The race to regain a world record

​Achieving a world record is tough. Hanging on to one is even tougher. Just ask any member of the Human Power Team.
Comprised of over a dozen students from TU Delft and VU Amsterdam, the team is currently in the process of trying to once again construct the world’s fastest bicycle.

They outlined their goals and design plans for the VeloX VI, their latest vehicle, during a presentation in the Civil Engineering building on January 14, 2016.

The VeloX VI will be their most cutting-edge bike yet and its innovative features are sure to make it a force to be reckoned with during the 2016 World Human Powered Speed Challenge (WHPSC) this September. The annual tournament, held outside of Battle Mountain, a rural community in Nevada, pits teams from all around the globe against one another. As the name suggests, they compete to find out who among them can build and demonstrate the world’s fastest human-powered vehicle.

In 2013, a prior edition of the Human Power Team managed to beat the world speed record with racer Sebastiaan Bowier in the driver’s seat of the VeloX 3. He managed to reach 133.78 km/h during that year’s WHPSC. The team retained the record in 2014 but were beaten by AeroVelo, a team from Canada, last September. Their racer managed to achieve 139.4 km/h, the current world record.

The Human Power Team has a lot of work ahead of them in the months to come but their manager, Hugo Lambriex, is confident that they stand a serious chance at regaining the record this summer.

“The Canadian team broke the world record and they really destroyed it,” he said. “That implies that there’s a really big challenge for us but we’re not afraid at all. We think, with our previous knowledge, we can beat that.”

During the presentation, Rutger van Maris, the team’s Chief Engineer, outlined the schematics for the VeloX VI. The bike will be more aerodynamic than its predecessors and boasts a stronger roll cage and an improved chain system, in addition to other cutting-edge features.

“We hope to start building the bike in February and have it completed in May,” Van Maris said. “Then we will need to do further testing and make a few adjustments.”

But building the best vehicle possible is only one part of the process. In January, it was announced that Jan Bos, a former Olympic speed-skater who raced for the team in 2012, will pilot the VeloX VI at the WHPSC this September. He’ll be spending the next several months training with his teammates from VU Amsterdam (who specialise in Human Movement Sciences) before he takes his first ride in the bike this spring.

“People think we’re just building a bike but that’s not true,” Lambriex said. “We’re building the best combination of an athlete and a bike; the best combination of a human and technology.”

One of the biggest challenges the team has faced over the years is testing their vehicles. The Netherlands’ notoriously fickle climate makes this a difficult task and each edition of the VeloX is designed to go straight. They’re incapable of handling most turns, which means that the majority of the country’s indoor tracks aren’t suitable for proper speed tests. In the past, the team has rented a local highway for testing but they’ve often had to cancel due to inclement weather.

Safety is another ongoing concern, especially as each VeloX becomes increasingly fast.

“We’re engineering the bike to be able to survive and withstand a crash of over 130 or 140 km/h,” Lambriex said. “We’ve been told by the university: Whatever you do, remember, safety is your number one priority. Nothing here is worth dying for. No record is worth a human life.”

During prior editions of the WHPSC, vehicles have spun off the course before slamming into ditches and rocks. No racers have died but there’s no escaping the fact that the competition is incredibly dangerous. Finding a balance between safety and innovation can be as thin as a razor’s edge when it comes to building the world’s fastest bicycle.

“To achieve the world record, your vehicle needs to be light, your vehicle needs to be aerodynamic and your vehicle needs to be thin,” Lambriex said. “The thinner a vehicle becomes the higher the risk of, if you crash, it will break. We’re still trying to find the limits of what is safe and what is possible to regain the record.”

This is the second article in a series about the Dreamhall. You can read our first article here.

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