Monday, August 27, 2012

Trip & Review of A2 Wind Tunnel

 Where the heavy lifting is done
Recently I bit the bullet and decided to take my Aero loving self to A2 Wind Tunnel. Now, the first thing that makes people cringe when they hear you talk about "tunnel time" is the high price of entry. A2 is (to my knowledge) the cheapest of the tunnels available to cyclists, at around $420.00/hour. Not cheap by anybody's standards... but then, let's have a look at what kind of gains we are talking about for the Bones you are ponying up.

Grams of Drag going in - 2981
First Ride of the day

Grams of Drag coming out - 2811
Kind of like Floyd, but without the doping scandal or similarity to the green goblin

For those of you who haven't passed 1st Grade, that's 170 grams dropped. So Chris, you say, what  does that mean in "real world" terms.

Steve Hed (HED Cycling) would have you believe that you can save 3 seconds (in a 40k) for every 10 grams of drag you drop.  After some quick math, you (I) get 51" in a 40k, or around 2 minutes for a 1/2 Ironman. That's pretty ok considering I didn't have to do any more work for that... "Free" speed if you will, if you are willing to consider that $80/Watt is "free."

I'd say *most* people who went into a wind tunnel could expect to lower the cost/savings ratio by a substantial amount though. My position (the one I came in with) was one of the faster positions we tested all day. I figured as much, as I've spent A LOT of time doing independent tests to get to that point. However, as you can see, even I came away with some solid gains (and changes), and the peace of mind that now I know for sure what is "best" for me going forward. 

Now for a little more about the experience and what to expect.
The Wizard behind the curtain is David Salazar (the General Manager) and he runs a tight ship. This is what he does on the daily so you don't need me to tell you he knows what he's doing! We got pretty well down to business from the get-go. I chose to run stock wheels (instead of my aero wheels) per John Cobb's advice, and I didn't change wheels at any point due to it eating up time. (It's a bit of work to get the wheels changed, and, despite the numbers always being a bit skewed by the company showing theirs as "best" there is plenty of wheel wind tunnel data out there) I spent the majority of the time on hand position, pad width, bar height, bottle placement and helmet selection. These are things that are important and very individualized from person to person, so they are what I would recommend anyone taking the trip to focus on. For the most part you already want to have your position dialed in... making changes to bar height / width, etc is one thing, but re-doing your tri bike fit in the tunnel is just a massive expense for naught.

Jim O'Brien is the man who was called in for me to help with the mechanical/fit changes and let me just say, he is an EXPERT at what he does. Very knowledgeable with a wide experience base, but not so set in "his way" that he isn't willing to experiment or listen to your input. That's the exact kind of thing you want in an environment like this.

The experience itself is kind of "otherworldly" if you will. The outside of A2 is fairly unassuming, as is the town surrounding it. Only the race inspired street names (and race car trailers driving by) would give you any hint that something serious was going on around what looks like an industrial park. Once you come inside you are greeted by a very nice office, complete with plenty of pictures of exploits that can be at least partially credited  to time spent at A2... world record accolades aplenty. In the main "office" you'll see three computer monitors (Pictured above) where Dave does the technical parts. On the side wall are plenty of *toys* for you to test out if you didn't bring enough of your own. (tons of helmets, aerobars, hydration options, wheels... enough to make any tri shop proud)
The Buffet Line

Inside the actual tunnel, after securing your bike (watch your step!) and clipping in, getting the gear set for you to pedal in (you should cut all your cables before going in... they are just going to be in the way when you start moving things around) and a quick tutorial by Dave on what to be doing (and not doing... HOLD STILL) everybody exits and there you are, alone in the tunnel with nothing but a projected computer screen on the floor to keep you company. Dave then comes over the loudspeaker to tell you to get ready (I thought I was pretty witty when I replied "Yes God?" Sadly they couldn't hear me so I had to pretend like it was funny and move on) and then... the fans start! Let me just say... it's loud... and windy. Then, around 2 minutes or so later (You are pedaling the entire time, not *hard* but certainly at a healthy pace), your run is done and you can wait for Jim's either slight approval or complete dismay at the results, then it's time to change things and go again. After 28 runs, I felt like I had been beaten up on the bike... and my form was starting to suck (hey, it gets hard to hold the same position without squirming for that long) so that was the end for me. After that it was back to the main office to discuss what "it all meant" and what we ended up with, along with a Q&A where I spouted as many questions as I could think of. Then, it was off to re-fuel start the trek back home.

Dave, myself and Jim right after the last run of the day

So, wrapping up, is A2 for everyone? Was it worth it? Do you need to be a speed demon to get anything out of it?
I'll answer all of those questions with a question. How important is going as fast as your "motor" can take you in your next race? Personally I wasn't blessed with a big engine, but I want to be as fast as possible, so for me, it was well worth it. If you enjoy the local race or occasional big race but 2 minutes isn't going to make or break your day, then no, I don't think it's for you. The experience itself was worth the price of admission for me, I mean really, how often do you get to play in the same tunnel that Lance, Crowie, Drag cars and Superbikes (motorcycles) are in day in and day out? I mean... just look at the friggin' tunnel!

I had a joke about getting blown, but I'll let you be creative

How Awesome is That! I mean really, that thing is out of some Sci Fi movie!

For some extended reading on Aerodynamics (and testing) You could check out some of the following.

Here is my original thread on Beginner Triathlete
Bike Radar had a nice article on "How Aero is Aero" that is good for extended reading.
A link to the Chung Method Power model (for even cheaper home testing)

-Christopher Morelock

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