Cycling’s speed secrets | The Economist
100 Comments


Few sports test the limits of professional athletes like cycling. [Cycling Commentator]
It’s a furious threat. But it’s not just human endurance on the track that delivers
the winning formula, it’s human ingenuity off it. It’s the world’s fastest bike. In an elite sport, the difference between success and failure is often the finest of margins. This is base camp for one of the most successful teams in global sport. Great Britain’s track cyclists have topped the medals tables at the
past three Olympic games. And it’s a team that keeps
churning out winners. We wanna be the fastest in the world, we don’t just wanna win the Olympics, we wanna win in the fastest time ever. In a sport where races are decided by as little
as 1/1000th of a second, Emily and her teammates are
obsessed with one thing: marginal gains. A little margin of half a percent will make that difference on the day. [Cycling Commentator]
Turning the pressure on. And one of the best places to find those tiny margins is on the bike. The team’s key man for this
is an aerodynamics expert and ex-Formula One motor racing engineer. My job is simply to use
technology and engineering in any way I can to
make the team go faster. Cambridge University
Professor of Engineering, Tony Purnell, designed the world-renowned T5GB bike with manufacturer Cérvelo. By dramatically reducing air resistance, it helped the British team enjoy its most successful Olympics ever. It’s the world’s fastest bike. The way those layers of
carbon fiber are constructed all makes for a lighter
and a stiffer bike, without compromising the aerodynamics. All important milliseconds were shaved off performance times by making the tiniest of design changes, even down to the chain. When you cycle, a little
bit of the power you produce gets lost in friction in the chain. If you can reduce that loss, it translates into the athlete being that
little bit more powerful. Using that chain would
have made the difference in the games between the
silver and the gold medal. It’s not just the bike where aerodynamic perfection
is relentlessly pursued, it’s also the person on it. The precise position of the rider can make all the difference. [Cycling Commentator]
Always ahead of schedule, he was 45 seconds up after 40 kilometers. In 1996, Olympic Gold medalist Chris Boardman broke the
one hour world record. [Cycling Commentator] As Boardman settles into the superman
position, arms stretched in front of his head, for
smoother aerodynamics. By pioneering his legendary
superman position. Today, this legacy lives
on at the state-of-the-art Boardman Performance
Center, in Evesham, England. Bike design can absolutely help, but we see that the
most significant portion of the aerodynamic effects and the drag is coming from the rider themself. Sit down, tell me a little bit more about the direction we want to take,
what do we want to look at. Today, Jamie is helping professional cyclist Dan Bigham decipher his optimum body posture for
an upcoming team pursuit race. In the wind tunnel, Dan is battling winds of over 60km/h to simulate
the drag conditions he’ll face on the track. His performance, and ultimately success, could depend on a series
of almost imperceptible tweaks to his position on the bike. Okay Dan, let’s go for our first change, we’ll do this on the fly. Let’s move the hands, please. By moving his hands slightly forward, and adjusting the gap between
them by just millimeters, Dan speeds up by nearly
half a second per kilometer. We’re operating at a
world record place here. So we’ve found some gains there, particularly from the hand open position, which is absolutely worth having. Come race day, subtle changes like this could add up to a big
advantage for Dan’s team. Me personally, I’m about 4/10ths
quicker just for my turn, and if that gain was for
everybody in the team, then we’re one and a half to
two seconds quicker overall. Cycling’s reputation has been damaged by doping. But its pursuit of
legitimate marginal gains still sets the pace for
many other disciplines. Britain’s world-beating cyclists face ever more intense
competition from rivals who are quickly learning how to innovate. The pursuit of marginal gains is about to get even more marginal.

100 thoughts on “Cycling’s speed secrets | The Economist

  1. 2:55 Graeme Obree invented the Superman position, not Chris Boardman. He used it in the individual pursuit at the 1995 world championships, after the UCI banned his previous tuck position. Boardman did not use the position until his hour record attempt in 1996.

  2. Alright The Economist, how much did Cervelo pay you guys to advertise their frames? Bikes now days are all same. Take Peter Sagan for example, he's been on the green jersey since he was riding Cannondales, and now he rides Specialized but still takes the green jersey every tour. The rider is what matters!

  3. This piece could’ve been a lot better. Not a whole lot of information was given, like how did they make the chain more efficient? Or how did moving his hands a few inches change his aerodynamics?

