A Bicycle rolling resistance obsession leads to running shoe revolution which comes back to cycling
It’s been hard not to get caught up in all the hullaballoo surrounding the Eliad Kipchoge 1:59:40 marathon earlier this week. The coverage has been a mix of thrilling hype followed by the usual naysayers and outrage that so plague modern media. On the upside the outrage is over the methods employed and the purity of spirit of this record rather than something more nefarious.
While I can understand some of the emotions felt by the doubters who are calling this a ‘fake’ record, I am much more hopeful that the advancement and inspiration stemming from this feat will have far reaching benefits to the sport of running well beyond what happened on this one day.
From a Marginal Gains perspective, this attempt was pretty awesome. Nike developed 4 generations of shoe, 2 generations of foam and something like 40 patents surrounding the shoes alone. While I am certainly a doubter of marketing claims stating things like ‘this foam and shoe are 4% faster’ I am a true believer now that we have data aggregated from thousands of users on the strava platform showing that people are in fact running about 4% faster in the commercially available version of the shoe from the first 2:00 attempt. More interestingly, the shoe used to set the actual record is significantly different in more than a dozen ways. Amazing to see just how far the seeking of this record pushed the simple running shoe.
Photo: Ronald Zak
The pacing strategy is really nothing short of brilliant. Many of the articles I’ve read have focused on and called into question the use of pace setting runners surrounding and blocking the wind for Kipchoge. On the one hand I can understand some of the doubters, but remember, Roger Bannister also used pacers for his 4 minute mile and most all of the top marathons employ ‘rabbits’ who are runners paid to take the race out hard to try and drive down times, and of course runners in the pack behind the rabbit are certainly benefiting from some drafting effects. More amazingly though, is the pace car and laser guidance system used in this attempt. The most challenging element of breaking a major endurance record like this, or the cycling hour record is in the pacing. Go out too light and you put yourself in a time deficit that cannot possibly be made up later, go out too hard and you can put your body in a physiological hole that you can’t get out or that will come back to haunt you later in the event. The laser guidance on the road is a truly amazing innovation, and while I completely understand how it feels like it violates the spirit of the event for some, I also believe it will become a tool used for training and other attempts if it isn’t banned from use.
Perhaps most interesting to this entire event is just how many of these technologies were inspired by cycling tech, in fact the was largely orchestrated and driven from behind the scenes by the founding father of Marginal Gains himself, David Brailsford. The same person who focused on optimizing every single detail of every aspect of cycling to first help British Cycling dominate the Olympics, and who then put a team together which has come to dominate cycling by focusing on hundreds of details previously overlooked or taken for granted.
Perhaps most interesting for fans of cycling is how this cycling inspired running technology has come full circle back into cycling. One of the first areas the team tackled for breaking this record was a more efficient shoe which meant a shoe with very low hysteresis, one that had good compliance and high rebound perfectly balanced for the runner and the course, technologies inspired by advancements in bicycle tire rolling resistance. To develop this shoe, Nike had to develop new low hysteresis, high energy return foams which they laminated to high grip TPU traction pads and then stiffened with carbon fiber plates in the midsole. The first generation of this shoe was measured to be about 4% faster and the one used to finally break the record is supposedly 5% faster! Mission accomplished!
Inspired by the first 2 hour attempt, SILCA went after this same foam technology from the shoe to develop the Nastro bar tape. Using many of the same methods and models for improving efficiency in running foam, we learned that you don’t want damping in your bar tape, but rather high rebound for maximum support, comfort and efficiency. The final design: we take the same foam technology from the record breaking shoes, extrude it and laminate it to a high grip hydrophobic TPU traction layer which you can wrap over your carbon handlebars, creating a more efficient, more comfortable, more cushioned contact point.
SILCAlon, a softer, higher rebound foam straight from 2:00 technology. SILCAlon is 10-15% softer than most bar tape foams, while offering 10-15% higher rebound rates than any previous foams. This means that the foam transmits less shock and vibration to your body, and it does it more efficiently than previous generation foams.
SILCAthane, a hydrophobic, ultra-high grip TPU from running shoe tech, laminated over the SILCAlon. TPU is a super strong polymer which is highly tunable for wet/dry performance and is 5-10x more durable than most foam materials, and at 0.5mm thick, the SILCAthane exterior is also 5x thicker than the skin on self skinning foams. In combination, we have been able to create a tape that is lighter, softer, more efficient, has greater wet and dry grip, and is significantly more durable than anything previously available.
Lastly, we've partnered with 3M to use one of their Visco-elastic damping adhesives to hold the tape down. Testing shows that this extremely thin layer of damping film can help kill road buzz without costing efficiency or comfort.
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