We’re talking ‘Marginal gains’ here, but its the difference that makes a difference. Last week Robin attended the Boardman Performance Centre to explore their Aerodynamics services; wind tunnel to you and me.
The Chris Boardman Performance Centre (for old codgers?)
Gill’s ears don’t exactly prick up when I mention aerodynamic drag – but at least she doesn’t roll her eyes. I tell her that I’m thinking of going to the Chris Boardman wind tunnel in Evesham to be aero tested by aero guru, Xavier Disley. I also tell her the cost is about the same as a holiday for two in Portugal. She doesn’t say no and I immediately book the last available space before my attempt later in the month.
Someone has told me not to expect anything like BAE System’s wind tunnel. Just a few sheets of plywood and a fan they said. Well, as long as Xavier can collect accurate data I don’t mind. Simon is interested to see how they do it and we travel up together the night before and stay at a Premier Inn, which is conveniently situated adjacent to the Chris Boardman Performance Centre. In the morning I assemble the bike and we make our way over with plenty of time to spare. This is good because Xavier, and his assistant Jess, meet us and proceed to give us a guided tour.
We’re immediately struck by the crisp modern feel to the place, minimalist, but more Swiss research laboratory than retail outlet. We’re shown up a metal factory staircase that could lead to a warehouse but instead opens up into a small room with a plate glass window looking into the very bright white wind tunnel itself. Opposite is another identical window and another small room that houses all the instrumentation. Not unlike a recording studio I imagine. Xavier explains how the air is drawn through the “wind room”, coming through the grill the cyclist faces and is sucked and not blown by a fan that is situated behind the rider. And just in case we’re not already super impressed he proceeds to show us through a door to the side and down some more metal stairs. And now we are in warehouse, a vast building full of nothing except the extremely large funnel that directs air from this vast space and straightens it through small square pipes. Xavier explains that nothing can be stored in this space as it would create turbulence and make straightening the air more difficult. Within fifteen minutes I am on my bike and experiencing the full force of this sophistically manufactured wind.
During the two hour session I ride in different positions and use three different helmets. Small adjustments are made to seat and bar height. The bike can be swivelled on a turntable during each test session to represent the corners of a track. Sometimes the instructions to change position come through the ear piece I’m wearing and sometimes Xavier appears himself after turning the wind down. This saves time and allows him to make adjustments without restarting the fan each time. Eventually we have a combination of a position on the bike and a helmet that give me a much improved CdA. This is the all important figure and represents the combination of drag coefficient and frontal area which will determine exactly how quickly a rider can pass through the resistive forces of the air around them. Temperature and air pressure play there part too. Low pressure and higher temperatures make for faster times. I’ve tried fancy aero gloves that made no difference to bare hands and skin tight socks that do have a small impact on my speed. All together Xavier has saved me 12 watts – or about 600 meters on the track! That’s got to be worth the price of a holiday in Portugal?
A practice run at the velodrome – 25th October
Simon is arranging my hour attempt – the logistics, time keepers, observers and commissaires. He’s wading through all the regulations and telling me all I can and cannot do. He’s even telling me what I can and cannot drink. And it’s not very much!
Dean is in charge of publicity but has found himself also sorting out the spreadsheets we’ll need for my schedule. There’s a lot of numbers to look at………
It’s just before 8 am on Thursday morning and Dean arrives as I’m carrying out my myriad bags ready to load into Simon’s car. There’s also the two bike frames and the two sets of wheels. Simon arrives in Clare’s VW Polo he has borrowed for the trip. It’s a bit of a squeeze! We make good time and stop for coffee in Taunton. Then again when we get to Newport because we’re keen to stick with my normal routine. We go to Cafe Nero and I have a double espresso and a pain au raison – like I always do! But, as with my attempt, the clock is ticking and we soon realise that our time would be better served at the velodrome around the corner!
Once there I build the bikes in the car park and we wheel them in. Whilst I’m changing they wander upstairs to watch the riders training on the track. This is a practice run for us all and I soon learn, that on the day, I should start hydrating really quite early on. I’m so busy sorting things I forget to drink so when I’m on the rollers warming up I feel parched. Kyleigh has his wheels again for me to borrow and once my warm up is finished I fit them to the pursuit bike. There’s no time for us to discuss anything more as the clock is ticking and Garrie is keen to get the session under way. We now only have 55 minutes!
