Braking bad

By Jenna Ward

Sport science lecturer Dr Matt Miller says studying his PhD at Massey both was exciting and offered flexibility.

A new invention to allow cyclists to improve their braking performance is making waves internationally, writes Jenna Ward.

For Matt Miller, mountain biking is his life. So, the opportunity to move to Palmerston North from the United States to study his passion for his PhD, was too good to pass up.

The 31-year-old Pennsylvanian, who now works as a sport science lecturer for the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, invented the Brake Power Meter, which automatically measures braking power and time spent braking while you ride – a world first.

The invention allows cyclists to quantify braking accurately, analyse their braking patterns, and use the data to train their braking style to shave minutes off their lap times.

Dr Miller and his supervisor Dr Phil Fink spent more than four years researching the importance of braking on mountain bike race performance and rider fatigue. Dr Miller says the invention improves riders’ performance by enabling them to target braking training, resulting in increased speed and performance.

Matt Miller's invention automatically measures braking power and time spent braking. When it is applied to bikes it allows cyclists to measure accurately and analyse their braking patterns.

“We took several national-level mountain bikers and had them repeat a descent without pedalling. Not only was there huge variation in the time it took them to complete this descent, but there were also differences in their braking as they practised the track more.”

Drawing on his 10-plus years of elite mountain bike racing in the United States, Dr Miller says the Brake Power Meter is a game-changer for the industry.

“What wins races? Speed. Speed is a result of how hard you pedal [propulsive power] and how little you slow down. Changing your speed depends on how fit or unfit you are, and of course how much you brake. We think braking indicates the level of a rider’s skill.

“So far, cyclists have only been able to measure propulsive power using power meters, and analyse this data to focus training on improving their fitness. But we have uncovered distinct braking pattern differences between trained mountain bikers and untrained, which indicates that focusing on skill training could make riders faster as well.”

Dr Miller says research shows braking power, and time spent braking, is directly related to lap times.

“More skilled, faster riders brake powerfully over a short space of time, whereas slower, less skilled riders brake with less power over a longer time period.”

Top mountain bikers and trainers are keen to get their hands on the device as soon as possible, to give them a competitive edge. With an estimated 200,000 mountain bikers in New Zealand, bike manufacturers and suppliers are also interested in the product. Dr Miller has been working with a Danish company to refine the Brake Power Meter, which is patent protected.

In 2017, Dr Miller was awarded $20,000 from the Emerging Innovator Programme by KiwiNet, which allowed him to travel to trade shows to explore other applications for the technology. The fund also allowed him to gain two mentors, one from New Zealand and the other from the United States, which Dr Miller says has been invaluable.

“Had I done my PhD somewhere other than Massey, I don’t think it would have been as exciting or successful,” he says. “I was given a lot of flexibility, and my supervisors were really supportive, and I’m really grateful for that.”

Dr Miller’s PhD was supervised by Professor Steve Stannard, Dr Phil Fink and Dr Paul Macdermid from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition.

Watch the short video below to find our more about the Brake Power Meter or listen to Matt’s interview with Radio New Zealand.