Not your usual Lotus here but a bike and the only real Lotus bike. Something which properly fits in the manufacturer history, a breakaway and cutting-edge concept which was instrumental in the 1992 British Olympic cycling triumph.
Regarding the bike, the Lotus Type 108 which was commonly known as the Lotus Sport Pursuit Bicycle was a revolutionary concept in terms of design and this because of its aerofoil cross-section but also because of the carbon composite monocoque construction.
The whole concept originated from Mike Burrows, a man who pursued efficiency through cycling design and who dedicated his life to lowering weight and drag coefficient. Someone who would have paired well with Lotus founder Colin Chapman.
The design pursued the goal of maximum efficiency trhough aerodynamics. The rest, structure or construction was ignored when the project was started by the man. Monocoque was nothing new in cycling, riveted aluminium, injected molded plastic and even fiberlam construction had been trialed already. As said, Burrows pursued the aerodynamic efficiency and this originated from his interest in airplanes and race cars.
But the project wasn’t happening as the design proved too cutting edge to bike manufacturers of the time. Also and up to 1991, the Union Cycliste Internationale or the equivalent of motor sport good old FIA had banned monocoque design up to that point. But Burrows pursued his quest and continued to refine his design.
As 1991 happened, new rules had been set and the dimensional and geometric rules reopened the door to the monocoque design. At the same time, French Lotus test driver Rudy Thomann, an avid cyclist and friend of Burrows stumbled accross the design which he took to the board of Lotus.
Lotus through its aerodynamist, Richard Hill, saw the potential in the design and along with Great Britain having their first hope of a cycling gold through Chris Boardman, it all came together with the British Cycling Federation and their star rider coming on board. The prospect of the Olympic gold on a British build and developped bike was enough to get it going.
In fact, the whole thing had been started even before that as Chris Boardman had been contacted for a visit at the Motoring Institute Research Association wind tunnel in February 1992. Rudy made the contact and invited him to visit in order to test the Lotus design and compare it with the British team actual one.
From start and even if the wind tunnel temperatures were below zero at that time of the year, it took very little for Boardman to understand the edge that the design would give over the competition and it surely helped the whole project having the man onboard from the beginning.
Then and as development continued with the project and Olympics coming together, the only concerns remained through the UCI as in order to be validated for the Olympics, the design had, according to the rules, to be used in an International Competition at least once before the big day. Of course, what was problematic to the British Cycling Federation was how cutting-edge the design was and how it would be perceived by the competition and the ruling body.
Clearly, the BCF and Lotus were en route to the unfair advantage but they kept it together before the Olympics by entering a “smaller engine” in a World Cup qualifying event through Bryan Steel. The bike and first prototype of course attracted interest but only by the teams, not the UCI as it passed all dimensional and weight test, therefore giving the project the green light it needed.
As Richard Hill declared, “Conceptually, Burrows’s design was all there, there was tremendous potential for both reducing drag in a zero-yaw position as well as generating thrust during ideal cross-wind situations.” But all that happened through a hell lot of work and certainly the fact that the man and aerodynamist was able to witness the potential from the very beginning as Burrows’s initial concept had proved less aerodynamic than a traditional space frame without even considering the rider.
Lotus, the British Cycling Federation and Chris Boardman got it all together with the final design changes made and a radical new riding position. In 1992, at the Barcelona Olympics and during a practice run, Boardman shattered the 4km world record by 4 seconds. A few days later, Boardman caught reigning World Champion Lehmann in the 4km Men’s Pursuit and won the first cycling gold for Britain since 72 years.
And all in all, what are we left with? Pure and simple: the bike. Like a historic race car, this is a piece of art and the first two-wheeled Lotus. In numbers, it is said that 4 bikes were made in total for the Olympic effort. 15 Type 108 “replicas” were additionally produced at the time as collector items.
Later on, an evolution would come as the Type 110 and useable as track, road or time trial setup which would be raced on the Tour de France as well as many other professional races, even Lance Armstrong rode one badged as a Caloi bike. It led the Tour for two days and was the first monocoque bike to do so but it’s best remembered for Chris Boardman 1996 Hour Record. Badged as a Merckx, he took it to 56.375km in Macnchester that year.