A Broken Product
Entertain the idea that every piece of cycling equipment you own is broken – and has been since the moment you bought it.
Now, before you break out your cutting-edge equipment, let’s first look at the word broken. Seth Godin defined the term broken as “If I think it’s broken, then it’s broken” and that
question and answer is different for each user. If it doesn’t work for you then it’s broken.
If the shoe fits (for some)... wear it?
The bike industry has spent the last 40 years trying to make the bike invisible to the wind. Once it started in that direction, everyone followed. And once everyone was in, everyone doubled down. To be sure, the initial gains were big because no-one had ever paid any attention to aerodynamics before. [add link here to historical background]. But eventually those incremental gains started to slow, the differences between companies started to diminish, and everyone said we’d reached “peak aero”.
But what really happened was that we spent the last 40 years developing the perfect answer to the wrong question. We have been trying to make the bike invisible to the wind instead of using the wind to make you faster. Think about it. America's Cup yachts float above water and travel three times the speed of the wind while powered only by the wind [REF]. KIte sailors do the same thing and travel even faster, [REF] and the albatross can travel fifteen thousand kilometers in a single flight with only a few flaps of its wings [REF]. However, in cycling we still make bikes that are hard to handle in winds and really slow compared to kites and yachts. Why can’t cyclists be comfortable in the wind and USE it to go faster, the same way that sailors do?
The Wind Tunnel Myth.
“A worm in horseradish sees only horseradish”
This is your Wednesday (….and Monday and Tuesday and…)
When choosing equipment, there is only one question a rider has wants answered: “Will I go faster”?
Until now, the real answer has been “it depends” “maybe”.
That is simply not good enough.
Companies innovate based on wind tunnel testing alone. As long as that is the case, innovation will happen. Companies have been developing with the sole purpose of becoming as invisible to the wind as possible. The fact is, wind is always there. and it's usually gusty. never as smooth and stable as in the wind tunnel. [REF???] Wind tunnel testing will have strict limitations and the end result is a ceiling to the speed and performance that one can achieve. The wind is an even bigger factor if you’re not a big, powerful, male pro. We should look at it differently and see the wind as an asset, that we should harness to make everybody faster.
As an athlete myself, wheel choice has always been infuriating to me. As a lightweight rider, I could never race any of the truly aerodynamic equipment without a performance detriment. I had a choice between aerodynamics and weight and stability. Deeper section rims were not only a lot heavier, but also unstable in the wind.
Lightweight riders do not produce the power to accelerate and carry the additional weight of deeper section wheels. They also direct a lot of energy and focus on fighting crosswinds – stabilizing their bike and trying to avoid being blown across the road, rather than having all your output translate into forward motion . This should not be the case! This shouldn’t be!
They are developing a product for the right reasons (speed), but it's not applicable to the customer base being served. They have the right answer...to the wrong question, and are innovating based on that.
Bikes are designed to become invisible to the wind. But why? It is though you are caught in a game of “Would You Rather” constantly having to choose between weight and aerodynamics and between aerodynamics and stability. The outcome has most riders struggling against crosswinds and wasting valuable energy just to remain stable. Why? Cycling needs a solution to this.
We have that solution.
The solution: Why fight the wind when you can use it?
It started with an idea. Nic was starting a promising career as a pro triathlete and wanted to get faster, but was frustrated by equipment designed for big, powerful, pro males when she was much slighter-let’s say 100 pounds soaking wet. While being blown around on the race course she had a hard time staying in the aero position to get the theoretical gains. She wondered if there was a way to make the wheel work with the wind and absorb gust energy like a trampoline or sail. So she made one. And it worked.
It was a disk wheel that was easy to ride, confidence inspiring, and seemed fast. So she loaned it to a few age group women- the last people you’d ever expect to see riding a disk wheel- and asked them to try it. They all loved it. In pretty much every condition. And they had their personal best performances when riding it. They said “it feels like someone is pushing you along”. There was definitely something there, but the question was how to understand it.
Everyone that rode the first prototypes had the same reaction- “it doesn’t feel like a disk wheel”, “I don't get blown around”, “It’s easy to ride”, etc. Answering why it was so different from traditional disk heels in feel and yet seemingly faster wasn’t so easy. Nic decided to take one of the prototypes and measure the behaviour in sidewinds compared to a traditional rigid disk. So she set up the wheels so their sides faced an industrial fan and measured the side force on them. The result was that the flexy disk had _____ less side force and the transitions were much more subtle. [ref]
OK, so the preliminary data backed up the rider’s feel.
[add photo of setup and cart of results ] The next question was why does it feel so fast? It's just a disk, so why would it have different lift and drag than any other disk made of a different material? Nic decided to make a couple of prototypes and see. She made a model of a seat tube with the disk behind it. One disk was a traditional rigid disk and the other was a flexy disk.
When the fans were turned on....
[add video 1 of rigid disk]
[add video 2 of flexy disk]
As you can see, the result was amazing! The flexy disk acts like a sail boat and l actually moves ahead using the energy of the wind.
There was definitely something there. Now, how to quantify it? And how to turn it into a full size product.
For the answer to that, sign up [HERE] for the next chapter. .