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Inside: McLaren and its partnership with Specialized

By:
Warren Rossiter/Future Publishing
Published:
December 25, 2013, 10:01,
Updated:
December 25, 2013, 10:03
Edition:
First Edition Cycling News, Wednesday, December 25, 2013
The chassis tools can do complete bikes and not just frames

The chassis tools can do complete bikes and not just frames

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Research methods used in bike design at McLaren Technology Centre

This article originally published on BikeRadar

Specialized has recently been working with Formula 1 giant McLaren, and for 2014 the duo have expanded their research into how to make better bikes and gear. BikeRadar recently took at tour of the McLaren Technology Centre headquarters with Specialized to learn about what's to come.

Proactive research

Up until now, the successful meeting of minds between Specialized's R&D division and McLaren's applied technologies experts has been reactive on McLaren's part. The key bike, the S-Works/McLaren Venge, as ridden by Mark Cavendish, was an existing design. Indeed, it was an existing frameset from Specialized that was given (in its S-Works form) to the McLaren AT team headed by keen rider Duncan Bradley.

The Woking-based boffins at McLaren then analysed the carbon layup and structure at the core of the bike, optimised it, and introduced new materials. That led to a significant weight loss for the aero frame, as well as increases in key points of stiffness and the general dynamics of the frameset.

The next phase of the partnership is all about acquiring and developing key information at the conception of Specialized's products.

Duncan Bradley explained: "Historically, development within McLaren was always based on the subjective. Our drivers took the car out, drove it hard and then came back and explained what they liked, what they didn't like about the car. As the company and technology has progressed we've gone from ‘engineering interrogation' of the drivers to recording and analysing what is happening mechanically and dynamically."

Since those early days, McLaren has been creating development tools and modelling so it can create, test and develop ideas without ever going near a road. We got the chance to see the key Formula 1 tool in action. It's a full 180-degree simulator. Mounted in front the screen is an F1 chassis sitting on a fully active bed. The software has pinpoint accurate circuits – even the texture and surface of the road are mapped with almost incomprehensible accuracy. That allows the engineers to run setups, new designs, engine maps, even tyre compound simulations for every race.

It's all seriously impressive, and we could only guess at how much developing and building a simulator this accurate would cost.

Simulation and analysis

You might ask what this has got to do building bikes – that's where the interesting research comes in. Both parties already use plenty of simulation and analysis tools in bike design.

For the structure, they use FEA tools to define how the carbon fibre is laid up, they can also simulate the structure and ‘virtual' test it to quantify weight, strength and areas of stress. This was used on the Venge, now these tools are used on all of Specialized's carbon.

Then it's about aero – Specialized has built a wind tunnel at their HQ in Morgan Hill, and McLaren has a state-of-the-art wind tunnel in Woking. But wind tunnels are expensive to run and it takes a lot of time to get usable data. That's where CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tools come in. It's a relatively quick and far cheaper way of exploring ideas and developing a bike without having to resort to modelling and prototyping early in a project.

Finally, the biggest challenge is ride quality. This is the most difficult part of any bike design to judge. It's something that troubled the team at McLaren. When the team develops a new car (such as the MP4C as driven by Mark Cavendish) the simulator is used to not only make the car fast, but also to achieve its dynamic feel. The final piece in the puzzle is that the car has to be comfortable enough to be driven every day, and not just on super smooth race circuits.

McLaren has created a set of tools that can be fitted onto a bike and the bike rider. The data kit is used by Specialized to acquire banks of data on different frames – the race-ready Tarmac, the comfortable Roubaix, the aero Venge. Once this data is acquired (Specialized has been gathering information for over 18 months now), the goal of Duncan and his team is to use this information to create a simulator, using the technology they have already developed for the car side of the business.

Part of the data acquiring tools developed by McLaren include these hubs that can record movement, acceleration and deceleration and vibration

Part of the data acquiring tools developed by McLaren include these hubs that can record movement, acceleration and deceleration and vibration

Then, when they want to design and develop a new bike, the parameters of what makes a good bike for the cobbles, or the best bike for an alpine stage, can be input into the simulator. A ‘virtual' prototype using FEA, CFD and so on, can then be uploaded and ridden before ever going near cloth and glue to build a bike.

If this all sounds a bit Tron, well, yes, it really is. We asked Duncan about the challenges they face. He said the key factor is that "data doesn't lie" – as long as you have the right data, that is.

The biggest issue is just how complex a bicycle is. It may seem less complex than a state-of-the-art Formula 1 car, but a bike is just a small part of the whole – the biggest factor of any bike is the rider.

Duncan explained: "The bike as a system is incredibly complex, in no small part that the ride is the integral and a highly dynamic part. Then you've elements like the tyre; the longitudinal and vertical deflection has an impact on performance and comfort."

So Duncan and his team created a CDR (chassis dynamics rig) based on the same rig that actuates the F1 chassis in their simulator. They've collected real life data – road surfaces, potholes, speed bumps and so on. Real life acceleration, deceleration and multi-axis movements are input into the rig and they have then recorded data of a real rider (usually Duncan himself) so they can analyse the effects on a rider.

From this data the goal is to create a mathematical formula for each systems result (bike, rider, and bike and rider combined). The end game will be to create a set of base figures that can become the start point of every bike and new component Specialized make.

