Home
A triumph of marginal gains in the pursuit of excellence

Sir Chris Hoy yesterday became the most successful British Olympian of all time when he won the keirin in the velodrome. Hoy owes his success to his talent, incredible determination, dedication and desire to win, that much is clear - but having the right bike helps too. 

Much has been talked about of British Cycling's now legendary attention to detail, "the aggregation of marginal gains" as Dave Brailsford likes to call it, that covers everything from training, preparation and equipment.

The UCI sets out very strict rules for the design of track bikes. That's why they nearly all look very similar. But look closer and you'll realise they're not all exactly the same. It's the job of designers and engineers to “butt up against the rules,” says Chris Boardman, who heads up a group known affectionately as the Secret Squirrel Club.

Boardman, who won a gold medal in 1992 aboard his futuristic Lotus track bike, was known for his obsessive attention to detail, leaving no stone unturned. If it could be measured, he would measure it.

Even within these tight constraints, there is still room for finding marginal gains. Under the scrutinising eye of Chris Boardman, British Cycling developed their own track bikes that have become the object of every competing nation's desire.

This programme really kicked in back in 2002. The research and development has been largely driven by ex-track racer  Dimitris Katsanis. He's become an expert in composites and his company, Metron Advanced Equipment Ltd based in Derbyshire, is the place where Chris Hoy's bike and equipment were developed. The frames are listed on the UCI's approved equipment list as Metron.

Marginal gains is about “finding 1,000 things and improving them all by a fraction of a per cent,” says Chris Boardman. When medals can be won and lost by fractions of a second, you begin to see why Team GB have become so obsessed with finding tiny improvements at every level. Even down to the nuts that hold the bike together. Put them all together and they make a difference: that's the aggregation of marginal gains.

This attention to detail has clearly paid off, with the bikes and equipment the envy of the world - and, of course, we're not for a second downplaying the role of the athlete. You could, if you want and had the money, buy a Team GB track bike for yourself. As part of the UCI's rules, all equipment used in the Olympics must be available to buy. A look at the website of UK Sport, the body that has funded the development of the bikes, reveals the frames are listed. There are no prices though, but we're making enquires as to the realistic likelihood of you or I being actually able to buy one.

Chris Hoy's bike

Chris Hoy rode the Track frame at London 2012. The weight is in the region of 1.4kg and built up meets the UCI's 6.8kg minimum weight limit. It's easy to make bikes, especially track bikes with their lack of brakes and drive train, under that limit. This gives plenty of scope for making them unbelievably stiff, which they need to be when Chris Hoy is channelling anything up to 2,000 watts into the back wheel.

Slotting into the skinny head tube is the Sprint fork. It uses a 1in steerer tube. At the speeds Hoy is hitting, in excess of 70kph, aerodynamics play a big part. And where aerodynamics are concerned, narrower for a smaller frontal area is king. According to UK Sport the length and rake of the fork are specific to each athlete. Interestingly, the fork used at the Olympics differs from the one we have photos of on this page. The fork blades  are more widely spaced creating a large space between the fork and the wheel. It's a move we presume is to benefit the aerodynamics of the bike as a whole.

The Sprint Bars are perhaps the most extraordinary looking component. An integrated design, the stem and bars are made from one-piece of carbon fibre, the length of the stem and width of the bars tailored to each athlete. As with the frame, they're not only designed to be stiff, but super aero, too.

Wheels are Mavic - not to be confused with 'magic', as has been accused by some. We have no evidence to suggest they're anything but the readily available Comete Track disc and iO five-spoke wheels available from the French wheel manufacturer. Unlike the pursuit riders who use a disc on the front, Chris uses the five-spoke wheel as it's stiffer and better suited to the sudden and violent changes of direction common in the keirin.

The cranks used are UK Sport's own carbon fibre Track chainset. It's said to offer twice the stiffness of a Shimano Dura-Ace crank yet is 200g lighter. Other Team GB riders will use an SRM Training System Edition Track chainset, which not only allows easy measurement of power output but is designed to be incredibly stiff.

The helmet, a compact aero helmet with a stubby tail and incorporated visor, is listed on the UK Sport website as the Sprint helmet. However in the keirin it appears that Hoy uses the Aero helmet.

www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/cycling/

Photos © britishcycling.org.uk

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

29 comments

Avatar
cat1commuter [1421 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Bit funny to have an article about his bike and not have any pictures of it!

