What started out as a collaborative effort to make a faster, more aerodynamic bicycle has evolved into a relationship that is changing the way bicycles are studied and created. Specialized and McLaren Applied Technologies have been working together for the past four years, utilizing their respective expertise, to transform an industry. The resulting gains will have impacts on both products and the way which cycling, as a whole, is understood.
“We started out trying to answer the question is smoother really faster?” explained 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.”
Specialized and McLaren first worked together to create the revolutionary S-Works McLaren Venge. Combining McLaren’s legendary understanding of composites with Specialized’s experience developing bicycles at the highest level, the Venge set the bar for aerodynamic road bikes. For the first time, there was a wind-cheating bike that didn’t lack in stiffness. An added bonus, it achieved victory on its first race.
The relationship between Specialized and McLaren has provided access to data driven feedback to better understand how bikes perform. 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.
David Belo, a simulation engineer at McLaren Applied Technologies, worked hand in hand with Specialized to help create this groundbreaking evolution in applied cycling analysis.
“At McLaren we have the ability to analyze nearly every contributing factor related to car performance,” Belo explained, “from wind and weather patterns to how an extra 50 grams of paint will affect airflow on the vehicle.”
The right tools are necessary to deal with a problem. In the case of understanding bicycles, the tools weren’t up to the task so Specialized and McLaren decided to create them. The teams have spent the past two years working closely to develop a computer simulation that can accurately study the ride dynamics of the bicycle/rider system.
What resulted was a comprehensive simulation program that can test and analyze bike stiffness, bike and rider mass, tyre properties, rider position, course profile, wind conditions, road surface and nearly anything else that would have an impact on a 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.
Both Specialized and McLaren realized this type of simulation technology was an area of opportunity. “There are so many contributing factors in regards to bike efficiency and rider input,” Belo continued. “Developing a simulation model to analyze what were before considered intangibles in the cycling industry was incredibly exciting.”
What all of this simulation development means is that, with McLaren’s help, Specialized is now the industry-leader in understanding how and why bicycles perform in certain ways. It’s a massive leap forward in development comprehension and allows Specialized access to intimate and accurate data by which more focused innovations can be implemented. “In short, we’ve completed essentially five years of bicycle R&D in about three months,” Pickman proclaimed. “That’s unheard of in this industry.”
Even more, this new understanding has further solidified the idea that in order to achieve the best experience, you need the best bike for that specific experience. These new data collection methods have determined that on varied road conditions, smoother truly is faster when on a Roubaix. When aerodynamic efficiency is paramount, the Venge will provide the biggest advantage. For hilly, climbing terrain, the incredible stiffness to weight ratio of the Tarmac will yield the best results. Because Specialized is able to understand the bike better, they are capable of creating bikes that respond to specific conditions.
The Specialized/McLaren relationship is a unique one in the cycling world. It has already yielded an impressive product line of revolutionary ideas and surely will continue to do so. More than just new bikes and products, the collaboration has led to a new and groundbreaking understanding of how bikes function. Thanks to the ceaseless pursuit of innovation, the Specialized/McLaren relationship is changing the cycling industry as we know it.