Aboard an enclosed recumbent bicycle in Nevada today, Canadian Todd Reichart has claimed the world record for human powered speed. The annual World Human Powered Speed Challenge draws cyclists from around the world seeking to push the limits of pedal-powered motion, but it was the 33-year-old who left the competition in his wake to clock a top speed of 85.71 mph (137.9 km/h).
Reichart and his team at AeroVelo engineering have had this very record in their sights for some time. In June last year the team announced its plans to set a new human-powered speed record, which stood at 83.1 mph (133.8 km/h) at the time courtesy of a 26-year-old Dutch rider named Sebastiaan Bowler.
And AeroVelo's confidence in approaching this objective was pretty well-founded, having proven its credentials in the realm of human-powered vehicles in the years previous. In 2011, its Vortex bicycle achieved a speed of 72.6 mph (116.9 km/h), a new land speed record for college-built and college-piloted vehicles. It has even ventured into aviation, developing what it describes as the first working human-powered ornithopter and also winning the Sikorsky Prize in 2013 with its Atlas human-powered helicopter.
So with this considerable momentum behind it, AeroVelo set about crafting a vehicle capable of propelling it even further into the record books. Dubbed Eta, a Greek letter often referenced in engineering as the symbol for efficiency, the bike to take them there would be an upgrade of a 2012 version called Bluenose.
The pilot sits in the recumbent position, with their legs out in front of them, in an enclosed capsule crafted with aerodynamics as a driving principle. Using a camera mounted to the top of the vehicle and a video monitor to see ahead, Eta was expected to offer around a one percent improvement on performance compared to its predecessor, according to the team's computer simulations.
Despite its meticulous planning, all didn't go to plan for the AeroVelo team come race day, with the first qualifying heat seeing Eta topple over on launch and damaging a front fairing. It then sat out the second heat while repairs were made, in time for Reichart to enter the third and the rest is history.
The course for the event consists of a 5 mile (8 km) run-up section for the pilots to build speed before a 218 yard (200 m) section on which they are judged. Reichart covered this distance in just 5.22 seconds, beating Bowler's previous record by 2.58 mph (4.152 km/h).
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