Senin, 24 Oktober 2011

Extreme aero bikes

Now something I have never really understood is why there seems to be no market for "extreme aero bikes" like those in the photos. Most of them never made it past the prototype stage and those that did (including the Hotta, which Natasha Badman rode to victory a number of times), are now only available second hand. The most recent activity seems to be in the form of the Cycpro bike but, as far as I can tell, that has also come to a dead end.

Let's look at the facts. According to Bloomberg, the average salary of an Ironman competitor is $161,000. To be clear, it is not talking about the average salary of the professional athletes but of the average salary of the so-called "age-groupers", or people who compete in triathlons as a hobby - in other words,, what they get paid for not competing in Triathlons. And it's not altogether surprising why: just the race entry to the recently inaugurated New York Ironmman is in excess of $1,000. This, is of course, less than many Ironman competitors would spend on their front wheel.

The other fact is that the bike rules for Ironman distance Triathlon are much more lax than the UCI rules for time trials or the ITU rules for Olympic distance Triathlon. Here is an excerpt from the Official Bike Rules for the Ironman World Championship:

1) All athletes are required to ride road/triathlon bikes. Mountain bikes, beach cruisers and bikes with coaster-type brakes are prohibited.

2) No tandems, recumbents, fairings, solid wheels, wheel covers or any add-on device designed exclusively to reduce resistance are allowed. Any new, “unusual” or prototype equipment will be subject to an evaluation of legality by Ironman and/or USA Triathlon’s Head Referee.

Although the rules vary slightly from Ironman to Ironman, most of them do not even include point (2) so, as long as you don't rock up on a Mountain Bike (how uncool would that be? ;-) ) you can pretty much ride anything. Now I think they would draw the line at a tandem or a recumbent but I have seen some pretty wild looking bikes at the Ironman in Brazil and I myself used a wheel cover without any problems (many others had disc wheels).

Is it because people are worried that they might be turned away if they arrive at the start with a bike that is just a little too funky? Surely it would just be a question of giving away a few bikes to some top age-groupers to allay these fears and paying the WTC Ironman Corporation some cash for advertising would no doubt seal the deal. Why is it that we instead are willing to pay huge sums of money to mainstream bike manufacturers to buy what are essentially replicas of bikes that they have developed for the Tour de France with its restrictive UCI ruling? Could it be because these bikes have a more versatile fit?

Guru is a bike manufacturer which takes a slightly different tack. They (quite rightly) point out that most of the aerodynamic drag comes from the rider themselves and not the bike. So little good does it do you to have the most aero bike if your position on that bike is not optimal and you end up presenting a bigger surface area to the oncoming wind. They are able to offer made-to-measure carbon frames (which, by the way, are also very aero even if not the best of their class). OK, so my point is, if Guru have managed to have developed the technology to make bespoke carbon frames, why is it that no-one is able to bring to market a monocoque design like those crazy beasts in the photos, one that could be adapted to the dimensions of the rider and at a price affordable by the average Ironman? I can't help feeling that the answer is a very cynical one: that in the end we all get sucked in by the big brands and their marketing.

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