Cannondale SystemSix Road Bike
In The Wind Tunnel
Ken Buckley is an elite road racing cyclist who has a palmares which includes both National and European Masters Circuit Championship titles as well as a British Land Speed Record. As well as running a successful coaching business, Ken is also a member of the Nuun-Sigma Sports-London Racing Team. A man who always has an eye on performance, Ken headed to the Boardman Performance Centre to find out how he could make his position on the new team issue Cannondale SystemSix Road Bike as efficient and as fast as possible.
A big part of me joining the Nuun-Sigma Sports-London Racing Team this year was their choice of bike and embrace of aerodynamics. Anyone who knows me will know my feelings on the topic of aerodynamics and how big a component of going fast I believe it is.
Before even talking to Cameron Fraser, the team manager, about riding for the team I had poured over the SystemSix white paper that Cannondale made available upon releasing the bike. The science and thinking behind their approach made absolute sense to me and I became a big fan immediately. If you haven’t read it already I thoroughly recommend it, it’s an eye-opener. Or if you have absolutely no geek in you whatsoever but you’re struggling to sleep at night, then still give it a go. So when I was given the opportunity to race a SystemSix for 2019, I jumped at the chance.
Some may say that the bike is only as good as the rider sitting on it, and whilst that may be partly true, I would say that these days you need a good rider AND a good bike in order to be competitive. Even the most aerodynamic of bikes can be rendered useless if you strap a rider on top of it sat bolt upright catching all the wind.
So armed with a demo bike, very kindly lent to me for the day by the guys at Sigma Sports, I trotted off to the newly opened Boardman Performance Centre. Here I was to get in the wind tunnel and find a super fast riding position to match my super slippery bike.
I was one of the first riders in the tunnel on a disc brake road bike so the guys running the session were intrigued to see how the bike performed both with a rider and without a rider on it. I don’t have any data to back this up but at the time they said it was the best scoring road bike they’d ever seen in terms of CdA (most useful metric to measure aerodynamic drag) when tested on its own. They also commented that the bike didn’t fall apart at high yaw (think crosswinds) and held onto its speed really well in that scenario.
With me plonked on top of it, it wasn’t so fast! Turns out I’m about as aero as an old tin shed. To ride at a speed of 50kph sitting straight armed up on the hoods, I would need to produce a whopping 620 watts of power, no thanks.
The first thing we tested was the difference between riding with arms straight on the hoods and then trying to get as low and aero as possible by dropping the elbows. To ride at 50kph in that second position the power required reduced by a monstrous 130 watts to just 490, a much more sustainable number. That’s not to say that riding in such an extreme position is sustainable in itself, but I’ll put up with a hell of a lot of discomfort in exchange for 130w!
My baseline CdA when sitting up on the hoods was a rather large 0.3334. With a few changes of position and a mental battle to use the data objectively, I let go of the need to just slam that stem and got an idea of what was working for me in order to go as fast as possible. Often aero testing is a bit of a dark art and there is rarely a rule to fit all riders and all scenarios, you really don’t know anything for sure until you test it. We found a riding position with higher handlebars that tested just as fast.
This new position was not only more comfortable but it reduced my CdA down to 0.2589. To put that CdA difference into context, if I were to ride position one for an hour around the velodrome at my FTP I would complete around 42.5km. But with the same power output in position two I would travel around 46.5km. That’s a whole individual pursuit further for no extra effort, I’ll take it.
Knowing what I know now I can select a handlebar height higher than last year and know for certain that it’s not slowing me down. Last year in pursuit of getting as slammed as possible I’d landed on a position that was very difficult to ride in the drops and so my handling on tight twisty circuits was affected. I was also seen sprinting on the hoods for most of the year for the same reason. I still claim to have been doing that one long before Harry Tanfield won his Tour de Yorkshire stage last year the same way.
So now we know for sure that we’re going to be on a fast bike in 2019, there are no excuses. I better get training!