The only way to make aerodynamics not matter is to stop moving. That line basically sums up Specialized’s philosophy regarding aerodynamics from here forward. Aerodynamics are so important on a bike in fact, that Specialized has now invested a huge amount of time and money in creating their own bicycle specific wind tunnel.

Aerodynamics is about more than TT bikes and aero road helmets. By utilizing their new wind tunnel, Specialized aims to improve aerodynamics for every bicycle along with components from here on out.

Get a detailed look at the tunnel, next.

Up to this point, wind tunnel testing has mostly been reserved for the highest level athletes and the development of wind cheating TT/Tri bikes and gear. This isn’t because other segments of the market can’t benefit from testing, but more because wind tunnel time is so expensive and complicated. Typically, taking a product to a wind tunnel requires up to a month of lead time and once the company is there, they have a limited amount of time. The other issue facing bicycle companies who wish to improve on aerodynamics is that most wind tunnels are designed for testing aerospace and automotive parts which see wind speeds and forces 100-1000s of times stronger than what is encountered on a bike. Running these tunnels that are design for such high speeds at essentially the lowest speed possible results in air with more disturbance than what Specialized built specifically for bicycles and human powered speeds.

Building the Specialized Wind Tunnel


From left to right, Chris Yu, Mark Cote, Chuck Texeira, and Chris D’Aluisio

Working with some of the best minds in aerodynamics including Chuck Texeira, Chris d’Alusio, Chris Yu, Mark Cote, Mark Hopkins, and Bruce Storms, Specialized set out to build a bicycle specific wind tunnel from scratch. The goal wasn’t just to own their own wind tunnel, but create a measurement system perfectly calibrated for the world of bicycles. Capable of wind speeds from 0-100 KPH, the tunnel offers precise control and a custom force balance that was designed by Chuck Texeira. The balance is essentially like a bathroom scale that sits 6 feet underneath the bike in the tunnel and measures the force of the wind resistance. As an illustration of the force balance’s precision, imagine a bathroom scale that would detect the person standing on it being given a paper clip. That same scale also has to read minute differences very rapidly as the wind changes, so designing the balance was no small task. On top of the balance sits a rotary turn table which the bike is mounted to. The turn table allows for testing at various yaw angles and the whole unit is completely isolated from the rest of the building for pinpoint accuracy.

Specialized wind tunnel ends

20130516_TunnelOpening-0611 20130124_WindTunnel-00295-Edit

Built as an open return tunnel, Specialized’s tunnel features a single tube that is completely sealed off from the rest of the building. Six fans are positioned at the back of the tunnel, which draw air in from the front through a honeycomb mesh, then continuous fine mesh which serve to straighten out the airflow and remove disturbances. The decision was made to use 6 smaller fans instead of 1 large one due to the fact that 1 large fan would have to be custom built. If anything on the smaller fans malfunction, they can be quickly and easily replaced. Fans are housed in a carbon fiber fan shroud that was hand laid by many Specialized employees. Why carbon? Why not?




Another difference than other wind tunnels is the physical size of the test chamber. At 30 ft long, 10 ft wide, and 16 ft tall, it allows Specialized to include other features in the test such as other bikes to simulate a peloton. The widely spaced walls also offer cleaner air flow reading in the center of the tunnel when testing a single bike. Air exits the tunnel through a 50ft diffuser section which slows the air down gently to prevent turbulence from making its way back to the force balance. Only by watching the video of the tunnel being built can you get a feel for the sheer size of this thing.



The S-Works McLaren helmet above is a perfect example of CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind tunnel testing working together to form the final product. The helmet went through 56 different prototypes before even making a model, with the designs computer tested through CFD to confirm the design. Obviously, this was created before Specialized finished the wind tunnel, but in the future Specialized is capable of working very similar to F1 teams – design on Monday, test on Friday. New designs can literally go from paper to testable prototype in an extremely short period of time. Since Specialized owns the wind tunnel and it is located 5 minutes from their main headquarters, there is no longer any limit to how much time they have for testing. In addition to being able to visit the wind tunnel whenever they like, Specialized built the tunnel with an observation room that will function as an employee and SBCU class room. Anyone from employees, to dealers, to athletes can come to the tunnel and really see what aerodynamics is all about.

If you didn’t already see it coming, Aero is more than just the new black. Aero is everything.