What's the benefit?

The whole research project stemmed from Specialized president Mike Sinyard's idea that ‘smoother is faster'. It's something the company has always thought of as true, without any real empirical factual back-up.

From everything they've learned, Mark Cote from Specialized R&D was prepared to say: "If you can actively reduce kinetic energy losses the net gain is that you will be faster, so yes, smoother is faster. In the last six months of research we [Specialized] have learned more about bike dynamics than we have in the last 10 years."

What does the future hold?

It's so early in the research partnership that no one really knows what the future will hold. McLaren could see the benefits of an intelligent bike that ‘self adapts' – imagine a Roubaix that softens over the Pave, but sharpens up on smoother roads. McLaren hopes that it can ‘crack the logic' of what makes a bike great. For McLaren it's about generating the specification.

Specialized and McLaren both expect their cooperation to be ongoing. Mark Cote of Specialized R&D told us that "the simulation modelling will continue on and on, so much more is still to be learned".

When will we see the fruit of these tech labours? It could be as soon as the SL5 Tarmac and Roubaix, or the next generation Venge. We asked Mark, if they can indeed crack the bike ‘code', then wouldn't it be possible to create an aero road bike like the Venge that has the lightweight of the Tarmac and the comfort of the Roubaix all in one package? This would effectively reduce the need for such an expansive road bike range – and let's not forget expensive research like this should and will be used for mountain bikes too. He said: "That could happen, but I think we'll still need highly focussed single-purpose bikes – and our pros will still ask for them. So I don't expect to have a single do-everything bike any time soon."

After a day spent seeing just how far these two companies are prepared to go in the name of research, we came away impressed. If they can define what makes a bike great, then we look forward to trying the next-generation Specialized bikes on real roads – but next time, please can we have a go on the simulator?

Joe Maki 10 months ago
A single do anything bike is not in the interests of a bike manufacturing company. They would rather sell you 2 or 3 special purpose bikes.
Benjamin Lowell 10 months ago
That would be because a "do anything" bike would be less effective for any one task. Your comment makes even less sense in response to an article describing the process of researching and developing high end race bikes that are meant to do ONE thing. Further, there are "do anything" bikes. You could look at cyclocross bikes, certain commuters, and even a mountain bike. All of those will ride pretty much anywhere. However, they would be total garbage as a road race bike. On a related note, I can't believe I just defended an article about Specialized. I'm going to go jump off my balcony now.
Raoul Duke 10 months ago
think you are being pretty harsh, by the article: "McLaren could see the benefits of an intelligent bike that ‘self adapts' – imagine a Roubaix that softens over the Pave, but sharpens up on smoother roads...we'll still need highly focussed single-purpose bikes – and our pros will still ask for them. So I don't expect to have a single do-everything bike any time soon." They are indeed envisioning a do anything single bike. It's just that they do not expect to have one soon. IMHO Joe Maki is absolutely correct
Christopher A. Lemon 9 months ago
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ricracer 10 months ago
this is all marketing blah-blah-blah.
socalvelo 10 months ago
I heard Specialized is suing McLaren because McLaren sounds too much like Roubaix. I'm waiting until Specialized finds out that 'specialized' is an adjective and not a birthright.
JantonStentenan 10 months ago
It's a verb.
socalvelo 10 months ago
My wish for 2014 is that you figure out what an adjective is.
JantonStentenan 10 months ago
Many words in the English language functions as both adjectives and verbs depending on how they are used. You must look at the context around which those words have been based. In the case of Specialized, it is quite apparent that the context around the foundation of the company implies that they are using the past tense of the verb. So my wish this Christmas is that you and the rest of the "surplus population" is decreased. Merry Christmas you filthy animal.
Edmundo Morales 10 months ago
in the near future we'll see disposable bike frames for each race like f1 does
Gregory Thomas 10 months ago
f1 no longer uses "disposable" parts, save for the tires and brakes. cars get four engines a year, that includes practice and qualifying. they cant rebuild them between races either. transmissions-similar. their chassis will often take good size crashes and be used again. only a major shunt requires a new monocoque.
aeromono 10 months ago
is this a paid advertisement?
GreaseMonster 10 months ago
Asked myself the same question as I got half way through the article and gave up reading.
James Silva 10 months ago
It's funny how so many blokes worry about "aerodynamics." Just another way to justify a high priced bike (*ahem, specialized) Durability, fit, and ride quality, and maybe power transfer is 99% of what makes a good bike aerodynamics think is just another way to extra extra $$!
Lightening Toke 10 months ago
Not only is Cavendish a bad a/s/s bike racer, he is now also an F1 driver. NOT. SURPRISED. Surely it will greatly enhance his sprinting prowess. I just wonder how on earth he can find the time for both. But I'm just a mortal.
JantonStentenan 10 months ago
He can find the time because Cyclingnews is a joke.
Sean McCormack 10 months ago
They're talking about the MP4-12C road car that has a color named after Cavendish (and I'm guessing he may have one that he drives as well). It's better to appear stupid than to open your mouth (or type) and prove it.
postmanhat 10 months ago
Bit of a shame that Mclaren have linked up with Specialised. Why not a British or European manufacturer?