Wednesday, November 17, 2010

S.M.A.R.T. - Put It On Your List

The New Low Speed Wind Tunnel in Plaistow, New Hampshire
(click all images to enlarge)

“Fuckit" comes from a conversational snippet that occurred while the rest of the people in the new england cycling scene were attending a party they _thought_ "anyone who is anyone" would be attending Saturday night. I was attending a cycling _industry_ event 50 miles north of the "hub of the universe" with not only a festive atmosphere and an open bar, but with implications that could drastically effect competitive cycling in New England, especially road racing. The Speed Merchant Aero Research and Testing Low Speed Wind Tunnel (LSWT) is now open!!

Here's the conversation of the evening (names change to protect the guilty, but we are all cyclists, and had been drinking for a few hours, (including cuervo shots)):

Tom: hey Dave, you did a porn star on your last trip to Vegas, right?
Betty: oh my god, you had sex with a porn star?
Dave: yeah
Zen: was it a real porn star, or just a porn "actress"? (I added air quotes)
Dave: just does a lot of porn
Zen: was she hot?
Dave: eh...I probably wouldn't have bothered if I didn't know she did porn
Tom: was she any good?
Dave: eh...kinda mechanical
Betty: then why did you have sex with her?
Dave: just to check it off.
Betty: check what off?
Tom: you know, the bucket list.

(after laughter dies down.....)

Tom and Dave: no....BUCKET list

Apparently, Betty had never seen or heard of the movie "The Bucket List".

Anyways, this post isn't about drunken mis-communication or sex with porn actresses (though I should do a post on that). It's actually about what you can do to become a better cyclist for not a whole lot of money.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Speed Merchant Aero Research and Testing. It's a Low Speed Wind Tunnel (LSWT), designed with cyclists in mind, now open and fully operational in Plaistow New Hampshire. As an added bonus, the wind tunnel is upstairs from the New Ted Wojcik shop.

SMART is the brainchild of Armand Pantalone, a cat 3 road racer and wickid smaht engineah for wickid big defense contractah. A few years ago, Armand decided that new england could use a well-designed, reasonably priced wind-tunnel-dynamic-assessment service. He did a whole lot of research and said "oh, yeah....I got this".

SMART is also a title sponsor of BOB for 2011, with Ted Wojcik

Wojicks finery was on full display

Fast forward 4 years, and with the assistance of a small team of cycling-centric hardware and software engineers, we now have a fully operational low-speed wind tunnel, with a three-axis load measurement system, real-time heads-up floor display, and two BIG-ASS fans Capable of generating a 30+ MPH wind.

A bike mounted to the measurement table in the test section.
The table, electronics (including transducers), and software are all custom designed and developed by the SMART team.

One of the two BIG-ASS Fans (54”, to be exact)

Getting yourself into an aerodynamically efficient position is only part of the assessment you get at SMART. It's important to remember that being biomechanically efficient is just as important as aerodynamics. SMARTs proprietary three-axis measurement system is critical to analyzing not only drag force, but also pedaling dynamics and efficiency. Pedaling inefficiencies create movement side to side, up and down, and backwards and forwards. Essentially, a sloppy pedal stroke will throw you and your bike all over the road, possibly negating any aerodynamic gains you may have realized. The effort is therefore not only aerodynamic efficiency, but to get you to pedal smoothly as well. Pedaling inefficiency leads to wasted energy, and with the SMART system, these inefficiencies can be detected and the position tweaked to ensure proper balance between bio-mechanics and aerodynamics. Unfortunately, the three-axis analysis is not quite ready for prime-time just yet, but the 'X' axis for drag measurement is fully functional. The 'Y' and 'Z' axis analysis will be available in the near future. Also coming in the future will be the ability to integrate ANT+ enabled power monitors into SMARTs completely proprietary data acquisition system.

A really crappy picture of the heads-up display in front of the bike.

A much better picture of the display on the floor of the tunnel test section. The upper left is a live side view of cyclist (well, this was a demo display, but it normally would show the cyclist in real time)

Friend of the Blogging World, Mistress of the Mountains, and Printed Media Maven Kerry Litka was on hand to give a brief presentation on aerodynamic and bio-mechanical efficiency, called Quantitative Relationships Between Frontal Surface Area, Velocity, and Air Resistance, which was originally presented as part of her Kinesiology masters thesis at UNH (hey Kerry, six commas in one sentence, and not one oxford! (eight if you count the parenthetical statement)). Apparently, Kerry will also be a consultant on request. Since Kerry is 4'11" and weighs about 90 pounds, I suggested she hold onto something when they turned on the BIG-ASS fans for the big demo.

Armand and Mme Litka (in her Big Girl shoes, cuz Armand ain't that short) giving an overview presentation of the LSWT.
Note the white board with sciency stuff behind Armand.

But the real question is - does it work?

In a word, yes.

We all know Skip Foley (for those that don't, go here). In a nutshell he's won two national criterium titles, placed 3rd in the 2007 masters national TT, set the Charlie Baker Time Trial (CBTT) Masters record in 2007, and has won scores of local races in the masters and pro fields. Skip visited the tunnel earlier this year, worked with the staff to tweak out his road bike (not TT) position, then went out to the CBTT to check it out.

The result? He dropped 1:15 off his old non-aero time on a 9.75 mile course 5 weeks later. Not convinced? He went back a week later and set nearly the same time. Incidentally, that time placed him 3rd fastest all-time non-aero on the course. Not just masters non-aero 3rd fastest, but _overall_ non-aero 3rd fastest - at the age of 48. One could suggested that basic fitness gains might have had a significant effect, but knowing Skip, his fitness was already at such a level that only incremental gains would have been realized over that time. Furthermore, Skip credits SMARTs work exclusively for the improvement.

Armand used himself as somewhat of a guinea pig as well. His before/after results? A drop of nearly 1:30 on the same course Skip rode. Sure, much of that could have come from fitness gains over a 4 week period, but since I know Armand rather well, and I know how much time he has to train, I'm going to go with – ‘yeah, there was some of that, but not 90 seconds over less than 10 miles'.

Armand has other testimonials at his disposal, but if you're interested you should probably talk to him. You should probably talk to him anyways, if you have any designs on being a more efficient rider.

Put it on your List.

Factors leading to the ‘fuckIt’ conversation

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