The importance and prestige of Paracycling is on the rise, but insight in Paracycling aerodynamics is very limited. At least until now and it is an Irish University that has lead the way on groundbreaking new work in the area.
Researchers from NUI Galway, Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and KU Leuven in Belgium have used advanced technologies including computational fluid dynamics and wind tunnel facilities typically dedicated to aerospace, nuclear or automotive research to better understand and improve the complex aerodynamics of elite Paracycling tandem and handcycling disciplines.
The results show that decisive gains can be achieved by counter-intuitive postures and wheel selection that can change the outcomes in the Paracycling competitions in the games next year.
Dr Eoghan Clifford from NUI Galway, has stepped off the saddle and into the lab. A four-time paracycling world champion and current Paralympic Champion, he has joined forces with Professor Bert Blocken of Eindhoven University of Technology and KU Leuven, recognised worldwide for his expertise in elite cycling aerodynamics.
Surprised by the scarcity of scientific research performed on Paracycling where many fundamental insights are lacking, they decided to set up the first large open scientific research project into Paralympic cycling in collaboration with Dr Magdalena Hajdukiewiczfrom NUIG, Dr Yasin Toparlar, Dr Thomas Andrianne and Dr Paul Mannion who was jointly awarded a PhD by NUI Galway and TU/e for his work on this project.
Their investigation resulted in four key new findings.
Applying these findings in races would yield significant gains in terms of time. In recent top races at Rio 2016, the difference between Gold and Silver or missing the podium was often a matter of seconds.
The typical time-trial setup with a time-trial handlebar for the pilot and the stoker does not provide the lowest aerodynamic resistance. The stoker holding the seatpost of the tandem bicycle provides a gain of 8.1 s over a 10 km race.
The most aerodynamic race setup of the tandem cyclists is not the one where pilot and stoker bodies are closest to the horizontal. The pilot being slightly more upright gives a benefit of 6.5 s over 10 km.
The most aerodynamic wheel choice for a H1-H4 handcycle is not disk wheels at the rear, as commonly accepted, but two spoked wheels at the rear, because disk wheels would channel the flow between these wheels and create extra suction (drag) on the cyclist body. Spoked wheels at the rear and a single disk wheel at the front would save 16s on 10 km.
For downhill handcycling, athletes tend to adopt the so-called 6 o’clock position, with the hands in the lowest position and the arms tucked against the body. The 9 o’clock position with hands farthest upstream has a 4.3% lower drag, which gives a gain of 0.8 s over a 500 m descent.
“This has been one of the most exciting and challenging projects I have worked on,” said Clifford. “The extensive experimental and computational modelling work was unprecedented for Paralympic cycling and indeed for most sports. The work will fundamentally impact Paralympic cycling and will cause teams and engineers to rethink their approach to aerodynamics.”
“This work also opens the door for world-class Paralympic athletes to have the same expertise and equipment available to them as other professional athletes. At the world championships and Paralympics where tenths of seconds can decide medals this work can unlock that vital time.”
Paralympics Ireland Chief Executive Officer, Miriam Malone, added: “The results published will fundamentally change the approach that many paracyclists take to their sports and will ensure that more exciting times lie ahead as performances improve,” added Paralympics Ireland CEO Miriam Malone.