His team’s chain drive engineering was used on all the Team GB 2016 track bikes. Every part of the bike, which travels at up to 50 miles an hour, had to work as efficiently as possible. The best combination of chain and sprockets was required, but current test rigs using a turbo trainer were found not to be accurate enough. A pendulum system and a laser to measure its movement was devised to measure efficiency by monitoring how slowly the pendulum came to rest.
Turning existing design rules on their head, their research found that larger sprockets made for a more efficient chain drive. Two years were spent testing and designing, with great results. Between them, the Para and Olympic Team won 33 medals and set two world records.
Stuart, who is Professor of Engineering Design at the University of Bristol, thinks it is harder for engineers to embrace Darwinian evolution than it is for biologists, for two reasons. Firstly, since design by human beings is not limited by the step-by-step change that evolution is limited by, human engineers should produce designs which are far more sophisticated than those found in nature. Yet the opposite is true. Nature has by far the most sophisticated designs. Secondly, engineers know that you cannot design by making random mistakes. If you randomly change a single parameter in a car engine it will always result in a retrograde step. Design improvements always require careful planning and careful changing of many parameters at the same time.