The introduction of home aero testing gadgets stands to be almost as big as the arrival of the first power meters.
If you want to cycle faster, your aerodynamics need to be addressed. It’s just not enough in the modern age of cycling to be ‘strong’, and many would even question whether the heroes of the past hadn’t simply stumbled onto aerodynamic positions which gave them an edge. But there’s a problem.
The aero question
How aerodynamic are you? Most people who are serious about their training could tell you their FTP, and almost all would be able to tell you what they weigh, having measured both on a regular basis. Very few would be able to tell you their CdA, or how ‘aero’ they are.
CdA is the measurement used by cyclists, and refers to the drag coefficient (that is, how aerodynamic the rider’s shape is) multiplied by the frontal area (how big an object they present to the wind).
Calculating this accurately is very difficult, and while it’s possible using a power meter and speed sensor, it is demonstrably beyond the means, patience, or interest of most. It’s understandable – getting clean data is a huge pain, the riding isn’t very interesting, and it takes a long time that could otherwise be spent enjoying a ride. I remember spending hours at an outdoor velodrome ‘aero testing’ on my own only to come away with no usable data. I’d rather have just done a training session.
The state of the market
At the moment, if you’re not an expert, you’re going to need to enlist the help of at least one. There are numerous aero testing companies who can provide this service, whether on a velodrome or in a wind tunnel – you can check out my earlier piece ‘What happens in an AeroCoach session’ for a detailed look. Velodromes and wind tunnels cost a lot of money to hire out, and of course you only get to look at your aerodynamics during the session.
In spite of those setbacks, there is a big benefit to having access to an expert to steer you in the right direction of becoming more aerodynamic – just like how a good coach can tell you which training sessions to do to get stronger without plateauing. These companies have flourished among riders who are serious about getting the most out of their performance but, to the everyday rider, aerodynamics can seem like a dark art.
This is only made worse by every components company marketing their parts as ‘more aero’ than anything else. While it’s easy enough to put something on the kitchen scales to verify claims of being ‘lightweight’, aerodynamics are quickly becoming the wild west for marketing claims.
Enter the AeroPod
Swiss Side have made great efforts into appearing transparent when it comes to the performance of their wheels, going as far as performing live wind tunnel sessions online where they test their own products against competitors. It’s fitting, then, that they’re one of several organisations who are trying to create a device which will simply and easily show customers how aerodynamic they are.
Swiss Side’s ‘AeroPod’ is just that. Attach it to your bike and it’ll tell you just how aerodynamic you are. You can either take a look at your cycling computer and see the figure in real time, or check out the data afterwards – probably a good idea, since looking down at the computer can change your position and screw with your data if it’s not in your eye line.
Now, they’re not the only company who are on a mission to create a product like this – you’ve probably heard about the Velocomp AeroPod on Kickstarter. We can also probably expect to see an updated Alphamantis stick on the horizon soon after Garmin’s acquisition, and Red is Faster in the UK are also developing an aero self-testing stick. Like it or not, this is happening.
Velocomp’s AeroPod is brand new, and a kickstarter. Alphamantis/Garmin are yet to break the silence with a device, and Red is Faster are (at the moment) a much smaller player. As it stands, Swiss Side are the leaders in the race to make a consumer-grade aero sensor.
How it works
I’m gonna do my best here. Swiss Side’s AeroPod uses two probes, which protrude out into what is hopefully clean air in front of the rider. One is a wind speed sensor (or a pitot static tube), while the other contains a wind angle sensor (or a yaw probe). In order to calculate your CdA, you’re going to also need a regular speed sensor for ground speed and a power meter.
Collecting all of the data is only half the battle – to make the unit spit out a ‘CdA’ number that can be understood and compared by anyone, the unit also needs to contain an electronic brain. What’s more, it’ll need to talk to everyone’s bike computers, to keep everyone’s data in one place. Currently, the plan is that the unit will broadcast in ANT+ and Bluetooth, so it’ll talk to all of the major computers that ‘everyone’ uses. All that’s going to be required there is a ‘CdA’ field – and with Garmin’s acquisition of Alphamantis, I don’t think that’s going to be too much to worry about.
What’s it going to cost?
Swiss Side’s have a pretty plausible aim for this: ‘Price-wise, we want to keep in realms similar to Powermeters.’ If this means the Power2Max/Quarq/Garmin Vector region of around £1000, I think that’s going to be pretty realistic. If it means the almost £3000 of a high end SRM… that’s going to be a hard sell to most.
However, if the first AeroPods come with a hefty price tag, we could see them being adopted by bike shops, fitting companies, and coaches, who will suddenly be able to offer ‘aero testing’ services by renting out the device. This model wouldn’t be too different to current aero testing, and of course could be offered much cheaper if the device really is easy to use.
Let’s address the Velocomp AeroPod from Kickstarter here, too. At $349 (about £258) on Kickstarter, with a $499 (£368) RRP, I think this is too cheap, and I’m sceptical. I just don’t think it’s possible to create an accurate aero sensor for that much money. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but for now I’ll remain cautious.
What does it mean for the future?
As I said, ‘aero sensors’ are coming, like it or not. Lots of people reminisce about the old days being more of a level playing field, and bringing aero testing to more people will open up more opportunities for them to even the stakes. Obviously they won’t be happy, because what they really want is to put the rabbit back in the box.
In the same way that the introduction of the power meter and the release of training books hasn’t made coaches obsolete, I think it’s unlikely that the ability to measure your own aerodynamics is going to make these experts obsolete. If anything, the democratisation of the data will make this work more relevant than ever. What’s more, it may be more efficient for a time-crunched rider to spend their money on a couple of aero testing sessions with an expert rather than buying their own device and spending the time trying to work out what’s going to be quickest. In addition to this, better tools may mean that aero testing services are able to more efficiently test riders, giving them more runs (and hopefully more improvement) for their money.
With all that said, none of these units are even close to finished. Now that modern power meters ‘just work’, I find it hard to believe that customers are going to accept anything less from other sensors. I know that I definitely don’t miss the days of ‘hang on guys, I need to do my offset…’ on a ride. It’s not a race to make the first working aero sensor. It’s a race to make the first user-friendly aero sensor.
What I’m really looking forward to, though, is that blowing open the ‘aero’ market is really going to neuter some of the marketing claims we’ve been seeing. If a company claims their component is the ‘fastest’ and it turns out to be a dog, everyone will know. Let’s wait and see how that ends…