Aerodynamics and scientific ignorance

In the last few years research in aerodynamics has come to a higher level. This can be seen in several domains. For example in the automobile sector where more standard cars ar equipped with a small sportive spoiler at the back and subtile front and rear diffuser. When riding on a highway and paying attention to the small spoiler at the back of the car you will notice that already several standard cars have this aerodynamic improvement (fig 1).

Rear spoiler Blog post

There are also several other industries were aerodynamics has become of great importance, the modern racebike industry for example. Where aerodynamics is one of the several aspects in development concerning cars, aerodynamics has become one of the major topics in improving modern race bikes. One thing I already mentioned in my preveous blog.

But along with this aerodynamic research a lot of rumors and scientific misunderstandigs are spread into the world of the amateuristic cyclists. For example the introduction of high rimmed 80mm aerowheels a few years ago. Most of the professional cycling teams rode with them. This led to the fact that those wheels were bought massivly by the amateuristic rider. But a few months later we already so that there were almost no riders in the peloton anymore who rode with the high aerowheels. This because of the fact that the aerodynamic gain of the wheels is less compared with the weight difference you can get with lower rims of 40mm/32mm. As a matter of fact the wheels have there advantages but only having their full potential when speeds higher then 40km/h are reached, which is quite optimistic for an amateur rider to reach constant speeds like this.

On the other side according to the following table:

We see that the aero helmet can even gain a higher reduction of the drag then aerowheels and cost you 10 times less. But still those things are bought by the amateuristic rider. Offcourse the peloton is the best promo for bike manufacturers and part suppliers. But shouldn’t the manufacturers give more information about the purpose, advantages and disadvantages of their products? For example, if we look to Paris-Roubaix a few years ago most of the riders rode with these high aero wheels made out of carbon. Riding with super lightweight aerowheels made out of carbon on some of the worst cobblestones in the world? No, those wheels will maybe last for one ride, but are definitely aren’t made fort his purpose. But still amatueristic riders think those wheels are good for these circumstances with the result that a lot of these wheels just crack which leads to waste.

I think the amateuristic rider should be more informed about the performance of bike equipment available to them.

What do you think? Should marketing be more honest about the technical part of their product?



  1. In my own field of interest a nice video was made by the people of the Red Bull Air Race on aerydynamic and weight improvements:

    What has quite struck me about it the past 2 years is that every team does different improvements to their airplane: some add winglets, some wingtip fences, some improve the air intakes, one has moved its oil coolers to the back, some add turbulator strips in front of their ailerons, some cut weight on bolts and small parts,…

    You’d think they’d all follow the same aerodynamic and/or weight improvements like in your cycling example but here they don’t… Could it have something to do with the class requirements (e.g. in the air race there’s a minimum weight that your aircraft has to have), is this the same in cycling?

    As to the marketing aspects, I definately agree with the fact that marketing should and must get more honest about their products. We as engineers see through most of the “bullshit” in advertisement but most people just don’t… (otherwise advertisement wouldn’t work) On the other hand good advertisement for people like us is technical data, which the general public doesn’t (adequately) understand. A balance should be found for everyday products, but in terms of your cycling example my opinion is the technical way to go. Prove your product’s worth by proving it to your customers.


  2. Hi Tim, indeed in professional cycling there is a certain limit on the weight of your bike. I think that at the moment it is around 6.7 kg for a standard bike (Time trial bikes is a different story). But I don’t understand what you try the say with the example concerning the improvements of the planes.
    Because in cycling they improve more or less the same things, but all in a different way another approach. So I’d like to know what you mean. Maybe I just had a wrong interpretation of what you would like the say. For the rest of your comment I totally agree. For us engineers advertising is sometimes quite funny, because we have a certain knowledge on the technical background of the product. But indeed manufacturers should prove why there product is the best and state this with technical data.


    • What I tried to illustrate is that in cycling, like a peloton, everyone does the same to improve their bike. Like your example of all of a sudden everyone riding with these special 80mm aerowheels suddenly changing in a few months to 40mm rims, and amateurs adopted the first ones too soon without knowledge.

      This in contrast to air racing, where everyone does NOT behave like a peloton and does his own improvements, more tuned to their style of flying the race rather than “following the others approach” [of technical improvements to their aircraft].

      In fact, some of these technologies in the past were getting out of hand and resulted in deaths like putting the CG too far aft (improves speed performance but makes the plane highly instable).

      What I’m trying to say is people should think more for themselves rather than blindly looking to others. Fur us engineers this may be the most logical way to look at things but others who don’t do research could end up making the wrong choice (like your rims example) but even worse, they could lose their life in some situations due to their uninformed choice.


  3. Ok now it’s clear for me. It’s true, in the peloton you have like different trends in the peloton. One team comes with a certain innovation like example the aerowheels or aerohelmets and a few weeks later almost every team has a certain variant of it. So you could say that in the world of airplanes the teams are more innovative. In the end I totally agree with your last statement. People should definately look for theirselves what they should buy and ask theirselves the question for what purpose they need.


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