On September 19th, 2015, the Eta speed bike blasted down highway SR305 outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada, reaching a top speed of 139.45 km/hr (86.65 mph) and setting a new world record for the third time that week. The effort represents the culmination of a massive amount of work from an incredibly bright and dedicated team of young engineers. For many of the team members it is the fulfillment of a dream that we have been pursuing since early 2009.
The record setting runs took place at the World Human-Powered Speed Challenge, an annual event designed to enable teams from around the world to take a shot at various human-powered speed records. A 5-mile, nearly-level straightaway on Highway 305 provides the perfect place to go as fast as possible.
Last year we had taken Eta to Battle Mountain for the first time, but came back with a lot of broken spokes, a cracked shell and a few scraped knees from inadequate clearances in the bike. This year was fundamentally different: we spent the year on a few research projects to make the bike even faster, but then shifted our focus entirely to testing, working out all the bugs that are inevitable in this type of work. We improved the clearances, the handling, the ventilation and the general robustness and consistency during operation.
On September 10th we packed everything up, made the long drive down, and prepared for our Monday morning qualifying run. In the qualifier, Eta hit 115.87 km/hr (72.00 mph) - the fastest qualifying time ever posted at Battle Mountain. Almost more importantly the bike handled like a dream, partially due to a last minute addition the day before that prevented the pilot’s legs from inadvertently steering the front wheel. So much work had been put into making the bike easy to control at high speeds, in high winds, and with the massive oscillatory forces from the pilot’s legs, and it was an incredible feeling to know that our work had paid off.
The evening run was cancelled by rain, which was the start of a 3 day “drought” in good weather conditions. We managed to get a great run on Tuesday morning, breaking the 80 mph barrier, but in incredibly high, non-legal, winds. Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the runs were cancelled again, and Wednesday night we decided not to run because of an incredibly windy forecast.
Thursday morning, more than half way through the week, the winds were dead calm and we had our first real shot at the record. We have come to appreciate that there are about a thousand things that can go wrong, and that you can never be too prepared. Thursday morning we slipped up. A slight miscommunication meant that we were a few minutes behind getting into the bike, and with a strict time limit on the road closure we had to rush our start procedure. With stress levels incredibly high, we messed up the launch, dropped the bike and put a huge scratch in the side of the shell.
We are incredibly proud, however, of the team’s ability to recover quickly: There was an open slot in the third heat, in the span of about 45 minutes Cameron managed to get back into town to get the backup shell, Alex blasted through the checklist to get Eta ready to run, Trefor did some incredible last-minute sanding to get the backup shell into prime condition, Todd refocused, relaxed, continued to warm up and succeeding in throwing down an all-out effort, and Victor and Tomek were waiting at the finish line for a perfect catch. It turned out to be a little more dramatic than we had planned, but on Thursday morning Eta hit an incredible 137.93 km/hr (85.71 mph), smashing the previous record of 133.78 km/hr (82.23 mph), and bringing the record back to Canada, where it had been previously held by team Varna from 1999 to 2013.
The record was officially announced later that morning and the team enjoyed a well earned meal, put together by Todd’s trainers Emre and Ryan who had made the journey down to be part of the team.
In the pursuit of the extreme, however, the work is never done, and we quickly got back to further improvements on Eta. Getting fresh air to the pilot was one of the things that had continued to baffle us, and it seemed like perhaps our most recent solution only worked well if there was a cross wind. A new air scoop was installed as well as a few other tweaks, to prepare Eta for Thursday night’s runs. The winds seemed high, and we decided not to push it, electing rather to test the new ventilation as well as some sprinting and handling exercises. Nevertheless, we were pleased with an impressive 132.43 km/hr (82.29 mph).
When Friday night came we were prepared, and the new air scoop seemed to pay off as we pushed the record further to 139.21 km/hr (86.50 mph). It was an incredible accomplishment for the team, as the data we were getting showed that Eta was an even faster machine than we had predicted. Not only that, but it was very consistent between runs, with wind and temperature playing only a minor role.
On the flip side, Todd hadn’t been able to get as much power into the bike as he was able to do in simulations, partially due to ventilation, but also perhaps related to slight differences in ergonomics and the effect of cadence at high speeds. For Saturday night, we made a few changes, but not all of them worked out quite as planned. Despite some mechanical difficulties with the gearing, we managed to sneak out a little bit more speed and push the record up a third time to 139.21kph / 86.50mph!
The week came to a close with a banquet where we had a chance to relax and say goodbye to our friends from around the world. We couldn’t be more grateful to everyone that has helped us throughout the years. This is an incredible community of people that shares their ideas to further the technology and the sport.
Later in the evening, speeding tickets are dished out to all of the teams that have broken the 70 mph speed limit. Todd was not only given a ticket for speeding, but also received a citation for “aggressive driving”. A huge congratulations to all of the new and returning teams that pushed their speeds further this week and got to see the results of all of their hard work.
We want to give a huge thanks to all of our sponsors, volunteers and supporters, who have put in their time and money to help us pursue a dream and take on a true engineering adventure.
We couldn’t be happier with the results of the week. With what we have learned we know that Eta will go faster yet and we can’t wait to come back again next year. Many people have asked, and the answer is yes: we will try to install a flux capacitor for 2016 with the goal of breaking 88 mph and launching a new era of human-powered time machines … only half kidding … stay tuned.