  1. JB on

    Didn’t realize Chuck moved over from Easton to Specialized. He’s a great guy, glad to see he’s still doing well!

  2. Fredrick on

    This sounds like the next logical step for specialized.
    Good on them for fully committing though, it shouldn’t be to long before something wild roles out of that room.

    The comment about every bicycle above, does this mean we should be expecting something like an aero XC bike at some point?

  3. Eric@505 on

    A question for the mechanical engineers in the BR crowd: given the much larger size of a rider compared to the bike itself, how much does a BICYCLE being aerodynamic actually matter, when there’s such a big lump of homo sapiens riding atop it?

    Can someone explain this for the non-engineers among us? (no armchair engineers, please). Thanks!

  4. TT on

    That’s exactly what I wanted to ask, Eric! So let’s wait for some clarification (no armchair engineers, please!).

  5. shortnstocky on

    Only, aero isn’t everything. There are lots of other things like comfort, handling, durability and of course the subjective aesthetics. I’m happy for them, really I am, it is a cool toy. But enough with the marketing already Specialized.

  6. harro on

    aerodynamic drag is a function of surface area and drag coefficient and speed squared. there are other variables but for the most part those are the same. As was stated the area of the person riding the bike is much larger than the bike itself. Therefore, most of your drag comes from your body. Any improvements to either the drag coefficient or surface area of the bike are minimal which is why you’re only saving like 30 watts at 35 mph with some of the aero equipment.

  7. Mason on

    Specialized doesn’t make homo sapiens, they make bikes, guys.

    Sweet bikes that apparently will be more aero now, at that

  8. David French on

    “which is why you’re only saving like 30 watts at 35 mph with some of the aero equipment”

    Sounds perfect for anyone who competes.

  9. been there on

    Too big of a room for good boundary flow control… But hey it’s a nice showroom with huge alloy wheels at the back wall to bring some bling…

  10. Rob on

    Aero does actually have a large effect on the force resisting a cyclists movement through the air.

    The resistive force acting on an object (cyclist + bike) moving in a fluid (air) is given by;

    Force = p x A x v² x C (very simplified equation based on a 2D object, but pretty good estimate)

    p: is a constant (0.5 x the density of the air (which does not change)).
    A: the cross sectional area of the object normal to the direction (for a cyclist it’s the same as the area of the cyclist+bike when looking directly at from the front or behind).
    v: the velocity of the cyclist.
    C: the drag coefficient (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_coefficient for some measured exampled.)

    The drag coefficient is something that aero people try to reduce as much as they can. The coefficient ranges from 0.05 to about 1, 0.05 being the best case scenario and 1 being the worst.

    There are two things you can do to reduce your drag, either the drag coefficient or your area. The drag coefficient can be reduced 20 fold, whereas you cant reduce your surface area by a factor of 20.

    So, drag is very important. However, the main drag contributor will be your body and not your bike. I would guess that the area of a human is 5 times greater than the area of the bike. So in effect reducing the drag of the bike, is a pretty small contributor to the forces you will experience.

    For the speeds involved in cycling (30mph tops) I think there is no need for it. For 200mph (flight) its a different story.

    R – PhD Aerosapce

  11. Sean on

    That’s why the road guys are taking there normal road racing bikes into the wind tunnels and testing different positions on the bike. Things like how they hold their arms etc. 1w here 1w there and it all adds up. 30w advantage at 30-35mph is a sizeable amount and could make the difference between staying away or getting caught. Unfortunately that means those helmets are here to stay. Specialized are certainly a forward moving company but I find their aesthetic unappealing and their heavy handed tactics are a little off putting as well.

  12. NASH on

    Would it matter what type of face one is given. Would a pointy nose and hollow cheek bones be better than flat boxer type nose and jowls?
    How would riding with a big open mouth style with tongue wagging compare to closed lipped and stolid?
    Should a beard be worn? Would a heavily waxed moustache help with lowering drag coefficient across the mouth area?
    These are the type of questions that need to be formally researched and answered. Would Specialized please publish a manual of ideal faces for increased aerodynamic efficiency?

  13. FasterFester on

    Specialized bike buyers, thank you for funding such a great piece of wind cheating hype and marketing BS.

  14. carl on

    The reference to F1 was timely. Ferrari (last year) and McLaren this year both experienced problems with faulty data. Wind tunnel testing and simulators said one thing, but the cars reacted differently on the track. This is great though and I hope they can make it work.

