Behind the scenes of Dan Bigham's Hour Record - part two
Last time, we delved into the physical and psychological preparation that went into Bigham’s 55.548km record. This time it’s all about the gear…
You can read part one of behind the scenes of Dan Bigham's Hour Record here.
Dan, as we did with training, let’s start by comparing Grenchen 2022 to Grenchen 2021 where you broke the British record; in other words, what were the main equipment differences?
Well, the only things that remained the same were my helmet – Kask Mistral – and my pedals – Speedplay. Oh, and my gear ratio, too, which was 64/14. In old money, that’s 123.4 inches. I was actually tempted to go a little bigger so we tested 65. But it didn’t really have much impact. Crank length stayed the same, too, as 170cm.
Okay, let’s focus on those differences, starting with clothing.
I used Bioracer’s Katana suit that was developed by Bioracer and Ineos. It was really fine-tuned to me and was a step forward, which is impressive considering the level that skinsuits have reached nowadays. It was an intensive project because we undertook lots of testing in numerous wind tunnels, outdoor velodromes and indoor velodromes, just trying to understand what was happening to the airflow around me. It’s a common theme in modern cycling that skinsuits are unique to the rider, to the speed, to their position and everything else. It was six months of test, test, test, test, test… and Bioracer really stepped up to the plate.
Which velodromes and wind tunnels did you test in?
Where do I start? Okay, so I tested at the Velodrom d’Horta, which is where Chris Boardman won Olympic gold in 1992. I tested at Derby Velodrome, Grenchen Velodrome, the Milan wind tunnel… Wherever I’ve been in the world, we found somewhere to test!
Let’s take a look at your bike. Was it a Pinarello prototype?
Yes, it was registered as a prototype, which is allowed under all UCI events, including the hour. I say that because a few people have mentioned you’re not allowed to use prototypes but that’s incorrect. A manufacturer’s basically saying, this is a big investment and we want to fine-tune our bike in competition before full production, which is exactly what Pinarello are doing with this. There were certainly lessons learned from my ride and by the time Filippo attempts the Hour Record, he could be on the production model.
The amount of effort that went into its research and design was huge – by far the biggest aspect of the entire project. It brought together many partners and there are so many unique aspects to it, but Pinarello don’t want me to talk too much about it at the moment. It’s why you probably haven’t see loads of high-def posts or photos of the bike floating around and why the bike was all black. The detail’s under wraps for now.
The bike itself was something that originally we thought wouldn’t be possible in the timeframe because we didn’t commit to the project until March. So, you have five months to make a new bike. I think most manufacturers would just laugh at you and say impossible. But Pinarello stepped up and had a lot of smart people involved. There was a lot of really interesting CFD (computational fluid dynamics) work, too, utilising one of our new cloud platforms. There’s a Norwegian company called NablaFlow, who have this AeroCloud software, which basically democratises the CFD process. So, rather than going to a CFD company and paying them lots of money, you can just do the testing yourself with this online cloud platform. That’s one thing Pinarello’s been using to good effect.
How locked in to full production is a manufacturer when using a prototype for the Hour Record?
It’s a good question, which I don’t know the answer to. I’m sure you can’t legally force someone into production or cancel the record, and I’m a 100% certain Pinarello will manufacture this bike. As soon as the Italians get on it, they’ll want it for Paris 2024. It’s certainly not a one-off model considering the investment they’ve put into it.
What about the cockpit?
That was from Pinarello’s component brand Most. You’ve probably seen it used by G [Geraint Thomas], Egan [Bernal]… because even though it was bespoke, it still fits under the commercially available umbrella, so you can go buy a set of the basebars and extensions. For me, they effectively scanned my front-end position then joined all the dots to engineer things like the specifics of hand-grip shape. Again, this was one where we undertook a lot of CFD work within that AeroCloud platform. And that’s how we ended up with some funky shapes. It’s not just Italian style, there’s some cool logic behind it.
Let’s head south. Tell us about the drivetrain.
