In pursuit of the perfect position

Anna Meares in the wind tunnel
Anna Meares

In the lead up to the Rio Olympics, Cycling Australia has joined forces with Monash University and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in the never-ending pursuit of the perfect riding position.

The perfect riding position is a typical engineering conundrum. The perfect position is not always the rider’s most powerful, leaving sports scientists and riders to find a compromise between aerodynamic position and power production.

Monash researcher Dr Tim Crouch, who led the experiments at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said the University has been at the forefront of understanding the fundamentals of cycling aerodynamics for a number of years.

“The Cycling Australia Olympic coaches are always trying to find new options for the optimised speed system, and Monash is delighted to be involved in finding the solutions,” Dr Crouch said.

Mr Andy Warr of the AIS (and Performance Systems Manager at Cycling Australia) said coaches and riders always have numerous questions about positioning and equipment.

Having the ability to call upon the expertise of the team at Monash, through an AIS linkage grant, allows us to solve a number of these questions with total confidence,” Mr Warr said.

“We have used the large Monash wind tunnel to conduct a series of athlete positions tests for both the sprint and endurance riders, producing significant gains in efficiency for both disciplines. These results have then been confirmed on subsequent visits, which is really encouraging as it suggests  we  have  got  the direction right.”

Mr David Burton, who leads the Wind Tunnel Group at Monash, agreed a new set of investigations could potentially give a performance advantage.

“While equipment can give small, but important gains, it is primarily the cyclist’s position and the optimisation of equipment for that position and body type that makes all the difference come race day.”

In addition to testing riding positions, the Monash team used data from the Wind Tunnel facility to design new, aerodynamically optimised suits, one specifically for sprint cyclists and the other for endurance riders, within the constraints of the rules and the available fabrics.

As a result of Monash research, Cycling Australia’s Para Olympic and Olympic riders will adopt riding positions and suits optimised and designed specifically for their riding discipline.