Automotive companies that want to create technology demonstrators to showcase their capabilities usually base them on four wheels and either a high-performance (or highly fuel efficient) powertrain. But John Bailey, Managing Director of racecar electronics’ specialist Beru F1 Systems, decided to use only two wheels, with the human body providing the motive power—and this AEI editor was the first journalist invited to test it, an interesting challenge for a convinced four-wheel traveler.
Wanting to explore the transfer of design approaches, technology, and materials from F1 (the company supplies electronics and composites to every team but one) to other sectors of the transport industry, Bailey elected to create what he regards as the world’s most technologically advanced and integrated bicycle.
Reaction to it has been such that, instead of a one-off technology demonstrator, a production run is planned that could reach 300, with F1 Champion Lewis Hamilton taking delivery of the first one, his prize for winning the 2007 Graham Hill Trophy.
With a carbon-fiber monocoque frame, twin-tube configuration for enhanced lateral stiffness, and hydraulically operated ceramic brakes, the race training Factor 001 cycle does not attempt to meet the design regulations of the UCI (the governing body for world cycle sport) because the company wanted to avoid jeopardizing the engineering-led design, which was focused on the cycle as a race training tool.
Weighing only 7 kg (15.4 lb), Factor 001’s technology includes Beru F1’s Wire-in-Composite (WiC) technology, developed for exotic use on F1 and other racing applications and shown on the Jaguar C-XF concept car, but which could find applications on series production cars in the next decade.
Bailey’s criteria for the Factor 001 include systems’ integration, so the cycle is described as a "cohesive device" with electronics monitoring rider and machine, recording to an onboard data logger or, for use within a Velodrome, transmitting real time to a data center. It also had to match other high-end sports cycles with regard to overall weight while carrying the extra equipment necessary for its data recording system.
It is almost entirely a bespoke machine, with only gears, crank, chain, and tires being COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) items. "Everything else is designed, machined, and manufactured by Beru F1 Systems," said Bailey. "It has been very challenging but we have achieved it, and as an F1 supplier we are used to being challenged and always enjoy it."
Modeling and analysis software includes the latest FEA codes as used in the F1 sector, but for the cycle application it simulates an athlete’s inputs. Variable geometry tooling was used for the M55J carbon-fiber monocoque frame (Bailey stated that structural joins, which can markedly reduce rigidity, were avoided), the dimensions of which can be adjusted to individual requirements.
The major frame members bifurcate as they approach the cycle’s extra wide bottom bracket area to reduce side flexing caused by pedal inputs, obviating the need for extra reinforcement and also saving weight. Bailey said that eliminating the heavy and structurally inefficient fork crown and carrying the fork blades to the top of the head tube had produced a solution stiffer and more efficient than conventional designs: "The twin-spar approach also reduces the peak loads on the steering bearings for substantially longer maintenance-free life."
Design and manufacture of the Factor 001’s wheels were particularly challenging. They comprise what Bailey described as "a unique composite construction" to produce a light, very stiff, eight-spoke solution. The wheels are designed not just for track or smooth road applications but for multisurface conditions. High-strength composite skins, using a proprietary fiber construction from parent company Beru, are bonded to an ultralight RohaCell foam core, which helps resist lateral forces to ensure the wheels stay true even when experiencing pothole strikes.
With a mountain pass descent seeing race cycle speeds reaching about 115 km/h (71 mph) between hairpin bends, braking is a very high priority. The Factor 001 gets carbon ceramic discs of motorsport grade front and rear but giving required feedback. Instead of hoses, lightweight but rigid stainless steel pipes are built into the Factor 001’s architecture and protected by carbon-fiber layers.
Designed as a laboratory and medical standards training tool, the cycle has what Bailey believes to be unique ergonomic data collection, logging, and analysis capability, with biometric, physical force, and environmental data harvested simultaneously to provide the integrated picture that makes the machine something very special. Some of Europe’s top athletes were involved with the Factor 001’s development.
Physiological data collection can measure and record ECG (electrocardiogram) rate, respiration rate, skin temperature, respiratory impedance, and core body temperature, plus the rider's vertical, lateral, and longitudinal acceleration, sending information via Bluetooth to the cycle’s head unit on the handlebars.
Rider power is recorded via a torque measurement system, again wirelessly connected to the head unit. Output from the left and right leg can be measured independently through the whole pedal rotation to an accuracy of 1 degree. An accelerometer measures the rider’s left and right lean, incline, and rate of climb. Rider power (generated in W) is also measured, as are ambient conditions including atmospheric pressure, temperature, and humidity.
The sensor network is built into the structure of the cycle and connected by an integrated wiring harness protected by the composite chassis and powered by a lithium polymer battery. A 76 x 57 mm LCD touchscreen gives the rider customized feedback in real time. More than 100 channels on eight scrolling screens are available.
Fully equipped, the Factor 001 is priced at around $37,000.
So, with all that in mind, it was time for this AEI Editor to change into Lycra kit, topped by an aerodynamically efficient helmet, and sample the wheeled extravaganza that is—according to Bailey—probably the world’s most advanced technology velocipede.
As I could not remember the last time I had ridden a bicycle but did recall in some detail the last time I had fallen off one, I initially pedaled with due caution, wobbling my way—on tires at 8.28 bar (120 psi)—toward either survival or ignominy, with the disturbing knowledge that the development cycle I was riding represented an investment of around $75,000.
Speed cautiously edged up to a cool 15 km/h (9.3 mph) and I realized that the Factor 001 was something of a pussy cat, its rigidity signaling precision and security as I pedaled my way along the tarmac of the World War II USAAF bomber base at Tibenham in the UK, from which movie star James Stewart had once flown Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers.
As speed rose toward 30 km/h (18.6 mph), I sampled the ceramic brakes very gently as I did not want to punish them too much from such a speed. They groaned a little—probably with boredom.
During my epic test ride, bike and body were being monitored, so when at last I crossed the imaginary finish line, my next concern was how both had performed.
As expected, the Factor 001 had been magnificent. As for my body, it is probably best that a veil is drawn across the messages on most of the screens, the first of which showed a flat line. Had I died? No, apparently it was the cycle that was stationary, not my heart.
Maximum torque output? My left leg managed 113 N·m (83 lb·ft) and my right 116 N·m (86 lb·ft)—slightly ahead of a Ford Fiesta 1.25-L Style. Pretty good, yes? The experts suggested a coffee break.
OK, well what about power output? The 687 W sounded sufficient to light a Midwest township or at least the Oval Office? Was this Olympic standard? None of those things—a top athlete would probably approach 3000 W. Failed again.
But at least I had not fallen off so, on balance, I was impressed.