Specialized Goes (More) Aero

The wind. Sometimes it’s your friend; other times nothing would give it greater pleasure than to push you and your bike into a ditch. You might not know what to do about that, but that’s OK. Specialized does.

Specialized. The company that broke all the rules to create the ultimate triathlon weapon, the Shiv. The company that teamed up with McLaren, the Formula 1 engineering house, to introduce the age of the aero road bike with its Venge. The company that revolutionized the industry by creating products around the body. The company that harmonizes the relationship between rider and bike with its BG Fit.

Specialized Wind Tunnel Cycling Bicycle Aerodynamics WinSpecialized’s team of aerodynamic experts want nothing more than to push the wind right back, to harness its power and turn it into your best time ever.

Specialized knows the science of air manipulation, and how it affects everything: the bike you ride, the gear you wear and even your position as you ride.

Drag is the single biggest force affecting a cyclist. Since the only way to turn it off is to stop moving completely, eliminating every bit of it is critically important.

In fact, it’s so important that Specialized has taken the next step in the evolution of their aerodynamics program.

Specialized built their own wind tunnel.


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The Wind Tunnel. The Win Tunnel

In an effort to obtain more speed and efficiency out of their products, bicycle manufacturers have been shaving weight. But to really make improvements, it’s necessary to reduce aerodynamic drag. Hence the birth of aero road bikes – which aim to find the balance between light weight and aerodynamics.

We’ve seen bicycle companies cozy up to high-end automobile companies, learning how to maximize aerodynamics and minimize weight. The results have been extraordinary. In a partnership with McLaren, Specialized created the awesome Venge.

In the process, Specialized saw the benefits of having access to a wind tunnel, but saw the disadvantages of having only limited access. They also learned that using a wind tunnel built for cars is less than ideal for their purposes.


Cycling-specific Tunnel

Specialized Wind Tunnel Cycling Bicycle Aerodynamics WinMost wind tunnels are built for the motor or aerospace industry. While the bike industry has always been able to adapt to these tunnels to run tests, a bike is not a car. It’s not the same shape, nor does it typically go the same speeds. “All the equipment is tuned for a higher speed regimen than is suitable for us,” says Specialized aerodynamics engineer, Chris Yu. “We’re barely above the noise.”

So Specialized designed and built a better tunnel, one that was suited to their purposes, to be the perfect, cycling-specific wind tunnel. Its six 6-foot fixed-pitch fans, each driven by a 75-horsepower motor, are optimized for bike speeds. Specialized can test with more accurate and precise conditions that are more representative of what top cyclists are capable of riding, around the 30-mph mark. And this wind tunnel can test more than one bike at a time.

The 30-foot test section (in the 100-foot long tunnel) is wide and long enough to do real research, testing multiple riders at once. It can determining how different crosswind angles affect those riding in a group. It can accommodate dynamic biking scenarios like changing wind conditions and fit teams of up to nine riders.

“We’ll be able to more accurately test, and simulate, what riders are actually feeling and experiencing,” Yu says. “We can now look at the entire strategy of riding.”


Immediate Answers

Dream it up one afternoon, test it the next.

One of the biggest drawbacks to using third-party wind tunnels is one of time and convenience. With their own wind tunnel, there’s no need to plan and book a week at a facility. No need to scramble to get the most value from a limited time, prioritizing what gets tested based on how many minutes are left.

Specialized Wind Tunnel Cycling Bicycle Aerodynamics WinWith access 24/7, literally right across the parking lot in Morgan Hill, CA, now Specialized can test things they wouldn’t normally have time to test in an outside facility. As Dan Empfield quipped, “”The proximity to its tunnel; and the ability to test much more frequently rather than according to a set calendar of availability at commercial tunnels; allows for a streamlined design process, no pun intended.”

Now a designer can come up with an idea on Monday morning, have it CAD’d by the lunch ride, rapid prototyped by Tuesday, tested in the tunnel that afternoon to see if it’s valid, and then have a working prototype done by the Wednesday lunch ride.



