AeroCamp – A Conversation

As avowed data junkies, we believe in the power of testing to inform equipment decisions. We pore over the results of wind tunnel sessions and try to make heads or tails of the results to figure out what will make us faster. This can be done with a lot of items, such as bikes, or wheels, but a number of accessories or clothing items are going to be individual to you or your position in terms of performance, so how does one figure out if they work for you or not? You go to AeroCamp, that’s how.

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Brian Stover of Accelerate3 Coaching and Heath Dotson of HD Coaching run AeroCamp with the aim of making triathletes as fast as they can possibly be on the bike through velodrome and wind tunnel testing. The idea is relatively simple: use the tunnel to dial in a rider’s fit to balance power produced against drag created, and then fine-tune by trying different equipment options to ensure that every gram of unnecessary drag is eliminated. The pair has been fairly successful, reporting a 0.02 CdA, or 15-20w, average reduction for AeroCamp attendees. To put that in perspective, if you take a very respectable CdA of .2467 and drop it down .02 to a resulting .2267, which translates to just under a four-minute savings over a half iron bike for a 200w average.  That’s nothing short of astounding.

The standard session, according to Heath, is “about an hour and a half of position testing, followed by a half an hour for helmets and clothing, nutrition, and storage options. We finish off with a Retul scan of the bike to get all the coordinates for the client to take home with them.” Expect it to take about three hours all told, with two of those spent in the tunnel.

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Speaking of the tunnel, don’t go in thinking you’re going to get a full sweep.

“We test at 0, and at 10 [degrees of yaw],” says Brian. “The really fast guys get 0, 7.5 and 10.”

If the data at 0 isn’t looking promising, however, they’ll scrap the run altogether. Their justification is simple; riders just don’t spend as much time out at yaw as we previously thought.

“If you look at the Alphamantis aero stick, and FLO, and Trek data, it could change how the industry designs bikes. If you’re a 2:15 or 2:20 rider, you probably don’t see much beyond 0,” Brian said.

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And if you’re not spending time out there, why bother testing out there?

When you’ve done as much tunnel and velodrome testing as Brian and Heath, figuring out how to get optimal results in minimum time becomes easier.

“We have hundreds of hours of time testing athletes,” Heath quipped. “We have a pretty good idea of where to go with people these days… We’ve had 6 or 8 people qualify for Kona after testing with us. Half of our clients were on the bubble for Kona qualifying, they were there to get through.”

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Three hours of your time to make it to the Big Island? That’s a deal most of us would readily take.

It is worth mentioning that the vast majority of gains that are being reported are due to position, not equipment choices, which is why they spend the most amount of time on it. The pair have found that an “aggressive” position is a misnomer, and that a number of fitters believe that by going low, you are sacrificing comfort and power. Heath and Brian put you in the tunnel to establish your baseline, and then get started on getting you faster, while maintaining a position that you can still ride. It can be the simple things, like reducing or adding pad stack that add up to impressively large gains.

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Heath noted that the major items that they look at are head position—getting it low enough to be aero but high enough to be able to see—as well as if the rider can maintain the “shrug,” where you shrug your shoulders and tuck the neck into the cavity that it creates. They also test hand position, though Heath notes that the velodrome favorite, the “high hands position,” may not perform as well as it looks at first glance. At 0, for some riders, it works very, very well, but does not perform at yaw in the same fashion. This will be particular to each rider; if it is comfortable enough, and fast enough at 0, that you’re willing to take the hit out at 10 degrees, but that’s a determination that’s impossible to make without the data that companies like AeroCamp provide.

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Some of the smaller notes are things like the drag differential between using pad stack and stem spacers, where you can save a watt or two by pedestalling up the extensions and slamming the basebar in order to encourage separation between the two items in the air. According to Heath, the magic number is around 50mm of pad stack to get this to occur – but keep in mind that your preferred hydration solution might not test well with that much distance between the basebar and the mount. For an extra 1-2w, it’s likely to be something to try when you’re trying to eke out every last drop of performance, not a first-pass improvement attempt. After all, you only have about three hours, start to finish – that’s not a lot of time when you’re having to incorporate wrenching between runs, too.
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Of course, three hours isn’t the total of AeroCamp; there’s the cost, too: $1,000. At 200w, presuming you saved the average 0.02 on your CdA, that thousand dollars just bought you nearly eight minutes on an Iron-distance bike course. If that isn’t the best cost-to-performance ratio in triathlon right now, we’re not sure what is. You could spend several thousand dollars on a race day wheelset and still not gain back that kind of time. If you’re thinking about signing up for AeroCamp, this should be all the incentive you need to do it; it sure worked for us.

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