Australians investigating new pedalling techniques to improve aerodynamics ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympics

The research being conducted by Australia is considered a world first

Australia competing in the Men's Team Sprint at the Glasgow Track World Cup 2019 (Photo by Ewan Bootman/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Image credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Australian researchers have developed simulations that can pinpoint the optimum position of the legs around the pedal stroke in order to lessen the effects of aerodynamic drag.

A 15-year collaboration between Monash University in Melbourne, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Cycling Australia (CA) have been working towards improving their nation's athletes performances, and their recent study surrounding pedal strokes is considered a world first.

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The research is being conducted to attempt to give Australian athletes a competitive advantage with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games looming ahead in the near future, with the pedal study being published in the Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology.

It presents the first ever computer simulations of the time-dependent flow around a pedalling track endurance cyclist. Monash University used a numerical modelling technique that enabled the aerodynamics of a cyclist to be simulated over a number of revolutions of the pedal stroke, the first time this has been done.

These numerical simulations were also supported with experimental data of a cycling mannequin pedalling at high cadences.

These simulations are enabling researchers to uncover extremely fine details of the flow around cyclists, something that would be extremely difficult to achieve in a normal wind-tunnel experiment.

Continuing on from this experiment, researchers will then be able to look at new techniques for minimising aerodynamic drag over the complete course of a pedal stroke.

Mark Thompson, a professor at Monash University who worked on the research, said: "Over the pedalling cycle, the flow patterns around and behind a cyclist change significantly. As a result of this, we’ve found that to maximise cycling speed, different leg positions require different aerodynamic treatments. The optimal cycling performance solution, however, has to consider all of the different phases of the pedal stroke."

Dr Timothy Crouch, another professor at the university, said: "Rider position has the largest impact on cycling aerodynamic performance. Over the last few years we’ve been researching sprint positions in the wind tunnel that have been considered not practical or too ‘extreme’ for competition.

"However, it’s now clear that these more extreme positions, coupled with correct training programs, are a viable and potential game-changing option for some elite athletes."