The Tour de France sets off tomorrow for its 101st edition and over the duration of 23 days will see 198 riders from 22 teams attempt to complete 21 stages and cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometres or 2,276 miles.
If you’re a member of the Team Sky nine-man team you’ll probably be sitting on a carbon fibre bike worth £12,000 (USD $20,000). Also, most of the field will be using a Kevlar-based helmet ranging from £120 (USD $200) and upwards.
It’s certainly a hard race on the body and the bank account too.
Much of the kit used today is due to the efforts of the chemical and process industries. Carbon Fibre and Kevlar are familiar names and the breathable and lightweight cycle clothing – known as Spandex or Lycra – is also a product of our profession.
Team Sky’s bike (the Dogma F8) is the result of a collaboration between the team’s riders, bike makers – Pinarello LAB, and Jaguar cars.
Jaguar provided the aerodynamics using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and wind tunnel testing. Pinarello LAB designed and made the bikes. The riders provided the leg power and feedback during testing.
The makers claim the Dogma F8 is stiffer, more balanced, has less aerodynamic impact, and is 120 grammes lighter (for size 54) than its predecessor.
The bike’s frame is made from the same materials used to build airliners called T11001K Dream Carbon with Nanoalloy Technology from supplier Toray. It is this material that has helped create a stiffer and lighter bike.
Kevlar is part of Dupont’s advanced materials portfolio made from an aromatic polyamide (aramid) fibre. It has a crystalline structure to give body armour-like strength, vibration dampening, and the ability to deform without breakage
Since its inception almost 50 years ago, the chemistry behind the production of Kevlar hasn’t changed, but advances in the process and process control equipment have led to improved product consistency, leading to developments such as the ability to change the fibre’s natural yellow colour to suit sporting brands.
Several teams at this year’s le Tour will be wearing Dupont made ‘S-Works Prevail Team’ helmets, such as Astana, Omega Pharma-Quickstep (including Mark Cavendish) and Tinkoff-Saxo Bank.
I think we can legitimately say the Tour de France is as much about the engineers as the riders – a Tour de Engineers.