    Good production, no substance. Expected more from The Economist.

  4. This biggest miracles happen in a cycling history is when a smallest cyclist ever Azizulhasni Awang won a Keirin World Cup. 👍👍👍

  5. Sport is so stupid, why do people care about this nonsense 0.01 sec? If it's not a factor of two improvement I could not care less.

  6. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures was buried and Rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures 1 Corinthians 15 verse 3

  7. So it's only Lance Armstrong who dopes wake and smell the coffee let it go or get ever cycling on a lie detector train harder

  8. 5:15 — Wait, Cervélo is pronounced "Chervaylo" here? I thought "Servaylo". It's a Canadian brand, after all, not Italian (that and the é were clues?).

  9. It's downright sociopathy that the entire Anglo race ballwashes their Salbutamol and Jiffy Bag fueled sport while still continuing to point the finger at Lance Armstrong nearly a decade later. With Sky jumping ship as sponsor maybe the writing's already on the wall and all you limeys are going to be brought kicking and screaming from the dark damp corner of your sunless shithole country.

  10. cycling is a sport that depends on too much on equipment and strategy for winning. It's not really a "purely athletic" endurance sport. For the true test of speed, it is running.

  11. "The Economist" – They give they impression of being knowledgeable, they have fancy graphics and eye candy….but they are actually just PR merchants with no substance. Just like this video unfortunately.

  12. Biking is so much fun. In NY i could bike all day and had so much endurance i go run for 1:30 min on the treadmill because of biking. Biking will always have a special place in my heart

  13. imagine what would happen if they allowed things like recumbent position. youd be making seconds difference, 10s of kph difference. hundreds of watts of energy difference.
    its silly when people come up with a better way every one else either jumps on it or fights it to make sure they dpnt have to go against it

  14. Track cycling is a very small sport where money is everything . Oh that and drugs .
    It would be even much smaller if it wasn't in the Olympics

    Britain has realised that money spent on track cycling wins Olympic medals in a way that the same money would not do so in other sports . Low hanging fruit is the expression .
    Just think how USA would dominate if they had a ' British ' attitude to Olympic medals . USA dominates in track and swimming which a lot of people actually do . Track cycling hardly exists anywhere . It was actually a much bigger sport just about everywhere 50/100 years ago . Mountain biking and BMX have taken over while road cycling has always been around

    Britain has an attitude to sport based solely on medal counting . Just like East Germany and Qatar

  15. Fucking change your spiel at the top. It’s ok to be wrong but when told otherwise and you ignore it, you’re simply cunts.

  16. I hate that sports focuses on the best of the very best. Sports isn't about some phony medals on most prestigious games in the world. Its about what you and regular people do.

  17. Bit biased towards GB Cycling and not really looking at the whole scene. I would be more interested in a piece on HUUB Wattbike team which is currently breaking WR's, winning championships all on a budget 10 times smaller than GB Cycling. Maybe look at the innovators not the status quo.

  18. Why are europeans alway pointing fingers to Lance like he was the only one tha ever took PED in h cycling. Pro cyclist got more dope in heir blood than a real drug fiend. Stop trying to make us think, his team and other teams weren't all dopoing as well. I see starving/skinny sandwich-eating surbian whitekids pushing so much watts on a roadbike, and my logic is supposed to tell me that's natural? f…..outta here.

  19. Thank you thank you now that way is a pleasure being of YER services makes sure starts now alrighty thank you very much oh I made an anonymous denounce make sure the cops take actions ass well thanks

  20. I just lost my 2km Strava KOM (from July 2018 riding on Bullet 50s) by 6 seconds to a man who did it in 2 minutes 10 seconds. On the same day that I lost it, I rode on Zondas (35mm) at 2 minutes 18 seconds, while my perceived effort was less on the Zondas I wasn't much slower. So, I wonder if the Zondas actually perform better with a tailwind than the Bullets.
    Just fun to think about, since I love this kind of tech talk.

  21. The professor said that reducing the friction within the chain would make the athlete that much more powerful. I think he means that it would make them that much more efficient, therefore faster.

  22. Should the Olympics not be purely about the physical ability/skill of the athlete as apposed to who simply has the better equipment on the day?

