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Cycling Gear Reviews Kickstarter

FoodCell Review – A Negative Drag Nutrition Carrier

It was only a few weeks ago that FoodCell popped up on Kickstarter. I thought the unit looked a sound idea in concept but would wait until I had my hands on some hardware for a definitive opinion. For the last couple of weeks now I’ve had the FoodCell by FlowCell strapped to my aero bike. So, how has it performed?

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FoodCell – Negative Drag Nutrition Carrier

Some eagle-eyed Kickstarter watchers may have noticed that there have been a few changes to the FoodCell Kickstarter page since they first launched. Specifically, the value of the requested Kickstarter.

Initially, when FoodCell went live, they were looking for £90,000 of funds in order to get things moving, and their aero food carrier into production. Clearly, someone thinks that the FlowCell has the right idea, as an investor came forwards, offering support, as a result FoodCell now only needs £20,000 to get the project off the ground and into backers hands.

£20,000 is still a lot of money, but perhaps viewed through a different metric, that’s a shade under 500 backers, the question is, is this a worthwhile investment if you are looking for extra speed on the bike?

We’ll take a look at the pre-production unit I’ve been sent, and then look over of the technical details from the company with regard to their aerodynamic claims

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FoodCell – Product Design

The FoodCell arrives in a beautifully laid out box. Let’s be honest about what the FoodCell is, it’s a bento box, so a lunch box for on your bike. I don’t think ANY lunch box has been presented in this way before

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Seriously I hope that this layout remains, at least for the Kickstarter backers, for in the same way that Apple focused certain aspects on making the iPhone box opening an “event”, the FoodCell packaging, whilst over the top, does leave a very positive first impression

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I challenge anyone to find more decadently presented screws in a product unboxing!!!

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In the kit, we have the aforementioned two screws, the FoodCell carrier itself, two velcro straps and the base plate which allows you to easily remove the FlowCell from your bike.

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An exceptionally minor point, but the manufacturer FlowCell has used a type of velcro I’ve not see before with the hooks and eyes BOTH on the same side, to the strap acts like sticky tape, in that you can press it against itself

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The underside of the FoodCell mount has soft foam, to reduce the chance of scratches on your frame, and to give a little extra grip

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On the top of the unit is the slider, a nice, sturdy tab allows you to pull back the cover to get to your nutrition inside

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Which when pushed back, the top cover slips underneath the storage area, inside its own little garage for want of a better word that can be seen as a bulge on the bottom of the FoodCell

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Around the edge of the cover is a foam and plastic seal. Now the unit isn’t waterproof, but the seal is more than good enough at keeping your gels from getting weight, and more importantly the FoodCell filling up with water and adding weight!

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Keeping water on the outside of the FoodCell isn’t something I had an issue with whilst testing in the British “summer”

The FoodCell isn’t merely just a box for carrying your race nutrition, the CFD-designed shape features two commonly deployed aerodynamic feature

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The sides of the unit have aero dimples, a’la golf ball to reduce the changes from laminar to turbulent airflow

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Whilst on the rear we have the chopped of KammTail shape which contributes to the negative drag claims from FlowCell. Specifically, they state that the KT reduces drag by 41%, and that there may be other options to consider in future to eek another 15%.

FoodCell Specification

  • Width: 47mm
  • Length: 200mm
  • Weight:

We are talking about an aero box, for TT, and racing, so there is probably one stat which is most important to the end user – weight. Which my kitchen scales shows at 210g

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In all fairness to the FoodCell, this is a prototype, but the design is not expecterd to change much before the final product

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So when you look inside the unit, you can still see the layers put down by the printer. As a result, I would imagine that they unit will come in at less than 210g, but currently, this is what it weighs in at.

Using the FoodCell

In terms of installing on the bike, I opted for the velcro option as this will be more relevant to road cyclists, who tend not to have the top tube bolts more commonly found on TT bikes. So those well-presented screws stayed in the box!

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Simply wrap the strap through, and around. I did find the strapping a little fiddly to apply going through the mount but was able to push through with a screwdriver

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Once the mount is secure it is a case of sliding the actual food cell onto the bike. I actually quite like the detachable nature. Possibly allowing for multiple boxes whilst out training containing different nutritional supplies.

Speaking of supplies, the FoodCell can hold 4x 60ml Gels, however, I found that a little cramped

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I found that the FoodCell worked best with different sizes of gels, specifically 1x60ml and 4x45ml

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This approach means I’m still holding the same volume of nutrition, but the gels were simply easier to get in and out, due to access into the end with my finger

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Out on the bike, the top slider does make for a much-improved access to nutrition.

