Wind Tunnel Testing the Al33, XR31T(FSW3), and others, Part 2

Yesterday's was a quick post to show the basic results. Today's post will explain the Angle of Attack distribution that we've used, and fill in some of the finer details on the test. 

The test occurred at A2 Wind Tunnel in North Carolina. A2, along with the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel, is one of the two default standard, publicly accessible wind tunnels in the US. If you want credible aerodynamics data, A2 is a an outsanding place to get it. No one from November was at A2, we Skyped in during the test. The test is a very standard one - 30mph test wind speed, temperature and pressure are normalized. We used a 23c sized (Continental's chosen descriptor) Continental GP4000sII tire, inflated to the wind tunnel standard 100psi. The alloy wheels used a tube with a 48mm valve stem while the Zipp used a 60mm valve stem, so valve stem protrusion was normalized as closely as possible. Other details of the builds have been detailed before

The standard test sweep is to go from 0* to 20* angle of attack, or yaw angle, in 2.5* increments. This is enough resolution to give an accurate representation of how the wheels perform through any statistically significant wind situation you will encounter. Wheels were tested alone, front wheel only. There are already some rattles of "this is irrelevant because it doesn't account for frame and fork" pushback on this. Simply, testing wheels standalone has decisively proven to have outstanding transfer to their performance in a bike system, and it's impossible to test with the range of bikes/forks/situations to satisfy everyone. The validity of this test's scope is established legislation, which you are free to relitigate as you wish, but it's not something we'll engage in arguing. 

Al33 in the tunnel at A2

Wind speed is 30mph. This is the standard test speed as it's been established to give the cleanest data. You can scale with software to produce results for more or less air speed, but the shape of the curves doesn't change - a wheel that's a laggard at 30mph doesn't become a star at 20, it stays a laggard. But since the effects of air resistance increase so quickly with air speed, the differences between wheels get compressed at lower air speeds.If you want to do the quick and dirty calculations on watts versus grams of drag versus time in the mythical 40k TT, here's the teacher's edition: using the 30mph parameter, 10g of drag roughly equals 1 watt, and 1 watt roughly equals 3 seconds in the mythical 40k. Not good enough for real science, but good enough to become a hyper-aware wheel consumer. 

Something we included in yesterday's chart that we've previously omitted are the blue bars showing the amount of time you're likely to spend encountering any given wind angle. How we arrived at this distribution needs explaining.

It had been an established convention that 10* was THE heavyweight angle, likely because Zipp's collateral always placed such heavy importance on 10* in particular, and the 10* to 20* range in general. When they give a time savings figure, it is computed at 10* as the only angle. However, the world has long since moved past "because I said so" as an acceptable premise, and Trek and Flo have both gone to the trouble of doing actual data collection in real world situations, and come up with distributions that show that lower angles are actually vastly more prevalent. In fact 10* is shown to be largely irrelevant.

We've linked a few hours of quality technical reading there, but the abstract is this: at real world riding speeds and in real world conditions, this is what you see. The Flo data is very plainly presented in percentages, and you'll notice that if you add the percentages up they don't equal 100% - that's because 0 to 20* doesn't encompass every situation encountered. You have a bunch of small data points going out from >20*. The Trek data is harder to break down, but break it down we did. 

The frequencies we show are a straight average of those three data sets - Flo's gathered data, Trek's data from the Ironman AZ course, and Trek's data from the quite windy Ironman Hawaii course. Anyone can argue with our methodology on this, but we think that this is the most robust, relevant, defensible distribution available. And for what it's worth, Hawaii distributed a bit differently, being very exposed and windy, but the Flo and Arizona data matched very well, and Hawaii really wasn't that different.

We are not asking you to believe anything on faith. Every bit of what's been done and how it's been done are available to you here and in the links. As none of these rims is our own or available exclusively through us, we derive no benefit from the data leaning one way or another, or shading the data in any way. This entire exercise to to provide the wheel market with good information to become educated about wheel aerodyamics. 

More in subsequent posts, but I've run long as is, so that's it for now. 

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The links to Trek and Flo do a lot to explain the methodologies. May I suggest the links be more prominently marked as links? It took a bit of scrolling around with my mouse to see where exactly the links were. Thanks for the great work.

Chris K

Hi Brian,It's a little hard to transport the one to the other super exactly, simply because there's the noise of the earlier test having been done with a different tire, and we used a little different angle weighting protocol back then, but… they're close. Getting the 18mm inside width was really a primary driver on the Rail project, for the improved handling that Mike and I both bought into, plus designing in better crosswind manners. Both of the new alloys obviously have both of those. But my fairly well educated guess is that there's not a lot between the old 58s and the new 32-ish wheels in terms of straight up aero speed. Dave


I know I'm late to the "post to this blog" party but I have one question for you gentlemen. A few years back (three now?) you did a wheel test at A2 and included your carbon 58's (this was a pre-Rail rim mind you). Could you tell me if your testing conditions then are applicable to your testing conditions now? I would like to see how those old 58's, which I'm still racing and love btw, stack up against the new alloy offerings above. Thanks for your time gentlemen.


HI Peter,The 25mm test isn't happening. If A2 was next door and there was zero logistical cost of doing it, we might go after that. As is, the number of parts and pieces to mobilize it at this point, for a near certain outcome of "yup, everything's a bit slower with a 25 on it" isn't time anyone's got right now. I say near certain outcome with previous tests and study of the issue to back it up. At this point, our official corporate stance is that they're all pretty close and revisiting it with a 28mm tire (which is what a GP4000 25 is) versus a 26mm tire (which is what a GP4000 23 is) isn't necessary. Dave


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