UCI HOUR RECORD
This was the distance Dan rode back in 2014 at Palmer velodrome in Reading. I’m not even sure he knew that that day would mark the beginning of an eight year relentless pursuit of the UCI World Hour Record.
This blog post is not a deep dive into the data, nor a breakdown of the bike he rode. This is simply a blog looking at Dan’s latest Hour and how WattShop played its part.
Two things stand out about Dan’s first hour ride that are just as prevalent in his latest hour. The first of which? Pushing the letter of the regulations. Okay, strictly speaking Dan’s first effort was on a TT bike which is not legal but that aside, he was already positioning trip-strips on his shins. The second thing? Pink. Of course. His Oxford Brookes Cycle Team kit had a strong pink colourway. We can only assume this was Dan’s influence.
Fast forward a few years and despite Covid19 scuppering the HUUB Wattbike Test Team plans to take on numerous world records in Bolivia, Dan’s relentlessness endured. From early 2020 through to the end of 2021 he managed no less than four Hour rides.
February 2020 – Derby, UK – 52.631km
February 2021 – Manchester, UK – 53.300km
July 2021 – Odense, Denmark – 54.781km (flying start)
October 2021 – Grenchen, Switzerland – 54.723km (British Record)
The process was taken one step at a time; one big target broken down into smaller goals. He knew where he wanted to get to and these were checkpoints and experiments along the way.
For 2022 and with Dan now the Performance Engineer for INEOS Grenadiers, the dynamic had changed. The project stepped up a notch with a team lead by Ben Williams and a collective group of partners willing to invest their knowledge and resources to find the distance needed to break the world record. Dan has always been the driving force behind every Hour ride so to come into this with a team of people pushing for the same goal meant no improvement was going to be missed, every avenue was going to be explored and not a single thing was going to be left to chance. Is anything ever left to chance when there’s a Dan Bigham spreadsheet involved!?
From a WattShop perspective we knew the drivetrain was the area we needed to focus on. A development pathway is never straightforward and we’ll be the first to admit the development of the Cratus crank has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Ashton Lambie’s 3.59 Individual Pursuit world record being one of the highs whereas the lows included Dan and Joss being unable to use the crank for their respective 2021 Hour attempts. Delving into this in greater detail, let’s take a brief look at the lows, what we learnt and how we've applied that going forward.
The carbon Cratus crankset is an ambitious project. Various prototypes showed the aerodynamic savings were there and not just from the striking aerodynamic profile that most associate with its speed. The hardest part was consistently manufacturing a crank that achieved the lateral and torsional stiffness targets that met the needs of the world’s leading track sprinters, producing well over 500Nm of torque! We achieved our initial targets; the crank Ashton Lambie used was testament to this. Our initial production crankset had been all over the world from our workshop on the outskirts of the Peak District, to a Hong Kong World Cup and back to the UK via a World Record ride in Mexico. The frustrating part was that we couldn't consistently manufacture the crank without compromising one of our key design features whether that was the low Q Factor, the desire to combine with a powermeter or the ability to sustain very high peak loads. Whilst it may seem odd to mention our struggles in this area, we feel it is important to demonstrate that whilst we face challenges along the way and the road to success is not straightforward, development never ends.
We took these challenges in our stride and whilst the development of the carbon crank is ongoing, we all knew the aerodynamic savings and the unique aspects of the design couldn’t be put on the shelf and left to gather dust. An alloy crank has always been a possibility and whilst we know there’s plenty of “weight weenies” out there, aerodynamics, particularly on the track, trump any impact of additional mass. We went about reducing the mass of our alloy crank design by simplifying the layout of the crank and its component count. Out with the spider, the extra chainring bolts and in with a dome cover allowing access to the spindle from the outside.
What we ended up with was a crank that achieved our targets of aerodynamic savings paired with lateral and torsional stiffness. The design is modular but most striking of all is the 134mm Q factor and the interchangeable pedal inserts for different crank arm lengths. In some instances, we’re able to offer an even shorter spindle to narrow the Q factor further still. On a related side note, and a quirky fact; Q factor stands for “quack” factor and is a reference to the wide stance of ducks.
Chainrings. In early 2021 we went back to the base materials. With the exception of the Pyramid PEEK carbon chainrings, the market is saturated with fairly standard alloy and carbon chainrings, some of which have an applied friction reducing coating. The problem with this is that coatings wear away; they don’t last. Going back to the base material allowed us to experiment with low friction additives that would not wear away, that would perform for the lifespan of the product. The pathway led us to test numerous nano-scale low friction additives with different weightings of additive in the layup. Not to stop there, we investigated different carbon fabrics, settling on a biaxial layup that provided increased strength and lower weight; two desirable performance traits.
Pairing this with the crank, we designed a wider 6mm thick chainring to flow seamlessly from crank to chainring to chain. A stepped tooth profile means the outer plates of the chain align with the face of the chainring which in turn aligns with the dome of the crank. The result is reduced air flow separation off the chain and unparalleled chainring stiffness.
With the stable of partners available through INEOS Grenadiers we were offered the opportunity to send our products to Muc Off who carried out a large matrix of testing and optimisation. Their results validated our findings with the WattShop Cratus chainrings and cogs coming in more efficient than other options tested. It’s always a great feeling to have your own findings validated and this gave us more confidence that the crank we were supplying not only carried market leading aerodynamics but also market leading drivetrain efficiency.
Nothing was going to be left to chance in this attempt. Hour effort number six and this was the test run for the real thing. In June 2022, the team headed to Grenchen for a fully sensored up test run. 55.216km achieved in a “science experiment” of a ride. Record unofficially broken. Roll on the official UCI World Hour Record attempt!
This blog wasn’t going to be data driven but here are a few metrics from the day for those who are interested:
Air Pressure: 967.1mBar
Temperature: 27.3 degrees
Air Density: 1.113kg/m^3
It was a good day but don’t let that fool you. As @Aimser Sport tweeted, “The atmospheric circulation patterns were in his favour, with surface pressure around ~10th percentile of August values. But he was in such phenomenal shape that I estimate he would beat the record on more than 95% of August hours.”
2.30pm CEST, August 19th. The day was run with meticulous military precision, as you would expect from the team. The pacing strategy was set, a negative split. At roughly 20 minutes the deficit was going to be at its largest, at 40 minutes back level. However, the deficit never went out as much as planned and by the time he pulled the time back his 5km average speed was continuing to increase. Not many people there? That was by design. Deadly silent for the first 45 minutes? Again, by design. Although the large photo clattering down from the wall wasn’t by design. Jonny shouting lap splits and specific actionable guidance every time Dan flew past, definitely by design.
Two numbers that observers are always interested in. Watts and CdA. Dan didn’t use a power meter so we can’t provide you with measured numbers however you’ll find below a graph of watts vs CdA for the above-mentioned conditions.
Dan will be the first to admit he’s not a world level road cyclist but this would be doing him a disservice. Road cycling is a different discipline to a pursuit or a TT and Dan has never endeavoured to find success on the road. Case in point he very rarely rides a road bike, he almost exclusively rides his TT bike. He understands the needs of his chosen discipline and for the past eight years he has been on a journey becoming not only a world class engineer but also a world level track rider.