21st May 2018
How tech is setting the pace in cycling
Tech & Emerging
12th December 2017
Much more than running, cycling marries well with technology. This is because success in cycling is a mixture of engineering sense and sporting ability. Britain, with its heritage in time-trialling (where a practical understanding of aerodynamics makes a massive difference), has been a genuine pioneer in cycling innovation. The tradition goes back a long way before British Cycling started employing, ‘secret squirrels’ to develop things like aerodynamic overshoes in order to achieve tiny gains over international rivals. Good cycling equipment makes a huge difference to performance but so do other considerations – testing one’s drag co-efficient, for example, or having a reasonably sophisticated sense of powerzones (that’s a piece of British Cycling IP, right there).
The fiery constellation of British influence on recent cycling tech forms chiefly around three figures: Peter Keen, Chris Boardman, and Graeme Obree.
Obree, who famously created the world’s fastest bike using bearings from his washing machine (he noticed the RPM – rotations per minute – of its drum were far quicker than those of a bike ring), was really a bike purist. By modern standards, his training looks far from optimal, and, actually, slightly unscientific. But his effect on bike design was revolutionary, given a brilliantly creative and professorial understanding of drag, and how best to minimise it in a cycling position. His bike designs and positions were widely copied and emphatically banned.
Peter Keen was an academic with an excellent young career as a cyclist. His understanding of threshold training and power output did for training what Obree did for bikes. Nowadays, any serious amateur cyclist trains with powerzones – using hear rate monitors or power meters. Few, however, realise, that T1-5 (threshold zones 1-5) were made popular by Keen. A lot of Dave Brailsford’s genius is really ideas that he took from Keen’s leadership of British Cycling and slightly improved. Working in tandem with Chris Boardman, Keen laid the way for British Cycling’s dominance of track.
What is amazing about the technology that Keen and Boardman used is that it is now widely available and, for the most part, affordable. Garmin has long had a strong sell in the field of power meters but now its whole communication strategy builds around tech allowing the complete professional experience. There is a funny little advert doing the rounds with David Millar doing his best to sell this. Zwift, also, now allows riders to compete in virtual reality. And what is lovely about cycling and tech is this all more than just a gimmick – it’s part of the fabric of the sport.
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