Creating ground-breaking technology from scratch to support a push for overall victory in the Tour de France is no easy task, but we thrive on challenges. Our goals for Project Landa - developing hardware and lubricant to maximise the efficiency of Mikel Landa’s bike in the pivotal stage 20 time-trial - were at once simple and hugely complex.
CHANGING THE GAME
Let’s start with simple. Having won the Tour de France five times with Team Sky/Ineos by developing advanced, ultra-low friction lubricants and preparing chains on our bespoke dynamometer, how could we change the game for new partner Team Bahrain-McLaren? The answer lay in developing our own hardware with technical partner McLaren. Enter our new oversized pulley wheel system – Lightweight Oversized Precision Shifting (L.O.P.S).
And the complex? Making that oversized pulley wheel system lighter and stiffer than the designs we tested from leading competitors. Oh, and going back to our first principles, to develop our fastest ever lubricant. The 2020 Tour is sure to go down in history. We wanted to play our part.
A partnership forged through innovation
This year’s tour presented us with a golden opportunity. To combine our seven-figure investment in leading-edge equipment and talent with working alongside world-class athletes and engineers: step forward Grand Tour stage winner Mikel Landa and Formula One gurus, McLaren.
Collaborating closely with McLaren’s engineering team enabled us to harness 55 years’ worth of cutting-edge Formula One technology. As one of the biggest names in motorsport, McLaren’s state-of-the-art facilities enabled us to push the boundaries of innovation and high-performance. The result was to deliver game-changing innovation in the world of cycling.
By creating our oversized pulley wheel system, L.O.P.S., we took inspiration from our past to create the future. Our success as a world-class manufacturer of lubricants and cleaning products is built on the foundations of our X-Lite brand: the hardware manufacturer from which Muc-Off was born.
Further, expanding our interests from fluids to components allowed us to place another piece in the puzzle of the perfectly optimised drivetrain. Our work for Project Landa has opened the door to more holistic solutions, going forwards. Rule one of our pro-team partnerships is that they must deliver innovations for Muc-Off customers.
Why use an oversized pulley wheel?
Time to get technical. More material means more weight, right? True, but if you can keep mass to a minimum, the efficiency gains derived from an optimised chain angle of articulation outweigh any disadvantages. In simple terms, the less amount has to articulate as it engages and disengages the pulley wheels, the less friction is produced.
Also consider: the total assembly weight of our system is considerably lighter than competitor products, some 10% lighter than the nearest competitor in fact.
How have we done it?
Material selection was key, of course, and titanium offered the highest performance for the lowest weight. But the story continued with the manufacturing method. We opted for the most sophisticated Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) process. The latest ALM techniques are infinitely controllable and make even the most complex geometries achievable by removing the need for machining. Finally, titanium allowed us to achieve the stiffest cage of any we tested.
The pulley wheel design was naturally of huge importance. We created a 13-tooth upper pulley wheel and 19-tooth lower from aerospace grade aluminium and used a supremely efficient coating to reduce friction to the absolute minimum.
Bearing choice was critical
Size, material and precision finishing were all key considerations, and we tested over 40 different types in isolation on our bearing dynamometer. It was critical to understand and optimise the relationship between the bearing and other rolling parts in the application. This knowledge helped us to define the optimal size and quantity of bearings.
The bearings were manufactured to aerospace level specification. The size of the bearing used was optimised for the number of rolling elements and application speed to help reduce frictional losses. Ceramic rolling elements are lubricated with a special synthetic hydrocarbon to further reduce the coefficient of friction and tighter radial and axial tolerances improve shift accuracy.
Optimised specifically for the individual time-trial, the final piece of the puzzle to help maximise performance, was the lower sealing requirements, which led to further bearing drag reductions and to incorporate highly compatible material expansion rates.
Developing our fastest ever lube
At Muc-Off, we know better than most that the performance of even the lightest, stiffest, most advanced drivetrain component can be nullified with a poor-quality lubricant or even a high-quality lube in the wrong application. The parameters for our Project Landa formula were clear: a timed test of just 36.2km, in which every second would count. Our solution? To tip the efficiency-durability axis heavily in favour of the former and go all-in for speed.
Following years of development throughout previous Grand Tours and hundreds of hours of screening, formulating, testing and reformulating at our R&D laboratory, we created our fastest ever lubricant and chain combination for Mikel Landa’s Tour de France time-trial. Our development work included more than 40 hours screening base oils and additives to create the lowest friction blend on our tribology equipment, before embarking on intensive testing, up to 12 hours a day, with Muc-Off’s bespoke chain-link dynamometer.
Coupled with the newly enhanced chain optimisation process, the combination resulted in the fastest ever chain and lubricant Muc-Off has ever created, tested and proven in data.
Understanding of every last component
We took an early decision to follow a tried-and-trusted formulation process of blending base oils and additives, rather than using speedy, but less controllable nanoparticles. The timescale of Project Landa simply didn’t allow the development regime required to stabilize such sensitive chemical components. Muc-Off’s NanoTech lube is highly efficient, but our self-imposed challenge was to create something even faster.
To do so, we utilised our own strategic approach: not the typical procedure of using pre-formulated component chemicals and instead benchmarked every component from scratch. Determined to gain a first-hand understanding of every last component, we embarked on an exhaustive (and exhausting) process of screening, testing chemical components in isolation and in formulation.
The final stage
Something else: a lubricant fit for the most important time-trial of a world-class bike rider’s career isn’t formulated at the first attempt. We selected and tested different base oils and additives from a 200-hour screening process, before conducting more than 30 tests on completed formulas, refining the blend each time to reduce friction. The final four iterations were tested on our bespoke chain-link dynamometer: a testing schedule that lasted 12 hours a day for two full weeks.
As with all Muc-Off products, real-world testing was a significant part of the development process for L.O.P.S; thousands of miles have been clocked up on various iterations of the pulley system by a selection of riders from a variety of backgrounds and abilities from former Olympic athletes to Muc-Off employees.
The final stage of the process involved “conditioning” race chains and spares. To do this, we ran them in on the chain-link dynamometer before lubricating them with our magic formula. The chains and a supply of ultra-fast lubricant were sent from Muc-Off HQ in Poole, Dorset one week before Landa’s most searching examination.