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A day at the San Diego low speed wind tunnel with Felt and Project 1T4i

  • By Mark Johnson
  • Published Dec. 15, 2011
  • Updated Jan. 5, 2012 at 1:40 AM EDT
Kristin Armstrong in the wind tunnel, February 2011

Editor’s note: VeloNews.com will not be releasing photos from this session at the San Diego wind tunnel until next year to maintain confidentiality of the 2012 team kits

“Stand by for zeroes. Hold still — OK, we’ve got our zero Patrick, you can start pedaling.”

Patrick Gretsch blazes the course in the Garden of the Gods to win the prologue of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Photo: Brad Kaminski © VeloNews (file)

Inside a boxy building on the edge of of the San Diego airport, the disembodied voice of San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel engineer Steve Ryle fills a tube that surrounds Patrick Gretsch like a gleaming white cocoon.

Gretsch, the 24-year-old German winner of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge prologue in Colorado Springs, begins pedaling a black and green Felt time trial frame.

With the bike wheels resting on rollers and suspended by front and rear mounts that protrude from a raised platform like tuning forks, an array of instruments captures the German’s position as he plows into a steady wind generated by the wind tunnel’s 2,250 horsepower motor.

Along with teammates from the Project 1t4i team (the 2012 incarnation of the Dutch Skil-Shimano Pro Continental squad) Gretsch is in San Diego for two weeks of training and wind tunnel testing.

This facility opened in 1947 to test the World War II bombs and airplanes being churned out of Southern California’s aircraft and munitions factories. Today it’s used to test human missiles like Gretsch as well. He’s been in the tunnel for nearly three hours, and the results of those hours of minute tweaks to bar extension and height, as well as the testing of various aero helmets, is promising.

After Gretsch pedals for a few minutes, he settles into his bike with an effortlessly supple pedal stroke. His upper body is so still you could rest a cup of tea between his shoulder blades without losing a drop. In the control room adjacent to the tunnel, Felt Bicycles engineer Ty Buckenberger picks up a dry-erase marker and traces the contour of Gretsch’s back and shoulders on a closed-circuit television screen.

Felt Bicycles founder Jim Felt takes the microphone: “Bury your head, Patrick,” he instructs. The German sinks his chin into his chest the way he would in the waning meters of a time trial. Buckenberger traces another line around Gretsch’s now-lower head profile. Felt watches another monitor closely as a scrolling graph shows the amount of drag the rider has created over the last five minutes. Other numbers show watts, cadence, wind speed, effective bike speed, and time.

The graph does not move much when Gretsch puts his head down, so Felt tells Buckenberger it is not something that warrants further investigation. Felt ends data collection for this helmet. “OK Patrick,” Ryle says into the microphone. “You can stop pedaling. You are done.”

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