Bikes to Die for - LotusSport Pursuit Bike
I saw the LotusSport pursuit bike for the first time last year at the Cycle Show. Even by today’s standards it looks pretty futuristic. The frame is a one piece and you can tell every effort has been made to make this machine as aerodynamic as physically possible. The LotusSport Pursuit Bicycle made its international debut at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Chris Boardman won the gold medal for Great Britain in the Individual Pursuit event and set a new unofficial world record of 4.24.496 in the quarter finals, representing an average speed of nearly 57kph over the 4000m. This was the first British Cycling Gold won at the Olympics for more than 70 years.
Although it is named 'LotusSport' – Lotus were it’s sponsors – not it’s original designers. The bike was conceived by the legendary Mike Burrows – someone who is generally considered to be one of the most influential and creative bike designers of recent times. (Burrows is also the man behind the ‘Windcheetah’ tricycle, but I’ll discuss that another time.) Burrows conceived a bike that held aerodynamic properties at the forefront of it’s design – which were then subsequently modified in various upgrades to optimise performance by Lotus engineering (who acquired the rights to the bike in February 1992). This was the first carbon monocoque frame to be made, using an aerofoil section composite at it's core. (According to the LotusSport website, the definition of a 'monocoque' is 'a completely-closed, thin wall, unitary load-bearing shell construction which cannot be analysed as individual load-bearing members.') By applying new materials to bike design (the bike is actually a blend of composite and titanium) it reset the standard for professional (and now commercially available bikes). Through their experience in Formula One racing, Lotus’s technical expertise was put to good use in the refinements that lead to the pursuit racer Boardman finally used. This, plus the 'superman' posture that Boardman adopted (now banned under UCI legislation), proved an unstoppable combination.
There is a reason why such meticulous attention to detail can be found on this bike. Ensuring that it can slip through the air in the most economic manner possible is critical or any time trial bike. This is because during a time trial the rider is not allowed to draft behind other cyclists. Therefore reducing the drag created by the bike and the rider is essential to achieving the best possible time. As time trials are typically over ‘shorter’ distances (than say a Sportive), the comfort of the rider is usually compromised by the need to achieve optimal geometry (again something Boardman was able to perfect). Thus TT bikes are normally fitted with aerobars that encourage the rider into a tucked position where the forearms and hands are close together, low and forward, despite overall stability being compromised. The use of aerobars became popular post the 1989 Tour de France where Greg Lemond defeated ‘The Professor’, aka Laurent Fignon, having been 50 seconds behind him in final stage (and time trial) of the race. All that said, the LotusSport bike remains an iconic piece of cycling engineering - courtesy of British innovation.