I don’t know about you but last Saturday night I decided to stay in – I was only halfway done with my weekend but I was exhausted. The day before I had taken a vacation day and driven down to Weymouth to watch Olympic sailing and got up super early to drive back to London to do an 8-mile hike in Surrey. So the thought of going anywhere or doing anything too taxing was out of the question (especially since I had to get up early on Sunday for a 9-mile hike). So I vegged out in front of the TV.
Not a very exciting life (even I’m having a hard time suppressing my yawn) but considering that the best show on earth, the Olympics, had been on TV for days it really wasn’t too difficult of a choice. I grabbed a nice tall glass of iced-tea (I know blasphemy for my English friends) and parked myself in front of the TV. Then I watched history being made. Watching the American women’s team doing the 4×400 relay truly left me breathless. As they were waiting for the men’s race to start, the BBC announcers were reading the questions via tweets coming in from the public on aerodynamics. A lot of folks were interested in knowing whether Jason Richardson’s hair (he’s an American hurdles specialist) puts him at a disadvantage when he runs. For those of you who don’t know what he looks like here’s a link to his picture on another website. A lot of these types of questions were coming in and the announcers were desperate to hear from a specialist. Alas none came forward with an answer – at least nothing that made any sense in 140 characters or less.
Considering that I work with a few aerodynamics experts, I thought this sounds like an interesting discussion for the guys and gals back at the office.
When I brought up the question (via email) to my circle of experts, a flood of emails came in from around the world. The discussion quickly expanded to include cyclists as well as swimmers and body hair including mustaches and beards. We all had a good chuckle over male swimmers and cyclists shaving their legs. There seems to be a belief that the absence of hair on their legs makes them more aerodynamic. I haven’t seen any CFD analysis on this but I really can’t see how a bit of hair on your legs would affect performance. Most cyclists tell me they do it in case they get a road rash… being hair free makes it easier to clean the wound. Ok that sounds perfectly reasonable for cyclists but it doesn’t apply to swimmers. I suspect many of them do it for vanity as opposed to functional reasons especially now that most swimmers and divers seem to be wearing nothing larger than a tea towel.
Since I’d like to avoid this post degrading into a conversation about athletes and their uniforms, let’s get back to our original discussion. The most sensible response came from one of my colleagues in the States – Travis Mikjaniec. Some of you may already know him. He’s got his own blog and writes about some truly fascinating things – he most recently explored the aerodynamics of a badminton shuttlecock, a chopper bike, and a hockey puck. Needless to say Travis knows his stuff.
Anyway, we started by talking about facial hair most commonly found in the form of stubble (who hasn’t seen one of the guys on Tour de France with a 2- or 3-day growth). Because their faces form such a small area, he figures that facial hair may not make a significant impact for cyclists. As for swimmers, their head is out of the water quite often (depending on the stroke) so any hair on the face would be even less important. That’s cool because we don’t need to worry about analyzing all these permutations (as suggested by another colleague who said if I insist on doing this simulation then we’d probably have to keep all of these permutations in mind… absolutely fantastic!).
As to the question of measuring the impact of dreadlocks (in the case of Jason Richardson), Travis suggested that the best way would be to firstly characterize the flow resistance for different hair types (dreadlocks vs straight for example). Then once we had the data we could use it for simulation. I really would love to do this but the process would be a lengthy one and I’m not sure I can steal the resources away from other groups to do what would be a fun exercise. Of course if any of you have done this type of research before I’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, I’m desperately trying to get tickets to Paralympic track cycling. I’ve had the privilege of watching the Olympics ladies road race, men’s time trials and sailing so I’m hoping with a bit of luck and a stiff wind behind me that I’d get the tickets to go cheer on a few more heroes from this little planet of ours.
Until next time,
PS. I had an absolute blast watching the sailing events. The venue was breathtakingly beautiful and it was lovely watching CFD up-close and personal yet again!