Lotus group chief engineer
Tuesday 1st September 2020
It's not every day you get to chat with a aerodynamic specialist. All we mostly know about aerodynamics is to tuck in close behind the fastest rider we know and when it's our turn for the pull on the front...don't! It was supposed to be Olympic year but unfortunately due to the global pandemic, most world events have been cancelled or postponed. Which is a shame because the world of cycling would of been presented with an eye catching machine capable of potentially putting GB riders on top of that podium. Richard Hill took some time out to share his thoughts and knowledge on the latest drop coming out of the cycling division of Lotus...
Hi Richard. Thank you for taking the time out to speak with us. Some may see you as the brains behind some very legendary track bikes in particular the Lotus 108 which propelled (or did he propel the bike?!) Chris Boardman to gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was supposed to be Olympic year but obviously and rightfully postponed due to the Pandemic, you had a new track bike to unleash in the Izu Velodrome in Tokyo. Is this more of an opportunity to refine the new model or was this stunning looking machine ready to smash records?
The bike was completed and ready to go. In fact it had to be homologated and raced prior to it appearing in the Games. We cannot change the design now, and it is assumed that, should the games take place in 2021, and I hope they do, that Team GB will demonstrate that the bike can be a winner.
How much aware are you of other nations and their track bike developments or is everything a closely guarded secret until the revealing?
Everything is a very close guarded secret. We know very little of what other nations were working on and all of the teams held their cards very close to their chests. The deadline for homologation for all the bikes competing was before the date that we showed the bike publicly and every bike had to race prior to the deadline of the start of 2020.
The frame and forks are so radical, that if any other teams had seen the bike beforehand, it would have likely diverted them in another design direction. We are confident that no other bike design has gone down the same road as us..
You have been working for Lotus for 30 years in the motoring side and in the cycling industry, which do you prefer to put your mind to and / or which machine challenges you the most?
I have always loved cars and I also find aerodynamics fascinating. I have worked on cars, of course, but also bobsleighs, trucks, buses and aeroplanes. Each one is a different challenge and on each one we have to find the perfect solution. Underlining it all, however is the fact that the laws of physics don’t change whatever the vehicle! And that is what is so interesting. I am a car nut at heart. I enjoy recreation cycling (and Norfolk is a great county for that) but and I do love applying the laws of physics and fluid dynamics to bicycles, but my overriding professional challenge and motivation is just to make machines (and humans) go faster! – it is fascinating.
Many car manufacturers have tried their hand in bike design with a mixed success rate it can be said. What makes Lotus stand out from the rest and how have you maintained that respected reputation?
I think it would be fair to say that with the bikes that we have developed, we have never tried to make money out of them. We have done it to demonstrate our engineering capability and use of technology as part of our world class engineering consultancy. There are brand building spin-offs too, but this is would normally be a post-event benefit. No one will forget the global news coverage when Chris Boardman won the Olympic gold medal in 1992 or when he went on to shatter the Word Hour Record in 1996 on Lotus bikes.
So, the Lotus Olympic Track Bike. What is it like to ride?
I haven’t actually ridden one on the track. It’s the same as an F1 designer who rarely drives the F1 car that they have developed! I have sat on one in the wind tunnel whilst working on the correct riding position. The riding position on the bike is no different to a normal track bike - it is built for speed not comfort. However, on the Lotus Type 108, we pioneered the “Superman” riding position which was difficult to adopt and to keep position but it had huge aerodynamic benefits for that frame.
The bike itself looks menacing especially in black. What was the main influence in design and was there anything from the Lotus cars which was helpful in putting this bike together?
The main influence in the design was speed and to reduce drag – so form following function. It was not an aesthetic requirement. But like all great designs, it looks stunning. It follows the adage of “if it looks right, it is right.”
The transfer of technology from the motor industry includes our experience and skills in composite materials especially in the forks, as they are so wide and put very high loads through the headset. Incidentally , the concept came from British Cycling and we developed it. There was an opportunity to work within in the regulations where the side view of the bicycle and its key areas including the position of the headset and bottom bracket have to fit within specific criteria, plus the bike’s width had to be less than 500 mm.
Therefore we designed the forks were designed to be aligned with the rider, but less that 500 mm so reducing the cross-sectional area of the bike and rider, and enabling each to benefit the drag of the other. The rear part of the frame tidies up the air employs a similar strategy behind the rider’s legs.
What bike do you ride outside of work? I assume you don’t take one of the track bikes out – traffic would stop in awe!
I ride a mountain bike around the bridleways, trails and lanes in Norfolk, but purely for recreation. I don’t race, nor do I take part in group rides, but they do look fun. I do have a Lotus Type 110 frame, which is not built up. It is so beautiful, like a piece of art that I prefer to look at than to ride.
Usually World Records go hand in hand with gold medals but especially in track racing, they are broken all over the globe with the argument of velodromes at high altitude helping with this achievement. What was the expectation of the Lotus Olympic track bike in Tokyo? Was this a bike specifically for these games or one to set the bar for the future?
The bike is designed for the Games. We expect it to set new standards as it has moved the design of the aerodynamic elements on. Of course there are expectations. However, bicycles don’t ride themselves and we have no influence on the riders. Having said that, Team GB has understandable optimism with class leading athletes who can be sure to be ready on the day. It will be very exciting!
Final question and we usually end with a quirky/funny one so please accept our apology! Our first and only time on the track so far was a taster session at the velodrome in Stratford and we forgot there were no brake levers and nearly came off as the bike jolted forward. What was your first time like on a track bike and did you also forget how to slow/stop the bike?!
My first time on the track was at Barcelona on the Lotus Type 108 on the Olympic velodrome, the day after Chris Boardman won the gold medal. I Whilst riding a lap, I went up the very steep banking but was not going fast enough to stay there and scared myself trying to come back down!
Thank you again for your answers and we are really looking forward to seeing this bike in action next year at the 2020 (2021?!) Olympics!