  15. Ben on

    “Aerodynamics are so important on a bike in fact, that Specialized has now invested a huge amount of time and money in creating their own bicycle specific wind tunnel – an industry first.”

    not exactly an Industry first, SHIMANO had a wind tunnel over 30 years ago.

    “The Dura Ace and 600 AX groups weren’t just designed to look fast, they were fast. Shimano engineers built the industries first wind tunnel, helping to develop the components aerodynamics, resulting in 20% less drag. This sort of engineering and product development is taken for granted today, in 1981 when AX was developed, it was revolutionary.”

  16. Rob on

    The way I see it is if you make money from racing then maybe it’s worth spending the money on carbon and aero inspired parts.

    There is a reason I ride a heavy single speed around a pretty hilly part of the world. I have to work harder to keep up with my friends and in so doing I become stronger than them. Thereby healthier and richer as I dont buy expensive parts.

    I think it’s a pretty smart way of doing it if you ask me….

  17. pfs on

    @Texast – Cannondale will respond by promptly going bankrupt. Again. Hey, you can’t blame them for being consistent.

  18. Jim Rawson on

    It is always cool to have a component or frame save you watts.

    I wonder if they test with a human form on the bike? Or better yet a dynamic pedaling mannequin?

    Bikes do not ride themselves…..

    It does not matter how aero the bike/frame or wheel is in an tunnel by itself. When you put all the parts together and throw a pedaling human in the mix that is when the real aero #’s come in to play.

    I know Giant used a robotic pedaling mannequin for the new Propel according to their test data.

    Makes the most sense to me.

  19. velorider on

    If a small custom shop in Minnesota did aero testing with a bunch of guys wearing flannel and beards we would all be impressed. I’ll go ahead and guess that Specialized has no chance of doing anything good unless they give away bikes for free at every amateur race in the world.

    We praise Madfiber for making killer wheels because they look cool, and yet they are about as aero as a box section classics rim. So do we want aero (requires a wind tunnel test) or do we just want carbon bling regardless of what it does for the money? Companies with cash can build wind tunnels, and I think you know how they get their cash: we are buying the products. I’m not the least bit worried about what they do with their money since we’re the ones giving it to them.

    Sinyard could build a bigger house, but he built a wind tunnel instead. If no one buys the current fugly aero road helmet then now they can spend more time in their personal wind tunnel making fast look better.

  20. A. on

    My understanding of aerodynamics and how they relate to cycling was something like this:

    80% of the drag is caused by the rider
    15% of the drag is caused by the wheels
    5% of the drag is caused by the frame (with most of that coming from the fork

    Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this.

  21. Robo on

    There’s definitely some really cool applications for this. I’m fairly certain they have the foresight to put a rider on the bike as well and see how the bike and components react. from helmets to jerseys to bikes to seeing how multiple bikes react in the wind, along with different fit positions, a lot of really interesting data could come out of this. Obviously, it won’t effect me too much when I hop on my bike with flip flops and ride a block over to my buddies house, but when I suit up for the sunday race or weeknight crit, I’ll take any advantage I can get exactly BECAUSE I’m NOT a pro and NOT strong enough to smash my fellow racers without breaking a sweat.

    I THINK when the Cervelo S5 came out, the rep said drag is 80% body, 20% bike and equipment. You’re never going to remove that 80% but if you can make the rider 20% more efficient, that’s a huge gain.

  22. Ricky Bob on

    And now they will build the cost of this wind tunnel into all their bikes. So when you buy an Enduro, you are paying to have some dudes Shiv be .000001% faster. None but the most anal gram counting XC riders care about aerodynamics (among MTB riders that is).

  23. ccolagio on

    @A. – you have any published papers or articles to go with those numbers? id love to read it

    as a design engineer, seeing a company that gives their engineers all the tools in the world to innovate and test is amazing. you couldn’t ask for more. this is the FIRST bike specific tunnel – that is amazing! i love this!

    as an educated person, anyone who says aero development/testing is “marketing” or “bs”…its freaking science. a science that is obviously beyond you

  24. satisFACTORYrider on

    the always cool thing about cycling is you cannot hide your fitness/skill/racing iq or lack thereof. don’t see why anyone would care about what would become available to some wednesday-nite-worlds local 4-5 racer-boi. unless you can really let your legs do all the talking your just posing with your bike anyway.

