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de

Race Bicycle Wheels

Jrgen KNUPE

Wing-Light.de, Johann-Ziegler-Str. 10, 85221 Dachau, Germany

David FARMER

Wing-Light.de, Elisabethstr. 21, 80796 Mnchen , Germany

1 ABSTRACT

In the modern sporting world, not only professional, but also amateur and hobby athletes try to

permanently improve their performance and results in competitions besides their main job.

In some sports the equipment choice plays a huge role in the overall performance. In cycling,

particularly time trialling and triathlon competitions, the rider has to fight against the clock

without outside assistance. Improving sports equipment has therefore become a big business and

the number of manufacturers and their different products is almost uncountable.

As the power, needed to overcome aerodynamic drag, increases cubically with speed, good

aerodynamics are essential to competitiveness in these kinds of races.

The wheels are only one part of the overall aerodynamics of the unit rider-bike (~10%), however

an athlete can gain significant time advantages with the optimum choice of wheels and tyres.

With competitions often being decided by a handful of seconds after several hours of racing, this

can be the difference between winning and also-ran.

As wind tunnel testing is very expensive and almost unaffordable for small companies, these

investigations should show if a virtual wind tunnel in CFD can demonstrate the same effects as a

real wind tunnel with comparable aerodynamic forces. By investigating six different wheels with

varying rim profiles, depths and spoke counts, combined with upstream flow angles varying

between 0 and 30, this study should show if CFD is a valid tool to develop aerodynamic bicycle

wheels.

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

2 INTRODUCTION

Real world race conditions never offer perfectly still air or frontal wind (0). Bicycle wheels

have therefore to be developed for upstream flow angles, which are experienced in typical

weather conditions by a typical racing cyclist.

Aerodynamic drag and side forces were determined using FIRE v2008.1 and the characteristic

curves compared with results from wind tunnel tests from the leading wheel manufacturers.

The time differences for the wheel sets for a given power output of a rider were calculated

analytically, taking into account the before mentioned drag forces.

3 MAIN SECTION

Figure 1: relationship between wind angle, wind speed and bicycle speed

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

The effective flow velocity and yaw angle can simply be determined by vector addition of the

bike speed vector and the wind speed vector (Figure 1).

This means, the higher the bicycle speed and the lower the wind angle, the lower the yaw angle.

Average wind speeds are rarely above 20 km/h in our areas. Professional time trial (TT) riders

achieve average speeds up to 50 km/h, good hobby and amateur riders up to 45 km/h, and

average triathlets between 35 km/h and 40 km/h.

For all possible wind angles with a wind speed up to 20 km/h this means, that professional

cyclists rarely experience yaw angles above 20.

Even amateur or hobby cyclists rarely have to fight against upstream flow angles between 20

and 25.

Only cyclists with an average speed of 35 km/h or less would experience yaw angles approaching

30.

These simple investigations highlight why the major wheel manufacturers optimize their

aerodynamic wheels for yaw angles up to 15.

3.2.1 SIMULATION MODEL

All CFD simulations were performed with FIRE v2008.1 in steady state mode using the k-e-

turbulence model.

The virtual wind tunnel consists of a moving road, inlet boundary with 11.11 m/s (40 km/h) inlet

velocity and 1 bar outlet pressure boundary. The three remaining sides are defined as symmetry.

Figure 2 shows the simulation domain with its dimensions.

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

The rotating wheel is modeled with the MRF (multiple reference frame) method. Therefore the

entire wheel is covered inside the MRF volume with the arbitrary interface between MRF volume

and the wind tunnel domain (see Figure 3).

For all simulations the wheels rotate around the y-axis with the respective rotational speed of

316.73 rpm. The yaw angle was varied by turning the wind tunnel around the z-axis through the

respective angle.

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

6 wheel geometries were investigated, which differ in rim depth, rim profile and spoke count. All

investigated wheels are thought to be aerodynamic wheels with rims built of carbon and

considerably deeper than traditional aluminium rims.

The models were meshed with Fame Hybrid. The overall simulation mesh consists of 1Mio (disc)

to 6Mio (Zipp 303) cells.

