Cycling 'tiger with wings' thanks boffins

Sports | Maisy Mok 19 Jul 2021

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's aerodynamics facility is helping track cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze in her pursuit of a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Lee, 34, begins competing at the Olympics on August 4-5 in women's keirin. Then she faces three days of sprinting from August 6.

The university has been helping Lee reduce wind resistance through testing her "battle suit," bicycle frame and other hardware in a wind tunnel facility.

Zhang Xin, chair professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at HKUST, is part of the Sports Aerodynamics Science Initiative Project that helps Hong Kong cyclists improve performance.

He told Sing Tao Daily that a wind tunnel and China's Tianhe supercomputer are part of the aerodynamic project's advantages.

A considerable amount of cycling equipment is tested in wind tunnels, but HKUST's facility is exceptional as it takes spot-on calculations from the supercomputer.

"The most challenging part is that cyclists are not aeroplanes or race cars," Zhang said. "Their riding position is always changing. The airflow, wind resistance will also change following the changes of their position. Even their hair will affect wind resistance.

"But a supercomputer can produce precise and detailed information and find a method that can reduce the greatest level of wind resistance."

In Lee's case, Zhang explained, she does not have to be present for each test as the research team has a 3D-printed model mounted on a bicycle for testing.

Through HKUST's research, local brand Champion System has invented four types of bodysuits for the Hong Kong Olympic team. The suits can save more than 2.5 percent of power compared to regular outfits - and that could be critical.

With the support of technology, Lee said she feels like she is performing as if "wings have been added to a tiger."

She added: "In the past cycling suits have used curved lines to allow wind to pass by. This time they have used different fabrics for body parts that feel greater wind resistance, and this can raise efficiency."

Zhang said Lee is indeed a powerful talent, and technology on her is like "icing on the cake."

Adam Kwok Kai-fai, executive director of Sun Hung Kai Properties, donated HK$6 million to the Sports Aerodynamics Science Initiative Project, which was launched in 2019 by HKUST and the Hong Kong Sports Institute to help enhance performances at the Tokyo Olympics.

Fans can now look forward to seeing Lee in action against her main Olympic rivals, including Germany's Emma Hinze, Canada's Kelsey Mitchell and Japan's Yuka Kobayashi, who beat Lee to the gold in keirin at the UCI Track Cycling Nations Cup in Hong Kong.

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