University of Liverpool team aims to hit 90 mph in pedal-powered Arion1 Velocipede


April 24, 2014

The team behind the Arion1 hope to reach 90 mph and claim the bike world speed record

The team behind the Arion1 hope to reach 90 mph and claim the bike world speed record

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Last September, at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge at Battle Mountain in Nevada, a Dutch team made up of students from TU Delft and VU Amsterdam set the current world speed record of 83.13 mph (133.78 km/h) for an unpaced cyclist on flat ground in the VeloX3. The University of Liverpool Velocipede Team (ULVT) has now announced its intentions to take the title with the Arion1 Velocipede, a bicycle resembling an oversized medicine capsule that has been left out in the sun too long.

The Arion1's design isn't that far removed from the VeloX3, with both enclosing the frame, transmission and recumbent rider in an aerodynamic carbon-fiber shell shaped like an inverted teardrop. The ULVT is claiming their design is 40 times more aerodynamic than a Bugatti Veyron, but being pedal-powered it will still fall well short of the 267.8 mph (430.9 km/h) achieved by the Veyron Super Sport (not to mention the 163 mph (263 km/h) speed reached by Francois Gissy on his rocket-powered bicycle). Instead, the team is aiming for a more modest, but no less impressive top speed of 90 mph (144.8 km/h) for its vehicle.

To achieve this speed, the rider, who will be seated just 5 inches (13 cm) from the floor, will need to get their legs pumping to generate over 700 W of power, which the team points out is enough power to light the average UK home. The power will be delivered to the wheels via a transmission system with a gear ratio of 17:1, as compared to the gear ratio of 4:1 found on a standard bicycle.

The ULVT says the Arion1 will weigh less than 55 lb (25 kg) and, despite the blue and white color scheme pictured in the renderings, the final colors for the vehicle are yet to be decided – although tartan, which was suggested by one team member, has apparently been ruled out.

Also yet to be finalized are the parameters of the vehicle, with Ben Hogan, the team leader of the ULVT, telling us the size of the Arion1 will be, "tailored to the rider's exact measurements to allow the most streamlined shape possible." Said rider will also need to carry out an extensive 16-month training program to ensure they are up to the task.

In place of a transparent windscreen, the team is in the process of designing a camera and monitor system that will let the rider see where they are going – an important feature when you're barreling along at 90 mph. Hogan says this monitoring system will not only reduce aerodynamic drag, but allow the rider's head to remain in the optimum riding position.

"To get to the speeds they intend to, the team will have to make sure everything is perfect, from the vehicle’s aerodynamics to the size of its wheels," said Philippa Oldham, Head of Transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, of which all the ULVT are members. "It’s an extremely tough ask to get a human powered vehicle to travel at 90mph – and a leap into the unknown – but with the right engineering approach it is possible."

The ULVT is aiming to have the Arion1 completed in May 2015, ready to take a run at the world speed record at the WHPSC at Battle Mountain in September 2015. The team plans to enter a male and a female rider in the event, looking to claim a new world record for both genders.

Sources: Institution of Mechanical Engineers, ULVT

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick


If you've been tracking motorpaced human-powered speed records for years, how have you managed to miss John Howard's ride in 1985 and Fred Rompelberg's ten years after that? Or are you saying a 1930s train could exceed 150mph?


@Zevulon Maybe you should google "velomobile". Thanks to good aerodynamics the best ones need only about 200W @ 60km/h.

Jerri Cornelius

Best of luck to the team. I admire the effort and sacrifice needed to take HPV's beyond their present levels of performance which, frankly, are quite astounding already ! Hit a hundred !!


i've been keeping track of bike outright speed records for ages.

they are feets of aerodynamics more than anything. everything else is just tweaking the engineering.

over 80 years ago the existing bike 'speed' record still exists for a bike racer biking behind a train with an aerodynamic shell 'pushing' the air out of the way for the biker.

high speed is all about air drag. the value of the bicycle is not to go that fast. so the records being made, are doing a great service to aerodynamics research, but that is better applied in motorcycles, cars and air plane and perhaps even high speed boats.......

for bicycles, it's pointless....


@zevulon to say "for bicycles, it's pointless" reminds me of Robert Fulton asking France's emperor Napoleon if he'd like to see a demonstration of his steam engine: "Built a fire on a wooden ship, underneath the deck!!?? Sir, I have no time for such madness!!" Most things humans do beyond the basics are "pointless", but the human-powered vehicle challenges, with their inherent low-cost powerplant, keep the price of experimenting much lower than so many other created speed records. You would think "chain drive" for bicycles, and its gear shifting, would have all been sorted years ago, but new engineering "tweaks" occur every year in that area. Even the aerodynamics are no doubt good for the next advancement; you don't see too many featherless birds flying about, do you?

feats, not "feets".

Scott in California

"their design is 40 times more aerodynamic than a Bugatti Veyron, but being pedal-powered it will still fall well short of the 267.8 mph (430.9 km/h) achieved by the Veyron Super Sport"

Well I guess that depends on the angle of the hill...

Michael Crumpton
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