Need for speed: The quest for the world’s fastest humans, without an engine

Battle Mountain, Nevada (CNN)Route 305 is a seemingly nondescript stretch of road in the middle of a very empty state, connecting two small towns.

But in the middle of this desolate valley of brown-yellow scrub brush, amid cows and wooden telephone poles and with views of dirt-brown hills, there’s a windy 5-mile stretch of flat highway where world records are broken every year.
Since 2000, the World Human Powered Speed Challenge (originally called the World’s Fastest Bicycle Competition) has gathered university teams and enterprising individuals who have engineered various bikes to be the fastest any human has traveled without the aid of an engine.
The bicycle is arguably one of the greatest inventions of mankind. An average bike is five times more efficient than walking when you compare the energy consumed to cross a mile. And although the design hasn’t changed much over the past 100 years — because it hasn’t needed to — the exception to that lies among a small, international clan getting close to breaking a 90-mile per hour speed barrier.
    “Aerodynamic drag is 80% of what holds you back when you ride a 10-speed,” explained Alan Krause, co-director of the challenge, along with his wife, Alice.
    Therefore, for teams and individuals designing bicycles to be the fastest in the world, most of the battle is focused on reducing wind resistance. They build custom aerodynamic shells around the bikes and require riders to get as low and recumbent as possible without losing too much stability.

    Competing against nature

    The way the challenge works is that over seven days, the attempts are made individually rather than racing side by side. The cyclists are competing for records in various categories, which means they compete with one another, with their own personal records, the limits of innovation and against the natural elements. “They are competing against the forces of nature, against air,” Krause said.
    In addition to men and women’s standard “open class” speed categories, there’s a category for bikes with more than two wheels, “multitrack”; the tandem category has two or more cyclists; and there’s a category for bikes that use hand cranks instead of traditional pedals. Each category has its own world record holders for males and females, and nearly every year, at least one world record is broken.
    It was Weaver’s data that led to the first call to competitors 19 years ago. Today, the challenge is an open invitational. Anyone can try to qualify simply by reaching, on a 2½-mile short track, a speed of 45 mph in morning heats and 60 mph in evening heats. “A great athlete on a regular bicycle won’t top 45 miles an hour in this contest,” Krause said.
    Fifteen riders came from 11 teams this year, representing the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, England, France and the Netherlands. The teams name their bikes, such as the Velox 7, Wahoo, Eta Prime, Dos to the Tres, Super Ketta 162, Taurus and Blue Nose.
    The current top speed record holder is Todd Reichert, who reached 89.59 mph in 2016. (Route 305’s automobile speed limit is 70 mph.) But other world records were broken this year. Ken Talbot’s 51.58 mph is now the world speed record for men’s arm-powered category. Using the same bike, the Arion4, Darke broke her own record by reaching 46.54 mph in women’s arm-powered. And Amminger broke the junior (under age 18) multitrack record at 60.94 mph on a three-wheel bike called CO2.
    Announcements, organizing for the next day’s heats and an opportunity for all the teams to mingle take place after each heat at the Battle Mountain Civic Center. It’s a convivial, well-organized affair with the Krauses in charge. Newcomers ask advice of elders, who are happy to answer.

    Blowin’ through the wind

    The International Human Powered Vehicle Association’s broad definition of a bike brings the concept to an existential point. Some of the bikes don’t have pedals. The rules don’t even require wheels, even though they always have. “If it had skis, it would be a land vehicle in the open class,” Krause said. And the bikes can have more than two wheels; in a recent year, one (non-record-breaking) entrant had at least seven.
    That said, most of the current designs are made of recognizable bike parts, if in different positions. No one has built a chain configuration that can beat circular. “While there have been experiments with linear drives, ones with a straight-line pedal path, no linear drive has equaled the performance of traditional bicycle cranks,” Krause said.
    Speed enhancements tend to largely focus on designs to reduce wind resistance.
    The holy grail, aerodynamically speaking, is “laminar flow,” a state in which a bike shell shape achieves very little wind resistance. Even a dead insect on the shell can mess up that ideal state of flow. It’s an engineering challenge worthy of Elon Musk, who will probably show up as soon as he learns of it.
    Because the bubble of a window adds drag, many of bikes are fully enclosed, the driver navigating by screen and a video camera.
    Weight is another factor. The world’s fastest bikes are now made from high-tech and aerospace composite materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber and foam cores. “You really have to work on design and efficiency. You can’t just throw more horsepower behind it,” Krause said.
    But the final component is being in proper shape for a burst of energy required in the few minutes it takes to build up speed. There are few rules, but of course, the main one is that the bike may not contain an engine, or “stored energy,” as one crew member called it.

    Do you have the need? The need for speed?

    To make an attempt at a bike speed record, you don’t have to go to Nevada in September. If you meet the proper conditions, have proper timing equipment and get it cleared by international association, you can make an attempt closer to home. What is helpful about the World Human Powered Speed Challenge is that those requirements are taken care of by the organizers. All the racers have to do is show up.
    Competitors tend to be elite ath-geeks at the intersection of amateur athletes and engineers and home builders, the kind of people who enjoy poring over technical trade publications with detailed black and white photos and titles such as CyclingScience, Bicycling Science and Human Power, available at the Battle Mountain Civic Center gatherings.
    Being in shape and getting in miles on training bikes similar to the final racing designs is also key to having any chance at making history in the desert. “It’s a unique combination of athleticism and engineering. Both are critical to the performance,” Krause said.
    “There’s a mental component, too,” he added. The experience is scary for some, claustrophobic for others. “These bikes are uncomfortable to be in. They’re very cramped. There’s no air, and some wear oxygen masks.”
    Darke noted, “after I tried it for the first proper run, I was shaking for hours afterwards. I was really psyched out by it. I think maybe some of this is more psychological than physical.”
    Although a bike must pass a tech inspection to make sure it can stop and turn, there are virtually no safety rules other than a bike helmet. Seat restraint requirements may be coming. On the highway, organizers add wood boards to the bottom of guard rails to keep sideways-sliding bikes from slipping under them and falling into a ravine.

    Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.

      Crashes can, of course, occur at very high speeds, but injuries are typically not serious, usually just minor abrasions and burns. One of the worst accidents a couple of years ago occurred just after the finish line, when the bike “exploded,” Krause said, but the rider had no broken bones and mainly minor concussion symptoms due to the abrupt stop.
      As Mario Andretti, one of the fasted motor-powered speed champions, put it: “If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough.”

      Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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