Engineering Competitions

Battle Mountain: Engineering Student Teams Break World Speed Records

Written by Seb Murray | Engineering Competitions | Thursday 24th September 2015 10:59:00 GMT

Two teams of engineering students take historic racing event to new heights

The 25kg vehicle used to smash the record, Eta, was built by the University of Toronto

The 25kg vehicle used to smash the record, Eta, was built by the University of Toronto

Engineers across history have had a need for speed. A gaggle of engineers from Canada’s University of Toronto however, have claimed a new scalp.

A team of students and alumni have broken the land speed record for a human-powered vehicle, creating a bike that reached 139.45kph (or 86.65mph).

The world record was achieved at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge in the US’s aptly named Battle Mountain, Nevada, where global engineering teams gather each year to push the boundaries of science.

The 25kg vehicle used to smash the record, Eta, is a joint effort between University of Toronto and Aerovelo, a company set up by alumni of the college that designs and builds human-powered vehicles.

The bike is encased in a carbon fibre shell to reduce drag. Rather than a windscreen, a small camera in the tailfin relays pictures to a screen in the cabin.

Its other features include super-hard tires designed not to stick to the road, and a gearshift made to curb energy loss.

“Because the shell is so thick, it resonates with the road,” said the team’s captain, Calvin Moes. “At full speed, it sounds like a jet engine in there.”

Todd Reichert, co-founder of Aerovelo and Toronto engineering graduate, said: “We knew that Eta was the fastest bike we’ve ever built. But the course at Battle Mountain is so unique that this was the first time we really saw the bike perform to its full potential.”

Not only did the engineers break the world record, but three times on consecutive days. The 86.65mph feat came on September 19.

Meanwhile, a team of students from the UK’s University of Liverpool broke the human powered British Land Speed Record at the same event.

The British engineers designed and built their recumbent bicycle, ARION1, from scratch with funding from Rathbones Investment Management.

Aiming for the world record of 83.13mph, which was set at the same venue by a Dutch team in 2013, the Brits fell just short. But they were able to surpass the British record of 67.4mph, set by Rob English at Battle Mountain in 2002.

Patrick Harper, deputy team leader, said: “It was a roller coaster week with highs and lows for the team.”

ARION1 suffered damage to its exterior shell and steering; the team had to work through the night to make repairs.

Riders Ken Buckley and David Collins on Friday secured the victory.

“On the final evening of the race week the bicycle was in great condition, the riders were pumped and the weather provided perfect racing conditions,” added Patrick.

“David and Ken were able to hit incredible speeds — the team was ecstatic.”

Attempts at the human-powered speed record have been taking place at Battle Mountain for nearly two decades. Its flat and smooth roads — as well as predictable weather — are believed to make for ideal race conditions.

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