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Being There: Inside The Faster Wind Tunnel

October 30, 2012
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For the last few months we had heard about a new bike shop in Scottsdale, Arizona that, aside from being chock full of bikes and parts, was also home to its own wind tunnel. Sure…a real wind tunnel! Maybe a small room with a circulating fan in front of a rider, but a real wind tunnel? It just didn’t seem plausible. So, Neil and I jumped in the RBA motor coach and headed east to get the inside story.

Welcome to Faster, a one year old bike shop that now tops our list of the most complete bike shop we’ve EVER visited. The 7300 sq ft. Faster Bike Shop opened in August, 2011. It was the brain child of James Kramer (see below) who felt that the wind swept desert community needed a shop that truly catered to the big community of road riders and triathetes.

Faster is a dealer for production bikes from Cervelo, Focus, Blue and Scott. But James also knew that a custom builder would be in order for the type of customer that frequented the shop and so the Canadian built Guru got the call. Of all the bikes on the floor, the Guru Evola R was the most tantalizing to look at.

The fit room is where things get started. The room has ten wall mounted cameras to capture every aspect of a riders position and pedaling. Following his fit session, this rider went on to use the wind tunnel to test different wheels and helmets in search of the fastest set-up for himself.
                                       What are the ten most common bike fit myths according to Faster?

The metabolic test lab is where customers can get everything from their V02 to lactate numbers.

Ready to take the plunge? How about in-house hot and cold water dunk tanks to aid recovery? The Faster shop has thought of everything a performance cyclist would need to maximize their visit to the shop.

Of course, no recovery is complete with the aid of air inflated Recovery Boots. Fit guru (and quite possibly one of the smartest people in the industry) Paraic McGlynn from CycloLogic helps Neil get dialed with the boots which help circulate blood and flush out the post-effort metabolic wastes from your muscles.

With all the fitting and repositioning going on at Faster, it’s important that they have enough sizing options with different width/length stems, handlebars and extensions.

Faster has broken down the cost of speed, or rather, the high price paid with excessive drag. Each session in the wind tunnel cost $500 per hour and it’s open to individuals, clubs/teams and the industry. James said that he discounts the price for more hours needed.

Jay White is the main man in the wind tunnel control room. A sports science engineer by trade, Jay approaches each session (or  “shreds”) with the patience of a saint, but all the intensity of someone guiding space shuttle in to land. Not just an avid cyclist, Jay also climbed Mt. Everest.

Just to keep things interesting, there is a big screen monitor located on the sales room so that everybody in the store can keep an eye on the live action taking place inside the wind tunnel.

Four “shreds” were taken of Neil during his time in the tunnel. The first shred was for baseline drag numbers, second was with a 10mm longer stem and Neil in the drops, the third with a different jersey and in the drops, and the fourth was in a tucked descending position. Each shred is done at four different yaw angles to get real world riding data, where the wind is constantly changing. Ear plugs were a necessity in the tunnel due to the massive fan producing 30-mph winds merely three feet from Neil. 

Jay meticulously records all the data of every “shred” and follows up what the drag numbers read to make sure that the time spent in the tunnel is a real learning experience that can produce more efficient efforts in the real world.

Time trial bikes account for the vast majority of wind tunnel time at FASTER, but since you put so many hours in on a road bike, the potential payoff in time savings becomes much greater. Paraic took us step by step through each change, which started with adding a 10mm longer stem to allow a more stretched out position, and then a combination of different jerseys were next. What seemed like a good, comfortable fitting jersey was actually costing Neil 5-percent more drag than a skintight fit, or 2.7 seconds per kilometer at 50 kph. Surprisingly, the jersey made close to the same difference in drag savings as going from the hoods to the drops.

The final test was a simulation of a tucked descending position. Having an aero position that you can safely get into on a fast descent makes a considerable difference in drag numbers. At 30-mph, 93-percent of your wattage goes to overcoming wind drag, so keeping a low torso position and your head down can create a significant increase in speed and energy savings.  

There’s one simple rule to follow at the Faster wind tunnel…be sure to follow the rules.

James Kramer is the founder of the Faster bike shop. He is a certified bike enthusiast. How else would you describe a guy who not only installs a wind tunnel in his bike shop, but then decides to promote a Gran Fondo when the shop is just over one year old? We decided to find out.

RBA: Tell us about your background that brought you to open Faster?
James: I first got turned on to cycling by watching the Tour de France in 1988. I watched Pedro Delgado and then Greg LeMond sealed the deal. From there I started racing and spent some time racing the Kermesse in  Europe. My business was in wireless communication and consulting and that kept me pretty busy. Well, a few years ago I realized that I had gotten out of shape and decided to start riding again.

I visited the wind tunnel in San Diego and although I got some really good data, my one take-away was that the guys that work there aren’t cyclists. I mean they are smart guys and it was helpful, but they’re really aviation engineers. That’s when I started to think that there wasn’t a single place that cyclists could go to to get everything they needed to get faster on their bikes. San Diego was a lot like Phoenix in that there was a big population of cyclists with good year-round weather, but there wasn’t a one stop shop that they could rely on for good service. That was when I started thinking about opening faster. There are a lot of road riders out here, but for some reason the Tri scene is really vibrant so there are lot of local cyclists who are looking at aero products from companies like Cervelo and Reynolds.

RBA: So the wind tunnel was all it took?
Well, one of our first ideas was to have an altitude training room, but the more we thought about that, it didn’t seem like it would get a lot of use. But the wind tunnel, well, I mean how many chances do you get in life to say that you did something that had never been done before? Of course, at the time I couldn’t have imagined the amount of money and stress that it would involve, but we hired a wind engineering design firm to build it and now we have something that you won’t find anywhere else. I had Paraic (right) help design the features of the shop and he’s been a big help in creating the software we use in the wind tunnel as well as the fit room with the motion analysis cameras.

RBA: So just over one year into this, has there been one big lesson you’ve learned about the bike industry?
Yeah, the one thing I don’t understand is how they can advertise certain products or display them a the bike shows, but then not have them hit the market for over a year later. If I could get my hands on either the Look or Garmin power pedals, I know I could sell about 25 pairs of them in a week!

RBA: So how about the Gran Fondo?
Well, you can see that where the shop is located, we’re in an industrial park that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic. From looking at the calendar I saw all these towns that were having Gran Fondos with a lot of them hosted by Pro riders like Levi and George Hincapie. I decided to be the first to have a Gran Fondo in Phoenix and we secured Bob Roll as our “master of ceremonies” and he’s already signed on for next year. We had a few glitches, but no one got hurt and it was great way to get a few hundred people through the shop and out on the road enjoying a beautiful Arizona morning. 

Thanks to the Faster wind tunnel, look for a faster and more aero Neil Shirley at a Gran Fondo near you soon!

For more info: Ride Faster.


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