The Story Behind Boardman Bikes

Chris Boardman won a Gold Medal in Individual Pursuit at the 1992 Summer Olympics
With a radical new bike built by Lotus
You might think that Boardman Bikes simply paid Chris Boardman for the use of his name. After all, he is a national sports hero in Great Britain due to his numerous accomplishments, which include:
  • Gold Medalist in the 4,000 meter Individual Pursuit at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona
  • Bronze Medalist in the 52 kilometer time trial (road) at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta
  • Three-time winner of the Tour de France Prologue (1994, 1997 and 1998)
  • Former holder of the one hour record

Even when he was racing, Boardman was involved in the technical and physiological aspects of cycling. This earned him the nickname, "The Professor" (He was also called "Mr. Prologue" because of hisTour de France exploits). He was an early advocate of innovations that are now more commonplace - Things like:

  • Interval training
  • Carbon fiber
  • Altitude tent
  • Improved aerodynamics

 Chris specialized in time trials, where aerodynamics are crucial. In the photo above from the 1992 Summer Olympics, you can see several things that reduce aerodynamic drag:

  • Chris is maintaining a very streamlined position, with his arms outstretched.
  • The helmet, with its long point on the back, reduces drag. When most people look at how aerodynamic something is, they tend to think only about the front, but the rear is also important. The point on the helmet lets the air flow smoothly around the helmet without causing turbulence, which increases drag.
  • The rear wheel is a solid disk. This makes it slightly heavier than a spoked wheel, but you don't have the aero drag from the individual spokes.
  • You may be wondering why the front wheel is not a disk like the rear wheel. The front wheel is used for steering, and riders found the bikes very difficult to control with a disk wheel. Therefore the front wheel has three composite struts that are airfoil shaped.

Boardman retired after the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. After retiring, he has been involved with the British cycling teams. You nay have noticed that they have been doing pretty well lately. After never winning the Tour de France before 2012, British cyclists won two in row. Bradley Wiggins won in 2012 and Chris Froome won in 2013. British cyclists also dominated at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing (8 golds and 14 total medals) at the 2012 Olympics in London (8 gold and 12 total medals).

In 2007 Chris Boardman and two partners formed Boardman Bikes, with Chris serving as head of research and development. Boardman Bikes was purchased by a larger United Kingdom called Halfords in 2014, but Chris remains as head of R&D. Their design process uses much of the same techniques used to design aircraft, including:

  • Computer Aided Design (CAD): All bikes are designed on the computer so they can be evaluated by other analytical tools. Riders are also laser so a complete 3D model of rider & bike can be created. It may seem obvious that bicycles cannot operate without a rider, but many designers cut corners and just analyze the bike, ignoring any interaction between the bike and rider.
  • Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD): CFD is used to analyze the flow around the bike and rider. In the computer model it is very easy to make changes and evaluate performance. Lots of virtual bike designs are evaluated before selecting one to create and test.
  • Finite Element Analysis (FEA): Again, it may seem obvious, but a bicycle is useless if it breaks. FEA is used to evaluate the bicycle design and make sure it can withstand all the rigors it will experience. Determining the stresses within the bike identifies areas where changes need to be made to reduce stress, and ares where material can be removed to reduce weight.
  • Wind Tunnel Testing: Today's analytical tools are amazing, but physical testing is still needed for verification. Here's a video showing Boardman Bikes' Wind Tunnel Testing.

 Boardman Bikes puts an emphasis on designs that perform under real world conditions. For example, they don't design their bikes with low drag when going straight into the wind. They test their performance at up to 20 degrees off head-on to make sure they have a robust design.