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America's Cup - Oracle Team USA copies Kiwis and installs Bike Grinder

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World on 9 May 2017
Oracle Team USA have fitted a cycle grinding position in the same cockpit and aft of helmsman Jimmy Spithill Javier Salinas / Oracle Team USA
With just over two weeks before the start of the America's Cup regattas, sources in Bermuda have told Sail-World that Defender Oracle Team USA have installed a Bike Grinding station on their AC50 and were trialling on the dock in Bermuda, today.

The new grinding pedestal is located in the same cockpit as helmsman Jimmy Spithill and is located immediately behind the twice America's Cup winning skipper. The US team are believed to have sailed in their standard grinding configuration later in today's session.

Tactician Tom Slingsby is expected to provide the pedal power with the other two hand-grinding pedestals remaining in place.

Emirates Team New Zealand who are located opposite the Oracle Team USA base at the Royal Dockyard in Bermuda noted on their Facebook page 'Looks like we aren't the only ones cycling anymore...'

The installation of the pedal grinding station is a big backdown from the America's Cup Defender, who after seeing Emirates Team New Zealand's four bike seats, initially claimed that they had looked at the idea of using cyclists for grinding, but had discarded the idea as unworkable.

The team cited at the time that they had arm grinders capable of producing 300 watts for 25 minutes. Many are sceptical of that claim - and particularly the duration quoted, with a few minutes being closer to the mark. Sail-World's information from a variety of sources is that cycle grinders are capable of producing almost double the wattage of the arm grinders, and for a longer duration.

Emirates Team New Zealand first revealed their four cycle grinding stations in mid-February, having worked on the project for three years and had grinders training as cyclists for 12 months.

At the time Oracle Team USA and other America's Cup teams were dismissive of the kiwi move.

'We looked at it hard, as I know all the teams did, and it's a compromise,' Spithill said. 'Nothing is straightforward.

'You can get more power on the pedal, but there's other compromises. You take windage, and it's a little harder getting on and off the pedals, so personally, I don't think that decision will be the deciding factor.

'We looked at it hard to see how it works out and they are the only team to do it so far from what we've seen. We haven't seen Artemis's boat yet, but I don't think they would have done it.

'Whether it will be a good decision only time will tell and really until we see them sailing up here in the Great Sound we won't really have any idea of where they're at.'

Clearly having seen the Kiwi cyclists in action, there has been a change of view within Oracle Team USA.

Earlier, waterfront scuttlebutt from Bermuda had it that Oracle Team USA had been trialling a cycle grinder system within their shed in the Royal Dockyard.

However, today was the first occasion on which the cyclists have been trialled albeit before sailing.

If they stay with the concept, the move is expected to have a few advantages for Oracle Team USA. Firstly it will increase the power that can be used to generate hydraulic fluid pressure - energy which drives many of the control systems on board. This should result in better foiling tacks and gybes during racing.

Secondly it will have tactician Tom Slingsby, and Olympic Gold medalist and multiple world champion in the Laser class, positioned immediately behind his skipper and more importantly, Slingsby will have his head up and facing forward, while he grinds with his legs.

The third advantage is that it gives Oracle Team USA a third grinding station, and the option of using four crew on those systems. They will also have the flexibility to put one crew member on an arm grinder to power the wingsail trimming winch, while the two forward grinders and Slingsby power the hydraulics.

Under their previous configuration, one of the two pedestals had to be dedicated to powering the wingsail trimming winch.

It is not known if the cycle-powered pedestal is just an experiment, or a permanent fixture, or if the other two arm powered grinding stations will be replaced with leg powered grinding.
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