What has two wheels and uses less than one horsepower, but still goes over eighty miles an hour? You may be surprised to learn that the answer is a high performance version of a bicycle powered by one person. On September 14, 2013 in Battle Mountain, NV this year’s International Human Powered Speed Championships saw a new world record set for human powered speed.
The University of Delft’s ‘VeloX3’ vehicle powered by rider Sebastiaan Bowier attained a speed of 83.1 mph (133.78 km/h). In the 2010 races at Battle Mountain the ‘Varna Tempest’ powered by Barbara Buatois achieved the current women’s 200 meter flying start race record speed of 75.69 mph (121.81 km/h).
Since 1980 the IHPVA has sponsored these races and seen the record speed climb from just over forty five mph to the current blistering pace. The IHPVA is the sanctioning body for human powered land, water, and air vehicles world records. The IHPVA organizes and promotes its annual land, water, and air competitions. On its web site the IHPVA charter states that: ‘The principal object of the contests is to combine the best in technology with the best in athletic ability to obtain the fastest and most efficient human powered vehicles in the water, on land, and in the air; and to showcase ongoing technological development for speed and for practical human powered vehicles.’
A major milestone was achieved in 1986 when “Fast Freddy Markham powered Gardner Martin’s ‘Gold Rush’ to 65.48 mph (105.39 km/h) to become the first human to break the speed limit using only his legs for power. The results of this and previous year’s IHPVA competitions are documented at the following link IHPVA Race Results.
For the event cyclists from around the world met on State Route 305 outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada to race on one of the world’s straightest, flattest, and smoothest road surfaces. The 4,619ft (1,408m) altitude road, which was specially prepared for human powered cycle racing by the Nevada Department of Transportation, allowed riders to reach their maximum velocity for the 200 meter ‘flying start’ race.
The race was recently highlighted as a segment in the PBS ‘NOVA’ series Making Stuff Faster by technology correspondent David Pogue who noted that the low slung, fully faired recumbent-style vehicles achieved these incredible speeds using only about 800 watts of power (one horsepower is 750 watts). A typical cyclist riding a standard bicycle at twenty mph takes about by 350 watts or roughly ½ hp. The speed records are set by trained racing cyclists and by lowering the wind resistance to an absolute minimum, maximizing the drive train’s mechanical efficiency, and by using the lightest materials available for the frames and fairings.
The speed achieved by these riders in state-of-the-art human powered vehicles may cause one to wonder why we need two to three hundred horsepower to reach the same speeds in our automobiles.
For more photos of the IHPVA race, see Bas De Meijer’s collection at the following link.