The AeroGeeks Team recently had an opportunity to speak with Jimmy Seear and Diaa Nour, co-founders of Ventum, a groundbreaking company that has taken a legendary bike design and updated it for the modern era.
As an opening to the conversation, Seear told us that “Ventum is Latin; it means ‘wind.'” What followed was nearly two hours of discussion on exactly how Seear and Nour were planning on turning the bike scene on its head with a bike that definitely won’t look like anything else in transition.
For The History Buffs Among Us
There’s no denying it, and Nour doesn’t even try to.
“At first glance, it really resembles the Lotus, but that’s really where it ends,” he quips.
Nour was referring to the Lotus 108/110, a bike that gave British cycling its first Olympic medal in 72 years and set the Hour Record under Chris Boardman.
“Carbon technology has come a long way since then,” noted Seear.
After all, even in the last few years, the advancement of carbon fiber technology has allowed for things like the line-spanning use of Textreme fabric at Felt and OCLV Carbon at Trek. What was once well beyond the ability of even the highest end manufacturers over twenty-five years ago is now sitting in your local bike shop for $2,500. All of which points to the real problems with their spiritual forefather: a lack of stiffness and consistency.
“The Lotus 110 would either split in two, or it was a wet noodle,” said Seear. “The shape itself is a good place to start your CFD and design work, but [today’s] materials and modeling allow for significant drag reduction, while at the same time dramatically increasing stiffness.”
Ventum’s frame design can be summed up with the idea of preserving “laminar flow over the bike.” Put simply, imagine that air is slightly sticky, and that we want to let it stick to a bike for as long as possible when riding. When air comes unstuck from the bike or rider, it creates turbulence – air sticking together and crashing about – which is another way of saying that it produces drag. Therefore the longer airflow remains stuck to a bike, the faster that bike is. Certainly, the idea of keeping flow over the bike is not a new idea – it’s the goal of virtually every aero bike ever made. But by throwing out the UCI restrictions, Ventum is free to explore more design options.
“The biggest thing is to make sure the bike is quick when the rider is on board,” Seear said, as we discussed the design benefits of a Lotus-style bike. “The relationship between the front wheel and the down tube is hard to control. The seat tube doesn’t matter, because there’s so much turbulence from the rider’s leg. The wind can stay clean right up until it hits the legs. Looking at the wind that comes off a traditional bike’s downtube and interacts with a rider’s legs, aerodynamically, it’s much better to hit the wind at a 90 degree angle than it is at a 45.”
Essentially, Ventum claims that by removing the downtube, they can separate some of the complexity of the interaction between the wheel and fork from the pedaling legs of a rider, which significantly reduces their drag.
“This is not an entry level bike.”
When asked about things like hydraulic disc brakes, Nour tells us, “If it has a purpose, it’s on the bike. If it doesn’t, it’s simply not on there. We’re not putting bullshit on our bike. This is not an entry-level bike. It’s a serious machine for people who care about seconds.”
And they mean it. Ventum has tackled some difficult challenges when designing this bike. For example, a rider in the aero position on a Lotus-style bike will put a significant portion of their weight on the weakest part of the bike, from a lateral stiffness perspective: the front fork joint to the top tube. The result was a particularly uncommunicative, poorly turning bike. Ventum has a solution, however.
“We have to get the rider’s weight, in the aero position, over the rear wheel. Because the seat tube is so deep, we can pull the rear wheel further under the rider, which preserves the responsiveness of the bike. The front feels very nimble, now,” Seear said.
By doing so, Ventum has not just solved the problem, but claims that their pros say that the bike “handles better than any bike they’ve ever ridden. It’s extremely comfortable, very stiff.” Materials, and the understanding of engineering challenges, have come a long way, indeed.
While seemingly small, details like the non-symmetric chainstays and lack of seat stays pack a good bit of “free speed.” The massive drive side chainstay is designed to hide the rear derailleur from the wind as much as possible, and the horizontal non-drive side maintains flow from the seat tube. Additionally, the wide, flowing top tube; fatter in the middle than at the ends, was engineered to maintain attachment, as well as increase stiffness at the point of flex for the top tube. Ventum also notes that the bike is faster with the 48oz. “conformal liquid tank” on the bike than without, something they referred to as “race trim testing.”
