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Project Tokyo 2020—Part 1: TEST
When being fast is treasured above all else, it’s little surprise that measuring speed is big business.
“Man measures time, and time measures man.” — Italian proverb
It’s an innocuous-looking steel building, with discrete double doors that are easily twice the height of anyone who enters — the tall figure of Tejay van Garderen excluded. Inside, the noise is deafening and the scenes that greet us are reminiscent of the part in a blockbuster movie when the villain’s hideout is revealed by the hero—part penthouse, part military base. But this is not a movie set; we are in a state-of-the-art wind tunnel, a mastermind’s lair for controlling wind and measuring drag, tucked within a secret location somewhere close to Holland, Belgium and Germany.
Four fans are blowing air into the 27-meter glass tunnel in front of us. At a 225kW capacity it hits the cyclist at 50km/h. The lights are low; there’s a camera making sure that the datum position of the rider is achieved during each test. Richie Porte is up this time, tucked in low over his BMC Timemachine, in the typically aggressive position that is needed to cheat wind when racing against the clock. His pedals are fixed, adding a physical challenge of holding this extreme posture without the support of pedaling. Richie’s position has already been measured, tweaked, and refined down to what must be the last millimeter during previous wind tunnel sessions. It would have been the first refinement made in the process of cheating wind — it’s his physique and position on the bike that holds the larger mass and thus more potential for drag. His bike would have been developed over more time, without the need for the rider, a much more, mechanical engineering-based process. Then it’s the turn of ASSOS; the next step down the road to becoming more aerodynamic looks at the rider’s apparel, and we’re here testing five different versions of our ProjectTokyo 2020 speedsuit, the goal being to leave this wind tunnel with the knowledge of which is the fastest and how we can make it even faster.
Just a few meters away from Richie’s stationary figure there’s a quiet bustle of activity, heads crowded in front of several screens, avidly noting the fluctuations of the digital gauges. The professor who built and runs the wind tunnel calmly instructs the rider , who is tucked behind thick glass. This mind has tested racing cars, buildings, boats, and even full professional cycling team time trial formations—the tunnel can fit a line of up to 14 riders. He analyzes the constant stream of data flowing from his computer, explaining the outcome to those around him.
Fittingly for the world’s most renowned team time trial specialists, BMC Racing Team’s custom skinsuits have high standards to meet. At ASSOS we’ve been keen to rise to the challenge, developing proprietary fabrics and seam constructions that are even faster than before—even faster than that gold-medal-winning time trial at the Rio Olympics.
ASSOS is represented on this particular springtime wind tunnel visit with two of our in-house textile specialists, key figures invested in the equipment, tasked with making sure ASSOS remains at the sharp end of the aerodynamic arms race.
In cycling, everyone knows about aerodynamics. And wind tunnels. And drag-defying equipment. Especially us. But from this we also know that we need to constantly question what we do and what is considered the norm within cycling so that we can push bounderies.
Fittings: done. Designs: to be confirmed. Material choices: still up for discussion. That’s the purpose of being here today, and it’s time for the rider to squeeze into the next prototype, with the aid of our on sight textile specialists. One defly tugs at the speedsuit to make sure it’s in position, smoothing out creases and explaining the fit to the rider. It’s clear that this is high tech apparel as the seams need to be placed precisely on the body to achieve optimal airflow. There’s a science to this.
The next test is run and the outcome noted. It’s only the keen, textile-minded eye that would notice the changes between each prototype. Slightly adjusted fabrics, seams that have been removed, patterns for panels created to wrap the body more closely to cheat the wind. Even though today’s aim is to give the riders we support another edge when racing against the clock, those present from ASSOS know that these cutting-edge designs will trickle down to inline products—just like parts of the London Olympic speedsuit were implemented in our S7 generations of shorts. So like ASSOS founder, Toni Maier, in 1976 developed the foundations of the first Lyrca short, this small crew is creating the future of cycling apparel.
“You could invest in everything, but then the rider might sit up. That’s the danger of playing with tiny variables; you can get distracted by the details. You can spend time agonizing over overshoes and gloves, or the angles of the wind, but for us it’s enough to just control the variables.” — BMC Racing Team
“Since I joined the team in 2010, the goal has always been to do well in the time trials. They are a race you can control well, and it’s fortunate that we’ve got good riders too. The advantages that we’re discovering here in the wind tunnel can be easily translated on the roads — even on a hilly course, like this year’s TTT objective at the UCI Road Cycling World Championships. It isn’t so steep that the riders will be reduced to 20km/h. Today we’re looking at 50km/h because that’s where we’ll see the perfect airflow over the skinsuit.” —Jurgen Landrie, Performance Mechanic, BMC Racing Team
“Being here today gives us the chance to highlight the best elements of the apparel — it’s a bit like a puzzle. We look outside of cycling, towards advanced sports like F1. That’s pretty uncommon in cycling, which doesn’t always look ahead in many respects. There are so many rules and regulations regarding the apparel — constraints to do with seams, number of panels, restrictions on the loose fabric under the arms, the way one prints sponsors’ logos — but technology has to be developed. No one can sit still. To a certain extent, these rules do block innovations within cycling. A brand that invests in technology also improves its image, so these tests are simply added testament to the fact that we at ASSOS are wholly committed to designing the fastest apparel. Today’s results will be a springboard towards faster apparel, as well as reinforcing our confidence that the custom skinsuits for BMC Racing Team will be the fastest around.” — Chief Tester, ASSOS of Switzerland
Eindhoven: The stats
- 4 fans
- Wind released, round corners, honeycomb reduces turbulence.
- 0 yaw angle.
- 50km/h to see the perfect airflow over the skinsuit.
- Ambient 25.5/25.7
- Tunnel fits up to 14 riders, test the collective drag of a team formation, exact positioning when they’re separated by just a centimeter.