Sports scientists in the U.K. have developed and patented new helmet and clothing designs that they think will reduce drag and make cyclists perform even faster. “Air to the rear of an arm or leg flows upwards along the arm or leg and is a significant cause of overall drag on the cyclist,” said Robert Lewis of aerodynamics consultancy TotalSim, who worked on one of the designs alongside the English Institute of Sport.
The new helmet design channels air in through two holes on the side of the helmet and out through one on the back. (Velodrome racers currently favor a teardrop-shape helmet, which sends the air around the outside surface.) The second patent involves clothing which incorporates inverted V-shaped ridges on the underside of the limbs, which disrupt the flow of air around the arms and legs. One of the designs, called “kicks,” can either be stuck on an existing suit, or by heat-molding the material, says Lewis.
Both designs are the brainchild of U.K. Sport and the EIS and fit in with the philosophy of the British cycling team’s head, Sir David Brailsford, who believes that making minuscule improvements to every facet of the team will result in marginal gains and bring in more gold medals. (The performance of Team GB’s cyclists at London 2012 proved the efficacy of his theory.) The most famous part of the Brailsford credo concerns hand-washing and pillows–neither of which were at the top of Lance Armstrong’s To-Do list when he was looking to improve his performance on two wheels.
“There’s fitness and conditioning, of course, but there are other things that might seem on the periphery, like sleeping in the right position, having the same pillow when you are away and training in different places,” he told the BBC after the cyclists had picked up seven of the ten cycling golds on offer at London 2012. “Do you really know how to clean your hands? Without leaving the bits between your fingers? If you do things like that properly, you will get ill a little bit less. They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.”