University of Toronto team breaks speed record

Engineers past and present from the University of Toronto have broken the land speed record for a human-powered vehicle, creating a bike that reached 139.45kph (86.65mph) over a 200m distance.

The world record was achieved last week at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nevada, where teams from around the globe gather each year to push the limits of pedal power. Eta, the bike used to set the record, was a joint effort between the University of Toronto and Aerovelo, a company set up by former students of the university that designs and builds human-powered vehicles.

Eta was built and raced by past and present students from the university.
Eta was built and raced by past and present students from the university.

“We knew going in 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,” said Todd Reichert, a former student at the university and a co-founder of Aerovelo.

The 25kg bike, encased in a carbon fibre shell to reduce drag, is the result of a collaboration between Aerovelo and the university’s Human Powered Vehicle Design Team (HPVDT). Rather than a windscreen, a small camera in the tailfin relays pictures to a screen in the cabin.

Other distinguishing features include super-hard tires that don’t stick to the road and a gearshift designed to minimise energy loss. Despite these innovations, piloting the vehicle can be uncomfortable, according to HPVDT captain Calvin Moes.

“Because the shell is so thick, it resonates with the road,” he said. “At full speed, it sounds like a jet engine in there.”

The record was actually broken three different times on consecutive days by the Canadian team, with the 86.65mph record coming on September 19. Attempts at the human-powered speed record have been taking place at Battle Mountain for the past 16 years, where the flat, smooth, road conditions and predictable weather make for ideal racing. 

This year, the UK was represented by Arion1, built by a team of engineers from the University of Liverpool’s Velocipede Team (ULV Team). According to reports, ULV Team pilot Ken Buckley set a new British record when he hit speeds of 75mph in Arion1.