As has happened so frequently through-out the industry of late, it was less than a year ago that the folks at Specialized realized that the latest aero helmet they released at the2011 Tour de France (TT3 w/a shield) was already falling behind in the battle of aero supremacy. Such is the lighting fast breakthrough in new aero ideas. Lucky for Specialized, they had their on-going partnership with famed Formula One car maker McLaren to fall back on for additional R&D testing.
Drawing air in and exiting it out out the rear, the "gill vent" is located just behind the ear and is credited with being the biggest advance in aero speed benefits of the helmet
And so the new SWorks+McLaren TT helmet was born. Specialized released
the new lid just one week prior to the start in Liege and showed up in
the Belgium with two (pre-production) helmets for each of their
sponsored teams. As usual with the Morgan Hill, CA based company, it
wasn’t just a thumb drive and brief explanation they had to offer – it
was an army of the design team and engineers that surrounded us for a
patio lunch next to the Saxo team headquarters. New to the team was
recent hire Chris Yu, who besides his current gig of working with
Specialized, is simultaneously getting his PhD from Stanford University in
aerodynamics. Chris is one of those typical “smart guys” who is also an
avid cyclist and is now melding the two worlds for the betterment of
aero fans everywhere.
The round frontal area was the by-product of hours of wind tunnel and CFD computer time. Chris said the idea of running a visor was 86'd due to information they gleaned showing they are actually worse for aero efficiency.
As Chris told the story of the new helmet, it’s
not just shorter (as is the trend for most TT helmets), it also
employs new design ideas about ventilation and efficiency that was the
result of parallel path R&D with the F1 car guys based in the UK.
Best of all, Specialized said that this project (which followed the
vaunted Venge last year) also helped them glean new aero ideas that
could be applied to other products as well.
As opposed to the old days when aero helmet were little more than fiberglass shells with no internal protection, the Specialized helmet has all the accoutrements of a CE approved helmet. Two sizes will be available.
Here's the exhaust port for the new helmet.
The project started by
first designing an all new mannequin to use in the wind tunnel and doing
their best to adapt a new level of “repeatability” in how they measured
improvements. “We knew we had to design a new helmet,” Chris said, “and
we knew the relationship with McLaren could pay off with the time
spent co-developing it. The first idea we had to was to throw out
everything that we knew about aero helmet design previously.”
Chris Yu was a key player in the design team that created the new SWorks+McLaren aero helmet.
the ol’ clean sheet of paper message. Well, 59 CAAD design versions
later, a new shape took hold, shorter yes, but a key addition was the
addition of what Specialized was calling their “gill vents” which acts
as much as a drag reduction feature as it does a traditional vent. The
cool part of the story was that Chris said the helmet’s final shape was
made to prioritize the vastly changing orientations that any helmet, but
especially an aero helmet, will see as a rider, not just a Pro Tour
rider, bobs, weaves raises and drops their head during a TT or Tri
effort...or in Chris’s words, to design a helmet that “doesn’t penalize
user error.” Wow, if only they could design a bike and personal
computer with the same traits!
Like the McLaren Venge, right now the helmet is a very limited production item – around 250 made for release early next year.
For more info: Specialized