AeroCoach is a company that helps cyclists to make themselves more aerodynamic. Although wind tunnel testing is traditionally the preserve of top-end pros or those with a secret handshake, an AeroCoach session lets amateurs and pros alike make use of the service and make aerodynamic gains.
I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on a paired session with two AeroCoach riders – national 10 mile champion Richard Bussell and Scottish national champion Vicky Smith – to see how things worked.
The sessions take place at the Welsh National Velodrome in Newport. Here’s Xavier Disley, owner of AeroCoach, on why:
“Riding indoors in a real world scenario enables you to establish comfort, visibility and handling – which you can’t evaluate correctly when the bike is fixed into something like a turbo. Performing some efforts on test day also allows you to see how your position responds to race pace.”
Before turning up to a session, there’s a bit of prep that you need to do. This includes sending information and photos of your setup, and a bit of information about your goals, to help the testers prepare some options before you arrive.
Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to go to the track. The riders showed up and were given a quick briefing on how the session was going to go, as well as an introduction to the team. There were three people looking after the session. Garrie, a track coach, made sure that the riders were safe riding on the velodrome. Andy from AeroCoach kept an eye on data, and Xavier ran the proceedings.
The briefing also includes introductions to riding on the track and track safety for riders who don’t have track experience. All of the riding was done at the bottom of the banking with just one rider on the track at a time.
After the briefing, the session starts with each rider getting on the track and riding as they normally would during warm up. At this point, they’re looking closely at the position to help decide what improvements can be made. Just like the plan before the session, this isn’t set in stone – aerodynamics and bike fit need to work together, and it’s important to be able to change what’s being tested if something causes unexpected effects.
Xavier says: “The goal of an AeroCoach session is to make you faster – this doesn’t mean shooting for the lowest aerodynamic drag possible as biomechanics are key to power production. Riders will get more aero in a session, but you need to make sure the positions are rideable.”
Now that the first rider has warmed up and been observed, the second rider gets onto the track and does the same. The session works like this from here on in, with one rider riding and the other having their bike looked at and adjusted. Each rider follows the same process through the session, even if the changes being made and options being tested are very different.
Each bike is equipped with a small wireless transmitter and a power meter linked up to the transmission system, which comes from a company called Alphamantis – a system that has also been used by the likes of Team Sky. These, as well as some other electronics around the track, lets the AeroCoach guys see all of your data and work out your CdA – a measurement of how aerodynamic you are – in real time. That means that if you make a change, you can see it straight away and use that information to decide what you’re going to change next:
“Being able to use the Alphamantis system to track real time changes in aerodynamic drag every second as the rider rides round the track is invaluable – we can instantly follow up leads if something is working well, and discount position or equipment changes if something isn’t looking as good. By the time the rider comes round to finish their test run we already have all the data and results waiting for them.”
With your baseline run done, the rest of the session involves repeating the cycle of making a change to your bike, doing a test run on the track to measure the difference it’s made to your aerodynamic drag, comfort, and power output, and coming back to reassess with the team.
There’s a selection of kit available, and if position changes need to be made, they’ll be done for you. Of course, if you have aims that need your bike to be in line with things like UCI regulations, this will be kept in mind.
According to AeroCoach, each rider will get through 11-17 runs during a paired session. Obviously this is going to depend on things like what you’re changing. Swapping helmets or just changing the way you hold the bars is going to take less time than swapping parts of your bike, for example.
In the session I watched, there was a mix between Rich, whose position was already quite well dialled, and Vicky, who hadn’t yet spent much time on it. While Rich was working on smaller changes like bar height, Vicky worked her way through a selection of helmets and more drastic position options.
Throughout the session, the team were giving advice to the riders about their position and equipment based on what they were seeing. At the end of the session, there’s a debrief with the analyst and a discussion of the results, and a few days after the session the riders will get a full formal report from the session with more advice and data based on their specific goals or the riding they do.
With everything finished, both riders had tried out a range of different positions and (in Vicky’s case) kit, and had been shown the differences that these changes made to their aerodynamics. With this knowledge and the advice in their reports, they’ll be able to go quicker for the same power output on the bike in future.