Cycling innovations continue to impress
In the innovation race in the race cycling arena Flemish companies Ridley, Bioracer and Lazer Sport are at the top. And just like the brand new technology from Formula 1 bolides is spilling over onto the average family car in the automobile industry, new technology of race cycles finds its way to common city bikes. It makes sense, therefore, that research and development plays such a key role in these sectors. Antwerp-based Lazer Sport spends an annual 800 000 euros on research and development and recently invested 250 000 euros to develop and run extensive wind tunnel tests on its latest offering the WASP, the most aerodymanic cycling helmet ever. Like Formula 1 racing, cycling has developed into a high-tech industry after its more humble innovative breakthroughs in the nineties, with the ascent of aluminium followed by the even lighter composite materials like carbon fast replacing its steel predecessor. This was followed by experiments by mountain bike brands in the US on frames and accelerator techniques, with new innovations almost spinning out of control. Following experiments on aerodynamics with his small engineering team in Limburg, Belgian bicycle manufacturer Ridley’s CEO Joachim Aerts launched his latest showpiece and top of the range bicycle, the Noah Fast. Boasting integrated wire rope and an ultra-light racing handlebars, the bicycle’s other assets will remain a secret until it is launched at the Tour de France. With competition a constant issue, the fight for innovation is a fight for patents. Ridley have three patents on the Noah Fast while Lazer has four running for its helmet. The speed at which components are upgraded for example hydraulic disk brakes and electronic acceleration devices could see the common run-of-the-mill racing and city bicycle equipped with all these extras in the next few years. Sports clothing manufacturer Bioracer from Tessenderlo developed a feather-light, aerodynamic suit worn by the German Tony Martin, who won the world title time-trialling last year. Bioracer’s founder and CEO Raymond Vanstraelen has teamed up with the Louvain research centre IMEC to explore the possibilities of integrating nanotechnology and electronics in their suits. Racers are already using a built-in GPS device and power meter, but the next phase could see their cycles and suits equipped with biosensors for data on heartbeat, blood pressure, blood oxygen etc.. Not to talk about the intelligent bike that will adjust to the surface of cobbled roads to absorb shocks? Like medical doping, which has tarnished this sport for years, these technical gimmicks also run the risk of damaging the sport and raising questions about unfair competition from the cyclist wearing the most state-of-the-art suit and riding the best bicycle. To this end the international cycling union UCI has banned the use of these ultra-advanced suits and competing on cycles that weigh less than 6.8 kilogram. The Flemish government, convinced that these innovations contribute to economic growth and job creation, has in recent years subsidized research projects run by Bioracer, Ridley and Lazer via the Flemish government agency for Innovation and Science and Technology IWT. And then there is also Bike Valley, the cluster where the three cycling manufacturers have joined forces in recent years. If minister-president Kris Peeters approves their proposal and grants a subsidy of 800 000, they plan to build a 2 million-euro wind tunnel. With their combined research budgets they hope to offset competition from big multinational companies.