RBR Newsletter

Lessons From The Specialized Wind Tunnel, Part 1

In a surprise turn of events this winter, my masters racing team changed names and sponsors, becoming the Spokesman Bicycles Team, racing for the Santa Cruz, California, bike shop of that name, and picking up Specialized Bicycles, the shop’s main brand, as one of our primary company sponsors.

Wade Hall, Spokesman’s owner, is a friend, and one of the top bike fitters in the country− perhaps the world−since he’s worked with pros like Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck brothers and corroborated with other top bike-fitters for years.

I’ve written about how he’s helped me dial in my riding position and deal with limitations in past columns. So, you can understand why I and all my teammates are so excited about our new team and being able to race for Wade’s shop. We’re also psyched to be racing for Specialized.

“Innovate or die”

Specialized Bicycles is actually located only an hour from Santa Cruz, in Morgan Hill, California. They have a super reputation in cycling and you might expect to find a large campus, like the Silicon Valley titans a short drive up the highway, Google, Oracle and eBay. Yet, Specialized is in the same modest office buildings they’ve been in since the 1980s. The company doesn’t lead the industry in sales, either.

However, when cycling innovation becomes the yardstick (their longtime motto being “Innovate or die”), Specialized leaps out of the bike-company peloton and tops the competition by as great a margin as Niki Terpstra won Paris-Roubaix last Sunday on his Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 with their S-Works Evade aero helmet helping him solo home in dominant fashion.

From the first pro-level clincher tire, to the first production mountain bike, the list of Specialized’s innovations is so long it’s been covered in books. What I want to tell you about is their newest tool for taking their innovations even further in the future−their very own wind tunnel.

Thanks to our new team and sponsorship, I was invited to attend an open house there as the guest of the Specialized aero engineer who helped build and helps run the facility, Mark Cote, and Wade, who, as a large Specialized retailer and Specialized Body Geometry fitter, works closely with them.

Members of our masters team and the Santa Cruz Triathlon Club were invited to attend, watch and learn in the gallery, which is like a classroom with glass walls looking into the tunnel at the rider and flat screens on the wall displaying the data from the computer that Mark operates during wind tunnel testing.

Old, stiff amateur and young, flexible pro

Like my teammates and the triathletes, I was there to listen, watch and learn, too, but I was also chosen to suit up and ride in the tunnel as an amateur masters racer, while local pro triathlete Eric Clarkson played the role of ultra-flexible superstar (our respective riding positions were transferred to the custom bicycle in the tunnel (photo).

This gave Wade and Mark the opportunity to analyze two very different athletes and demonstrate how experimenting in the wind tunnel with positional and equipment changes can offer significant gains. I found it fascinating and learned a few lessons that I think all roadies will benefit from knowing, no matter how you ride. I’ll share those lessons next week, in Part 2 of this column.

I should also make it clear that our tunnel visit was for a class demonstrating what’s possible. At this writing, Specialized is not set up to do actual wind tunnel testing on an individual basis. While that may happen in the future, right now the wind tunnel is being used for product development and to benefit their professional riders. They can actually fit an entire team inside to analyze pack drafting (keep reading).

So check back next week to hear the lessons that I think you’ll find interesting and valuable in your everyday riding.


Jim Langley has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for 38 years. He's the author of  Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached 7,412.

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