I’m supposed to be be riding at pace for 40 minutes which is going to be the best indicator of whether I’m really up to the challenge. I manage the starting gate with no problem at all and feel very comfortable for the first few laps. Simon and Dean indicate whether I’m up or down on schedule using a larger arrow Dean has printed. I see it clearly every time it is shown and I’m encouraged to see that I’m soon up on schedule. However I do get the occasional down arrow and after just less than twenty minutes they call me off the track. We discuss a few things and I agree to do 10 more minutes – just under 30 laps – before a final couple of practices in the starting gate which will help give us an idea of the amount of time I need to accelerate up to speed.
When we leave we’re all feeling a little disappointed – it’s not gone quite as we’d hoped. The enormity of what I have taken on finally sinks in!
Once back in Falmouth we go straight to the club meeting. This helps to convey to club members quite what a daunting task this has turned out to be. I feel – and look – shattered, so much so that Dean buys me a pint. I make it last and savour every mouthful! Once home I load the data into my computer and I’m pleasantly surprised to see the pace and power are both quite steady – I’m just performing a bit below par.
Gill and I are up early as usual preparing for the gym. I see I have an email from Dean who has sent me all the lap and lapsed times. I can’t quite believe my eyes. For the first twenty or so laps I was 5 seconds ahead of schedule and pretty much on target over the first 45 laps! I’d been shown “up” or “down” on my individual lap times and not the schedule. We’d had a breakdown in communication – something we can sort out easily. So not such a bad day after all!
After the evening meal I begin telling Gill that, contrary to my recent thinking, I’m going to revert back to a lower gear. I’ve gone up the scale and now I’m coming down!! A lighter gear that I will have to pedal faster – a cadence of 100 rpm. “Really”, she says. “That’s good”. Yes, and I might reduce the reach to get more comfortable by putting a shorter stem on the bike. “Great”. She’s not clearing the plates or looking to do anything else but I suspect she doesn’t really want to know that, with a new helmet, I could reduce the power I need by a further 5 or 6 watts. I keep that little nugget to myself.
The world I live in has shrunk and exists of a van on a road and bike on a track and my ability to drive one slowly and ride the other fast. It’s Tuesday night and tomorrow afternoon I’ll be once more heading up to Newport, in a straight line, to ride around the oval track, for two sessions, on separate days, before returning along, what is essentially one road, in time for Thursday dinner. Gill will be beside herself wanting to know how it all went!
I drive up to Newport slowly but it’s incredibly relaxing. I’m in the slow lane with the trucks, nursing the campervan along, eager to break the 42 mpg I achieved the previous week. I listen to the radio or daydream listening to music. A double espresso in Taunton Deane then fish and chips at Burnam on Sea. I’m a becoming a regular there. I arrive at the velodrome around nine and park up. Once they’ve finished playing football on the astro turf pitch the lights will go off and things quieten down. I get everything ready for the morning and nip into the changing rooms for a quick shave before they close at 10 pm.
The alarm goes off at 5:45 giving me time to make porridge and coffee and sort my bikes out. It’s the Wednesday morning “Early Bird” session and as I’ve mentioned before a bit of a speed fest! I don’t bother with the pursuit bike as there’s little opportunity to get on the track with it and the track bike makes a welcome change.
I’m getting used to this early morning session – a 20/25 minute warm up, a rest, three or four sprint efforts, another rest, then the 10 mile time trial. I’m not using the big 105” gear any more so it’s easier controlling the speed in the group of mixed riders. One strong guy does three, sometimes four laps, others do two but I just stick to peeling off after one lap as I have more sense – and I am a pensioner! It’s quicker this week, with the pace getting up to 28/29 mph as the dwindling pack gets faster and faster. Every time I hit the front I think, “ just one more turn”, but I’m acutely aware that Garrie is watching and he’ll think it’s pretty poor form for someone who has dreams of breaking an hour record to bail out! I make sure I don’t slow it down and find I have the strength at the end to ride the last lap at 30/31 mph but I’m done in!
Thursdays lunchtime drop in is an all together calmer affair and I have time to try out the new “aerodynamic” lace up shoes I’ve just bought and a Lazer Tardiz helmet Matt gave me with the TT bike. Best of all, Kyleigh has brought along his Campagnolo Ghibli discs for me to try! They certainly look the part and they feel very quick.
I can’t do much more than short 3 to 5 minute efforts between making changes to the bike and kit but I’m collecting all the data and can sift through it when I get home. I finish with a longer effort on the track, and whilst it’s not quite race pace my heart rate is steady and the power a manageable 270 watts. It’s been a productive visit and good preparation for my trial run next week.