Zipp 303, rim depth 44mm, 20 spokes Campagnolo Bora, rim depth 53mm, 18 spokes

Lightweight, rim depth 55mm, 16 spokes Zipp 808, rim depth 84mm, 18 spokes

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

The simulations showed a large dependency of the yaw angle on the drag force (Graph 1), as it is

already known from various wind tunnel tests by bike journals and wheel manufacturers.

For 0 yaw angle, i.e. no wind or head/tail wind, the difference between the wheels is marginal.

The disc wheel showed decreasing drag with increasing yaw angle, up to 20 yaw, where the drag

even turns negative.

The next best wheels are the Zipp 1080 and 808 with decreasing drag for yaw angles above 10.

The Lightweights are a good solution for high yaw angles (>20); at 30 yaw angle they produce

even less drag than the Zipp 808 and only little more drag than the very deep Zipp 1080 rims.

The worst wheel in this investigation was the Campagnolo Bora, with 55% more drag than the

Zipp 1080 at 20 yaw. Even the Zipp 303 with lower rim than the Bora generated less drag than

the Bora over the entire investigated yaw angle range.

Graph 1: Drag force for different yaw angle at 40 km/h air speed

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

The side force (Graph 2), i.e. the air forces acting perpendicular onto the wheel, depends on the

projected area in y-direction (Figure 3). That means, that the side force increases with increasing

rim depth. The gradient is linear over the yaw angle, except for the disc wheel.

Graph 2: Side force for different yaw angle at 40 km/h air speed

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

To calculate the power (chapter 3.4), which is needed to move a wheel through the air, the

translational drag coefficient cw and the frontal area A of the wheel is needed. The product of

cw*A, which is independent of the air speed, is plotted in Graph 3 and shows similar

characteristics as the drag force.

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

One of the big advantages of CFD simulations is the possibility to visualise the streamlines, i.e.

the characteristic flow around a part. In the case of a rotating wheel the air is deflected

downwards by the front part of the rim (Figure 6) and forms big eddies close to the ground on

both sides behind the wheel (Figures 6 & 7).

Figure 7: Streamlines around and velocity plot behind rotating Zipp 1080 wheel at 40 km/h

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

As we do not have the facilities to do our own wind tunnel tests to compare with our CFD results,

we have to rely on tests done by bike journals or the leading wheel manufacturers. The problem

with these external tests is, that they mostly are carried out under different conditions and these

conditions are not well documented.

Also the influence of the "up-side-down" forks, in which the wheels are held in wind tunnels, on

the measured drag is not known. In our CFD simulations the wheels were rotating without an

additional device to hold it in place.

But it is at least possible to compare the characteristics of different wheels and to classify them in

terms of drag.

Graph 4 shows the power, which is needed to move a wheel through the air at 45 km/h bike

speed, i.e. the frontal air speed was kept const. at 45 km/h for the different yaw angles, which

means that the wind tunnel speed had to be increased for increasing yaw angles. In our

simulations in contrast the wind tunnel speed was held const. This leads to the fact, that in this

wind tunnel test of the German journal Velomotion, the drag (power) is higher than in our

simulations, the larger the yaw angle.

From our investigations, the Zipp 808 (green), Lightweight (red) and a disc wheel (orange) was

measured.

The disc wheel and the Lightweight show very similar characteristics in measurement and CFD

simulation. Also the characteristic of the Zipp 808, to generate more drag than the Lightweight

for yaw angles > 20 is a good agreement between test and CFD. Only the characteristic fall-off

in drag at 10 yaw angle for the Zipp 808 can not be seen in the CFD simulations.

Graph 4: Wind tunnel test of german bike journal Velomotion: power needed to move the wheel

through the air at 45 km/h bike speed for varying yaw angles

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

Graph 5 shows the drag forces measured in wind tunnel tests from HED Cycling.

The measurement demonstrates again the characteristic fall-off in the drag curve at around 10

yaw angle, for both Zipp wheels, the 808 and 1080. The difference between the 3 wheels is

similar to our results.

Graph 5: Wind tunnel test of wheel manufacturer HED: drag force at 30mph for varying yaw

angles, Campagnolo Bora (red), Zipp 808 (green), Zipp 1080 (blue)

The manufacturer Zipp measured the side forces on the wheels, which are plotted in graph 6.