The slider itself on my unit has a little more resistance than I would like, but I have been advised that is merely a prototype issue, and the final design for production units, will be both lighter, but also guaranteed for 10,000 openings…

Minor thing, but one unexpected benefit is that I know the order of the gels I have put into the FoodCell, so I’m getting things in the order that I want, without the potential “lucky dip” effect of a jersey pocket.

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Plus from an aero perspective, I’m maintaining a better position for longer with the FoodCell.

One slight issue I have, which relates to the velcro straps, was if I wasn’t paying attention when applying the straps, I could hit the box, which would then result in it sliding backwards. So top tip – make sure that the straps are tightened very firmly

Minimal Gains

I’ll be honest, from a functional standpoint, I GET the FoodCell. It’s an easy, user-friendly way of carrying your gels. But from an aero standpoint, the FoodCell sits BEHIND your stem… so 41% reduction in drag sounds great on paper, but the product, when installed on the bike actually going to benefit the rider at all?

I put that question to Dr Mark Tallon the founder of FlowCell

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This was his response:

“So, whilst the FoodCell® has been truly optimised for some great aerodynamic functions the biggest benefits of this product versus other similar aero food carriers is that you don’t need to be sitting up when opening and closing the product. We feel that these issues are even more important than the less than 1 watt drag such products can place on the bike, given 80% of all drag is the rider. So, by allowing them to maintain a more aero position there would be a significant aero advantage”

Imagine not having to fumble about for gels or sit up to grab more gels at food stations or reach around behind then in their TriSuits because the FoodCell® holds more food and is secure and easy to open and close. There are also other issues for Ironman triathletes who have to consider time penalties for littering. This can be accidental when you have to cram too much food into your food carrier than can result in used gel wrappers falling out. Or you place foods into your suit because of not enough storage in the carrier.

This is not hypothetical, look the UKs Will Clarke hit with a 5-min penalty in Ironman Texas for littering after dropping an energy bar. Mary Beth Ellis also at Kona for dropping salt tablets that were in her clothes rather than bento. This type of incident that can really impact a race could be prevented if athletes had the space to store the foods they need securely.”

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Ok so that is the theory, I asked for a little more detail on the CFD results, and was given the following information over a 40km ride – showing that the position of the FoodCell is quite important!

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What does the graph show?
Over that 40km ride when the FoodCell is next to the stem, this is where you get the negative drag. As with most aero devices, placement is key, if the FoodcCell isn’t against the stem, you are going to end up with a positive drag, slowing you. As the further away from the stem the box is moved, the more air hits it dead on – so we have to ensure it is correctly installed.
.If we move to an Ironman distance, against the stem you save circa 11seconds (meaning FoodCell can be a NEGATIVE DRAG option for those that can have it against the stem), but again, if placed far back there would be a maximum loss of about 50-60 seconds over speeds ranging from 30-40kph when the FoodCell is 8cm back from the stem
One thing people have asked about the above graph, why does the benefit seem to lessen as you go faster? It;s not that the benefit lessens, it is that a faster rider spends less time on the course. As they are riding for a shorter period, the cumulative benefit it less – as they graph is showing effect in e]seconds.
…So basically install it as advised in the instructions!
The major point that FlowCell keeps returning to during my conversations with them is the FoodCell end usability. They have created a product which is easier to get your gels out of than trying to tug at a zip and deforming your nutrition bag. The ease of use, in turn, allows the rider to maintain their aero position more effectively, and THAT is where the biggest race advantage is. But during the design process, the company have looked to minimal gains, and have also applied CFD sculpting to it during the design process to ensure maximum benefit from all areas

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I like the FoodCell, for it’s intended use, allowing the rider to maintain an optimum aero profile, whilst easing access to nutrition in that profile.

I think to consider this is a product outside of the race environment simply fails to realise what this product is about. The FoodCell is about nutrition from a minimal gains perspective.

That said, I’m not particularly bothered about my aesthetics – you can’t be with a face like mine! – so, in reality, I would have been very happy to have had the FoodCell with me when I did the RideLondon. Yes, it is a different kind of race in that situation, but I would have been happy to keep my bars free of gels, and just be stuffing empties in my jersey pockets.

If I was going to change anything, I’d wish to be rid of the straps, and perhaps have some form of stem attachment, and a micro suction gel, rather than foam on the bottom of the unit, but then we are back to weight penalties, and undermining the original concept.

I can see a lot of potential for the FoodCell, and I hope that we see it popping up in IronMan events before too long.

If you feel that FlowCell is for you, the Kickstarter page has 19 days left to run

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!