the fastest BIKE on earthBy definition, that makes its rider the fastest self-propelled person on land. Usain – on your left!
The Ideas MEN:
Cameron Robertson and Todd Reichert
In 2015, the aerospace engineers took their speedbike, Eta, to Nevada State Route 305.
Inside was the engine that had powered the first flights by a flapping-wing aircraft and human-powered helicopter – Reichert. That week, he broke the human-powered land speed record.
THE RED BULLETIN: Why did you chase a human-powered record?
ROBERTSON: “A human has the power of a small electric drill, about three-quarters of a horsepower maximum. This means you really need to think differently as a designer, and the solution you end up with is mind-blowing. Not only is there the person at the heart of the vehicle, but it’s a helicopter the size of a commercial aircraft, or an aeroplane that flaps its wings. It changes people’s perception of what’s possible.”
Eta is certainly mind-blowing. Did you break the land speed record in an egg?
“It’s an aerodynamically refined, human-powered vehicle. With Eta, everything is designed for higher speed, increased efficiency and reduced power: low rolling resistance, lightweight rotating wheel components to ease acceleration, a stiff frame for efficient power transmission from pilot to vehicle. It’s more aerodynamic than a regular bike in every way.”
So you’re now the best bike builders in the world…
“We couldn’t build a regular bike and make it nearly as good as those by Trek or Cannondale. They’re super-smart people with all of the data and tools for the problem they’re trying to solve. This bike is designed for a human going at mind-numbingly high speeds using their own power. By virtue of holding the record, it’s the best available vehicle for this particular challenge.”
Surely the human inside is a big factor?
REICHERT: “I’d say it’s 100 per cent both bike and rider. You can have the best bike, but if you don’t have a national-level athlete, it won’t go fast enough to break a record. But it would be difficult to throw any professional cyclist inside. To ride recumbent in an enclosed cell with a couple of millimetres steering in each direction, beneath a video screen… that’s quite a learning curve.”
What was it like the day you broke the record?
“I was nervous, because in previous years the bikes weren’t ready and could fly off the road. The shell is very durable and you typically slide, maybe even roll a few times, but it’s pretty safe. The actual run takes maybe four-and-a-half minutes to cover that 8km stretch. In that first mile you’re almost at 100kph. With 1.5km to go, it was obvious we were going to smoke the record.”
Four gears efficiently transfer human-pedalled energy to two low-resistance wheels
Camera-vision screens in place of a windscreen mean increased aerodynamics
Laminar flow shell delivers 100 times less drag than a modern car
How long before your record of 139.45kph is broken?
ROBERTSON: “We plan to go back this September and hit 88mph [141kph] – our Back To The Future goal. After that, you can speculate about what might bring the next leap, like actively controlling the surface air on the bike to reduce drag, or riding a railroad track – rolling resistance of steel on steel is substantially lower than rubber on the road. These things could deliver a new speed record.”