to say: ‘what happens if we do this, or that?’ But you have to be able to believe your data so then we would go to a wind tunnel to see if the computer data we got back was true. Then we could go to a track to see if the wind tunnel data was accurate. That process took about a year but when you know that the computer modelling provides data that you can believe in, it saves so much time.”
Victoria Pendleton on one of the new British track bikes
As for the choice of specific components or items of clothing, Chris says his team takes a highly methodical approach to get things right.
“It’s a question of looking at every detail, breaking it down and working with our equipment partners to ensure that no team will have an advantage over us in any single area.
“But there is no point looking at anything in isolation otherwise you can end up robbing Peter to pay Paul. You’ve got to test everything together as a complete package.”
But in spite of all the computing power at their disposal, Chris says there is still a lot of what he describes as “head-scratching” results, particularly when aero testing.
“You wouldn’t believe some of the airflows we have seen. It can bounce off a rider’s foot and be deflected towards their nose. But that’s what makes it so fascinating and in the end, with the technology at our disposal, we’re limited only by our imagination.”