When it comes to track cycling, the smallest of margins can make a big difference.
For our Olympic team, the quest to maximise every piece of their equipment has led them to the small Taranaki township of Inglewood and a passion project developed in the garage of a cycling enthusiast.
Inglewood, a farming town with a population of less than 4,000, is probably the last place you expect to find innovations in track cycling technology but thanks to Glenn Catchpole, they may have just found it.
Catchpole, an industrial designer who is also a track cycling enthusiast, was at home two years ago sketching a new design for handlebars which featured horn-like shapes.
“It took a while to sink in and I suppose it still hasn’t got there yet,” he said.
The design has multiple advantages.
“The riders can reposition their hands in multiple areas on the handlebars to be able to recover from fatigue but also get into a more aerodynamic position on the bike,” Catchpole said.
“This could allow a rider to save half a dozen watts within a race and that could be seconds by the end of the race and seconds could win or lose a race.”
He posted the sketch to social media and it ended up on the desk of Cycling New Zealand's head mechanic, Ben Rowell.
“One of the athletes actually brought it to us,” Rowell said.
“It was pretty obviously some pretty innovative stuff that’s been a game changer for us as well.”
Catchpole suddenly had some more work on his hands.
“[Rowell] gave me a phone call the next day and said, ‘can you make these? We need them in a couple of months if we’re going to use them in Tokyo’,” he said.
“I pretty much dropped everything, worked all-nighters and turned this concept for a handlebar design into a fully functioning prototype.”
It arrived just before equipment had to be signed off.
“My parents are in Hamilton so I got my dad to pick it up from the courier depot and hand deliver it because I didn’t trust the courier drivers,” Catchpole added.
The handlebars will be used by some of our endurance cyclists in Tokyo as well as other international athletes, with the design also picked up by other countries.
“It’s been probably one of the biggest innovations as far as equipment goes in the last year or two years for us,” Rowell said.
The 28-year-old now supplies other parts too in what will soon be his full-time business.
He hopes Tokyo could turn into a special step in his journey.
“It would mean everything [for someone to medal with the handlebars]," he said.
“I think that it’s kind of one of my passions as a cyclist – you’re always striving to be the best and I know I’m not going to be the most competitive cyclist but I can develop equipment that can help these riders become their best.”
“It's just my passion really - developing new products to solve problems.”