Cyclist Hits 89 MPH to Break Human-Powered Speed Record

fastest human powered vehicle
At highway speeds, it's the most efficient vehicle in the world.Courtesy Aerovelo

Take the flattest, smoothest, straightest highway in the world, add the world’s fastest human-powered vehicle, and you’ve got yourself a new world record.

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The highway is the 305 in Battle Mountain, Nevada. And the bullet-shaped recumbent is the Eta, created by the Canadian design lab AeroVelo to break land-speed records. It’s done just that — twice. In September 2015, the bike hit a speed of 86.65 mph. Then, a year later on September 17, the Eta reached 89.59 mph during the five-mile World Human Powered Speed Challenge.

Analysis of the performance showed that Eta required less than 198 watts of pedal power at 56 mph. That’s a wattage easily achieved by most casual cyclists and translates to a 9,544 MPGe (the electric car equivalent of MPG) highway fuel efficiency. This is the highest per-passenger MPGe of any existing transportation technology at this speed. 

Named after the Greek symbol for efficiency, Eta seems to be living up to its name. Eta’s aerodynamic shell gives it 100 times less drag than a modern car, and the bullet-shaped design allows it to exceed average highway speeds of 60 mph using less than one horsepower. Outfitted with custom Molten Speed Wax bike chains, paper-thin tires, an ultra-lightweight frame, and piloted by AeroVelo co-founder and aerodynamicist Todd Reichert, Eta was able to better its previous top speed of 87 mph with ease. “We were surprised and excited to see that the bike was even faster than expected,” says AeroVelo co-founder Cameron Robertson. “This last year [of development] was largely about doing incremental work we had always planned for, and it really paid off. There are some small changes still to be made in the whole system (bike and rider), and we hope to push the record again next year.”

Robertson says that it’s not out of the realm of possibility to hit triple-digit speeds with Eta. “People used to think in terms of impossible limits and unbreakable barriers,” Robertson says. “Twenty years ago no one thought 70 mph would be broken. We’ve made clear that with this bike, 90 mph will be reached very soon.” He says that the largest impact comes from excellent aerodynamics, but the drivetrain efficiency, reduced rolling resistance, internal aerodynamics, and ergonomic design are all very important. “New thinking and technologies will likely be needed to break 100 mph, but these are well within the capabilities of the creative people in the community.”

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