Lightweight design and carbon handlebars: when each gram counts

Fast… faster… Olympic champion! As is the case in many disciplines, the use of high-end sports equipment is important for getting ahead. A newly developed handlebar made of carbon, designed with the help of professional athletes, has now been presented by the “Lightweight Design with Structured Materials” department of the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg.

At the beginning of 2018, one of the world’s most distinguished cycling coaches returned to Cottbus—the place where he began his career in the mid-1980s. He had worked abroad for 27 years, in Australia, Denmark, Russia, Switzerland and Great Britain. He trained cyclists such as Cadel Evans, who became the world champion in road cycling, and the top sprinter Robbie McEwen. And then the man who led the Danish team to Olympic silver in the team pursuit discipline in 2008. We are, of course, talking about Heiko Salzwedel, the “Louis van Gaal of cycling”, as Bradley Wiggins once put it. Wiggins should know: the eight-time world champion won the Tour de France in 2012 and was coached by Salzwedel. Now several important athletes in this field benefit from Salzwedel’s vast knowledge and experience. And they have teamed up for a unique project that intends to put cycling in Brandenburg in the lead. It’s a real revolution in material development and shaping.

Salzwedel looks after the well-trained endurance cyclists of the LKT Team Brandenburg. The cycling team is named after its sponsor, Lausitzer Klärtechnik GmbH, which is based in Luckau. LKT has been working together with the “Lightweight Design with Structured Materials” department of the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg for some time now. The department is led by Prof. Holger Seidlitz. As part of the joint cooperation the two partners are working on, for example, the “Flex-Reha-Schacht-Projekt”, which is being supported by Economic Development Agency Brandenburg and has been depicted in a media-effective way in a promo video. Sustainable projects in Brandenburg are being particularly promoted, especially in the fields of biopolymers, plastics recycling and lightweight design. By focusing on cycling, the scientists and materials experts of the department “Lightweight Design with Structured Materials” have now risen to a sporting challenge.

Salzwedel has the highest standards and he provided an accurate briefing. A handlebar made out of light yet stable materials is to be used to make his team’s bikes even better. One of the project managers at the “Lightweight Design with Structured Materials” department is Jonas Krenz. He is a research assistant and has already developed high-end sports equipment many times during his studies at the Brandenburg University of Technology. He recalls the concrete briefing Salzwedel provided. “He is used to working with the best materials. With regard to the so-called cockpit, which consists of the handlebar, stem, armrests, extensions and connecting components, he was not satisfied with what was available on the market.” The problem was that the geometries and metrics, which the riders need to get in an optimal position, were not yet available. And so Krenz and his team got started. They had already developed a carbon inlay shell and could base their future work on it. They formed tools, tested carbon compounds, and also took the cyclists, who were supervised by Team Manager Steffen Blochwitz, on board. The team manager was thrilled when he was granted a look at the first results: “The overall package is great. We have everything we need here in Cottbus. This unites us. It’s great that our region makes top-level sport activities and technical excellence possible. This is something to be proud of.”

“This is the Formula 1 racing car of handlebars!” – Philip Weber, LKT Team Brandenburg

The result was a carbon product that easily met all of the requirements: improved aerodynamics, ergonomic handles, ideal grip in the armrests and increased stiffness—the combination of all these properties make the athlete faster and the bike safer. “We have managed to optimise the aerodynamics. This means that the amount of force required to push the handlebar through the air has been reduced by 23.7% in comparison to the previous model,” explains Krenz. “The handlebar is lighter (with a weight reduction of 44.7%) and stiffer (with a stiffness improvement of 46.7%) so that the exerted force at the start of the run can be optimally transferred to the track.”

The scientists were pleased with their excellent numbers and the athletes praised the very noticeable improvements during their test runs. “The force transmission is fantastic, just as I had hoped,” explains Richard Banusch, the German champion in the Madison discipline. His team mate Philip Weber even compared the result to one of the fastest sports competitions ever: “This is the Formula 1 racing car of handlebars! As it is tailored to my individual needs, it greatly improved my position on the bike.”

LKT Manager Steffen Blochwitz rejoices together with his boys. Now he can aim for new heights. “We have hired 14 athletes for the upcoming season instead of 11 as we did in the previous one,” he concludes, “This was made possible by the strong partners of the team and was also a necessity because we pursue two different objectives—track and road—and want to secure the attainment of our goals.” The new handlebars will move him and his team forward.