  25. Walt on

    Until they legalize recumbents or fairings, everything worth doing for aerodynamics on bikes has already been done, mostly 30+ years ago. It looks neat, though.


  26. satisFACTORYrider on

    @Psi – i agree but you have to legalize doping and PEDs. if you’re gonna have engine restrictions what more can you do to the chassis that’s gonna geek out more than a .0000000000001 % gain?

  27. Joe on

    I would like to see the cost of this wind tunnel expressed in Sirruses and Vitas since those are the bikes that actually paid for this.

  28. Psi Squared on

    satisFACTORYrider, aero improvements don’t result in huge performance gains, but they’re gains none the less. Companies wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t strive to make improvements on their bikes, their components, or their accessories. It’s very likely the same folks who whinge about such improvements or mock them would just as likely mock the companies and whinge if said companies didn’t innovate. There’s no satisfying such people. It’s important to note no one has to buy a bike or a particular bike. It’s really that simple.

    I’m not going to follow your doping red herring down the stream.

  29. Sergio on

    About time for major players / manufacturers to recognize the importance of aero and put money into it. This might be annoverkill but if they can bank it, that is great. aero is what Cervèlo has been preaching since day one of their existance. Cervèlo has the leading edge on both aero design and carbon fiber.

    I applaud Specialized for this bold move. Aero is the way to go, however it will also require knowledge on carbon fiber to come up with solid bikes … or will Specilized co-brand more bikes with McLaren?

  30. satisFACTORYrider on

    psi- i wrote that i agreed with you. anything on wheels that’s meant to go fast needs aero tweaks that evolve with design. i like specialized products as well. red herring..not meant to be followed for this article. you’re right about that. that’s an engine/fuel article.

  31. patrik on

    @Walt “Until they legalize recumbents or fairings, everything worth doing for aerodynamics on bikes has already been done, mostly 30+ years ago. It looks neat, though.”

    Thomas J. Watson, IBM Chairman, in 1958: ‘I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

    It’s people like Walt and Watson that put up walls that prevent progress.

  32. patrik on

    Mountain bikers would approve of this wind tunnel if it was designed by bearded guys in overalls from Portland, who brew hoppy beer on the side, and ride pennyfarthings to organic coffee fairs.

  33. Sean on

    Patrik, your response to Walt is so ironic. Recumbents/streamliners dominate in time trials and hour records yet theyre banned by the UCI. Tell us again who is preventing progress.

  34. Psi Squared on

    I think it’s hilarious that people don’t realize that customers can buy recumbents if they want. This story, however, is about double diamond upright bicycles. Why would the UCI open the rules to allow recumbents to compete against upright bikes? There is no reason to do that. Using your logic, the UCI should open its rules to aircraft, rockets, and watercraft because they’re doing way cooler stuff than the recumbent people.

  35. Walt on

    @Psi – I don’t understand – if it’s got 2 wheels and is human powered, it’s a bike. I’d LOVE to see UCI races with ‘bents. Good lord, every flat stage would have 60 or 70 kph average speeds!

    My point was that subtle tweaks to the aero profile of upright/safety bikes with equal sized wheels and no fairings has long ago passed the point of diminishing returns. Mucking around with the quick releases (yes, you can buy aero quick releases) or whatever won’t make any difference even at the highest level/fastest speeds. Besides, if you DID come up with something really crazy and new that worked, the UCI would just ban it (see Obree, Graeme) anyway.

    The aircraft/rockets/whatever analogy makes no sense to me. What?

  36. Psi Squared on

    Sorry, Walt, you’ll never see ‘bents racing uprights in major races because they’re not the same. If you don’t get how they’re not the same, then you can’t be helped. HINT: they’re not the same in the same way that F1 cars aren’t like Touring Class race cars, which also don’t race together.

    If you want to race bents, have at it. I’ll bet ‘bent racing will be at least an order of magnitude or more less interesting and less popular than the current bike racing scheme. The majority of riders and the majority of fans likely have no interest in ‘bents.

    As for diminishing returns, so what? More pointedly, what makes you think you know where the returns are too small to worry about?

  37. Walt on

    Well, mostly I say that because bikes have been tested in wind tunnels for more than 30 years now, so all the low hanging fruit is gone. You might be able to squeeze out a fraction of a watt somewhere but for all practical purposes, all the good stuff is done.

