FES Track bikes ready for Battle
Germany is well equipped for Tokyo with a massive fleet of four bikes, seven different handlebars and eight configurations of wheels. I think it is safe to say they are prepared for battle!
Germany track riders have been using FES bikes for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories of an FES was of Jens Lehmann on his FES being caught by Chris Boardman on the famous Lotus 108 at the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. Although somewhat shadowed for losing against the Lotus, the individual pursuit final has been played on youtube over 600,000 times.
The FES bikes are designed, developed and manufactured by the German ‘Institute for Research and Development of Sports Equipment (FES). The FES for short, established in 1965 is dedicated to “optimizing the entire system of athletes and equipment” through scientific research. With an interdisciplinary approach, the government sponsored program develops equipment for multiple Olympic sporting disciplines such as rowing, sailing, bobsleigh, speed skating, skeleton and cycling.
Up until the Tokyo Olympic cycle, the FES bikes were impossible for anyone to buy. Since the new UCI rules deem that all equipment needed to be publicly available, as of this year, you can now visit the FES website to pick up your very own olympic level superbike.
FES have four models of frame registered for Tokyo. They are bringing along the two B16 frames from Rio and two new frames dubbed the B20 for Tokyo. All four models are available to for the public to purchase:
Sprint and bunch racing bike
XS(1), S(2), M(3), L(4)
Front axle - 100mm
Rear axle - 120mm
Bottom bracket - 68mm BB30
€15,325.30 (frame and fork)
Lets begin with the B16 developed for the previous Olympic cycle. Despite it being 4 years old already, I have struggled to find many detailed images of the framesets. For the German riders, the framesets must still show merit while they ride them alongside the improved B20’s.
The B16-TR was released in four sizes - XS through to L. Each size is labeled on the chainstays by numbers 1 to 4 after the frame model name. 1 being XS and 4 being L. The core dimensions of each size haven't been published, but the handy feature lets us know what size frames each rider is using. It no doubt also helps the German mechanics more easily identify which bike belongs to each rider.
Back at Rio, Kristina Volgel ran a B16-TR 1, the XS size frame. Kristina's signature pink accents make the frameset stand out from the rest of the FES fleat.
Apologies for the watermarked images, these are some of the more detailed images I was able to find through-out my research.
A design feature coming through on many production bikes (including the Argon18 Electron Pro) is the junction between the faring in front of the headtube, and the stem. Although the fairing is part of the fork, it is considered to be part of the headtube frame geometry when measured according to the rules. This feature maximises aero while increasing stem stiffness.
Vogels custom FES sprint handlebars mount to the stem through an aerofoil shaped clamp. The non-concentric profile makes adjustments impossible without changing stems, on the flipside, this assembly would be very stiff.
Robert Forstemann at 1.74m tall rides a small sized B16 frame. With todays sprinting trend of riding long bikes and pushing out the bars to their 10cm limit for maximum aero gains, The small sized bike looks a bit short for Forstemann now doesn't it?
Equipped with a 117” gear, the moderately small 52 tooth Bespoke Quadzilla Chainring also looks a bit out of place by today’s standards. Looking at the cutout on the chainstay, I estimate that the B16 would fit up to about a 57/58 tooth chainring before starting to rub.
According to the FES website, the timetrial version of the B16 features narrow wheel axles. The front axle is reduced down to 70mm from the standard 100mm, and the rear is 79mm from 120mm. The bottom bracket is narrower to help reduce the frontal areas for maximum aero gains. FES also mentions that the framesets come in one size - although it does not suggest which size that is.
Thus far in my research, I have not found many detailed or closeup images of the B16 timetrial framesets to fully analyse the differences, but from action shots (like the image below), it appears very similar to the Sprint / bunch racing frame, but with slightly less chunky fork blades that hug in close with the wheelset. For ease of interchangeable equipment, I imagine the standard frameset with compatibility with standard wheel and cranksets is a preferred bike for the team to ride outside of the Olympics where no compromises are made.
Every Olympic cycle brings the opportunity for teams to learn from their successes, failures and from the technology of other teams. Not every team is able to innovate every four year cycle, but those who do certainly have the upper hand with marginal gains.
The 2020 FES models are a direct iteration of their predecessor. Developments in bike fits, manufacturing process and materials mean that bikes can be made stiffer, and more aerodynamic while maintaining a minimum weight.
One of the key aesthetic design developments on the B20 is the ‘almost’ horizontal top tube. FES frames over the years have maintained a backward angled top tube which is iconic of their design language since the late 2000’s. The B20’s near horizontal top tube is enough to make the most of the UCI frame geometry rules, yet pay homage to FES’s design roots.
The front end on the B20 features a narrow headtube and headtube faring which transitions out to a pair of deep bladed forks. A large clearance between the blades and wheel - especially at the top of the wheel where it is rotating the fastest, reduce turbulence and drag.
The FES cockpit hasn’t changed very much in design since Rio which shows that the system works well for the teams and riders. FES produce a range of bars for the aerofoil system from 330 to 400mm wide and in a variety of drops. FES now Custom design and 3D print the stems in titanium to suit the rider, so once set, the bars are fixed in the optimum position. I feel this modular airfoil clamping system provides a good amount of flexibility through interchanging bars and stems, yet maintains good aerodynamics and structural stiffness.
The Aerobars on the B20-TT bike feature the same stem clamp mounting system. Note that on this bike they are using a raised stem to lift the base of the base-bar up, then using a short mono stack up to the aero bar armrests. The extensions themselves feature a two-finger grip that the rider hooks their smallest two fingers around. The extensions follow the form of the rider’s forearms and wrists to close up any gaps between the bar and arms. Any voids and gaps like that would create unnecessary drag.
One of my favourite aesthetic design elements on this bike is the transition between the down tube and Bottom bracket gusset. A large fillet from the bulky BB laps around the aerofoil to seamlessly blend into the slender downtube. The carbon cloth lay-up facing in the direction of the tube nicely highlights this region directing the eye toward the carbon crankset.
The B20’s chainstays have been given an extension! I’d say the frame would now fit close to a 70 tooth chainring!
Form following function with the ultra-minimal seat post clamp. A single hex hey bolt sits elegantly on the seat tube just above the seat stay junction.
Smooth flowing surface transitions around the rear wheel dropout. The back of the seat stays terminate in a knife-edge for best airflow off the back of the bike. A built-in chain tensioner system ensures no wheel pull happens under high power efforts.
Based on what we are able to see from the limited amount of images online of both the B16 and B20 framesets, it is clear that Germany is well equipped for Tokyo. The frames are designed and manufactured in-house within the German Institute for Research and Development of Sports Equipment - funded by the government. No holding back in the pursuit for Olympic medals.
I’m looking forward to how they perform in Tokyo.