McLaren, has a long storied history in automotive racing. New Zealander Bruce McLaren founded the company in 1963, with the team capturing its first win at the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix. McLaren was tragically killed in a testing accident in 1970, but the team and company continued with Teddy Mayer leading the team to their first Formula One constructors’ championship in 1974. Today, McLaren is best known for their exotic cars and F1 racing team, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, but the F1 team is just part of the McLaren group. The McLaren group contains Automotive, Electronics, Marketing and Applied Technologies divisions.
In 2009 Specialized began a partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies to apply Mclaren’s engineering and material knowledge to bicycles and components. The collaboration soon yielded the McLaren Venge. The McLaren Venge was 15-percent lighter than the standard production model, but with the same stiffness. This was achieved by optimizing the carbon layup. Although the price of the McLaren Venge was out of range for most riders, what Specialized learned from the project they have since applied throughout their carbon line.
The second collaboration of the Specialized and McLaren partnership resulted in the S-Works + McLaren TT helmet. The S-Works + McLaren TT helmet was not only the fastest time trial that Specialized had ever made but the combination of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), wind tunnel and real world testing changed the way Specialized set about developing future aerodynamic products.
We recently traveled with Specialized to the McLaren Design Center outside London, England, as Specialized McLaren debuted their third and most ambitious coloration, Ride Dynamics. Ride Dynamics incorporates testing, data Acquisition and simulation for product development. Previously, rider feedback was used extensively in development. Much like the early days in Formula 1, engineers listened to what the riders or drivers had to say and tried to convert that into technical improvements. Now, with the help of McLaren, the level of analysis that’s possible is far more advanced.
Ride Dynamics is in essence an adoption of McLaren’s simulation and data acquisition technologies from F-1 and applied to bicycles. To accomplish this, new tools and software had to be created. In the case of understanding the forces applied to a bicycle, and the rider, the tools weren’t up to the task so Specialized and McLaren spent two years developing a computer simulation that can accurately study the ride dynamics of the bicycle, the rider and how they interact.
“We started out trying to answer the question is smoother really faster?” said Sam Pickman, Test Lab Manager at Specialized. “Once we started trying to answer the question it was clear we needed to develop a model that could analyze the entire bike rider system.”
What resulted was a comprehensive simulation program that can test and analyze bike stiffness, bike and rider mass, tire properties, rider position, course profile, wind conditions, road surface and nearly anything else that would have an impact on cycling performance. This type of analysis simply hasn’t existed in cycling before and is changing the way bikes, and specifically the ways in which riders interact with bikes, are understood. This complete simulation is similar to how McLaren develops and tests in-house for their F-1 team.
“At McLaren we have the ability to analyze nearly every contributing factor related to car performance,” said David Belo, a simulation engineer at McLaren Applied Technologies, “From wind and weather patterns to how an extra 50 grams of paint will affect airflow on the vehicle. There are so many contributing factors in regards to bike efficiency and rider input. Developing a simulation model to analyze what were before considered intangibles in the cycling industry was incredibly exciting.”
The new Ride Dynamic program will never replace rider feedback, but it is a major step forward in the development comprehension, and provides tremendous amounts of accurate, quantifiable data to rapidly speed up the development and testing process. Moving forward, Specialized has the ability to design and test both aerodynamics, structural integrity but also ride characteristics and performance within a computer. This will allow them to run hundreds, if not thousands of simulations on various designs without having to create a physical prototype. From the cobbles of Roubaix to the high Alps, Ride Dynamics will help Specialized design the optimal machine for any condition.
To put the increase in development into a time table, Pickman said “In short, we’ve completed essentially five years of bicycle R&D in about three months.”
The results of the Ride Dynamic program will not be seen in the Specialized line for another year, but it has solidified the idea that in order to achieve the best result, one needs a machine tailored to excel in specific conditions. And the answer to the question of whether smoother is faster is – yes it is.