The anatomy of the Wattbike
What makes cycling feel like cycling?
“The interaction of the body, mind, muscles, terrain, gravity, air and bicycle are so complex that they defy exact mathematical solutions,” says Chester Kyle, renowned engineering professor and human powered vehicle pioneer, “The feel and handling of a bike borders on art.”
So is it possible to paint a similar picture on a static bike?
The Wattbike was devised to create the closest road bike feel of any indoor bike, to provide the "ultimate training and testing tool" in order to transfer directly the lessons learnt during indoor training to the road experience, say its creators.
Wattbike engineers worked closely with Peter Keen – former performance director of British Cycling and UK Sport - and used athletes to test the bike throughout its eight-year development before publicly launching after the 2008 Olympics.
Now in its seventh year post-launch a ringing endorsement of its success is its widespread use by the athletic community, including the UCI World Cycling Centre and England Rugby.
But how does the Wattbike recreate the ‘art’ of cycling as described by Kyle?
The engineering that exists within the Wattbike is top secret, advises Wattbike’s Tom Crampton, but the technology is quite simple, he says.
The first of two key elements is the Wattbike’s ability to accurately mimic the feel of riding a real bike. It does so by using a unique air brake construction combined with a magnetic braking system to allow you to replicate any desired training session from a saunter in the local park, to a high intensity race.
Using an air break gear lever you can move from a resistance of ‘1’ - the lightest air resistance - to ‘10’ - the heaviest resistance. This lever regulates the flow of air entering the flywheel - the more air allowed in, the greater the resistance. The magnetic system is used for even higher resistance rides. Personal training zones on the Wattbike make it easy for the rider to train for their specific event. Sprinters will often undertake interval work in the higher zones 4-5, whereas riders wishing to build endurance will stay at zones 1-3, which helps to build power and base endurance.
The second element of cycling realism is the bike’s set up and adjustability which replicates that of road bikes. The construction of the Wattbike, with its handlebar base lower down than a typical static bike reflects that of an outdoor bike and the handlebars and saddle can be adjusted to replicate the exact setup of a road bike.
So the Wattbike is able to imitate the effect of air and gravity, and the effect on the body and muscles, but it also goes one step further. The added benefit of training on a Wattbike is the ability to measure these effects.
“The key difference between the Wattbike and other static bikes is the data,” says Crampton. “Wattbike measures over 40 different parameters about the rider and displays at that information directly on the performance monitor. The monitor interprets pedalling technique using the unique Polar View to tell riders how balanced and effective their pedalling style is.”
When riders are able to visualise and analyse their data, he says, they are able to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement. If a rider changes their technique or starts a new training plan, they can instantly see its effectiveness as the data is displayed on the performance monitor or via the new smartphone app, the powerapp.
While perhaps not as romantic as Kyle’s portrayal of the ‘art’ of cycling, the Wattbike’s accurate physical representation of a real bike and the data it provides form an impressive complimentary service to any aspiring or accomplished athlete, by proxy creating an artistry of its own.
But if it’s fresh air, time to ponder the world and the thrill of freedom to travel between locations you’re after, well, you may just have to get on your bike.
Last updated Thursday 15 June 2017
First published on Friday 19 June 2015