Specialized’s Holy Trinity of Aerodynamics

Apart from being the most advanced, sports-specific aero facility in the world, Specialized’s wind tunnel incorporates data from Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and on-board Data Acquisition System (DAQ) to simulate and repeatedly produce wind conditions consistent with the real world. The result? Three tools utilized in a constant cycle of testing, re-testing and perfecting, with an exceptional team to control it it all.


Computational Fluid Dynmaics (CFD)

Specialized Wind Tunnel Cycling Bicycle Aerodynamics WinCFD is a true, virtual playground and encompasses all the juicy stuff — physics, mathematics, engineering, and computer science. It allows aerodynamic experts to play in virtual space with a range of shapes and surfaces, and then simulate the flow of various fluids across those shapes to test their aerodynamic performance.

CFD allows you to see, through simulation, things you can’t see in the real world, like tiny ‘bits’ of drag on a frame. It’s an extremely handy way of predicting aero behaviors, discarding designs that are total duds before prototyping, or modifying shapes that have already seen time in the wind tunnel.


Specialized Racing Data Acquisition System (DAQ)

To the untrained eye, the DAQ system might just seem like a box hanging off the back of a bike. That’s what people notice most because it’s the most visually ‘out there’ part of it. But there’s much more going on.

Specialized takes data — from power, speed, rider position and the direction of wind as it hits the rider — and measures the true coefficient of drag on that rider. During testing, they can attach the system to an athlete’s bike in the velodrome — as they recently did in Milan, Italy, with Team Specialized-Lululemon riders — and back in the USA, the engineers see all aero data real-time in Morgan Hill, CA. Information gleaned from this testing enables Specialized to advise their Body Geometry Fit team, Specialized Racing staff and the athletes themselves on changes to their position that will improve their performance.

While the wind tunnel can be more precise, there is nothing more real than riding your bike. The data collected while riding in the velodrome or outside allows Specialized to measure actual wind conditions and rider movements. This is as real as testing gets, but they need their other tools to measure the small aero differences.


The Best of All Three

Specialized Wind Tunnel Cycling Bicycle Aerodynamics WinBike Radar sums it up this way: “Beyond the wind tunnel, Specialized is doing aero testing outside and on velodromes with an on-bike data acquisition system that measures and records wind speed, wind direction, rider power, and even rider positioning.” This not only helps athletes better understand the impact of aerodynamics in real-time, but the data collected is also vital for developing the mathematical computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models used in the wind tunnel’s software.

Dan Empfield summarizes, “CFD is theoretical, and the instrumented bike is very applied, but doesn’t have the precision of CFD. A third leg to the stool is the wind tunnel, replicating the real world in a lab environment.”



Aero is Everything. Everything Can Be Aero

A big part of product development can be aided with proper wind tunnel testing. And not just bikes. Specialized now has the freedom to test everything they make—from a commuting helmet, to apparel, and everything in between—and deep-dive into every aspect of rider position from competitive racers to every-day commuters.

Specialized has control of the software and the hardware. They have the aerodynamic experts on hand. They can test, tweak and re-test products and equipment in-house. They can make riders and athletes faster, and not just through fit and analysis, but by teaching them to ride faster on specific courses.

Mark Cote, Specialized’s manager of performance road, triathlon and aerodynamics R&D. “This is a fundamental shift in how we think about air; every product and athlete will be faster.”

Three-time IronMan World Champion Craig “Crowie” Alexander remarked about Specialized at the introduction of their wind tunnel, “Wow. The undisputed leader in the cycling industry.” Dan Empfield of Slowtwitch.com sums up the true impact of Specialized’s wind tunnel:

As has been the case with the Body Geometry and BG Fit programs Specialized does well selling processes rather than simply products. Rather than selling a bike, or a helmet, or a saddle, Specialized sells aerodynamics and fit, and those processes in turn are much more powerful sellers of its saddles and bicycles.

The tunnel is not, then, simply and only a precision tool. It’s a cudgul with which it will beat the head of its competitors because, to the degree it can make the case that aero is huge, Specialized by default wins the argument because, of course, who in its competitive set has a wind tunnel?



Specialized Wind Tunnel Cycling Bicycle Aerodynamics Win




To read more about Specialized’s wind tunnel, here are additional resources:



Need Help? Have Questions?

Highland Park | 847-433-2453
Wilmette | 847-256-2330

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