This year's World Human-Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nevada was super exciting! We had both bikes Vortex and Bluenose reaching top speeds and breaking many personal bests: we walked away with 6 new hats (awarded at every 5 mile/hr milestone).
We began our journey in Toronto, packing up the bikes, equipment, and finally ourselves in one minivan. Next stop: Battle Mountain! The drive was estimated at 35 hours, and with two overnight stops on the way the trip stretched from Friday evening at 4pm to Sunday evening at 6pm. Quite a trek!
Along the way we stopped to pay tribute to the Gods of Speed at the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway. This is where people come to go fast! Unfortunately the Salt Flats were flooded this year, quashing many a World Record contender's dreams. Using a motor is cheating anyways! We took a few minutes to leave notice of our passing, see if you can spot it.
Monday morning begins with fine qualifying runs for all our riders in Bluenose and Vortex. We weren't able to finish and perfect Bluenose before the trip, but that's nothing new! Unfortunately, we were experiencing some handling issues with Bluenose due to the nature of the low rolling-resistance tires we had installed. We thought this would just take some getting used to. However, after Monday's evening runs and Tuesday's morning runs there were no signs of improvement, and bumping up Bluenose's speed was going to be a challenge.
Tuesday afternoon was the annual Show-and-Shine, where elementary school students are invited to come and see all the speedbikes gathered at the Civic Center. This is a great opportunity for the riders to check out and ask questions about eachother's bikes also. Damjan Zabovnik for example with the Eivie always has a number of insights and innovations. He rides his bike lying head-first on his back while looking through a periscope, mind-boggling!
Given handling problems with Bluenose in the early week, we decided to take steps to remedy the situation and switched in a more usual front tire, which we thought would improve handling. Boy were we wrong! This front/rear tire combination let to an unrecoverable wobble at 100 Km/h, resulting in a serious crash and tumble. Thankfully Todd was unhurt, just disappointed. We had some hard work ahead of us, but we never give up and never surrender!
The Battle Mountain Tourism Board was very kind to give all the teams the use of the Civic Center for the week. We immediately got to work, the scene above would be typical of the rest of the week. Fortunately the damage was primarily aesthetic and confined to the shell, Bluenose's structure and drivetrain were largely intact.
Wednesday morning Vortex was able to run several riders, and by Wednesday evening Bluenose was ready to roll again. Unfortunately rain had drenched the road, making conditions unsafe for speed runs. Several members of the team took the opportunity to hike a peak located near the Finish and Catch area of the course, unceremoniously named “Mt. Awesome”. We have no idea what it's actually called. We left another “Canadians were here” behind.
To aid recovery from the setback and rain we went in search of soul food: Chinese! Professor Nogami was very kind and treated the team to dinner. Best faculty advisor ever!
Thursday morning everyone is ready to run again. We get Bluenose back through a qualifying run to test handling with standard tires, all systems are go!
Unfortunately, Thursday evening is quite windy! There are no record runs, but Trefor takes Bluenose down-course to test wind-handling. We had sized and designed a fin to help Bluenose's gust-response, which is very counter-intuitive due to its refined aerodynamic shape. You can see he's leaning quite a bit through the traps, but definitely in control.
Unfortunately as dusk set in, the wind wasn't slowing down. During the last runs of the evening, Todd launched in Bluenose and was followed up by Glow Worm (a tandem bike). Due to a mechanical issue, Todd had a slower-than-usual run, causing Glow Worm to catch up through the timing traps. The wind was howling the whole time! Just past the traps Glow Worm passed into the lee (wind-shadow) of a bridge guardrail, causing a substantial steering change and a subsequent veer into the guardrail. Thankfully again the riders were relatively unharmed, due in large part to the protective steps taken by the organizers to minimize risk on the bridge and maximize safety.
You can see the crash video by clicking here (warning: there is some colourful language, our apologies).
An invigorating presence throughout the week had been Graeme Obree, Scottish track cycling legend and an eternal innovator in the sport. Many of the techniques he's invented were subsequently banned for being “too advantageous”. He brought a prone-position (belly-down, head-first) bike called “Beastie” to Battle Mountain this year. This bike was definitely a beast to handle, with an incredible fixed-gear drivetrain and what looked like very challenging stability properties.
Graeme was able to capture the Prone-position record in Beastie, but the British record remained elusive. We offered him Vortex for a few runs on Thursday and Friday: this would put the record well within his reach. Unfortunately on his first attempt the chain came off the drivetrain just after starting, Vortex couldn't take the immense pressure and expectations! On a second attempt Graeme was able to complete the run, but Vortex was a challenge to handle at speed and he wasn't able to better his speed in Beastie.
The team had been hard at work on Bluenose all week to restore it to top shape. Sandpaper, body filler, and elbow grease were applied in equal measure. Several team members have a special feel for what the air wants to do as it moves over the shell, and went about their task with great care.
Unfortunately, rain threatened again on Friday, causing a cancellation of all runs. There was quite a “cabin fever” building, as many of the best time slots were being taken away by weather! Morning spots, typically considered “slower” due to cold temperatures and higher air density, were in demand.
Saturday is the last day of the week, and everyone had just a few more opportunities for greatness. The morning runs featured some last-minute body filler and fairing work right at the staging area.
Last minute adjustments were made to several of our riders' speed profiles. We tailor each rider's profile to best fit their physiology and fitness. This allows them to pace through the 5-mile course and do their very best.
Most of our riders ended up very satisfied with their morning runs! The rest of the day was spent painting Bluenose and taking photos with all the riders, both Saturday traditions at Battle Mountain.
In preparation for the evening runs, we gathered the team at the staging area one last time.
In the evening runs the first two heats were no good for records due to wind once more! Trefor was able to get a run in, as was Todd, but on Todd's run the chain came off the front chainring (he must have been putting out alot of power!). A disappointing end to the week.
For the third heat of the night, the wind dropped rapidly: TU Delft had bided their time, and ran their fastest rider Sebastiaan Bowier in the last heat. Patience and hard work through the week paid off, and they set a new world record at 133.8 Km/h! What a great accomplishment, congratulations to Delft!
The week concluded with the Closing Banquet, where hats are distributed and awards announced. All of our riders got new hats for their personal bests, and Oleksiy was given the Innovation Award for the design, integration, and programming of Bluenose's vision system and heads-up display. Our team came away with quite a haul!
This was an incredible week! It was alot of hard work, but always good fun. All this would not have been possible without the tireless effort and organizational minds of the IHPVA volunteers! Among the most dedicated are the timing team, headed by Professor Nogami.
Furthermore, this would not have been possible without all our sponsors, from materials donors to our professional service providers. Ford Motors was especially crucial this year for supporting us with on-track testing time at the Ford Michigan Proving Grounds. We were able to get Bluenose and Vortex up to high speed and do some excellent aerodynamics testing, a first for us!
Farewell until next year Battle Mountain. The full results can be found on the Recumbents.com site. With all of our riders breaking 65mph (105Km/h) and several 75mph (121Km/h), this was a fast year with lots of excitement.