The Engineer's Notebook Blog

The Engineer's Notebook

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The Hottest Technology in Olympic Cycling

Posted August 09, 2016 8:00 AM by BestInShow
Pathfinder Tags: cycling olympics

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a bicycle expert. On the far-too-rare occasions when I
saddle up, I wipe the cobwebs off my 20-plus-year-old hybrid and hope the tires aren’t flat. Watching the Olympic cycling road races over the weekend made my
quads hurt. That said, some of the technological innovations for world-class bicycle racing intrigued me enough to do a bit of investigation. While I was doing some research, I uncovered a completely unexpected innovation. Read on.

Olympic Torch Paint

During the women’s road race on Sunday, one of the NBC commentators mentioned that the frame of one of the competitor’s cycles reacts to temperature by changing colors. Specialized is rolling out its Torch-painted frames and helmets. The paint starts out red and transitions to yellow as the ambient temperature rises to 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Why 71 degrees? That’s Rio de Janeiro’s August mean temperature. This means that bike frames and helmets with Torch paint won’t be red or orange for long; the average low is only 66 degrees F. Check out the video here to watch the chameleon-like transformation.

Switching Sides in the Velodrome

Bicycle drivetrains are always on the right-hand side … except for a new model from Felt Bicycles. Felt’s new bike, the TA FRD designed for team pursuit races, has its drivetrain on the left. Why the switch? According to the manufacturer, “Over a 4km team pursuit track race, riders will encounter 64 left turns on the oval velodrome, and the right side of their bikes will be traveling ever-so-slightly farther and slightly faster than the left side of their bikes.” A small tweak, but in a sport where split seconds can separate winners and losers, small tweaks can pay off.

In addition to the drivetrain switch, this bike is asymmetrical and has tubes designed to yield maximum speed. The company assigned two full-time engineers to the project and started work in late 2012. The design reflects a breakthrough in the understanding of the way riders in a velodrome experience wind resistance. With their new understanding that wind hits riders at an angle and not head-on, designers devised this unconventional machine.

Will it work? Check it out for yourself. The US women’s pursuit team will ride their Felt model TA FRDs in qualifying rounds on August 11 and the finals on August 13.

Big Blue’s Big Data

This is the new technology that I didn’t expect to find. The USA Cycling Women’s Team Pursuit has another technological edge – one based on advanced data analytics
powered by IBM Analytics and related hardware and software. Connected devices – the Internet of Things (IoT) for elite cycling – collect data from each cycle’s power meter and each rider’s heart rate monitor and muscle oxygen sensors. The data travel via cell phones to IBM’s data cloud, to the analysis platform, IBM’s Apache Spark.

The big advantage this automated system has over previous data collection and analysis methods is that coaches get immediate feedback, so they can in turn provide riders with immediate feedback. Information for each cyclist is available via a data dashboard immediately after a training session or a race. These data help coaches and riders fine-tune their approach to a race. Since team pursuit riders expend differing amounts of energy based on their position in the foursome, understanding the rate of energy use can help inform the timing of lead shifts. The oxygenation data reveal when an athlete is sufficiently recovered to start another training ride.

All of This Just for Sport?

As with the US space program, breakthroughs in technology in competitive cycling can have a trickledown effect for leisure riders. For example, IBM is counting on insights gained from applying IoT and data analytics to power more business- and industry-related product offerings. Even though most casual riders will never own a $12,000 carbon-fiber bike, we can still benefit from design changes and even a bit of bling from color-changing paint.

Image credits:

Wikimedia Commons

Resources

http://www.bikerumor.com/2016/08/04/specialized-fires-color-changing-heat-sensitive-paint-olympians/

http://www.bikerumor.com/2016/08/01/felt-gives-shape-future-new-zr-road-vr-gravel-bikes/

https://www.ecnmag.com/news/2016/05/usa-cycling-unveils-high-tech-pursuit-bike-rio-olympics

http://www.bikeradar.com/us/road/gear/article/rio-olympics-bikes-and-gear-47752/

http://www.ibmbigdatahub.com/tag/1667

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