I used a WattShop Cratus aero crank, Izumi chain, Muc-Off optimisation and CeramicSpeed bottom bracket. We also did quite a bit of work with New Motion Labs. You might have seen their drivetrain system that looks like you’re skipping every other tooth. We tested a lot of different tooth profiles and materials.
As for the WattShop Cratus, it has a friction modifier in the epoxy matrix of the carbon fibre, so rather than actually coating the chainring, it’s in the chainring. That realised a good improvement. This aspect was all testing done by Muc-Off. They spent a lot of time churning through all these options; they spent a lot of time bedding the chain in – polishing it, basically – cleaning them and lubricating them so I ended up with three different chains on race day numbered one, two and three.
And the wheels?
They were from Princeton CarbonWorks who came on as a team partner in 2021. The guy I deal with, Harrison Makris, is a design engineer and one of the founders of the companies. He just gets stuff done. This project also started in March and, again, used the Nabla CFD platform. We went through a ton of different wheel options, and did a fair amount of track testing looking at different wheel shapes, tyre protocols and different tyre sizes. The biggest standout was that we ended up using a clincher wheel while everyone still uses tubulars for a challenge like this. We also used a 25mm Continental GP5000 TT tyre but when they’re installed measure about 27mm. They’re quite a bit bigger than the usual 19s and 23s you see on the track (and the 23s I used last year).
Mind you, it all nearly didn’t happen as the first set of wheels arrived just 50 minutes before I headed to my flight from Manchester. It was a nightmare for three days trying to get them out of customs. But thankfully it came together.
And your shoes?
They were from Nimbl and I reckon they helped me to an extra 100m or so. I used a model of theirs for my British record in 2021, so approached them this year. They have a custom version called Expect. They take a mold of your foot and ascertain exactly what you’re after. Do you want laces or Boa, for example? I’m a big fan of laces because of their ability to set the tension. I also went for a leather upper with carbon. This was after lot of testing of different profiles and shapes. They were very light and very stiff.
We visited Phil Burt Innovation last year and he showed us an all-carbon number used by Bradley Wiggins on the track. You weren’t tempted with all-carbon, then?
I’ve had a set of custom carbon shoes before and found them incredibly uncomfortable. Even though they fit the shape of your foot very well, I just didn’t like the feel of a solid carbon upper. With the Nimbls, the carbon sole comes up a fair bit around your foot, which is unique in design, and then flows into that leather upper. I also used Podo insoles. They’re a London company and a French guy of theirs, Christoph [Champs], has made my insoles for years. I have dodgy arches so getting them right is important.
Uniquely, your effort was seemingly a dress-rehearsal for a colleague, Filippo Ganna. Presumably there are learnings to apply from your record?
Absolutely. The idea’s to create a blueprint in one big document that the team can tap into. But there is one big difference between Filippo and me in that this was my only focus, whereas Filippo’s obviously ridden the Tour, and has the World Road Championships and World Track Championships coming up. With his schedule, you simply can’t commit to the same level that I did when he's like that. On the other hand, he’s got 100 watts on me!
Can he break it? Of course. I’m super interested to see quite what he’ll do because we haven’t done the full distance hour yet. ‘Half an hour is not half an hour’ is a saying that we’ve adopted in the team. He’s just about to spend time on the new Pinarello so we’ll have some numbers back very soon. There are some impressive improvements just in the bike.
How far can he ride?
Understandably, I’m loathe to put a number on it. Some people have predicted 58km or even 59km. We’ll see. I think he could do something pretty big and I hope he does.
We know you and your fiancé Joss [Lowden] are fans of collecting beers. Did you celebrate with one in particular?
Of course. I’ve been going to Grenchen for five years or so, and noticed early on that there was this great brewery in the centre of town. It’s called Granicum and it’s seemingly never open. Well, before the bid, I walked past and they had a sign out saying open on Friday. It was like it was meant to be. So after the bid, I tried the entire menu after starting with a wheat beer!
Finally, we know you and Joss were planning to marry this autumn. Still on the cards?
Yes, and thankfully Joss is leading on that one. It should be a memorable day.