March 2

Mar 02, 2005

Freezing in 'Bama

A cold and wet me at the NCAT test track trying to warm up in the car

It was a great trip - short but sweet and Buzz Powell - the test track manager was a gracious host. In fact, he drove for two hours on a Sunday just to let me use the track for the day!

Auburn Universities National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) test track is a 2.7 km two lane loop that serves as research facility for testing pavement mixtures, tire compositions, etc. I had a great talk with Buzz while I was there and it's really great to see an organization that is open to alternative and possibly competitive energy vehicles like solar car research and human power. It's a great, and healthy mix - on one hand, they are conducting tire, gas mileage and pavement wear research for the trucking industry, and on the other hand they are eagerly offering assistance to the Auburn University solar car project, my human powered vehicle project, and various cycling events for the local Auburn Flyers cycling club.

The test tracks applicability for a human powered vehicle record attempt is almost too good to be true. I have an enthusiastic host, a local cycling club who is able to offer assistance, a nearly flat road with a very smooth surface, two open lanes, wide and gradual corners, a wide open and easily accessible staging area, and even a web cam!

I see only two concerns at this point:

1. I am concerned about the 10 foot elevation change. The grade change (going counter clockwise) increases by about 10 feet at the second corner at the far end of the track - in the photo below, it would be the corner at the top left, and then declines 10 feet around the two corners at the bottom of the photo:

The grade change is very small, and the extra effort to climb the grade was difficult to distinguish from the effect of the wind that day. Almost every track has some elevation change - the longer the track, typically the greater the change. I doubt there is a track this long anywhere in the world with a grade change this small - aside from perhaps the Opel test track in Germany.

2. My biggest concern in the WEATHER! - specifically, heat and humidity in the summer. Here is a chart from that shows average precipitation and high temperatures for every month. May looks ideal with a average daily high of 28 degrees and low changes of rain. The other potential opportunity might be October, with an average high temp of only 24 degrees and the lowest chance for rain all year.

Buzz has been collecting weather data for 5 years with their on-site weather station and he is preparing some data for me.

My SRM data over the two days showed at 150 watts of power input, a trip around the track averaged 31 kph on the M5 which is exactly what I have measured here in Calgary. My average heart rate, though is way down to 109 bpm. That's good because it shows an increased efficiency which could be due to training effect, or might be due to the altitude of Opelika, Alabama which is around 800 feet (about 3000 feet lower than Calgary).

My 200 watt speed was 34.3 kph, and heart rate was 126 bpm. 200 watts on my triathlon road bike would require about 135 bpm, so this is also very good.

In fact, I was looking at my speed charts again, and realized that if I could maintain an average of 200 watts for 6 hours straight (I maintained an average of over 200 watts at Ironman Canada this year, and that was for 5 hours, 15 minutes), a vehicle CdA of .3, then I would have a chance to beat the 6 hour hpv speed record of 59 kph with a 68 kph average. Maintaining a heart rate of 126 to 135 bpm for 6 hours is completely within my ability - assuming I can train my leg muscles to handle the duration.

I could probably manage 68 kph going around this track if there was no wind, as the track is very wide and flat. I got to a high speed of 45 kph with a down wind and it didn't feel like anything at all really. If I were to consider the 6 hour, I think safety would be a bigger issue, as loosing control and crashing at 70 or 80 kph is different than doing it at 40...

Anyhow - here is a summary of the trip:

I was able to pack both my road bike AND the M5 lowracer into my bike travel box - all except for one wheel which I found an old wheel bag for:

I had to cut a hole in the box for the M5 rear forks and the M5 had to be completely disassembled. This works, but makes for a VERY heavy box!!

On Saturday, I flew from Calgary to Minneapolis, then from Minneapolis to Atlanta, GA - a 5 or 6 hour ordeal. Then I rented a van in Atlanta and drove 110 miles to Opelika, Alabama and enjoyed a very comfortable stay at the Hilton Garden inn off interstate 85. On Sunday I drove about 10 minutes down the freeway to the NCAT facility and met with Buzz. I logged 3.5 hours and 110 km on the M5 that day in pouring rain and 40 degree temperatures. By the end I was shivering uncontrollably, and a 30 minute hot shower + 60 minute soak in the hot tub at the hotel finally got my core temperature back to normal.

On Monday I had planned on doing about 100 km on my road bike in the area, but the weather was bad again, so I spent 2 hours on the spin bike in the hotel gym, then went back out to the test track and logged another 1.5 hours doing circles on the M5. Total M5 distance on the track was 100 miles which was exactly what I wanted to do. I only quit because the rear tire on the M5 blew and I didn't feel like repairing it, as it was getting late.

Well, that's it. I packed up on Tuesday and spent the day making my way back to Calgary.

Rocket Racer to do list

1. Everything!

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