The asphalt is just beginning to heat up as the sun rises above Battle Mountain, Nevada. The early morning rays reflect brightly off vans and trucks sparsely dotting Nevada State Route 305. A team of Italian college students from Polytechnic of Torino throw open the doors of their Sprinter van to reveal what appears to be a single occupant spaceship decorated in green, white and red. In actuality, it is a human powered vehicle competing for record high speeds.

After running a few last minute tests, the students hoist the bicycle out of the van and onto the pavement. They push and pull the streamline carbon fiber bicycle toward the starting grid. Balancing on just two wheels, the bicycle is stabilized by multiple team members while the student rider, Andrea Gallo, slips into the recumbent seat and clips into the pedals. A streamline fairing is then slipped over Gallo, fully encompassing him.

The remaining members of the team gather around and give Gallo an assisted start down the completely flat, five-mile course. In the last mile of the sprint Gallo is clocked at 82.8 mph, making him the fastest human at Battle Mountain 2018 and the fourth fastest in the world.

This year, Cal Poly Human Powered Vehicle club will be participating in Battle Mountain 2019 in September, giving them an entire year to design and build a human powered vehicle. Their goal is to beat the American collegiate team speed record — held by UC Berkeley — of 61.3 miles-per-hour, and in turn, beat the current Cal Poly record of 58.9 mph.

Although they are confident in their design and build skills, they are heavily reliant on the two student riders recently chosen: sophomore materials engineer Eric Olsen and junior biochemistry Josh Gieschen, both of whom are on the Cal Poly Cycling Team.

“Because we are trying to go as fast as possible, the simple thing to do is build this bike around the rider,” said mechanical engineer senior Derek Fromm, Chief Engineer of the Cal Poly Human Powered Vehicle club.

Engineers at an early morning preparation meeting for a fiberglass layup day. Cal Poly HPV Club | Courtesy

According to Fromm, the team is confident in Olsen and Gieschen because of their commitment, experience in cycling and their similar power outputs.

The team has begun to conduct a series of measurements on the riders to determine spatial requirements while pedaling, arm movements while steering, and even their breathing patterns. With this information, the team will design and build a recumbent bicycle with a streamline fairing to go over it. The bicycle’s frame will be constructed of chromoly steel and the fairing will be constructed of carbon fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass composites, according to Schmidt.

“Because we are trying to go as fast as possible, the simple thing to do is build this bike around one rider,” said mechanical engineer senior Derek Fromm, Chief Engineer of the Cal Poly Human Powered Vehicle club.

Apart from being physically fit cyclists, perhaps the most important attribute of the riders will be their commitment to training for Battle Mountain. If the riders were to slack — or in the worst case scenario, quit — the club would be impacted greatly, and so would its results at the event.

“It’s going to take a crazy amount of commitment for the riders, but this will give them the opportunity to basically have their name up in lights as the fastest Cal Poly riders and the fastest American collegiate riders,” Fromm said.

The Human Powered Vehicle club, founded in 1978, is the oldest club of its kind. A graveyard of retired bicycles lay to rest in the hanger of building 4, the meeting place for several clubs. Each bicycle tells its own story of triumph and failure.

Most familiar with the graveyard of bicycles is a pioneer of human powered vehicle development, retired Cal Poly faculty George Leone, who is referred to by many as the “composite guru.” Leone has worked on more streamline human powered vehicle builds than anyone in the world.

“Given the quality of our team and given the time we have,” said Fromm, “I really think we can do it this year.”

Leone’s involvement in the club began in 1980 when he attended a meeting.

“They needed someone with fiber-glassing experience,” Leone said. “Since I build surfboards, I raised my hand, and that quite literally changed the direction of my life.”

According to Leone, in 1981 he and the newly formed club placed 4th and 5th against some of the fastest bikes in the world.

Today, with all of the experience under Leone’s belt, he helps the team out by telling them of his past mistakes, of which there are many, according to Leone.

With Leone’s experience and the commitment of the team, the Cal Poly Human Powered Vehicle club is hoping for great results at Battle Mountain 2019.

“Given the quality of our team and given the time we have,” said Fromm, “I really think we can do it this year.”

Cloudy skies at the race site in Battle Mountain, NV. Cal Poly HPV Club | Courtesy

Emily Fagenstrom, Alyssa Mavor and Max Goldberg contributed to this story.

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1 Comment

  1. Such an incredibly interesting story. The combination of a simple bicycle, scientific ingenuity, and the people behind the design and their commitment to setting a record make this a fascinating article. Wonderful to hear about students pushing themselves to experiment, learn and perform. Great job Cal Poly!

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