My Day At The A2 Wind Tunnel

Thomas Gerlach looking very aero | A2 Wind Tunnel | AeroCamp(Photo: AeroCamp)

A few weeks back I received an e-mail from Ben Hobbs asking if I had any interest in attending Aero Camp at the A2 Wind Tunnel in Mooresville, NC. Brian Stover with Accelerate 3 Coaching had invited him out, but he was unable to attend. I happily agreed as 2016 has been all about growth and doing things outside my comfort zone. Over the next few weeks I did my research, asked a few friends what they would like to know and exchanged several e-mails with Brian.

While I was driving out to Mooresville I kept asking myself “OMG, what have I gotten myself into?” Doing a podcast piece is one thing, but an article was way out of this girl’s comfort zone and I had agreed to do both. When I arrived at A2 a little before noon I noted that there was a test in progress; more on that in a bit. I met Brian, Heath Dotson of HD Coaching, and Geoff Eaker, the Operations Manager of A2 and they briefly explained the process and the data they were analyzing.

A2 Wind Tunnel is founded and owned by Gary Eaker, Geoff’s dad. Gary was recruited by the NASCAR race team Hendrick Motor Sports to work on aerodynamics until he began construction on AeroDyn Wind Tunnel. A2 shares a parking lot with AeroDyn and was created to offer a more economical option in wind tunnel testing. They will test about anything at A2 -bicycles, motorcycles, race cars, wheels, and anything else that may move through the air; even the winning US bobsled was tested at A2.

Brian and Heath work as a team analyzing the data while Geoff controls the tunnel from a computer. Tests are done at “zero” (basically head on) to get a neutral reading, then at yaw (where the pedestal with the bike is slightly rotated to a preset degree angle). Most of what was tested while I was there was at 10% yaw but one individual tested at 7.5%. There are duel work stations, one for Geoff and one for Brian (or any other visitor). Brian would often ask for updated data on his screen to see how a run was looking compared to prior runs. During a two hour session one might be able to get in as many as 15-17 runs depending on how long a changeover would take. Changeover consists of any adjustments to positions, gear, helmets, textiles, etc.

Geoff's Data Screens | A2 Wind Tunnel | Melissa Alfano

Geoff’s Data Screens (Melissa Alfano)

Display Monitors in Viewing Room | A2 Wind Tunnel | Melissa Alfano

Display Monitors in Viewing Room (Melissa Alfano)

Back to the test that was in process when I arrived. After introductions I was told that the individual in the tunnel was none other than Matt Bach, winner of Ironman Maryland 2014 and TRS Radio Episode 1 fame. The world of triathlon can be very small at times. Since I was unable to get time in the tunnel I reached out to four very different individuals to share their experience; Matt Bach and David Cohen along with professional triathletes Kirsty Jahn and Thomas Gerlach.

Kirsty Jahn Looking Fast | A2 Wind Tunnel | AeroCamp

Kirsty Jahn Looking Fast (AeroCamp)

Melissa Alfano
: First off, do you mind telling me a bit about your background in triathlon?

Matt Bach: I started out a runner in high school and college, did my first marathon in 2008, and my first triathlon in 2010 in memory of my brother, who died of cancer in 2008. I started out with a few sprint tri’s and then moved on to half Ironman events and then my first Ironman in 2012. I’ve known for a long time that “the longer, the better” applies to me and my genetic makeup. I missed qualifying for Kona by one slot in 2012 at IMLP and then again by one slot in 2013, but I went to Ironman Louisville 4 weeks after IMLP 2013 and won my age group, then went to Kona 7 weeks after that. In 2014, I won Ironman Maryland with a 51 minute PR going 8:51 and then my life changed after I was interviewed by The Real Starky). Last year, I was the top age grouper at Eagleman 70.3 by 5 minutes, and then placed 72nd overall in Kona. I’m in the midst of recording a podcast series with Tawnee Prazak for Endurance Planet about my path from amateur to potentially racing pro next year, so you can continue to follow along that way, and on Facebook/Twitter.

David Cohen: I started racing in 2000, 1 week before my high school graduation.  I had been a high school x-country runner, and I had always thought that the idea of the Escape from Alcatraz was a cool one. So senior year, my swim coach and I went out to California and did the race.  I’ve been racing every year since.  I was a competitive age grouper until my startup career got in the way. I kept racing, but slowly for several years.  About 5 years ago, I lost most of my work weight, and got competitive again.  I wound up making the trip to nationals in Burlington and Worlds in Auckland, NZ.  I’ve been wanting to go back to worlds since then.

Matt Bach getting dialed in on the new Ceepo | A2 Wind Tunnel | AeroCamp

Matt Bach getting dialed in on the new Ceepo (AeroCamp)

: What key factors in your racing made you what to do testing at A2?

Kirsty Jahn: I have had a number of races is which I was only few seconds from my competitors ahead of me. Thus I felt that it would be worth the investment to optimize my aerodynamics and gain speed on the bike. 

Thomas Gerlach:  I want to be as fast as possible and after many years of racing I thought it was time to go to the tunnel. When riding in a group I am able to actually recover on the hills as strange as that sounds and sometimes on the flats and I am really on the rivet and I had a hunch that maybe I would get some answers in the tunnel. This isn’t the first time I considered testing – it was just the first time where I had the time and flexibility to be able to actually arrange the trip.

MA: What were you expecting to get out of the testing? 

KJ: I was expecting to fine tune my position, learn which helmets and race suits worked best for me. 

