Bicycle helmets are the most intensely researched area of cycling aerodynamics. One mechanical engineer has pulled ahead of the pack to create a bike helmet with a unique design to maximise speed and minimise drag.
In competitive cycling every second counts, which is why so much time and money goes into the making gear sleeker and frames lighter. Bicycle helmets stand above all as the most intensely researched area of cycling aerodynamics.
University of Adelaide professor and mechanical engineer Richard Kelso has pulled ahead of the pack by creating a helmet with a unique design to give riders a huge advantage over their competition.
His efforts earned him a spot on create’s Most Innovative Engineers2017 list. Kelso was contracted as the lead aerodynamicist by Cycling Australia and Swiss-based Scott Sports SA to develop two helmets: a ‘Pursuit’ helmet for Australia’s Rio Olympic track cycling team; and an ultra-low-drag helmet for competitive road and off -road cycling.
Wind tunnel testing used a new full-size anatomically-accurate mannequin, constructed and mounted on a pursuit-style bicycle atop an accurate drag measurement rig. This allowed for detailed investigation of the flow over the helmets, head and cyclist’s entire body. Various techniques were used to gain insights into helmet-body aerodynamics in order to optimise flow and minimise drag.
Cooling studies used a purpose-built, internally-heated, anatomically-correct headform, incorporating 36 thermocouple sensors. Detailed temperature distributions and thermal images enabled identification of hot spots beneath the helmets. These studies, combined with flow visualisation and drag measurements, provided a helmet with even temperature distributions, lower average temperatures than other helmets and with minimal drag penalties.
Both projects (completed in 2016) produced helmets with lower drag than any competitors. The Scott Sports helmet (‘Cadence’) is the first road helmet to have only vents at the front and back, eliminating central vents. This maximises cooling flow and minimises drag penalty from the vents.
It has since been used in both the Tour Down Under and the Tour de France. Cycling Australia’s project (‘Mistral’) needed lower drag than any other helmet, and has to be optimised to match riding positions of each team rider.
It provides significant improvement to what is arguably the most highly-developed item of cycling hardware.
Richard Kelso is one of create‘s Most Innovative Engineers for 2017. Nominations are now open for the class of 2018. To nominate yourself or someone else, click here.