mission: To set a trans-Canada human powered speed record

NOTE: Project update Jan 13, 2005:

Since I originally came up with this crazy idea over a year ago, I have designed and built a fully functional vehicle shown below. After almost a thousand km I have now come to realize that perhaps this isn't the best type of human powered vehicle for a record attempt. My thoughts on that and a future direction are here.


September 17, 2003

In 1991 Bill Narasnek set a trans Canada cycling record of 13 days, 6 hours and 9 minutes. He traveled exactly 6035 kilometers from Vancouver to Halifax. In a conversation with someone who has spoken to Bill, I was told he averaged 451 km per day, 18.8 km per hour and slept for about 7 hours per night.

Compared to Race Across America cyclists who cycle 5000 km in just over 8 days averaging a whopping 25 km/hour, it looks like there is ample room for improving the Canadian record. Starting with Bill's luxurious 7 hours per night of sleep. The average RAAM rider hammers across America on only 2 hours of sleep per night! All the remaining time is spent on his bike. According to Steve Born who did RAAM 3 times, RAAM is a suffer fest!

I want to set a new record by being the fastest man to cross Canada under his own power. That means I have to do it in less than 13 days, 6 hours and 9 minutes. However, I am not interested in suffering on a road bike for 13 days with a few hours of sleep per night like the RAAM riders do. I'm going to employ some cutting edge technology to design and build the most efficient human powered vehicle possible to take me from Vancouver, BC to Halifax, NS in less that 13 days.

I won't be setting a new CYCLING record, as traditionally defined by the Canadian Cycling Association where a 'bicycle' is a very strictly defined vehicle. This is just one of many equipment specifications that I pulled from their rules:

1.3.004 Bicycles shall be of a type that is or could be sold for use by anyone practicing cycling as a sport. The use of a bicycle designed especially for the attainment of a particular performance (record or other) shall not be authorized.

The Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (http://www.ultracycling.com), on the other hand, has a category for Human Powered Vehicles (or HPVs) which would encompass any kind of person powered bike that doesn't fit within the CCA specifications. The true ESSENCE of cycling is and should be about efficient human powered travel and the vehicle that I will be cycling won't look anything like a road bike!

Here is the most current concept:

The Streamliner will probably feature three wheels for stability in windy conditions, front wheel drive for efficient power transfer from the cranks to the drive wheel, and will pivot (or lean) to turn.

On a bicycle at 40km/hr, over 90% of your effort goes to simply pushing your shape through the air! This streamlined HPV will need to be VERY aerodynamic and will be made from lightweight carbon composite materials.

6000 km in less than 13 days? How exactly is this going to happen?

We know Bill Narasnek crossed Canada in 13 days using a conventional diamond frame road racing bike. I plan to capitalize on technology and build a more efficient bike - but exactly how much more efficient will that vehicle be, and more importantly, how efficient do I have to be in order to break Bills record?

I have some interesting data regarding efficiency differences between conventional cycling and human powered vehicles (HPV). Here is a table comparing world speed records:

Distance Cycling record HPV record HPV advantage
200 meter 9.865 sec 5.52 sec 78%
500 meter 26.649 sec 18.15 sec 46%
1 km 60.613 sec 28 sec 116%
1 hour 56.375 km 82.4 km 31%
12 hours 276 miles 377 miles 36%
24 hours 532 miles 634 miles 19%

According to these world records, the average HPV advantage over a traditional road bike is more than 50%! This comparison is not accurate due to differences in environments of the record attempts (altitudes temperatures, etc.), athletic ability, and various equipment differences. I would suggest that the actual HPV advantage over a long distance, all factors being equal would be more like around 25 to 30%.

Let's take a look at some hard experimental data. These results were obtained by the (Dutch HPV Club), using a SRM watts measuring device. Test conditions were the same in all cases.

This data was kindly contributed by the http://www.legslarry.beerdrinkers.co.uk/tech/SpeedAndPower.htm web site.

Ideally, the recumbent HPV that I plan to build to set the cross Canada record with should be the 'full hard fairing' test bike (last column) that took only 75 watts to produce an average speed of 40 km/h. A bike like that would look something like this: Streamliner. Let me put that into perspective for you: For me to go 40 km/h on my triathlon bike, I would have to output over 300 watts. 40 km is exactly an Olympic triathlon bike distance, and the top-level world champion triathletes can complete that distance in about 1 hour, thus averaging 40 km/h If I tried to maintain 300 watts for an hour, I would probably die after 20 minutes. Contrast that 300 watts world-level athletic effort that would be required to maintain 40 km/h to a mere 75 watts required to achieve that same speed with a fully faired hard shell recumbent bike. I could fall asleep at 75 watts per hour. The next time you are at your health club, hop on one of the stationary bikes and set the display to watts. Check out how easy it is to maintain 75 watts.

However, using a recumbent bike with a full hard fairing of the type that was used in this study to cross Canada with would probably not be possible. These fully faired HPVs are intended for track-use only. The visibility is extremely poor, rider cooling is a problem, and the handling due to the low position and small turning radius is downright dangerous. My trans-Canada HPV would probably end up falling somewhere between the hard fairing recumbent and the 20cm seat height tail fairing recumbent - hopefully something more efficient than the Alleweder trike. I think a vehicle that would require 150 watts input to produce 40 km/h is attainable.

Ok, so if I can maintain 40 km/h and 150 watts (assuming of course that the bike I build will deliver average of 40 km/h on only 150 watts input), how many hours per day will I have to cycle in order to break the current 13 day record?

6000 km in 312 hours (13 days) is 19 km/h average with no sleeping. If I cycle for only 12 hours per day and can maintain 40 km/h, I will cover the 6000 km in 13 days. 12 hours of cycling a day might sound like quite a bit, but Race Across America riders on average cycle for 20 to 22 hours per day! Yes - that's only 2 to 3 hours of sleep/rest per day! I think I could manage to rest/sleep for as little as 5 hours per day, and cycle for the remaining 19 hours. If I'm able to pull that off, and able to maintain an average of 40 km/h, That will be 760 km per day, and I'll cover the 6000 km in a bit less than 8 days.

Is 150 watts realistic? According to Steve Born who finished the Race Across America 3 times, a top RAM rider will average between 14.25 and 14.3 m.p.h. for the entire 2925 miles and finish in around 9 days. Since they sleep only 3 hours per night, average speed while cycling is around 18 to 20 m.p.h. According to some watts data that I have from High-Tech Cycling by Edmond R. Burke, it would require about 180 watts of power to produce 19 m.p.h. on a standard upright racing bike. So - basically, these RAM riders are cycling for a minimum of 21 hours per day for nine days straight and outputting 180 watts of power the entire time. For me to cross Canada in 8 days in my custom HPV, I would have to produce 150 watts per hour and cycle for only 19 hours per day.

For actual watts testing values of the various versions of the vehicle that I am in the process of building and comparisons to road bikes, please refer to the Speed Data page.

As a survivor of two extensive home renovations, and two custom home building projects, I can tell you that it always costs 33.33% more than you plan and takes 33.33% longer. Applying that 33.33% golden rule, I am going to subtract about a third off of my expected goal speed of 40 km/h and make it 30 km/h average. I'm also going to reduce my expected 'time in the saddle' from 19 hours per day to 16 hours. That's 480 km per day and 12.5 days - still faster than the existing 13 day record.

So - best case scenario is 8 days and worst case scenario is 12.5 days.


My expected performance estimates will be effected mostly by three unknowns:


And these three key questions will be my focus for the next year or so as I continue to design, build and test the abilities of both man and machine - me and the HPV.


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