A team of U of T Engineering Science alumni and students has created the fastest human-powered vehicle on earth — a bicycle that reached a top speed of 139.45 kilometres per hour (86.65 miles per hour) at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nevada, last week.
The 25-kilogram speed-bike, named Eta after the Greek letter used to denote efficiency in engineering equations, broke the previous 200-metre world record of 133.8 km/h (83.13 m.p.h.) on Sept 17. It then broke its own record twice over the next two days, clocking its final record-holding speed on Saturday, Sept 19. The bike was piloted by Engineering alumnus Todd Reichert (EngSci 0T5, UTIAS PhD 1T1), who, along with fellow alumnus Cameron Robertson (EngSci 0T8, UTIAS MASc 0T9), founded Aerovelo, a company that designs and builds human-powered vehicles.
“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 Reichert. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done.”
About a dozen teams competed in the World Human Powered Speed Challenge, which has been held annually for 16 years. While a few of the teams represented engineering faculties at other universities, most were simply dedicated enthusiasts of pedal power.
Reichert and Robertson are no strangers to world records. The duo are also well known for winning the Igor I. Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Prize for the first-ever sustained flight of a human-powered helicopter in 2013 and for building the world’s first human-powered ornithopter in 2010, a machine that flies by flapping its wings like a bird.
Eta was created at the University of Toronto and is the result of a long-standing partnership between Aerovelo and U of T Engineering’s Human Powered Vehicle Design Team (HPVDT).
“Both teams benefit from [the partnership],” said Calvin Moes (EngSci 1T5, MSE MASc Candidate), current captain of the HPVDT. “They get experienced people to help them, and a workshop here at U of T, while we get the benefit of the research they do.”
Other HPVDT members who worked on Eta included Alex Selwa (EngSci 1T5), Trefor Evans (EngSci 1T4) and Victor Ragusila (EngSci 0T8, AeroE PhD candidate). HPVDT also fielded its own bike in this year’s competition. Called Bluenose, the vehicle was built for the 2012 World Human Powered Speed Challenge, and raced by Aerovelo in 2013.