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Posted by Drew Miller / Q&A by Cam Piper on August 03, 2016
Picture a mechanical engineer that specializes in Research and Development in aerodynamics. With a title like that, your mind may conjure up an image of a brainy scientist wearing a lab coat complete with a pocket protector. But you'd be completely wrong. Meet Cameron Piper. He works in R&D at Specialized Bicycles in Morgan Hill, CA. Unlike most bike manufacturers who only get to utilize testing in a wind tunnel sparingly due to high cost, Specialized decided to build their own, aptly named the "Win Tunnel". This exhibits the dedication of the company and its employees to the science behind going faster.
(Above: Cam and the crew using the wind tunnel to determine the most aero way to mount your bike computer. Ever wonder if shaved legs really makes you faster? Where to mount your GoPro for minimal drag? Check out the Specialized Bicycles YouTube Channel for more.)
In addition to working at Specialized, Cam is a member of Team Mike's Bikes presented by Equator Coffee, one of the top amateur cycling teams in the nation. He also recently won the 2016 Amateur Road Time Trial Championship. To say he won may be an understatement. He dominated the field by posting a winning time 55 seconds faster than the runner up. In the world of time trials that's a pretty convincing win. In addition to being an extremely strong rider, having expertise in aerodynamics and working with a wind tunnel probably didn't hurt either.
We met Cam during the weekend of the USA Cycling Road National Championships in Louisville, KY at the beginning of July. This was a weekend full of racing with the time trial, road race, and criterium packed into 3 consecutive days. We caught up to him on the final day of racing after the criterium. There was a lot of heavy rain, and as you might expect, lots of crashes. Despite being bandaged up from racing in the less than ideal conditions, Cam was in good spirits and was kind enough to chat with us for a bit. We brought along a bag of N Plus One shirts and a congratulatory bottle of Jack Daniels. Considering his specialty in the time trial discipline and the science of aerodynamics, we thought it fitting that he should own one of our "Aero" tees. He is a personable, nice guy, without the ego that's sometimes pervasive among many athletes that are on the way to the top of their game.
Making the leap from starting the 2015 season as a Cat 4 to winning a National Championship in 2016 as a Cat 1, Cam has covered a lot of ground in a short time and we are excited to see how far he wants to take his racing. Next time you hop on your Specialized for a spin or check one out at the bike shop, know that he and his team have some influence in testing and design by continually advancing the science behind slicing through the air. Learn more about Cam, the one-of-a-kind exploSHIV, and the Specialized lunch ride in the Q&A below. Make sure to follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and check out his website.
(Above: Cameron Piper during the 2016 Amateur Road National Championship Race in Louisville, KY. Photo: Drew Miller)
1. Where are you from/grew up?
I am originally from Massachusetts - grew up in New England and went to school just outside of Philadelphia. Moved to California in 2014!
2. When did you start cycling?
I started to ride when I started racing triathlon, back when I was a sophomore in high school (in 2008).
3. When did you start racing?
My first cycling race was back in college - it was an interesting experience! Have you ever had your knuckles cramp? Well apparently that is possible if you hold onto the bars tight enough! I didn't start seriously racing bikes until 2015 (after I stopped racing triathlon).
4. What's your favorite thing to do when not riding?
I enjoy a lot of things - probably because I just like trying new things! Whether that's going to a new place or just trying something new, that's what I'll be doing when not riding. Big into photography and just being outdoors.
5. What's the best thing about living in California?
Similar to my answer above, there's just so much to do and see. One day I could go to Yosemite, then next I could be enjoying the Pacific Ocean near Big Sur.
6. What is your favorite meal?
Right now, I'm big into granola. I struggle to make it throughout the day without some. As for a full meal, any pasta dish that has chicken or fish and is somewhat spicy fits the bill.
7. Any favorite sports/teams other than cycling?
I'm a big New England teams fan - Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, or Bruins. My Dad has season tickets to the Patriots, so I have grown up watching them every season!
8. Tell us about your cycling team and your races - are they mostly regional or all over the U.S.?
Team Mike's Bikes p/b Equator Coffees and Teas is NorCal's best team (and arguably the best amateur team in the US). We compete mostly within the district, but travel to some of the bigger stage races in the US (Redlands, Cascade). If there's a race that guys are interested in, we can likely field a team to race!
9. Any pre-race rituals? Particular music, food, or routines that you follow?
I don't have any particular rituals, but more of just getting my mind and body ready in the days leading up to the race. Doing this every race helps to make sure I'm prepared both mentally and physically!
10 Tell us about your education, when you knew you wanted to work in aerodynamics and in particular cycling? What's it like getting to work in a wind tunnel at Specialized every day?
I got my bachelor's degree from Villanova University in Mechanical Engineering - concentrating in Thermal Fluid Systems. Having had a passion for cycling, I knew that I wanted to work in an industry that I would be excited to put 100% into. I'm very lucky to work with some of the best people in the industry and also work with some of the most talented athletes in the world. Working in a wind tunnel means that every day could be something new and exciting. It's also highly rewarding knowing you're helping to innovate products that can inspire and improve other's lives. I also use the word 'work' lightly, as I believe I have found a job that doesn't feel like 'work', but instead I am fired up to go to the office every morning.
11. Congratulations on your national title - U.S. Time Trial champion! Tell us about the past few years and your rapid advancement to Cat 1 as well as the moment you realized you wanted to pursue the national title.
Thanks! I started last season (2015) as a Category 4 rider - and advanced my way to Cat 1 by the end of July. I started this season with the intent to learn as much as I could about riding with a talented team, knowing I wouldn't have to worry about upgrade points anymore. To be honest, I didn't think I'd even have a shot at a national title until I had a decent ride at Redlands and Gila - from there I knew if everything lined up, I'd have a good shot. I knew all my equipment would be dialed thanks to our generous sponsors (and especially working in the tunnel), I would just need my legs!
12. We couldn't help but notice the incredible one-of-a kind custom painted Specialized Shiv (The exploSHIV). Such a cool concept that was made reality by you and Brian Szykowny. Does it get a lot of attention and questions from people when they see it? Do you have any other plans to team up with Brian for another custom painted frame in the near future? (click here to view Cam's blog about the process)
Brian is an incredibly talented individual. I bugged him for a little while to help me paint a bike, but basically give him full reign on what he wanted to do. I knew he could pull off something cool, and he definitely went well above my expectations! The bike does get a lot of attention - it's fun to watch the heads turn when you're driving or riding through town. We joked about an America themed bike if I won nationals (which I seriously thought was a long shot), but now that it's a reality, we'll see if it happens or not! Brian will be painting the bikes for the Red Hook Crit in Barcelona, which has been a cool series showcasing the talent here at Specialized.
(Above: Cam and Brian Szykowny using a non-traditional method to create the paint scheme for the exploSHIV. Video courtesy Cameron Piper - YouTube)
(Above: The finished product. exploSHIV. Photo courtesy www.cameronpiper.com)
13. It's well known that the employees of Specialized participate in the famous lunch ride. Do the rides ever get competitive, and if so, who usually wins? Any interesting visitors to Specialized that have been guest riders on the lunch ride?
The lunch ride is definitely a highlight of a work day. It's awesome to work at a place where the culture involves actually riding! Each day usually has it competitive points (and all the trash talk that comes along with competitiveness too :) ). The ride really helps break up the day and also gives some people to talk shop about different projects apart from inside the office. As for guests on the rides, most athletes that come by have to partake! Everyone from WorldTour sprinters (Kittel) to world class triathletes!