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Loughborough student helps Team Sky with wheel aerodynamics

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”.