  23. i wonder what it takes to be profesional publicist and say shitty information about boardman inventing superman position … like wtf what else you usually misinterpret

  24. If you've won a race lasting many minutes by less than a second, can you really claim to be 'better' than your opponents? Doesn't seem like much of a victory to celebrate to me. But what do I know? I'm just some fat dude sitting at my computer.

  25. Sports isn't a novel frame of reference for businesses, but how well do CEOs et al analyze the minute details of their people's performance, in order to carve out marginal gains against their competitors?

  26. Its a shame you only showed Lance when you talked about doping knowing that sport has been dirty for years🤫. We all know it wasnt just him

  27. Aussies breaking records while doing shoeys. Its not about marginal gains. Its all about heart and pain

  28. Between the obvious errors and general lack of substance, this piece feels like some kid in high school put it together! Yikes!

  29. The "secret" is that they all use hidden electric motors in their bikes, that is the "secret" and they use the non working "epo" rumour to distract the public from what's really going on with "professional cycling". This hidden motor thing has been going on from at least the eighties but it could have been earlier since electric motors are not new, but batteries were not as good as now but they got better batteries in the last 15 years or so. That's why they call these people "riders" like you ride a motor and not "professional cyclists". The riders of tour de france and there are plenty of videos made by people with their phones showing spinning wheels when they fall. In all form of cycling, like on the track, road races and cycling in mud they use hidden motors and change their bikes when the battery is spent. In that mud racing they change bike every lap since the electric motors is spent faster when riding in mud and sand while on the road they can "cycle" 50 km per hour for at least 1 hour with their new batteries that's why the tv only air these people in the "final" as they turn on their hidden electric motors at max. Cycling is a fake sport and should be grouped with F1 and moto GP.

  30. This hidden motor thing is the real reason why brits are so good at "cycling". If brits had to peddle themselves they would not be in this sport but it shows that british are the best riders on electric powered bikes. It's logical as it's impossible for human body to peddle 150/200 km per day for 3 weeks like in tour de france, so they had been using hidden electric motors for a long time. The public only could buy electric bikes in last 10 years or so but in "professional racing" they had this for a very long time. No doping as doping would not work for human body but hidden motor is the real secret of the peleton and the camera of modern phones has exposed their secret. Like wheel spinning in racing in mud and riders falling and wheel keeps spinning. The UCI knows this and pretend they are against it and they sacrifice a belgian woman for this as they knew that the public becomes suspicious. Anyway the real cyclists are on the road and the fake ones are on tv.

  31. Give these people a normal bike instead of secret electric bike and then we see real cycling instead of this BS.

  32. Now why they were cycling for 3 week in the tour de france and they did it day in day out I could not understand but now I know they all use electric motors.

  33. So basically when the entire peleton use hidden electric motors so how do they decide the winners? Easy: like all sports, it's rigged and the winner is designated in advance. So you have a skinny brit who looks like he has anorexia fly up the mountain and then changes bike and then again and then again. Yes going up the mountain drains the battery fast. Now in the nineties they had batteries but not like in modern day racing so they had strange looking racing bikes with the wheel covered not with spokes but closed they said it was for aerodynamic reasons but the real reason was to conceal the hub motor in the rear wheel now they hide the motor in the frame along with the batteries that can last very long with moderate speed but they can do 55km /h or 65 km/h on the track which is of course impossible for humans hence why they have to use electric motors and humans cannot cycle for 3 week doing 150/200 km a day. Cycling on tv is not real sport but we have people who are cycling actors, meaning people pretending to be cycling.

  34. Now the real question is what's the level of these "professionals" if they had to peddle real race bikes? I think their level would be low, very low like worse than people who race as amateurs once in a while.

  35. Ok this video pisses me off when you fucking try to rewrite history get it right please, GRAEME OBREE we dont fucking care about UCI anymore its fucking DEAD

  36. British Cyclings' marginal gains have been compromised by Sky's "marginal" jiffy gains as well as Chris Froomes "merginal" selective asthma that only happens in high mountain stages.

  37. Economist – lack of journalism research there. It was Obree that pioneered the Superman position after Obree used it to break the world record. It was then subsequently banned by the UCi.
    Could’ve also shown Obree’s extreme tucked position, which even today remains potentially one of the most aero positions.

  38. Voice in video: "But it's not just human endurance on the track that delivers the winning formula, it's human ingenuity off it."

    UCI: "Now you can have saddle angle tilt by nine degrees maximum".

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