Olympic Gold-winning bike design

UPDATE—5 July 2017. See box at end of article

Prof Stuart Burgess with the chain-testing equipment in Bristol University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.


The Olympic Games is over for another four years. Those who enjoy all sorts of sport were treated, yet again, to dazzling displays of speed, strength, agility, dexterity and endurance by athletes at the very pinnacle of their disciplines. For those who enjoyed the excitement and tension of the velodrome track cycling events, there was real drama. Team GB’s cyclists did exceptionally well, winning a total of 11 medals (6 golds, 4 silvers and 1 bronze) and setting several world records. No other country won more than two track cycling medals. So what explains Team GB’s dominance in indoor track cycling?

The athletes

Certainly, the principal factor is the cyclists themselves who really have been dominant for years—they won 12 medals at the London 2012 Olympics (including 8 golds) and 7 golds in the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Sir Bradley Wiggins (who won his fifth gold at the Rio games) is now a ‘household name’, as is Sir Chris Hoy (now retired, but with 6 Olympic golds). This year, Jason Kenny and Laura Trott have been dubbed the ‘Golden couple’ of British cycling—they now have 10 Olympic golds between them and are soon to be married. In fact, not one of the 14-strong Team GB cyclists came home without a medal. Clearly, these are exceptional athletes with world-class coaches and support staff behind them. There is another factor that we must not ignore, however: the equipment that they are all using.

The bicycles

In a sport where the margin of victory (a gold medal) is sometimes measured in centimetres, the cyclist’s helmet and clothing are critical, as they must be designed to minimize air resistance. The construction of the bike itself is also of paramount importance. You may be thinking, ‘What has all this got to do with biblical creationism?’ Well, the efficiency of the chain drive on Team GB’s winning bikes was optimized by a team of researchers and technicians at Bristol University, and the principal investigator was occasional CMI Guest speaker, Professor Stuart Burgess. Stuart and his colleagues designed a special test rig to assess the way in which the cyclist’s leg force was transmitted from the pedals, via the chain and sprockets, to the wheels. Using lasers, they tested the smoothness of the various components and assessed the amount of friction generated in transmission (which simply wastes valuable energy heating up the chain). Team GB have Stuart and his team to thank for their world-beating chain drives!

Of course, there are many more critical components in a track bike, not least the wheels and the frame design. As Professor Burgess says, “The best riders, they demand every part of the bike is completely optimized for performance”—which shows that creation-believing scientists and engineers do produce world-class research, in spite of the ridicule of their critics.

Design in nature

Laura Trott has now won four Olympic Gold medals in track cycling.

Stuart is currently co-writing a book on design in nature with CMI speaker/writer (and engineer) Dominic Statham. This will demonstrate the extent to which God’s engineering supersedes anything produced by man, and that the natural world, with all its sophistication, could not have been produced by the Darwinian process. Design is optimal in nature. In other words, the original design concepts, from the mind of our vastly intelligent Creator God, cannot be improved upon by man. Of course, these have been marred since mankind’s fall into sin, yet there is still massive scope for radical improvements to man-made designs, as engineers study and take inspiration from the natural world (bioinspiration). Copying nature (biomimetics) is enabling us to take great leaps forward.

Of particular interest in Stuart and Dominic’s forthcoming book are the examples which Stuart gives from his own research in the field of biomimetics and bioinspiration. Copying God’s designs has enabled him to develop new technologies and several chapters of the book are devoted to detailed examples of this. For instance, readers will learn how development of new micro-air vehicle technology was inspired by the design of dragonflies, and how a sling-jaw wrasse (a fish) was the direct inspiration for greatly improving robotic hand prosthetics to help stroke patients. All of this makes a powerful and unique contribution to the ‘design argument’. The text is largely finished and the book, which I am eagerly anticipating, should be available sometime next year.

The hard facts teach us that evolution is greatly limited in what it can accomplish (in spite of the faith of its proponents). The outstanding designs we see in the world around us point to an amazing Creator—the God of the Bible, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Update, 5 July 2017:


Representing the University of Bristol, Professor Stuart Burgess was asked to exhibit his team’s ‘Olympic bicycle chain drive’ design work at the Royal Society of London during 3—8 July. His is one of just 22 exhibits that showcase the cream of British scientific achievement during the last year.

Many VIPs visit the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibitions together with thousands of public visitors. This includes a high proportion of 12–18 year olds from schools, together with hundreds of their teachers. Stuart is known to many as a ‘heart-on-his-sleeve’ biblical creationist so this latest national exposure of his design work brings to mind God’s words in 1 Samuel 2:30: “the LORD declares: ‘ … those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”

Here is Stuart giving an update of the work for the exhibition:

Published: 5 September 2016

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