Avatar
Darren C [109 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Even funnier:
'Boardman, who won a gold medal in 1992 aboard his futuristic Lotus track bike, was known for his obsessive attention to detail, leaving no stone unturned. If it could be measures, he would be measuring it.'

About attention to detail- 'If it could be MEASURED' surely, should of got Chris to check the article first!  4 4 4

Avatar
Paul M [360 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

 26 Talking about attention to detail: should HAVE, not should OF. (Should've would suffice)

Avatar
David Arthur @d... [715 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Yeah we would love to have some photos of Hoy's actual bike, but these photographers charge loads for their pics, so these from the world cup had to suffice. Sorry about that

Some good pedantic observations there  3

Avatar
lushmiester [191 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Marginal gains, the squirrel club ummm! is there a British Cycling Breeding program? that thought should get the overseas press chundering

Avatar
notfastenough [3715 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Chris Boardman in the basement with all this secret gear makes me think of Morgan Freeman's character in Batman. Bruce Wayne (alias Dave Brailsford!) goes to see him and gets shown magic wheels and other such fairy dust.

Avatar
Glossies [29 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I noticed the forks on the GB bikes had their blades spaced well way from the wheel. (unlike the old bikes in the photo's)

Avatar
d_jp [127 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I did enjoy the sense of irony when Chris Hoy was being interviewed & when asked about the "special" wheels that Team GB were using explained his surprise that the French were wondering about them... as they were made for Team GB by a French firm  1

Avatar
notfastenough [3715 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

The rumours on the french websites are that they're only stickered Mavic, but are really from McClaren, and "how can we beat F1?"

Meanwhile, BC maintain silence with coy smiles. It's not always what you've got, it's what you can worry the opposition into thinking you've got!

Avatar
londondailyphoto [77 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Didn't he tell the French that the secret was that they were very round? And l'Equipe ran that as it's cover story?

Avatar
SideBurn [890 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

You can keep the wheels! For F1 technology did anyone see Chris Hoy's leg warmers? Presumably made to measure? Cannot wait to see someone at a sportive unstrapping his/her 'Chris Hoy signature edition' leg warmers? Quality stuff!

Avatar
Raleigh [1667 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I find it hard to believe that they actually are Mavics.

Probably just rebadged.

Avatar
antonio [1134 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

What a shame all the other nations had to make do with the fantastic looking 'Look'.

Avatar
timmmers [12 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

You can buy the bikes here, or the parts. It's a requirement that Team GB bikes are commercially available. http://www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/cycling/

The other teams could buy them if they thought there was some advantage to them too. The advantage is the rider, and we have lots and lots of those right now  1

Avatar
Mat Brett [628 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I'm going to go out on a limb here, timmmers, and say you didn't actually read the article, did you? Be honest now.

"As part of the UCI's rules, all equipment used in the Olympics must be available to buy. A look at the website of UK Sport, the body that has funded the development of the bikes, reveals the frames are listed."

And then the web link at the bottom.

And the bit that says, "Of course, we're not for a second downplaying the role of the athlete."

Thanks though.

Avatar
velotech_cycling [80 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Something awry with the "reply" software here, or maybe it's my machine, who knows - anyway ... In reply to "Glossies" ...

2 different forks are used generally according to the front wheel in use and the discipline. In theory, at any rate, to get the best "aggregation of marginal gain", the fork needs to be tuned aerodynamically to the wheel.

Different pressure pattern and different boundary layer effects = different fork.

Re "are they or are they not Mavics?" ... the wheels are not listed on the UK Sport website so under the rules, they should be what they purport to be ...

Avatar
Darren C [109 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Well Paul M that's how we speak in this part of the world !
Just thought it one of those funny coincidences that there was a typo on the next sentence about attention to detail. (please feel free to correct my Somerset grammar/spelling)  4 4

Avatar
1961BikiE [254 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I don't see why they would badge the wheels as Mavic if they aren't. Surely a French company would tell the French Federation if the GB hadn't been bought from them? Though of course they may buy Mavic product, develop their own and badge them as the Mavic items. But why they don't badge up the frames. I saw a to camera piece with Chris B discussing the Secret Squirrels. He stated that after the UCI banned a lot of their kit post Beijing that Team GB have involved UCI in recent developments to make sure that they are only butting up against the rules, not going over. Why would you get 80% of your kit homologated and then use a "dodgy" product which, if you were caught would lead to stripping of results won with them?

