World Human Powered Speed Challenge
Racer Info
What's New?
Spectators
Event Pictures
Event Results
Press Release

The 2012 World Human Powered Speed Challenge is the 13th consecutive year of this prestigious event. This competition pits man, technology, and sheer determination against the seemingly insurmountable forces of air resistance and friction to determine the absolute boundaries of man powered speed over a 200-meter distance. The use of high-level aerodynamics and maximum athletic power results in shockingly fast speeds. 

The road surface on which this race is run was resurfaced in 2009 by the Nevada Department of Transportation, offering racers the smoothest and safest racing surface to date.

In September of 2012 racers will gather on SR305 outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada to race on one of the straightest, flattest, and smoothest surfaces in the world. The 4,619ft (1,408m) altitude road allows riders an acceleration zone of over 4 miles, enabling them  to reach their maximum velocity.

World Human Powered Speed Challenge
Media Release by Mike Mowett
For immediate release

Event Dates: September 10 to September 15, 2012
Location: Battle Mountain, Nevada, USA
Short Headline: Bicycles to speed over 80 mph at Speed Challenge!

Short Description:
This September, the world’s fastest bicycles (and tricycles) will compete on a highway in Nevada for the chance to challenge world cycling speed records. Their goal is to break the current top speed records of 82.8 mph by Sam Whittingham of Canada and 75.7 mph by Barbara Buatois of France. About a dozen vehicles are expected to attend including university entries from the US, Canada, France and the Netherlands. They will compete alongside veteran racers like Whittingham and Buatois. Whittingham, age 40, is a former member of the Canadian national cycling team. He has won the event every year of its existence. Buatois, age 34, won the grueling 3000 mile Race Across America last year, which is considered one of the world's toughest sporting events, about equal to the Tour de France.

This annual week-long competition is in its 13th year of existence. The vehicles competing are entirely human powered. Most vehicles consist of a streamlined recumbent design. The racing cyclist sits reclined inside a thin aerodynamic shells made of carbon fiber, Kevlar or fiberglass. This shell surrounds and protects the racer in case of a crash, which have happened. Each vehicle is equipped with large bicycle gears that the rider pedals to achieve high speeds. Most vehicles use standard components like chains, brakes, tires, shifters found on ordinary bicycles, but they have been rearranged in a new or creative manner.

It is the aerodynamic shape of the shell that is the key to the remarkable speeds these cyclists can achieve on the flat road. The vehicles have been considered some of the most aerodynamically efficient machines ever built. The cyclist pedaling inside them may be using only a 1/3 horsepower to go 60 mph, which is in the range of some strong amateur cyclists. The best cyclists might output a little less than one horsepower during a top speed run.

There is not a drop of gas (petro), nor any electric motors or batteries in sight at the competition. Anything goes, as long as it's human powered. The designs can have two or three wheels (tricycle). Single rider vehicles or tandems, with the power of two riders are allowed.

Among the more creative contestents is Damjan Zabovnik of Slovenia. He pedals facing backwards, while lying on his back, using a mirror to see forward. He reached 77 mph last year. Steve Copeland of the US, plans on pedaling while lying face-down on his chest. He has spent five years building his machine called the Velociraptor, after the dinosaur bird of prey, but a dinosaur it is not! Prone machines similar to his have gone over 50 mph. 25-year old Greg Westlake of Canada, a double leg amputee and member of the Canadian national sledge hockey team, will hand-pedal the world’s fastest arm-powered machine. He went 43 mph two years ago.

Don Schroeder of Idaho will be back with a three-wheeled machine that his niece, 17-year old Kara Snyder pedaled to over 50 mph last year. Their machine uses a small video spy camera linked to a video screen inside the shell in order for Kara to see where she is going. There is no window. Other riders have used the same technology, as their machines have gotten smaller and smaller with the riders reclined back further and further to the point they can't sit up to see forward. Head bubble windows which stick above the vehicle body can cause extra air drag.

