A Trio of Two Wheel Treats
Three ultimate cycling ‘accessories’ and three top tips to improve your aerodynamics
By Sam Clark with aerodynamic tips from Harm Ubbens
Many of us have seen films pop up on our phones of young bouncy, radical dudes flipping 360’s off mounds of earth in their back yards in some sun drenched corner of California, but what if your riding is a little more refined and you want something rather more sophisticated at the bottom of your garden? We check out three awesome cycling accessories and get some aerodynamic top tips on the way. Space and budget may, obviously, be more than a slight issue for these ‘accessories’. But you can always dream (and go and play on these):
Tom Dumoulin Bike Park, Sittard, Netherlands
Fresh from his recent success at the 2017 Giro d’Italia, being the first Dutchman to win the Italian race, Tom Dumoulin gave his name to a new bike park. Safe, car-free environments are becoming more popular for cyclists but in this cycling crazy corner of the Netherlands they take their two-wheeled fun very seriously. The Tom Dumoulin Bike Park is essentially a little island of bicycle utopia. Tarmac tracks ring the park and cleverly intersect to create 22 different routes. There is even a, rather optimistically named, ‘mountain’ with a short but steep climb and a cobbled route for budding, future Paris–Roubaix stars.
The track has already attracted interest for training possibilities by professional teams like Tom’s Lotto-Jumbo and the USA cycling team. But it was always intended to be a safe place for members of the public to enjoy riding their bikes and, if you happen to find yourself in the south-eastern corner of the Netherlands, you can just turn up and spend an hour or so safely pumping out some miles. The local cycling club, Wcl Bergklimmerrs (of which Tom has been a member since he was a boy), run club meets training members of all ages in multi-cycling disciplines. The evening I visited the whole place was buzzing with around 100 riders in groups ranging from small children picking their way along the dusty mountain bike tracks down the side of the ‘mountain’ to four riders who looked like they had taken a wrong turn from the Tour de France and were locked in formation, heads down like a train charging around the outer ring of the park.
Jason Bradbury, former TV’s Gadget Show presenter, has built the ultimate gadget track. A pocket sized velodrome – well garden size at least.
Jason has passed his life long love affair with bicycles onto his nine year old son, Jackson. After one of his regular sessions around the Herne Hill velodrome Jackson asked, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool Dad, if we could fit a velodrome in the back garden?’ Jason sprung into heroic Dad action with the help of his mate Keith who runs Shoretrax, a company making wooden mountain bike tracks. A few weeks later they were cycling around a makeshift velodrome propped up by the Bradbury’s conservatory. Over a year of refinement later the VeloTrax has wooden slatted loop supported on a portable aluminum frame. It looks a little ominously like a deflated carnival Wall of Death.
Its first outing for the public was at this years Eroica Britannia. Jason devised a gripping knock out competition, The VeloTrax Eliminator. Two riders at a time dueled, spinning around the track to catch each other. The finals were held on Sunday the 18th of June in front of cheering crowds. Apparently, in an unfortunate turn of the wheel of fate, Jason was the only rider to end up in A&E; thankfully nothing was broken. But it does leave the question; what do you get a dad who builds you a velodrome and who already has more gadgets than Argos, for Father’s Day?
Wind tunnel, Flanders Bike Valley, Beringen, Belgium
Modern racing bikes are exquisite, highly refined examples of technical engineering. Thanks to the malleable properties of carbon fiber, functional components are blended into sculptured frames making the pro bikes around 20 per cent more aerodynamic than the veteran, round tube steel bikes. We know this because people like Harm Ubbens watch how air flows around them. Harm is Project Manager at the Flanders Bike Valley wind tunnel, a 50 meter gale specifically built to study cycling aerodynamics. The tunnel is unique in that it is wide enough to stage several riders together and can increase the realistic effects by rotating the wheels of the bicycles. Air flows were commonly observed using smoke but the particles are, relatively speaking, quite large and have a tendency to follow their own path so for precise results Harm sprays a mist of micro oil droplets into the tunnel and tracks their movement in the wind with lasers.
If you want to slip through the air like a hot knife through butter you can book a session with Harm for yourself. For €500 for an hour in the wind tunnel, Harm will shape you into a Formula 1 racing machine just like the pro’s. He recommends a good bike fit first then makes aerodynamic refinements to this, being careful not alter the saddle height which could result in an injury. On a first visit Harm typically expects to increase power output by 20 watts just by carefully honing the rider position. A second session focusing on the riders clothing can significantly improve on this.
Although designed primarily for cycling, it has a maximum wind speed of 108km/h so Harm can experiment on all sorts of things in his big hair dryer, like bobsleighs and skiers. Whilst showing us around Harm generously cranked it up to a blustery 50 km/h. I asked about the possibility of children’s parties but apparently this really is a highly sensitive piece of advanced technical equipment, and not a big toy.
One of Harms next studies is to experiment what benefits are gained, if any, by the notorious quandary of cyclists shaved legs. He has noticed air flowing over the upper arm is broken up so it moves away from arm and reforms smoothly behind it, creating very little drag to pull back on the rider. Hairs on the arms may cause, or aid, this slight disruption to the air flow but it remains to be seen if the cycling preference for sleek shaven legs has just been a ruse initiated by the French to sell Bic’s…
Harm’s three top tips for better aerodynamics:
1 – Keep your elbows tucked in. This will naturally make you roll your shoulders in then keep your head down to create a nice streamlined shape.
2 – Wear tight clothing. Even an unzipping a jersey will increase drag. Although this maybe irrelevant if you keel over from the heat so one of the side projects they are developing at the Bike Valley is clothing with integrated cooling technology.
3 – Don’t wear gloves! Surprisingly you can gain 6 to 8 Watts by taking off your gloves. As they say, every marginal gain adds up. But the amount of skin you’ll shed from your palms if you come off makes this a potentially painful price to pay for what is really a pretty small gain. It might be something for the pros to consider if they don’t plan to hold a handle bar for the following few weeks but we don’t think it will really make much difference in the dash to the café with your mates!
Keep an eye out for Velotrax news on Jason Bradbury’s YouTube channel: