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Dan Bigham – Talking Aero; “Ponytails aren’t…”

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If you watched Stage One of the Giro on Eurosport or GCN then you’ll have heard that someone had the great idea to recruit British professional rider, Dan Bigham to join the commentary team as a ‘chrono specialist.’

It was a delight to listen to his informed, ‘no waffle’ observations.

Dan Bigham has his workstation in the commentary booth carefully set out. Photo©supplied

Dan Bigham studied motorsport engineering at Oxford Brookes University and worked in Formula One before moving into cycling.

As a rider he’s achieved much, winning multiple British titles on the track and against the watch, as well as a medal at the UCI Road Worlds in the TTT.

As an entrepreneur/organiser he put together the HUUB Wattbike team which became a major force in World Cup team pursuiting, winning the Minsk and London rounds before the UCI decided there would be no ‘trade’ teams in the competition – a decision they have subsequently reversed.

Recently the Ribble Weldtite rider has become an aerodynamics consultant to likes of Jumbo Visma and the Danish national team pursuit squad – helping them to their stunning 3:44 world record.

Here at VeloVeritas we thought it would be good to put to Dan all those sad questions that trouble bike obsessives like us.

Dan Bigham
Laurent Fignon during the time trial that closed the 1989 Tour de France. Photo©unknown

This one has been troubling me for 30 years, Dan – if Fignon had tucked his ponytail in, would he have won the ’89 Tour de France?

“No – but it would have been closer; ponytails just aren’t aero…”

You listed an ‘aero checklist’ during your Giro Stage One commentary?

“Position, helmet, skinsuit and tyres. 

“All optimised for the specific rider, the course and the conditions.

“Despite what the marketing guys might say there’s very little difference between the top wheel and frame brands, in terms of performance… it still matters, but relatively less so than people think.

“Tyres are now very, very important – in the Giro prologue, over that distance you could be looking at saving 20 watts between the best and worst options that were used. 

“That’s 10 seconds on that course. Any rider would bite your hand off to save that.”

Filippo Ganna has worked even more on his aero position since the Worlds in 2019. Photo©Martin Williamson

Aero is so important now, some riders, like Jacques Anquetil understood that in the past but how come it’s taken so long for the teams to cotton on?

“If your position is bad but you’re putting out big power then it often masks the aerodynamic atrocities – and with the drug abuse there was in the sport that was the case, they were generating the power that covered up how poor they were aerodynamically.

“But it’s simple, if you can’t put more power in then you have to look at reducing the ‘power out’ side of the equation.

“So now riders & teams are now looking at how you reduce the ‘power out’ side of the equation, and there’s now an arms race on the aero front.

“GB cottoned on early and reaped the rewards at Beijing, London and Rio but other nations have caught up and are looking at other aspects which GB seem to have neglected – strength & conditioning, nutritional interventions & pacing for example.”

POC helmets, the fastest?

“They look cool, they’re different but they’re not necessarily the out and out fastest on every rider – they are quick but much depends on how they suit the rider’s body shape.

“They’re very popular because folks see that certain fast guys use them; that used to be the case with the KASK Bambino when SKY rode them.

“You’ll find that the big pro teams are taking multiple different helmets to a time trial nowadays, with an optimal choice for each rider.”

Dan Bigham
John Archibald, ex-team mate of Dan Bigham, really likes the POC helmet. Photo©Martin Williamson

Concealed cables, worth all the hassle of convoluted cable routing?

“They make a massive difference, a cable is a cylinder which is aerodynamically a very poor shape; for every exposed 20 cm of exposed cable you lose around one watt (at 50kph).”

Dropped seat stays, much of a benefit?

“Pretty small, you could around 0.5 watts due to the reducing the frontal area of the stays.”

Forks: What’s best, the big ‘arched’ approach or ‘old school’ tight to the spokes?

“The big crown avoids ‘choking’ the air as it passes through the crown, there’s a lot of air goes in there but in certain cross wind situations the tight to the spokes approach is better. 

“When you look at the new GB Hope machines they are working to shed the fork wake in to the rider’s legs, reducing total drag of the system.”