Cal Poly Students Aim to Break 61.3 mph Collegiate Record with High-Speed Bicycle

Human-Powered Vehicle Club competes this week at the 20th annual World Human-Powered Speed Challenge in Nevada

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A team of Cal Poly mechanical engineering students has headed to Nevada, where they think the bicycle they designed and built can top a record-breaking speed of more than 61 mph.

Cal Poly’s Human-Powered Vehicle Club has been around since 1978, but this is the first time they’ve built a vehicle specifically to break the 61.3 mph American collegiate record.

The team will attempt to break the collegiate mark, set by a team from UC Berkeley, at the 20th annual World Human-Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nevada, which lasts through Saturday, Sept. 14. (The world overall speed record for HPV bikes, set in 2016, is 89.59 mph.)

A human-powered vehicle is any vehicle powered by muscular strength. The most common HPV is a bicycle.

The Cal Poly HPV team consists of roughly two dozen mechanical engineering students, who have worked on the bike since last September.

“Our goal as a team is to build a bike that is as efficient as possible so it can go as fast as possible,” said Derek Fromm, a mechanical engineering student from Seattle, who was also a part of Cal Poly’s concrete canoe team that finished second in the nation in June.

Josh Gieschen, a 21-year-old biochemistry major from Davis, California — and a member of the Cal Poly Cycling team — will ride the high-speed recumbent bike, which was tailored for him.

“When we designed it, we designed it entirely around his body,” said Keyanna Henderson, a graduate mechanical engineering student from Huntington Beach, California.

The front-wheel-drive bike is covered with a bullet-shaped fairing, or shell, to maximize aerodynamic performance. It features a highly effective roller chain-and-sprocket drive system. However, steering is limited because of the physical constraints of the base of the fairing — with narrow slots cut out for the wheels.

Members of the team split into subgroups specializing in different areas, such as the shell and drive train. But the team also has to be flexible.

The original design had Gieschen watching the road on a pair of cellphone-sized digital screens connected to a camera atop the shell.

“That actually made it very, very hard for him to balance,” Fromm said.

With less than a week before leaving for the competition, the team redesigned the durable fairing to include a small windshield in addition to two rectangular side windows — “so he could see the world around him, not through a camera system, but in real time with his own eyes,” Fromm said.

Besides learning how to create a high-speed bike, Henderson, 22, has expanded her people skills and learned to work as a member of a team —learning from her peers as the project progressed.

“If we break the record, it would feel really, really, really good,” she said. “But, all in all, the experience has been incredible and rewarding. We’ve loved every second of it.”

Teams from around the world are expected to compete at Battle Mountain, perched along Interstate 80 between Winnemucca and Elko, between Sept. 8 and 14.

At 4,619 feet, Battle Mountain is an optimum location for the event because of its thin air, which reduces aerodynamic drag. The competition will be held outside of town on State Route 305, on what organizers boast is one of the straightest, flattest and smoothest roads in the world. Riders travel down a 5-mile stretch, reaching their maximum velocity before being timed over a 200-meter distance.


Members of the Cal Poly Human-Powered Vehicle team prepare team rider Josh Gieschen, center, for a test run at Santa Margarita Ranch. The team members pictured include, from left, Kyra Schmidt, Derek Fromm and Keyanna Henderson, all mechanical engineering students. Gieschen is a biochemistry senior.


Members of the Cal Poly Human-Powered Vehicle team prepare team rider Josh Gieschen for a test run at Santa Margarita ranch. The team members pictured include, from left, Kyra Schmidt, Michael Juri, Derek Fromm and Keyanna Henderson, all mechanical engineering students. Gieschen is studying biochemistry.

In photo at the top, Josh Gieschen, a 21-year-old member of the Cal Poly Cycling team, tests the high-speed bicycle created by Cal Poly’s Human-Powered Vehicle team at Santa Margarita Ranch earlier this month. The team is in Nevada this week, hoping to break the collegiate speed record of 61.3 mph.

Contact: Pat Pemberton
(805) 756-7402, (805) 235-0555
ppembert@calpoly.edu

September 10, 2019

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