What can bikes do for boats? SRAM, Ineos and Emirates set to clash on the high seas
First held in 1851, the America’s Cup is the world’s oldest trophy in international sport – and the teams are turning to cycling tech to gain a competitive edge
SRAM has partnered with the New York Yacht Club American Magic racing team in their bid to win the 37th America’s Cup, which will be taking place in Barcelona, Spain in September and October 2024.
Now, if you’re anything like me and your marine knowledge extends about as far as an awareness of Shimano’s fishing reels, this is going to take a little bit of unpacking, but I think it’s going to be worth it.
For starters, it's a whole new frontier for a brand which's expansion seemingly knows no bounds, hoovering up Hammerhead and Velocio earlier this year, to add to its portfolio of Zipp, RockShox, Quarq, Time and others.
But it also sets the stage for a three-way clash: SRAM's chosen team and those from Ineos and Team Emirates. Cycling rivalries finding their way onto the high seas – who could ask for more?
If you want to get straight into the tech developments and the competing teams, you can skip straight on to the next section. But if, like me, you could do with a little more context on the America's Cup – which, despite its name, turns out to the the oldest international competition still held across any sport and was initially set up by the British – then just continue reading on...
1. A little yachting context
First, a bit about the racing team SRAM has partnered with (you'll understand just how relevant this is in just a bit).
The New York Yacht Club has been going for over 175 years since 1844, making it older than both Bianchi and Brooks but slightly younger than Orbea – although at that point the Spanish brand was still manufacturing guns rather than bikes. The point being: it’s an institution with a long history and a top pedigree.
The New York Yacht Club American Magic racing team, on the other hand, was formed in October 2017 as a joint partnership between the New York Yacht Club (no surprise), Bella Mente Racing and Quantum Racing.
So that’s the boat and the racing team covered, what about the America’s Cup? Just how competitive is this competition within the world of yachting – and why is it being held in the Mediterranean?
Well, SRAM will proudly tell you that the America’s Cup is the highest prize in sailing and constitutes the oldest trophy in international sport. That said, they are only on the 37th edition, whilst the Tour de France, by contrast, will be on its 110th next year.
Regarding its age, yes, the America's Cup really is the oldest international competition still operating in any sport – the first event was held way back in 1851.
Second, although it is international, the format is pretty novel in that the race is held between just two sailing yachts – one from the club that last won the trophy and one from a club which has pitched itself as ‘the challenger’.
As to the 'mere' 37 editions, this is due to the races generally being held every three to four years – although there’s not actually a fixed time frame.
So those are the basics on the provenance and the prestige, but why the name ‘America’s Cup’? Sure enough, the matter gets all the more curious once you learn that the first cup in 1851 was awarded by the British Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight – which itself is just off the South Coast of England.
But things clear up quickly once you learn that the winning yacht from that race was called ‘America’ and hence the 'America's Cup'. Funnily enough, that yacht America was owned by members of the very same New York Yacht Club which SRAM has partnered with now. How cyclical.
2. What will the partnership look like?
For now, details on SRAM’s partnership are pretty thin on the ground. But, on the other hand, this does mean that plenty of space is left for speculation!
Now, as I've mentioned, I don’t know much about sailing. But it doesn’t take great leaps of the imagination to start to wonder how aerodynamics might be of high importance to a sport which uses wind power as its mode of propulsion.
Similarly, the ‘F’ of the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) we’re all so familiar with from the aero testing of wheels, frames, helmets and riders, provides a significant overlap for a sport which is held on water: the need to be streamlined is all the more important when the medium you’re moving in is that much more viscous than air.
SRAM, through its subsidiary Zipp, has a huge wealth of knowledge and expertise in this capacity – which could be a valuable resource for American Magic to tap into.
That said, as to exactly what fruit this partnership might bear, I’m afraid my imagination does fail me there. Although there seems to be a significant overlap in expertise, I can’t think of what more SRAM could offer in this area that isn’t already present in the sphere of sailing itself – so perhaps there won't be anything to see here.
When I said that my marine knowledge only extends to Shimano and its fishing reels, that was actually a half truth – I do have a passing awareness of Garmin's marine product line, too.
Could SRAM’s collaboration have anything to do with the recently acquired Hammerhead and the bike GPS units it produces? Could this herald the start of a toe-to-toe competition with Garmin, ultimately extending into both the automotive and aviation industries in which Garmin is already fully established?
If you couldn’t already tell, I think that this possibility is even less likely than the aerodynamics. Taking a step into anything that’s marine specific would be a huge development for a brand that’s still yet to release a smartwatch – it feels like there’s richer and easier pickings so much closer to home which would be worth reaping first.
So, what could it be that SRAM is planning on bringing to the party? If I was to pin my colours to the mast, so to speak, I would say that it's more likely to have something to do with cranksets and drivetrains.
Not the equipment you might first consider as having a marine application, and from the outset, I'm certainly not suggesting this in any capacity as a mode of propulsion.
No. Instead you might also have a vague recollection of pedal winches being used on a yacht before – it was the Emirates Team New Zealand racing team that developed the technology for the 35th America’s Cup back in 2017.
Typically, hydraulic winches are used to power the wingmast controls and the rake of the daggerboards. But, as any cyclist knows, you can generate more power with your legs than you can with your arms – so why not power these winches by pedalling? Not only that, but by using your legs for those tasks, that frees up your hands for other tasks – which is a considerable benefit, as you can imagine.
3. What to look forward to
Emirates Team New Zealand went on to win the 2017 America’s Cup using this technology and – in a UCI-esque move – pedal winches were swiftly banned for the next competition.
The plot thickens, though, with that ban having been since overturned and opening the door for SRAM to equip the New York Yacht Club American Magic racing team with all the cranksets and drivetrains it needs.
Another twist gets added once you learn that another of the challenging teams is none other than Ineos Britannia – which has itself shared that it'll be using pedal winches in the upcoming competition.
So the stage is looking set for a cycling-themed shot-out with big hitting sponsors familiar from the World Tour (Emirates, Ineos and SRAM) each vying for dominance with some still-novel tech.
It's going to be a curious one to follow – and especially we get any marine tech blow-back as a result. Further improvements to weather sealing would be a very welcome result.
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