    Maybe Specialized will prove me wrong, but it really just looks like a way to sell fat dentists on the idea that they can buy their way up a few places in their age group in their Wednesday night parking lot crit. Which, to be fair, is a great marketing strategy that has totally worked with super expensive lightweight stuff which is probably even more useless than aero stuff to the amateur competitive rider.

  38. Psi Squared on

    I assume, Walt, that you don’t do aerodynamics, that it’s not your field. There are always improvements to be made, and if you think that the people testing and analyzing aero data really care about the marketing or selling to whatever social group you choose to malign, uhm, they don’t.

    I’m sure there are enough–oh, what was your word……”fat…?–fat dentists or fat whatever riding your bikes. It sure does seem as if your nose is tilted a pretty high, especially to be judging others as you have. Pot, meet kettle.

  39. Walt on

    I was trying to be funny but I guess that didn’t come across (I too have put on shoe covers in a pathetic attempt to crack the top 20 of a Cat 3 Wednesday night time trial…) I’m sure there are aero improvements left to be made (I’ll stand by my assertion that barring a rules change or two, they’re largely insignificant).

    Anyone out riding a bike is a friend of mine, fat or not, dentist or not, and if Specialized sells more bikes or puts more riders on the podium due to the tunnel, good for them!


  40. Mindless on

    @Psi Squared: I assume you pretend that you know aerodynamics. I will also have to assume that you understand the relative importance of incremental improvements after :low hanging fruit” had been optimized for the last 30 years and Walt correctly mentioned. I will also have to assume that you are incredibly naive if you think it is not first, second, and last about marketing and selling to fat poseurs.

  41. gr on

    Here we go…a company builds a one-of-a-kind system (in this case a wind tunnel) for testing bikes. Just imagine the marketing opportunity this provides…no one can argue the data because the competitors wheels/frames/helmets etc are only tested in inferior wind tunnels under less than exacting conditions. Ladies & Gentleman, prepare yourselves for lots & lots of heretofore never appreciated insights to the world of aerodynamics as it applies to cycling.

    Let the buyer beware…as PT Barum said, there is a sucker born every minute!

  42. A. on

    80% rider
    15% wheels
    5% frame

    This is the general “formula” that has been recognized in the industry for a long time. Again, correct me if I’m wrong.

    As for documentation:


    I’ve been in the bicycle industry for 2 decades. That’s 20 years of making a living through bicycles. That’s 5x longer than law school. That’s at least twice as long as medical school. This may not make my opinion right, but will probably qualify me as a somewhat educated person on the subject.

    I never brought up aerodynamics and wind tunnels as a marketing ploy, mostly because I don’t think that something that obvious needs to be stated. As for saying that the science of aerodynamics is beyond me because I brought up this commonly accepted formula… this just makes you a (deleted).

  43. industry worker on

    to all of you hating on building a wind tunnel because it is bs or marketing… if being more aero is not a successful way to win races then why are there aero bikes at all? why are there any wind tunnels or engineers? why don’t they just send out a quick survey with some pictures of bikes and ask you guys, the all knowing wizards of bike oz, which ones are fast? If engineers are wrong and all of this is just for marketing than I guess we are all fools for buying tt specific bikes.. maybe you are the ones that all own red bikes because red is by far the fastest color…

    all you aero haters should probably go out and put some rear wind spoilers on your front wheel drive honda civics, add some decals, racing stripes and maybe even some cool neon lights. I mean, all of those things are definitely more effective that a professional grade wind tunnel teamed up with engineers…

  44. Rob on

    Neither Cancellara nor Sagan ride special aero bikes and they are among the best! None of the fast Cat 1/2’s here in Northern Cali ride ’em either. Fred Rodriguez just won US Nationals on a Focus, with Bookwalter in 2nd on a BMC and Ben Jacques-Maynes 4th on a Jamis. The only guy winning on an aero frame is Cavandish, but he could win on anything.

    A strong rider with good tactics on reliable equipment has the advantage over the less fit rider on the aero bike with the super-light equipment. That said, I do own a Tarmac Pro SL4 and must say it is the best bike I have ever rode, and I have rode a lot. I am not a Specialized Fan Boy by any stretch of the imagination, and this is all just in my opinion, of course!

  45. Chris on

    @Rob — Great points but that doesn’t mean that Cancellara or Sagan won’t ride aero bikes in the future, especially will all this advanced R&D happening right now. If the bikes improve as they should, it’d be a mistake for any competitive rider to ignore the advantages.


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