The Road to the National Senior Games Part 2

Bill Cloninger, a wellness center member at South Franklin Circle, will be competing in the National Senior Games this summer in Cleveland. He is competing in the cycling 5K and 10K time trials. 

When Bill joined the SFC wellness center in 2010, he could barely walk a mile without getting winded. With the help of SFC VP of Wellness Frank Ondus and his staff, Bill is 100 pounds lighter and off blood pressure medication. He follows a strength training regime developed just for him, and began cycling.  For more background on Bill and his South Franklin Circle wellness success story click here.

Bill has graciously agreed to share his road to the National Senior Games with us.  In these first few posts, Bill describes his experiences during a week of cycle training in Brevard, North Carolina this past April.

Part 2:  The Wind Tunnel test

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Got up bright and early, grabbed a cup of coffee and a banana and set out for Mooresville, NC.  Have an 8:00 a.m. appointment at the A2 Wind Tunnel.  A2 specializes in assessing the aerodynamics of objects from race cars to motorcycles to high tech bicycles, wheels and time trialists.

As I walk into the building I notice on one wall a quote from Werner Von Braun: “One good test is worth a 1,000 expert opinions.” In the center of the main room is a multi-screen computer display-the control center. On two walls are numerous time trial helmets, race wheels, and aero bar configurations.  If I forgot to bring any equipment, or wanted to try something new, they had it all.  I am here to see if by making changes in my time trial position on the bike I can cut through the air faster.   Dave Salazar, the manager of A2, greets me and shows me where to change into cycling clothes.  My bike is taken and mounted in the wind tunnel.  Once dressed, I am introduced to Jim, who is the bike fitter for our session.  Jim will come into the wind tunnel between tests and make small discreet changes to the bike set up.  They will test one change at a time.  My job is to try to keep everything constant from test to test so there is comparability.  By everything, they mean EVERYTHING-gearing, pedaling cadence, basic position, head position, hands and arms.   For the next hour and a half this is going to be quite a workout.

The first test is to set a base line.  From a dead start, I pedal in my time trial position stretched out on the aero bars once the fans come on. I bring the pedaling cadence up to speed, and then Dave takes two data readings and determines their average.  I quickly notice that if I’m to keep my head still, I can’t look down at my bike computer which tells me my cadence (the RPMs I’m pedaling at).  I decide to sing to myself a slightly rushed version of “Marche Slave,” which I know is around 100 beats-per-minute, my preferred cadence.  Amazingly, out of the 29 individual tests we completed, I was able to keep the cadence constant within a single RPM or two, simply by singing this Tchaikovsky theme in my head and not looking down.  The first series of tests, was determining the most aerodynamic position for a Giro Selector Time Trail helmet.  This was hard for me, as the most aerodynamic position was very uncomfortable holding my chin unnaturally high.  I’m not sure I can do this out on the road.  This is a problem.

Then we did a series of tests on aero bar position.  It turns out that the position that Tracey and Andy Applegate set for me was the best.  Then we tried lowering the aero bars further another two centimeters and that brought some improvement. (Thank you Michelle at South Franklin Circle for suggesting I work a lot on flexibility.) While I’m still not the most limber guy around, I’m sure I can make this drop in aero bar height work.   Then Jim asked me to make a small change in my hand position, just fold my fingers up and over the end of the aero bar, stretching slightly forward about an inch. This minor change made a significant improvement in my wind resistance.

I was not happy with the helmet and head position. So we tried a different helmet, the one that was used by last year’s Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins.  This helmet, a KASK Bambino, is radically different from most time trial helmets.  It does not have the “alien” long tail of a typical time trial helmet and works best with a much lower head position.  This is what I needed.  We tested it and got the best results of the day.  Hurray!!!  I’m starting to believe I can actually do this.

After 90 minutes of hard work we completed 29 individual tests, each showing the result of a single change in bike-set up or position.  Now when I get back home, I will know what impact reversing any of these small changes will have on my aerodynamics.  Von Braun was right-an actual test is worth more than many opinions!  Now I know what I’m doing.  I was exhausted and happy that we came up with a set-up and position that I can actually use racing on the road.  If the result of the wind tunnel can be replicated on the road, I will have picked up 17 watts of the approximate 30 watts Tracey believes I need to improve to be a medalist.  This was a fantastic day.

After the physically hard climbing day yesterday and the equally hard wind tunnel testing, I was beat and elated.  I drove back to the hotel, unloaded the car and took a long nap.

Next – Recovery Ride and Sightseeing

Read Part 3 of The Road to the National Senior Games

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