Paralympic cycling showed me a gap in the market for tech

Eric DeGolier was pilot for Matt King at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games in the track cycling, representing the United States. He is now founder and CEO of London-based BodyRocket, an on-bike device providing real-time aerodynamic feedback. You can connect with Eric on LinkedIn and find out more about BodyRocket here.

The role, as pilot, is quite unique in that in every other sport in the Paralympics, the games have been modified, where necessary, to allow athletes to compete with their disabilities. But there’s no safe way for a blind athlete to go 40 or 50 miles an hour around a cycling track alone, so pilots on tandems are the only able-bodied athletes in the Paralympics that are considered members of the team and get medals. Our events were the kilo and the sprint.

I was cycling at a high level in the US, but I was in my late 20s and was far beyond the age a national team would consider looking at for an Olympian, but that made me one of the fastest athletes who met the Paralympic pilot criteria,  which is why Matt asked me to be his pilot.

Why did you start a sport-tech business?

I started working in startups after coming to the UK to do a Masters in engineering in the mid-2000s. I saw an opportunity in the sport I love to put my background and passion together, and that became BodyRocket.

Prior to my move to the UK, I began my career at a company called PowerTap who were at the forefront of the last big technology revolution in cycling, which was the bicycle power meter, and so I had a front-row seat to that whole technology revolution. I did my Masters degree around sensors and instrumentation and built a load cell, which is the fundamental technology behind both the power meter and the BodyRocket aerodynamic drag measurement system.

When the first aero meter for bikes came on the market I was really intrigued. I was playing with this system and I saw it had potential, but the principles it was built on were flawed and it could never make a real consumer product. I knew the sorry state of aerodynamics, even at the national governing body level. I knew there was a huge hole in the market and I knew that hole had remained unpatched for the 20 years since I competed. There was a big opportunity there.

The experience of starting up a company is brutal and I don’t think that we would have made it this far if it wasn’t for my experience as an athlete: the training and the attrition that you have to go through, and the ability to focus on the long-term goal despite the months of drudgery that you have to have to go through.

How does BodyRocket work?

80% of aerodynamic drag on a bike is created by your body. Any small changes in our aerodynamics make really, really big changes in the bike speed. And you can see that within the sport for the last decade, the companies have become obsessed with aerodynamics: bike design, helmets, skin suits, water bottles. Yet within that, the most important influence is your own body position.

When riders change their posture, their aerodynamism changes, and we can measure that value in real time and tell them. We have sensors at the seat post, saddle, handlebars and pedals – everywhere the rider touches the bike. Nobody’s done that before.

We say that BodyRocket is designed for consumers but used by Olympians because its accessibility applies to everyone across the board. It just brings so much value.

What mental skills have you taken from sport into your business?

Perseverance and grit, that you have this dogged determination to follow something, but also that you have the focus to keep your mind on the goal. Cycling also taught me a lot about teamwork that has helped me build good teams as well. I think we have an amazing team here at BodyRocket, though teams in business differ to teams in sports where you’re trying to build a team of the four or five best people you can. In a business, you’re trying to find the people with very different skill sets and put them together; and you’ve got a broader range of personalities and experiences.

I think at the base of it, sport makes you better able to build a team, make everyone feel included and valuable and all pulling in the same direction.