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Sunday May 19, 2024

Cranking it up for Paris, new bike set to keep British on a roll

By Reuters
May 10, 2024
The Hope HBT Paris bicycle for Paris Olympics is pictured at the National Cycling Centre, Manchaster, Britian, in this undated handout photograph. British Cycling. — Reuters
The Hope HBT Paris bicycle for Paris Olympics is pictured at the National Cycling Centre, Manchaster, Britian, in this undated handout photograph. British Cycling. — Reuters

LONDON: The old saying that a worker is only as good as their tools could be applied to the world of elite track cycling where Olympic medals are often decided by fractions of seconds.

So delivering a bike that can maintain Britain’s more than decade-long domination of the velodrome at the Paris Olympics is a process that occupies many of Oliver Caddy’s waking hours. Caddy is the Lead Project Engineer for British Cycling and it has been his job assembling the jigsaw of components that make up the recently-unveiled Hope Lotus Paris bike -- a machine that has pushed the boundaries of two-wheeled design.

“It’s in my DNA,” Caddy, a former competitive racer who joined British Cycling’s so-called Secret Squirrels Club nine years ago, told Reuters. “I’ve either been riding bikes or taking them to bits and putting them through my mum’s dishwasher for as long as I can remember. A combination of Lego and cycling has led me to where I am.”

The Paris bike is once again a collaboration between British Cycling’s in-house developers and the best of British engineering including Lotus Engineering, Renishaw and Hope Technology who built the frame.

While, to the untrained eye, the space-age black bike looks like the one used in Tokyo where Britain again topped the track cycling medals table -- there are modifications including the Renishaw 3D-printed titanium pedal cranks, a split seat post and serrated front forks developed by Lotus and British Cycling.

The carbon fibre frame, manufactured by Hope in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, has several other tweaks. The mission, according to Caddy, is achieving aerodynamic harmony between bike and rider.

“We stopped thinking of just the bike or just the rider alone quite a while ago,” Caddy said. “We think the future of bike development is marrying the bike with the rider into one system. We customise the contact points of the bike to make everything as ergonomic as possible so the rider is purely concentrating on their power output and is comfortable.

“If it’s possible to sit on a bike at those speeds and be comfortable then we want it to happen.” Caddy says ‘new bike day’ is exciting after all the hours of development, tweaks and endless talk of ‘cranks, cranks, cranks.” It’s also an anxious one for the developers -- the shorter window between the delayed Tokyo Games and Paris means the new iteration was developed in quick time.

“When you’re delivering the bikes at the last minute you need to be sure the riders are going to be satisfied,” Caddy said. “They will definitely have our feet over the fire if we didn’t make good on our promises.”

Caddy admits the Tokyo bike with its distinctive wide forks was not to everyone’s taste -- calling it’s radical design Marmite aesthetically. But he knew it was fast. The Paris version, he says, is evolution not revolution.

“You’ve got to be careful not to mess around with it too much,” he said. “It’s like when a child draws a picture and they keep adding bits and end up losing what they had.” Safety is paramount with the components such as the cranks enduring massive torques during sprints.

“It’s like three sprinters all standing on the pedal at the same time,” he said. “When you see it, when you see it happening to the crank you wince, it’s pretty violent.” Staying ahead in the bicycle arm’s race is becoming harder as other nations up their game and Caddy says much of the low-hanging fruit in terms of gains has gone.

“We’re not on the lower branches any more. But there are still ideas and it’s about refinement and I think the LA Games will be exciting in terms of development,” Caddy said. “But there’s still fruit on the tree and we are definitely going to find it if it’s there.”

International Cycling Federation rules mean all Olympics equipment must be homologated a year out from the Games and be commercially available. The Hope HBT Paris frame is available for a cool 25,000 pounds ($31,222) and, no, Caddy does not have his own. “I’ve got 30 but I’ve got to give them all away,” he said. “Maybe I’ll 3D-print a mini one.”