While members of the BMC squad were arriving at the team’s training camp in Spain, their classics specialist George Hincapie was in Mooresville, North Carolina. Located deep in the heart of NASCAR country, the A2 Wind Tunnel provides crucial technology for pro teams preparing for the 2011 season.
“A lot of clients come here to dial in their position,” said Mike Giraud, A2’s bike specialist. However Hincapie wasn’t there to adjust his position on the bike. The purpose of the testing was to further push the aerodynamic capabilities of BMC Racing’s clothing sponsor Hincapie Sportswear.
“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.
Three different skinsuits were being tested in the A2 tunnel: their standard BMC team skinsuit, which was worn during the 2010 season and was used as the benchmark for the testing as well as three other suits, each constructed from different fabrics. The goal was to determine which fabric is the fastest.
Eventually the chosen fabric will make its way into the retail line-up of the Emergence Collection. Speaking to Hincapie Sportswear owner Rich Hincapie, certain aerodynamic concepts of the testing will also make its way into the road kit as well.
“You have to weigh the benefits of each fabric,” explained Rich Hincapie. “Some fabrics might be quicker but there are some breathability issues.”
The wind tunnel itself is a long narrow structure housed inside a larger building. The tunnel has four electric fans mounted at the back capable of blowing wind anywhere from 30 to 85 miles per hour. For bike testing the wind speed is kept at a constant 30 mph. Near the front of the tunnel is a platform on which the test subject (in this case Hincapie atop his BMC time trial bike) is firmly attached. Strain gauges run along the floor of the platform relaying information to the control center manned by bike specialist Giraud. The platform can be rotated numerous degrees to mimic a change in wind direction. At the front of the tunnel is a large grid that the wind blows through that also catches pieces that might be blown off during testing. Displayed on the floor are the test subject’s watts and cadence in real time — important to know so the test subject can perform each test run identically at the same cadence and watts.
The test runs on the skinsuits were performed at two different yaw angles: zero and 10 percent. The testing on each suit was repeated for a total of 12 times to ensure as much accuracy as possible. Repeatability is important to validate the test.
For George Hincapie the trip to Mooresville was a two-hour drive from his home in Greenville, South Carolina. However, the 38-year-old pro knows the importance of having an aerodynamic edge as he lost the prologue of the 2006 Tour de France by a mere .02 of a second. A seam moved to a better location or a more aerodynamic fabric could mean the difference between a yellow jersey or just becoming a footnote in the Tour de France history.
“For me I want to make sure the team is on the cutting edge of time trial suits as well as any apparel we make,” said George Hincapie after the testing. “As you know the time differences in a time trial are so small the fabric can make a difference. We want to know which fabric is the fastest and have it at our disposal.”
After all the test runs were performed, it was time for Giraud to crunch the numbers generated from the tunnel. In the end the skinsuit constructed with fabric that incorporated a serpentine pattern was proven to be 0.5%-1% faster than the 2010 Velocity Speedsuit that the team had been using. That means Hincapie Sportswear reduced the drag just by 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 over a 40K time trial. In a world where victories are measured in fractions of a second, BMC may have just made the decisive move for a future finish.