Cycling equipment has evolved over the years from research in a variety of fields, including engineering science.

Dr Lindsey Alton, Guilhem Cornillon and Pierre Eloi (CPIT) and Dr Mark Jermy (University of Canterbury) are using 3D printers to test new helmet designs aimed at reducing aerodynamic drag.

3D printing builds 3D models by adding successive layers of material using a computer programme. It enables slight tweaks to be made in designs, in this case, of the cycling helmets.

How to improve performance

During a race, cyclists need to gain speed to improve their performance. A cyclist transmits power to the bike, which in turn transforms it into speed. There are two ways to improve this performance: either increase the power transmitted or reduce the power needed.

Reducing aerodynamic drag

One solution to reduce the power that is needed is to minimise the loss of power caused by the headwind, called aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamically efficient equipment helps reduce the forces slowing a cyclist down. This makes it easier for them to maintain a higher speed. At the same time, it saves their energy and so improves their endurance, leading to an improved overall performance.

The cyclist’s helmet

An important piece of a cyclist’s equipment is the helmet, which provides essential head protection.

This project aims to look at the aerodynamics of helmets used in competitive track cycling, studying both the positioning on the head and shape, size, number and placement of aeration holes. At the same time, the temperature of the head is measured to understand how the aeration influences heat concentrations around the head.

3D printing

A complete helmet shell was designed and manufactured using 3D design software and a 3D printer. A flexible heating resistance was then added inside the head to allow measurement of the temperature variations under the helmet.

Wind tunnel testing

The research team are using Canterbury University’s wind tunnel to analyse airflow and drag as high-speed wind moves over the various helmet prototypes. The results will help determine how the number and location of holes affect aerodynamic drag and heat loss.

Each helmet will be evaluated in term of aerodynamic and thermic performances in order to define the best helmet design. This research could be used to assist the New Zealand cycling team to improve their race speeds.

Activity idea

In this activity, students investigate the aerodynamics of various shapes. They observe airflow over the shapes to find out which shape is likely to produce the least aerodynamic drag.
Investigating airflow over shapes

    Published 25 September 2014