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12 Jul 2016

Loughborough student helps Team Sky with wheel aerodynamics

Harley Matthews Aero Auto

Aeronautical Engineering student Harley Matthews has helped pro cycling’s Team Sky understand the aerodynamic benefit of their range of race wheels.

Aerodynamic drag is the main force a cyclist must overcome, and in an era of ‘marginal gains’ it is crucial for a professional cycling team to choose the best set-up for each race.

Solid disc wheels may be good for an hour-long time trial at over 50kph, but are too heavy for several hours climbing in the Alps; there is trade-off between aerodynamics, weight, and handling, and getting this right can make a huge difference come the finish line.

As part of his final year project Harley - who is also performance captain of the University’s BUCS cycling team - designed a wheel test rig which was fitted in the Department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering’s wind tunnel. He tested a range of Team Sky’s wheels, including tri-spike time trial wheels, deep rim race wheels and a light weight climbing wheel. He compared their aerodynamic drag and handling characteristics, providing an extensive database that will help Team Sky choose the right wheel for each race.

Simon Jones, Head of Innovation at Team Sky said:

“We are very happy and pleasantly surprised with the data quality and sheer amount of information we got from this piece of work. The results were really helpful in providing us hard facts on wheel performance, which we have included as part of our broader bike optimisation and modelling work for world tour races in 2016”.

Dr Duncan Walker, Senior Lecturer in Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough University added:

“Combining Harley’s passion for cycling with his final year project has been fantastic. It’s a great fit to Loughborough’s strengths in engineering and sport. Harley did an excellent job and we are already talking to Team Sky about the potential of further work”.

Notes for editors

Article reference number: July News

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Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named the best in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey. Loughborough was ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2017 and 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2017 and was also named University of the Year in the In the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In September 2015 the University opened an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.