Though to a degree this would have parallels to doping (mind set wise) but not something I could see Team GB risking.

I do wonder if they do demand to go to the Mavic facility and measure up the wheels that they do purchase to make sure that they buy the best manufactured units from any batch?

 39 4

Avatar
RTB [161 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

& likewise your post should read "should have...". Bad English my man!  4

Avatar
Decster [246 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
timmmers wrote:

You can buy the bikes here, or the parts. It's a requirement that Team GB bikes are commercially available. http://www.uksport.gov.uk/pages/cycling/

The other teams could buy them if they thought there was some advantage to them too. The advantage is the rider, and we have lots and lots of those right now  1

I doubt these bikes are available. If they were, the price would be outrageous and the waiting time many years long.

GB bending the rules all with the assistance of UCI.

Avatar
khowell2012 [1 post] 4 years ago
0 likes

Found this article on which bikes are used in the olympics, thought it was pretty cool
http://www.theranktank.com/blog/2012/08/deciding-which-bike-to-get-look-...  4

Avatar
Nick T [970 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Someone on another forum apparently enquired about pricing.

Road/TT Frame - £7,000
Road/TT Fork - £3,200
Pursuit Bars - £4,000
Seat Post - £800

Avatar
step-hent [723 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Nick T wrote:

Someone on another forum apparently enquired about pricing.

Road/TT Frame - £7,000
Road/TT Fork - £3,200
Pursuit Bars - £4,000
Seat Post - £800

Given the price you can pay for a handmade carbon frame from one of the boutique manufacturers, this is actually not so far out of the ball park. Not that it's achievable for most people, but it's not anywhere near what I was expecting! Surely, if the other big federations (France, Germany, Aus) are that concerned about it, they would just buy them at this price?

Avatar
Decster [246 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
step-hent wrote:
Nick T wrote:

Someone on another forum apparently enquired about pricing.

Road/TT Frame - £7,000
Road/TT Fork - £3,200
Pursuit Bars - £4,000
Seat Post - £800

Given the price you can pay for a handmade carbon frame from one of the boutique manufacturers, this is actually not so far out of the ball park. Not that it's achievable for most people, but it's not anywhere near what I was expecting! Surely, if the other big federations (France, Germany, Aus) are that concerned about it, they would just buy them at this price?

I bet they have tried, but told they are 'out of stock', 'waiting list', etc etc so ensure they are not available as if they are the correct prices the other frame manufacturers surely would've purchase 1 and some of the national federations too.

More questions about TeamGB cycling team are needed.

If it was the Chinese that performed all those golds in the velodrome instead of GB, there would be lots of cries of cheating and suspect doping!

Avatar
Nick T [970 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Six month lead time also apparently. I don't see why any other nation would want to buy and copy a GB bike anyhow, there can't be any magic involved just finely tuned geometry surely. They're built by us so we can test, test, and test again without having to rely on Look or whoever else who have things like actually turning a profit to consider. I'm imagining somethig like Mr Brett's Viner review turned up to 11.

Avatar
step-hent [723 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Nick T wrote:

I don't see why any other nation would want to buy and copy a GB bike anyhow, there can't be any magic involved just finely tuned geometry surely.

This was my point really - the other nations like to go on about how GB has got all this special secret kit, but actually it's just a good excuse to pin it on. They need to point to something to explain the dominance...

Avatar
antonio [1134 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

Hype again or what ? Headsets developed 1"1/8th to 1"1/2, tapered etc. all in the name of strength and stiffness then along comes Sir Chris with all the strength of a gorilla heaving his bike,built to 'super strength' all over the track, with a 1" headset, don't get it.

Avatar
Raleigh [1667 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes

I think they have a deal with Mavic, because they supply all the training wheels and tyres for the non Sky GB riders.

They probably don't pay for them, instead badging up their discs.

Personally, I think that some of the wheels they were using on the track looked like Zipps,, others distinctly lightweight.

Didn't know that lightweight made track wheels though.

 39

Avatar
msw [113 posts] 4 years ago
0 likes
Nick T wrote:

Someone on another forum apparently enquired about pricing.

Road/TT Frame - £7,000
Road/TT Fork - £3,200
Pursuit Bars - £4,000
Seat Post - £800

That's comparable to the McLaren Venge (£12k with mechanical SRAM Red). Bargain!