May 23, 2013

Sensum at the Vauxhall International 2013 North West 200

One of the fastest road races in the world, the North West 200 has been thrilling fans of motorsport for over 80 years. Otherwise known as ‘The Triangle’, the racecourse spans Portrush, Coleraine and Portstewart, with riders reaching 200mph due to the large straights on the track.

To be involved in such a competitive and dangerous sport takes a certain mindset - we wanted to get inside the mind of a rider who faces such pressure and danger. An outside analysis can only provide so much data; physiological data provides a fuller, truer picture.

The Technology

To measure the riders’ heart rates, we used a Polar T31 Heart Strap, which is a standard in sports research. This was placed under the riders’ protective gear. To record the data we used our Heart Rate Monitor unit (developed by Shimmer Research), which wirelessly captured the riders’ heart rates.

The sensor unit captured the beat interval from each participant’s heart every 100ms, which we then converted to a BPM average over 500ms. The sensor unit also contained an accelerometer, which we used to see how the gravitational pull affected each rider’s heart rate.

The Practice

The 2013 North West 200 took place over the week beginning 13th May with practice on the Tuesday and racing on Thursday and Saturday. On Tuesday, we set off to Portrush at a very red-eyed 6am, before the public roads closed. Before each practice session, we met each rider to ensure they were comfortable with the technology and their involvement in this valuable research.

Once we confirmed the accuracy of our data, we provided a copy to Greenlight TV, who turned the math into a visual display to go with the on-board camera footage from the motorbikes. And thanks to the reliable wet Northern Irish weather on Thursday our data from Alastair Seeley’s practice lap was shown live on BBC One NI. As you can see below, our sensor data became a unique visual display as Seeley moved around the track.

The Fan

We jetted back to the North Coast on Thursday morning for another dose of motor racing, arriving as one lucky participant, Phil McCord, was preparing for a ride around the course with legendary racer Steve Plater. Sensum had to get involved to see what the heart rate of a spectator and fan of the sport would be, as he rode around the famous circuit.

There are certainly a few interesting jumps and dips in Phil’s data, with Steve Plater hitting 180mph at one stage!

The Race

Alastair Seeley

As Thursday evening grew closer, so did the tension and excitement of the North West 200. We took our spot in the paddock as the first race featuring Alastair Seeley on the Supersport bike got under way. Seeley had a bit of catching up to do, as he didn’t qualify in the practice on Tuesday, so started at the very back of the grid. However, due to some excellent driving and ridiculous speeds, Seeley won the race - only finding out when he reached the winners’ enclosure.

Jeremy McWilliams

Next was legendary racer Jeremy McWilliams on the Supertwin series. Jeremy qualified in pole position in the practice sessions on Tuesday and with his win history, a podium position was expected. After a very tight race, McWilliams certainly did not disappoint, winning his class. Sensum helping this win of course..!

During the home leg of the final lap of this race, William Davison came off his bike right in front of Jeremy McWilliams, and you can see a large spike in McWilliams’ heart rate as the bike an rider slide across the road in front of him. Thankfully Davison was okay, and Jeremy went on to win.

Gareth Keys

Our final racer was Gareth Keys, who was taking part in his first North West 200. Keys certainly stepped up to the plate, qualifying in the first group in the ‘Newcomers’ practice and qualifying for the Superstock race.

Unfortunately, Gareth didn’t make it to the podium. However, he finished in an excellent position for his first North West 200.

After Gareth finished the race, we imported his data and saw quite a large spike, which you can see below on the info graph. A dog had run onto the track on the final lap, giving Gareth quite a scare - his heart rate reached a massive 204B PM!

So, after some late night keyboard bashing we successfully gathered all heart rate data from the three riders. Each rider’s data was broadcast on BBC show ‘Bikes' on the 17th May - you can view it on BBC iPlayeruntil the 24th May.

If you missed the coverage, click the video below to see the heart rate monitors in action!

We’ve also been featured in a BBC Science video and article that covers our work at the North West 200, with additional scientific background provided by Queen’s University Belfast’s Dr Sean Roe.

For those of you hungry for more data, we created some infographs which give a rundown of each rider’s heart rate info (click on an image to enlarge):

A big thank-you to Nigel Mc Alpine from BBC NI Knowledge and Learning team for bringing us on board and making us feel so welcome at the North Coast. We would also like to thank Sam Travis at Greenlight TV for producing the heart rate visuals.

For more information on Sensum, please visit, 'like’ us at and tweet us @sensumco!