For the past eight years, Cameron Robertson and Todd Reichert have dedicated themselves primarily to engineering human-powered flying vehicles. Now the Canadian founders of AeroVelo are taking their work to ground level by designing a bicycle that could set a new world record for human-powered vehicles, which is currently 133.8 kilometers per hour (83.1 mph). Robertson and Reichert plan to show off their Eta bike—the name is inspired by the Greek letter that in engineering circles stands for efficiency—at the World Human-Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nev., in September.
From the outside, the Eta resembles a more streamlined version of Clark Kent’sspaceship in Smallville but with wheels. The frame is enveloped in an oval-shaped pod made of carbon fiber, a lightweight but durable material that’s been used by aircraft manufacturers. The inner frame, which is also fashioned from carbon fiber composite, bears some resemblance to a recumbent bike. The top of the rear wheel attaches to the frame, and the frame then slopes down to grab the front wheel at its center. From there the frame declines from the center of the wheel toward the rear wheel to create a close-to-the-ground seat for the rider.
The combination of aerodynamic shell and minimalist frame helps deliver the speed Robertson and Reichert are after. The shape gives the bike one-10th the drag of the most streamlined cars, according to the duo. The wheels are roughly 26 inches, which is comparable to the size on bikes used at events such as the Olympics but with smaller spokes to reduce air resistance. “Normally on a bike you have the rider’s body through the air contributing the most to drag and the wheels are almost negligible, but for us the spinning wheels and enclosure take up about 15 percent of drag, so we are working to reduce that as much as possible,” Robertson says. The pair is also working to pare down the Eta’s weight to just 45 lbs.
Because the bike is enclosed in a shell, the driver will steer Eta using a camera display. In the past, Robertson and Reichert built bikes with windshields but decided to take a different route for this project. “We were never able to get good at making windshields,” Robertson says. “The visibility was terrible.”