DC: I really wanted to test arm angle, I was hoping to find 10-20w again this time.  

TG: To get a better understanding of the wind tunnel and the process in it. Ultimately the wind tunnel is another data tool to help me make decisions that can ultimately make me faster. The process starts with establishing a baseline and then making changes to improve upon the baseline. After all is said and done, I left with a greater level of knowledge and performance gains on paper. Now it is time to see if those gains translate to the real-world.

Thomas Gerlach looking very aero | A2 Wind Tunnel | AeroCamp

Thomas Gerlach looking very aero (AeroCamp)

MA: Of all the switch over changes which ones surprised you the most? 

TG: Shoes were a pretty big change for me. I had some really old shoes that I liked and were light but I had some ideas about what might be faster, not only aerodynamically but also easier to slip on and off in races. The new shoes are much faster in a configuration that also allows me to slip into them and out of them with greater ease.

KJ: Moving my hands up from a flat position to “ski tip” extensions angled up.

MB: The “praying mantis!” It turns out that having my hands up high like Jesse Thomas made the biggest difference. I’m going to have to think about that one though, because holding that position for 112 miles might not be worth the small handful of watts it would save me aerodynamically.

MA: You came to A2 with a bunch of 3D printed parts.  Care to share a bit of insight as to what/why you decided to do something like this?

DC: At the velodrome last year Brian mentioned with lots of folks, they saw a benefit by raising their arm angle.  ERO further, published an article saying the same thing.  A Felt IA has an integrated base bar, that cannot tilt, and the extensions cannot tilt.   So, I got my digital calipers out, and started measuring and building pieces.  Somewhere around October I finally had a working prototype in plastic.    By that time, I knew I was coming to the wind tunnel, and so I decided to hold off on actually making the pieces in aluminum (expensive) and just wait until the tunnel and hope the plastic could last a wind tunnel session.  It turns out, the biggest gain I saw in the entire trip was raising my arm angle.  So looks like it worked.

MA: Brian mentioned before I came down that you had testing with him in the Velodrome.  How would you compare/contrast these experiences and the results for testing in each?

DC: The velodrome was hard and more tiring.  I was also just totally lost in the process.  I didn’t know how to think about aerodynamics yet.  But it opened my eyes to what could.  The velodrome was a great first experience.  By going there first I was better able to understand how the Chung method of aero testing worked, and that let me test at home during the year.  The more I tested, the more I started understanding, to where this trip was much more understandable, and I kind of knew what was coming.  

This trip gave me different data, with being able to see more data at yaw than I could see in the velodrome.  I also wouldn’t have been able to test some of the things we tested, because when I’m actually moving, I need to be able to control my bike and be stable.  In the tunnel, I could fake it a little more. We definitely made more progress on me in the tunnel than I could have done in the velodrome.  As an east coaster, it was also a much cheaper flight 

David Cohen testing out his custom made parts | A2 Wind Tunnel | AeroCamp

David Cohen testing out his custom made parts (AeroCamp)

MA: Your new bike is a Ceepo Viper and had barely been built up.  Will you use some of the testing results to finish the build?

MB: That’s right. The guys over at CEEPO were able to get the Viper to me quickly so that Joe LoPorto, my fitter and mechanic, at FitWerx could build it up in time for the tunnel. I’ll be working with him on finishing the build using the data we collected from the trip.

MA: What changes will you make to equipment after testing?  One piece suit, helmet, bottle set-up, base bar, etc.?

MB: I’m going to have to talk it over with Joe and Earl, but it’s likely I will switch aero helmets from the Lazer helmet I currently use to the Louis Garneau that tested faster on me, and to switch base bar from the Zipp Vuka to a flat Profile Design base bar. We didn’t have time to work on hydration so I’ll be driving blind on that one again, basing my decisions on hypotheses and theories. It’s tough to get it right without the data though because some things are counter-intuitive, and some things work for one person and not another!

KJ: I am still using a two piece suit, as I like to run in just a sports bra, but over top of it I will bike in an aero top that covers to my elbows. I left my bottle setup as that was already the fastest position. I switched helmets, and changed my aero bars to be angled up. There is no one magic helmet, aero kit, or even handle bar position, it is very individual. 

TG: The changes I am making are dictated by the wind tunnel. I was already in the fastest helmet tested. I am switching up my shoes, making some minor positional changes and looking for a new aero speed suit. Although I didn’t specifically test it in the wind tunnel, I really like the Louis Garneau M-2 skin suit in XS. The wind tunnel gave me some ideas about what I might test in future including the possibility of a 2 bottle setup on the rear. 

My experience was phenomenal. I met some really great people and learned about stuff that I never thought I would have any interest in. What sticks out the most about testing were the few changes made to Chris Cadotte from Kirkland, WA; by changing his head position, helmet and one piece suit he was about to shave 20+ min off his Ironman bike time based on the models. WOW 20 minutes! He was already pretty fast to begin with and Brian joked he might be accused of doping; proof positive you really can pay for speed.

Chris Cadotte getting dialed in with Brian and Heath | A2 Wind Tunnel | Melissa Alfano

Chris Cadotte getting dialed in with Brian and Heath (Melissa Alfano)

A big thank you to Brian, Heath and Geoff for having me.

About the Author

Melissa Alfano
Melissa is a proud TRS Racing member, average age grouper and rather at successful handicapping the ponies. When not working her day job she enjoys training with fellow TRS sidekicks and running with her dog Bella the Wonder Puppy. Follow @FastCat1107