The result is pretty much the same as in the CFD simulations: with increasing rim depth and yaw

angle the side forces increase. The gradient is linear over the yaw angle, except for the disc wheel

(compare with Graph 2)

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

Graph 6: Wind tunnel test of wheel manufacturer Zipp: side force at 30mph for varying yaw

angles

It may be nice to know, that one wheel performs better than another. But when it comes to racing,

it is the time differences that count.

The velocity of the bike and rider is the result of the balance between the propulsive force applied

to the pedals and the sum of all the resistive forces acting on the bike. These resistive forces

include some obvious (wind resistance or drag, ascending slopes and rolling resistance) and some

less obvious (inertia of the wheels and effiency of the drivetrain) forms of resistance. Martin et al.

(1998) proposed an equation to model the power required to maintain any velocity:

Total Power = Power drag + Power rolling resistance + Power friction + Power slope + (Power

acceleration)

Power drag: Pd = va*vb*1/2*dens*cw*A

Power rolling resistance: Pr = vb*crr*mt*g*cos(tan-1(Gr))

Power friction: Pf = vb*(91+8.7*vb)*10-3

Power slope: Ps = vb*mt*g*sin(tan-1(Gr))

Power acceleration: will be neglected, as we consider only const. speed

va air velocity of the bicycle tangent to the direction of travel of the bike and rider

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

(which depends on wind velocity and the ground velocity of the bicycle - chapter 3.1)

vb bike velocity

dens air density

cw overall drag coefficient of bike (including frame, fork, wheels, ...) and rider

A frontal area of bike and rider

crr coefficient of rolling resistance

mt total mass of bike and rider

g acceleration due to gravity

Gr gradient of the road surface

With this equation it is easily possible to calculate the average velocity for different bike & rider

combinations on a given course.

avg. Power [W] 450 350 250

total mass [kg] 77 77 77

cw*A rider [m] 0.225 0.225 0.268

slope 0 0 0

dens [kg/m] 1.1313 1.1313 1.1313

cw*A frame [m] 0.045 0.045 0.045

crr (high performance

tubular) 0.0027 0.0027 0.0027

front wheel Campa Bora Zipp 1080 Campa Bora Zipp 1080 Campa Bora Zipp 1080

rear wheel Campa Bora Zipp Disc Campa Bora Zipp Disc Campa Bora Zipp Disc

50min 48min 54min 53min

time for 40 km 1.76sec 42.63sec 37.5sec 11.51sec 64min 6.9sec 62min 39sec

time gain [sec] 79 86 88

On a flat 40km time trial a professional rider can gain 79sec with the fastest wheel set (Zipp 1080

& Disc) compared to a Campa Bora wheel set.

The slower the rider, the larger the time gain with a faster wheel set, as the aerodynamic

advantage of the wheels remains the same, but the slower rider spends more time on the course

and thus can save more time with faster wheels.

April 2009

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Aerodynamics of High Performance Race Bicycle Wheels Wing-Light.de

4 CONCLUSION

The results of the CFD simulations, and the subsequent comparisons with the wind tunnel test

results, proves that CFD is a valid tool to investigate the aerodynamic behaviour of bicycle

wheels. It is not only possible to determine aerodynamic drag values, but one can also visualise

the airflow around the wheel and detect areas of flow separation, resulting in increased drag.

Therefore CFD with the applied method is thought to be the perfect, time and money saving tool

to help to design improved wheel geometries.

5 OUTLOOK

As the spokes did not show the biggest effect on the overall drag of a wheel, in further

investigations only the rim and hub will be meshed and simulated. This gives a large benefit in

model size (reduced cell quantity) with the additional advantage that we can surrender the MRF

method and instead mesh rim and hub as a moving rotating wall. First tests showed a reduction

in simulation time of appr. 30-40%.

Together with such a minimised wheel model it will also be possible to simulate a rotating wheel

together with a bicycle fork and investigate the relationships between both parts, later on with the

option of 2 rotating wheels with the entire bicycle frame and fork.

Eventually new, more efficient turbulence models (for aerodynamic investigations) will be

investigated in order to detect the characteristic fall-off in drag, which can be seen for the Zipp

808 and the Zipp 1080 wheels.

7 CONTACT

Jrgen KNUPE

Wing-Light.de

Johann-Ziegler-Str. 10

85221 Dachau

Germany

Email: j.knupe@wing-light.de

WWW: www.wing-light.de

April 2009

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