From helmet to tyres, how nothing is left to chance
Wednesday 20 August 2008
There may be nine million bicycles in Beijing, but few are as technically advanced as those tearing round the Laoshan Velodrome this week.
The power of Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy, who stormed to victory in yesterday's sprints, is in no doubt, but, of all the Olympic sports, cycling is perhaps the best example of an event where the machine is almost as important as the man.
And when it comes to kit, Britain's technicians are as supreme as the riders. Chris Boardman leads research and development at British Cycling. Nicknamed "the professor", he heads up the "Secret Squirrel Club" – a team of specialists tasked with pushing the boundaries of bike technology.
Only Boardman and a handful of associates know the precise specifications of team GB's superior equipment, which marks the culmination of years of tinkering and testing, as well as £3.5m of Lottery money.
Everything from the bearings and cranks to tyres and handlebars used by the team have appeared at events in the past year or two – not that the team told anyone – but Beijing is the first time the package has been put together.
The sleek black frame used by Pendleton and Hoy, a version of which also helped Bradley Wiggins and co to gold in the team pursuit, is made at a secret location in England using high-grade carbon fibre that is light yet more rigid than metal, ensuring minimal energy is lost in the flexing that occurs in metal frames. The shape, which is the result of testing in a Southampton wind tunnel also used to perfect Formula 1 cars, helps the bike cut through the air by minimising drag.
But it's not just the bike. To help Hoy's bulky form slip through the air, Boardman and his team have worked with Adidas to create a bodysuit that works like Michael Phelps' Speedo swimsuit by reducing drag. Combined with individually-moulded shoes, vinegar-coated silk tyres, and blade-like handlebars, the technology developed by Boardman and his Squirrels has helped to create the greatest team of cyclists ever to appear on a track.
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