Human powered vehicle (HPV) speed records are sanctioned under the International Human Powered Vehicle Association (IHPVA). There are competitions world-wide including attempts for how far a human can pedal in One Hour (currently 56 miles by Sam and 52 miles by Barbara) or even 24 hours (an amazing 760 miles currently), but the annual Speed Challenge in Nevada is where the fastest speeds have been achieved. When the IHPVA was first formed in 1975, the fastest anyone went on a bicycle was about 43 mph by an Olympic cyclist. In five years, the record increased to 63 mph by 1980. Now with the Battle Mountain competition, Whittingham has taken the record to almost 83 mph. Today's cyclists are traveling at speeds though inconceivable even 15 years ago.

Racers gather each morning and evening on State Highway 305, about 15 miles outside the town of Battle Mountain. This road is closed by local officials for about one hour giving the racers the opportunity to race down it. The event is so valued in Nevada that repaving the stretch of road was successfully lobbied for to help keep the event going. The road was in need of repair due to heavy mining traffic in the region. It now is one of the smoothest stretches of highway around. One by one, racers set off down a 5.5 mile stretch, accelerating to top speed then they are individually timed over a 1/8 mile (200-meter) portion of the highway. The road is flat and level, at a relatively high altitude location with thin air to help the racers go faster. The rules say the wind can’t be blowing over a certain speed in order for a record to count. No motorized vehicles can be on the road to provide a “draft” to the racers. All of these rules exist to make the speeds achieved are entirely human powered. This is in contrast to many videos on the Internet of bicycles descending down mountains and sometimes crashing at 60 to 100 mph.

The small nearby town of Battle Mountain, Nevada is the gracious host for the competition. Racers gather each day at the Super8 motel in town to work on their vehicles for the races. Battle Mountain has a American "Old West" feel to it. It has an active mining community and a major stop for trucks traveling through on Interstate 80 across the US. Racers come to town from around the world to test their hand-crafted designs against each other, but it is a friendly competition. There is usually a strong willingness to help each other amongst the racers. Most vehicles lack a functioning door for the riders to get in and out. There are often two halves to the vehicles' body that are taped closed sealing the racer inside for the duration of the speed run. Thus volunteers help in starting and stopping the vehicles. Spectating is free. There will be no large monetary cash prizes awarded at this year's competition. Several years ago, Whittingham won a $26,000 prize put up by a private sponsor and race organizer for being the first to exceed 82 mph. For racers and volunteers, the competition is all about the thrill of going fast.

The great thing about this event is that junior-aged high school kids can compete equally with former Olympic athletes. Jay Henry of Washington has been coming to the event for several years. At age 16, he built his own streamlined bicycle that went over 50 mph, faster than any Olympian could boast on a flat-land. Jay has reached over 60 mph, and now at age 20, he hopes for even faster speeds. His older brother Barclay has his own self-built vehicle, a tricycle that has gone 65 mph. Of more than maybe 10 million people who ride a bicycle every day, these cyclists surely represent the fastest cyclists in the world. Many of the competitors will leave the event saying they are in the Top 100 fastest in the world. Just like at the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats, racers can earn the right to wear a Club Hat saying they achieved 55 mph, 60 mph, 65 mph, etc – but here it is on a bicycle not a car – that is something to brag about!

So who will win this year? Veteran racer Larry Lem of California is bringing a new machine, and hoping for 70 mph. Like other racers, he once raced during his college days in this sport. A separate college-only competition exists for students sponsored by ASME - the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. A new team called Cygnus from the Netherlands is comprised of 70 mph veterans. They are bringing a new machine to the event.

In addition, three very talented college teams are racing; IUT-Annecy from France, the University of Toronto from Canada, and the Technical University of Delft from the Netherlands have already demonstrated the speed potential of their new machines. They have used the latest computer simulation technology to design their vehicles, as opposed to others hand-crafted work, done with only a visualization of what they think is fast.

George Georgiev is a Bulgarian sculpture who emigrated to Canada. He built both Sam and Barbara's bikes using only his hands and eyes, and thus holds the title as the world fastest builder. Can a university machine designed with a computer finally beat his mark? 73 mph is the fastest by a student-built machine set by the French IUT team two years ago. They are coming back with a faster bike. Can they upset the “old” veterans like Sam Whittingham?
 

See the News Page for current information

 

Back to the WHPSC Homepage

Copyright 2012 -  Web design by Warren Beauchamp