How design and engineering helps break records – The London Velodrome | PDD

How design and engineering helps break records – The London Velodrome


on August 2 2012

A cyclist’s supreme ability and their high-tech bike will, undeniably, play a large part in deciding the Olympic victor but PDD believes that the track shape, environment and even atmosphere will affect the outcome of London 2012’s track cycling events.

PDD expects Olympic Track cycling records to be broken this year…and it’s not just because Team GB has an awesome team. 

Senior Development Engineering, Ian Parker and our Principle of Engineering Design, Julian Swan went along to Cycling Night: How to break a world track record; an engineering talk about the London 2012 velodrome design to find out why.

So what is so special about the award winning London 2012 velodrome aside from being a modern, highly sustainable building and why do we expect records broken? (Hopefully Team GB ones at that).

Designed by Ron Webb with direct input from Team GB – the track shape is rounder and optimised for Pursuit racing; an area in which our cyclists are expected to shine. The geometry is similar to the Manchester velodrome, so not only will it be more suited to events which Team GB are strong at but also will have a familiar feel to the Team GB riders who do all their training at the Manchester velodrome.

As well as the team’s influence on the form of the new track, Dave Brailsford, the British Cycling Performance Director, has worked with the athletes analysing their performance on the track to define where the optimum Start-Finish line should be positioned for the riders.

Another significant home advantage will be the crowd’s support for Team GB riders. Sir Chris Hoy had a key input in the venue’s seating layout. Normally velodromes do not have seating at each end of the track, as the banking at 42 degrees exceeds the maximum angle of 32 degrees for stadia seating, and so obscures the view for the spectator.

Furthermore, the home straight normally seats the officials and press, which means that during a race a rider will hear the crowd support on the back straight with ‘radio silence’ on the ends and the home straight.

The velodrome has a capacity of 6,000, (Manchester only has 3,000) with seating at the ends whilst the officials and press have been relegated from track side to the upper tier. Having been at the velodrome as part of the London Prepares series we have experienced the Mexican Wave of sound following a British cyclist around the track and it definitely makes a positive difference. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about the cheering. Nice one Sir Chris, I hope it drives you on for gold!

Another key element in breaking records is the aerodynamics of the environment. The velodrome is a fully indoor arena in order to remove the effects of head winds, which also makes it possible to control the temperature and humidity inside the track area.  Klaus Bode of BDSP, an environmental engineer, explained that there are no restrictions on the temperature or humidity of the track from the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) the governing body for international cycling. This is unusual considering the amount of regulations created by them for the bicycle configuration, athletes position & clothing.

Between 70% – 90% of a cyclist’s barrier to speed is the air resistance as they cut through the wind. Therefore, when designing a record breaking velodrome, this was one of the biggest areas considered. From a scientific perspective, making the air lighter/ thinner allows the body to cut through it more easily. Lighter Hydrogen molecules in water vapour displace heavier Nitrogen molecules normally in air.

The end result is that the race track area will be maintained at 28 degrees Centigrade with higher humidity content. The environmentalists amongst you should not be overly upset about the energy consumption as the velodrome has been designed using CFD (computation fluid dynamics analysis) to efficiently heat and naturally circulate the air significantly beyond the current building regulations and removes the need for air conditioning. However, if you have seats in the upper tier you should be aware that you will literally be in the Hot Seat as the crowd area can get up to 36 degrees!

All of these aspects amount to a velodrome designed and engineered with impeccable attention to detail and specifically tailored for Team GB’s cyclists. Now all that’s left to do is for our athletes to pedal like they’ve never pedalled before…