Canada’s track cyclists are making their final preparations for competition at the Rio Olympic Velodrome, and those preparations could include adding a part developed at the University of Waterloo to their bikes.

Waterloo engineering professor John McPhee says he received a phone call last month from the Canadian Sports Institute, which had a bit of an unusual request.

“They needed some new parts designed and prototyped,” he said in an interview.

“We had one week. We dropped everything.”

Specifically, McPhee was tasked with creating a small piece of aluminum to connect the bikes’ upper and lower handlebars at a better angle than the connectors already in use.

Doing so would make a difference in the amount of aerodynamic drag slowing down the riders – enough of a difference, McPhee says, that a rider otherwise at the back of the pack could end up in medal contention.

“The goal is to make the rider in as aerodynamic a position as possible,” he said.

One week later, McPhee and his team presented the institute with the fruits of their labours.

The part is still undergoing testing, but even the possibility it could be used in Rio is “extremely exciting” to Carin Yeghiazarain, who worked with McPhee on the project.

“Imagine they win a medal … and you’re part of it, your design was part of it,” the research engineer said.

McPhee says the bracket his team developed reduces the drag by three to four per cent.

While that’s a big difference, it’s only one of two possibilities open to Canada’s Olympians. They could also choose to use a newer style of handlebar, rather than the older handlebar with the Waterloo modification.

Either way, McPhee says he’s happy just to offer them a helping hand.

“We’re going to be excited anyway, watching the cyclists in action – but if they also use our design solution to help them to do better in Rio, that’s the icing on the cake,” he said.

With reporting by Marc Venema