George Hincapie tests fabric at A2 wind tunnel

Multiple test runs determine the fastest fabric

Bike races can be won by a matter of seconds, especially so in the time trial. Pro cyclists know how important this is, so many take the time and expense to spend a day or two in a wind tunnel. BMC’s George Hincapie knows the importance of being aerodynamic. Hincapie has been a professional athlete for 18 years so his position is established. However there are other methods to becoming more aerodynamic. As clothing sponsor to BMC Racing, Hincapie Sportswear knows that having the fastest clothing is critical to success.

The A2 Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina is a facility that has the capability to test the aerodynamics of bikes and the rider. George Hincapie and Hincapie Sportswear made the drive from Greenville with three different skinsuits each constructed with different fabrics that have aerodynamic properties.

“It’s part of our commitment to BMC to give the biggest advantage to the riders. We know we can give an advantage through our apparel,” said Steve Baker, marketing director of Hincapie Sportswear.

George tried on each skinsuit and mounted his time trial BMC which was secured to a platform in the wind tunnel. His watts and cadence were projected down on the ground in front of him to use as a reference. Each test run had to be performed identically so as to ensure the validity of the testing. Each test run was going to be performed at a zero yaw angle (a head wind) and a ten percent yaw (side wind). Strain gauges that run inside the platform relayed the information to the control room where A2’s bike specialist Mike Giraud could analyze the results.

The wind tunnel is built inside a cavernous building. The tunnel itself is a long, narrow structure with four large electric turbines situated at the end of the tunnel. The fans are capable of pushing wind across the test subject from speeds of 30 to 85 miles per hour. For bike testing the speed is maintained at 30 miles per hour. In the front of the tunnel is a platform that can be rotated to mimic a side wind. Brackets hold the bike at the axles and rollers are embedded into the platform so the bike can be pedaled to further simulate a realistic outdoor environment.

Gireaud runs the A2 wind tunnel

Each BMC team skinsuit was going to be tested a total of 12 times at the different yaw angles. As soon as the results of which fabric was faster the numbers were sent to the Hincapie Sportswear factory in Colombia. While the 2011 season’s first time trial isn’t until February, there is no time to waste and the manufacturing needed to begin as soon as possible.

The material that is determined to be the fastest will eventually make its way into the retail line for the general consumer.

After all the test runs were completed Giraud had to sit down and crunch the data to determine which fabric was the most aerodynamic. In the end the skinsuit constructed with fabric that incorporated a serpentine pattern was proven to be ½%-1% faster than the 2010 Velocity Speedsuit that the team had been using. That means Hincapie Sportswear reduced the drag by just changing the fabric. At the speeds that pro cyclists travel in an average time trial, that savings would amount to approximately a 5 second advantage in a 40K time trial. BMC Racing may have just made a decisive move inside the Carolina wind tunnel assuring a pro tour victory on the road.