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04 Jul


Cyclists v. Sailors

04/07/2010 | By |

I appeared to be out of the room when passion for kicking pig skin was handed out, so the vuvuzela buzz of the World Cup passed me by without incident and I tend to only feign interest in the all conquering All Blacks when I fear I’m about to be accused of being a bad Kiwi.

As such I found that my strengths were in long term suffering in adverse conditions which naturally led me to long distance mountain biking and solo sailing. And so it is with great joy that the Tour de France has kicked off and Frank Cammas has glued a bicycle frame to the back of his massive 32 metre trimaran Groupama 3. As proof that it is silly season in the sailing world in the lead up to this autumn’s Route du Rhum, Frank Cammas will be competing solo on the same beast that he and nine others used to break the Trophée Jules Verne record (48 days, 7hrs, 44 mins, 52 secs) this winter. In the Unlimited Class he will be up against Thomas Colville on Sodebo, Francis Joyon on IDEC, Sidney Gavignet on Oman Sail and Yann Guichard defending the Gitana colours.

In comparison to his competitors, Cammas is sailing a much more powerful boat and in an effort to tame a boat that was designed for crewed sailing the Groupama team has installed a shorter Lorima rig, new Incidences sails and a B&G autopilot system….. and a bike!

As I have a strong cycling background I wanted to put some numbers on how he sets to benefit from that last modification. Having seen the Groupama skipper on the dock I know that he is a long way from the man bears that spin the handles on crewed boats, so using his glutes and hamstrings rather than pecs and biceps should help even the score.

This exhaustively researched masters paper gives a reference point of 250 Watts for 8 seconds for an America’s Cup grinder, whereas a study of trained, but not elite, cyclists shows that legs can produce 677 Watts for 12 seconds and can average 260 Watts for 30 minutes. Christian Stah, a college friend of mine, who also happened to be on the USA Track Cycling Team and competed in the Olympics,could produce over 1,000 Watts in a final sprint.

Given maneuvers like shaking out a reef can take some minutes on the big tri, and normally requires waking the standby  crew, being able to sit out can crank out big wattage on the bike will make the transition to solo sailing easier, although doing it in sea boots and full foulies is a long way from skintight lycra favoured by the shaved leg contingent.

Notably another solo offshore sailor, Dee Caffari, sought help with grinding efficiency in the lead up to the 2008 Vendée Globe. While she worked with the Leeds Metropolitan University’s Centre for Performance Sport to study her grinding performance, she limited her experimentation to changing the height of her Lewmar column and headed for the Southern Ocean sans velo.

While Cammas might not have thunder thighs like the track cyclists above, gluing a bike frame to the back of his boat will surely give him a leg up on the competition.

Click here to watch a video on the Groupama website about the bike.


  1. Can you tell me who did your layout? I’ve been looking for one kind of like yours. Thank you.

  2. Conrad Colman

    My website was made by Cornelius Blank in New Zealand. He can be contacted here

  3. Charles Boschetto

    Legs are obviously stronger than arms: the same goes for rowing, and climbing. Big benefit of the bike is also the continuity of the effort, especially with foot locks (fitted on Franck’s bike, old style for compatibility with sea boots), and the number of gears (danger there however of overwinching perhaps?). Fixed to the boat, it also provides something to hold onto while you winch with legs. And in practice, you would use this when shaking a reef off, ie presumably in conditions where sitting on the bike is achievable. That said, I would have gone for a mountain bike, more suited to rough seas, and better posture for looking up at what you winch! Is next step is skipper’s daily/hourly wattage management as is done by coaches in tour de France…still some time away I think: road profiles are fixed, wind conditions are not!

  4. I am doing research for my college thesis, thanks for your brilliant points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

    – Kris