Massive Simulation Reveals Drag on Bicycle Racers

Dutch Supercomputer spills on where to ride

Scientists at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands have performed the “largest numerical simulation ever done in the sports industry and cycling discipline,” modeling an entire peloton (the clump of riders riding together in a bicycle race).

Professor Bert Blocken and a team of researchers created a computer model with over 3 billion cells to predict the flow of air around each of the cyclists. The study produced some interesting results. Riders and scientists are well aware that less energy is needed to ride in the center of the peloton, but the general understanding was that the drag was 2 to 3 times smaller. The experiment demonstrated that the drag is actually 20 times smaller than the drag on an isolated cyclist.

The result was so surprising that the team set up a wind tunnel test to verify the numerical result and found the wind tunnel test successfully validated the result. The experiment used the ANSYS Fluent simulation software running on a Cray supercomputer.