“Race Trim Testing”
The concept of testing a bike the same way it will actually be ridden isn’t new, either. Cervélo famously studied bottle interaction with bikes, Specialized made a go of it with the Fuel Cell and Fuelselage (though we are unaware of any testing for the SHIV having been made public), and Scott worked with Profile Design to integrate with their new Plasma 5. Clearly, Ventum is not first to the block. What they are doing, however, is testing against the competition to make sure they got it right. And we have received a commitment from both Nour and Seear that all comparative tunnel data will be made available to the general public. That’s not a small commitment, either, as Seear notes that Ventum has spent more than 60 hours of tunnel time, just running comparative testing. Tests have been run in several formats: bare bikes, bikes loaded with 48oz of liquid (the aforementioned “race trim”), with and without a rider, and the results they’re claiming could very well change the way we think about making gains in the second discipline.
“Scott, Canyon, Felt, Dimond, Cervélo.”
The company Ventum chooses to test against shows just how confident they are in their design, and the numbers they’re seeing in the tunnel are astounding.
“In race trim, versus [the fastest configuration of] a P5, the closest the two bikes came was a 20% drag increase over the Ventum,” said Seear. “It’s not even close. The furthest was 47%.”
Those numbers sound difficult to believe, and we were skeptical, as well. It’s hard not to be, when you hear things like “on average, 33% faster than a P5,” but we will soon have all the data available to corroborate that claim, which leaves little room for disbelief. With the amount of time spent at FASTER and A2, Ventum may have created a bike that surpasses the current level of technology being racked into transition. When Ventum releases their drag data, we will certainly break it down for you.
When, How, and How Soon
If you’re looking for a Ventum, the coming answer might disappoint you, but it shouldn’t.
“When will you be on sale?” echoes Nour, when we ask the question. “When we feel we’re ready. We aren’t in a rush. We want the best possible product.”
That said, Ventum seems to be targeting a loose timeframe of Kona. What will make you happy, however, is his immediate follow-up on availability, which will see a full frame range in stock at launch.
“We don’t want to run into the P5 release issue. We don’t want people on a waiting list for nine months,” Nour said.
What’s more, the bike will be available both as a direct-to-consumer offering and through “key bike shops across the world.” Those wanting a Ventum will have three options available at that time, though pricing and hard details are still being nailed down: a “baller option” package sporting Dura Ace Di2, Zipps, and full compliment of top-shelf components throughout, a lower-price Ultegra Di2 option, and a frameset. For the purists among us, Ventum will not offer a mechanical option, but is going to be able to support proper mechanical groupsets. Seear confirmed that the bike is fully capable of being run mechanically, but that routing is simply easier with Di2. All drivetrain components are likely to be Shimano, and wheels will be Zipp, though that may change in subsequent model years as Ventum begins to work on the next items in their development queue.
When pressed on the “next projects” hint, Seear got a twinkle in his eye.
“We’re not going to say ‘this is the fastest you can possibly go.’” he said, somewhat cryptically. “This isn’t a one and done kind of deal. We’re already doing product development for 2016 and 2017.”
We spoke briefly about what that could mean for the rest of the bike, and, while not willing to go on record with specifics, it is fair to say that the next series of products from Ventum will be just as impressive as their bike. Items that they were willing to talk about were the fork and cockpit, two parts that we haven’t heard much about until now. Nour confirmed that their fork has made it through design and is currently in production; it will be ready for the launch of the bike. The cockpit, however, is an “open mold” item, but this may change for subsequent model years.
From Miami Beach, With Love
During our time with Seear and Nour, it was clear that they share the same passion for quality design and addiction to the best bikes in the world that we do here at AeroGeeks. Their attention to detail and obsession over squeezing every last bit of performance out of a design the rest of the industry had left behind nearly twenty-five years ago is a fantastic sight to see. And the fruit of their labors, the Ventum itself, is a fantastic machine. We can’t wait to ride one, and hopefully that will be soon. In the meantime, we’re assured that the bike won’t be a stranger to transition racks around the world; it has already shown impressive results under Leanda Cave and Alicia Kaye. Expect to see more of the Ventum this year; we suspect it’s going to be all anyone talks about for a while, and deservedly so.