Team GB’s London 2012 Olympics bicycles – Part 1
Team GB’s London 2012 Olympics bicycles – Part 1
The pride of UK cycle manufacturing?
Posted 6 August 2012
Great Britain’s cyclists are, beyond question, currently the best in the world. But British cycling’s achievements don’t stop there. Perhaps surprisingly, the fastest bike in the world also comes from the 2012 Olympics host nation. And not only is it the fastest but the most versatile, the most exclusive – and, quite possibly, the most expensive.
The fastest bike in the world? Sprinters Jason Kenny and Sir Chris Hoy ride it. The most versatile? Soon-to-be-Sir – surely? – Bradley Wiggins won the Olympic men’s time trial on it and, like the rest of Team GB’s men’s team, rode it in the men’s road race. Exclusive? Have you ever seen one on the road? And expensive? As is often said of top-flight supercars, the price you’ll pay to buy one is only revealed on application.
Bradley Wiggins on the way to TT gold; pic by Sportivephoto.com
Whether built around the UK Sport Track or Aero Road/TT frame – specification depending on discipline – the cycle in question is distinctive in appearance and, in road race guise at least, has been described as “Fugly” in some forums. That may be because it has an uncompromisingly angular diamond layout constructed of straight-sided aero-section tubes devoid of anything that might be described as decoration. Or it may be because variations in size are accomplished by means of a “neck” between main triangle and head tube that may be set to the required top tube length during manufacture.
In any case, the aesthetic effect is, to many eyes less than lovely. Or maybe the lack of graphics that might enhance the frame’s appearance is to blame for its lack of visual appeal.
Does the manufacturer care? Probably not. The bikes aren’t made for commercial gain, but to ensure that Team GB’s cyclists ride the fastest and most reliable machinery available. According to UK Sport’s website, equipment available when the Equipment Development Program began back in 2001 was prone to fail when subjected to the high loadings applied by top sprinters.
While this may have been the case a decade ago, it is unlikely to be so now, when the techniques and materials used to work with carbon-fibre and other composites have been developed to a far greater degree. What is sure is that the UK Sport project offers Team GB’s cyclists access to machines and components developed with performance – speed and reliability – the only consideration.
By one measure, the design got close to perfection at the first attempt; visually, nothing much changed between the Beijing and London Olympic games. Airflow modelled before 2008 using the then-novel technology of Computational Fluid Dynamics air still flows the same way today. The unchanged shapes of the various tubes and, perhaps most obviously, the cowling of the aerobar handlebar stem suggests that the design was right first time.
So, suppose you want one. The cost-no-object approach unconstrained by commercial considerations adopted by UK Sport has one major drawback. If cost be no object, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to be high. The UK Sport bikes and related components are made in very small quantities using manufacturing techniques borrowed from aerospace technology that might prove prohibitively expensive if applied to series manufacture.
Or they might not; but why should UK Sport worry about getting the price of the bikes down? Not only does the organisation not need to sell the bikes, but it would surely prefer not to have to sell them to potential competitors. Indeed, they are offered for sale to meet the requirements of UCI regulations introduced in 2007, and on terms that are clear;
The equipment outlined in this document is manufactured in the UK to order by hand consequently lead time from order to delivery can sometimes be long.
Items such as the frame, forks, and helmets were developed using cutting edge techniques, this R&D was funded by UKS and British Cycling. Although most of this expenditure has been absorbed by the GB Team, the very low volumes of equipment produced, the construction methods outlined above plus the use of the very best materials means the price of these items is in line with their specialist nature.”
So, anyone with the required funds can buy what is arguably the worlds finest competition bicycle. Not many of us, then. Luckily, there’s a reasonably-priced alternative for the road. Olympic pursuit champion, ace time triallist and TV commentator Chris Boardman has been closely involved with the UK Sport cycling programme and his AiRTT time trial/triathlon frame and fork look remarkably similar to Wiggins’ TT machine. Even if they aren’t quite as exclusive, they look better and are way, way more affordable.