February 18 • 03:21 AM

Invasion of the speedy cyclists

Human Powered Vehicle Association makes Imlay home base for speed challenge

John Morciglio of Waterford rides his homemade carbon fiber low racer at the Waterford Speedway.

July 08, 2009
IMLAY CITY — Don' t be shocked by something that looks like an invasion from outer space in the coming days.

The odd looking vehicles you might see strapped to a trailer or the roof of a vehicle around town early next week aren't transporting aliens—quite the contrary. They're 100 percent human powered. And they're here to blow the doors off some world records during the Michigan Human Powered Speed Challenge at the Ford Motor Co. Proving Grounds in Romeo July 17-19.

And when they're not pedaling like crazy around the five-mile oval track they'll be resting up at the Days Inn in Imlay City.

The riders—coming from across the globe—will likely need the rest. The 'streamlined bicycles' they'll pedal are capable of going more than 60 miles an hour. Well over. The flying start bicycle speed record is 82.3 mph over a distance of 200 meters. The rider—Sam Whittingham of Quadra Island, British Columbia, Canada—is expected to compete here as well.

Bikes on steroids?

Just what are these bullets on wheels? As it turns out, it's up to the individual designer. Many of the vehicles are homemade, says Mike Eliasohn, vice president of the Michigan Human Powered Vehicle Association (MHPVA).

"That's one interesting aspect of the sport," he says. "Obviously there's the technical challenge of designing and building a fast vehicle."

Indeed. Human powered vehicle devotees undertake the challenge with an enthusiasm that borders on obsession. A simple Google search turns up pages of Web sites devoted to streamline bicycle design. A quick glance reveals components made of carbon fiber, plastic, aluminum, epoxy and lots of time, time, time.

A need for speed

Eliasohn says people interested in human powered vehicles—including super speedy "bikes" are competitors in nature.

"A good analogy is cars," he says. "For most people they're transportation but some people like to race them to see how fast you can go. People participating in this event are interested in how fast you can go."

Eliasohn himself won't be pedaling, but along with Whittingham other well-known human powered vehicle racers including Damjain Zabovnik of Slovenia and Ellen van Vugt of the Netherlands will be in town for the challenge. Zabovnik owns the current 1-hour record of 54.1 miles which he set in Germany in July 2008.

"In order to create a more aerodynamic profile, Zabovnik rides his streamlined cycle seated backwards and looks forward through a mirror," Eliasohn notes in a press release.

Van Vugt will attempt to regain two records she previously held, meaning she'll have to top 66.6 mph in the women's flying start 200 meters and 45.6 miles in the one hour race.

University teams from across the U.S., and some from Canada and Europe will also compete in the challenge.

For some, battery power is more their speed. The two will combine literally during the weekend in the Electrathon Extreme Efficiency Trials.

What's an Electrathon vehicle? Well, they're similar to the super speed bikes, except they're powered by 67 pounds of lead acid batteries. They produce 1.3 horsepower for one kilowatt hour, which is "less power than a common hair dryer" uses, Eliasohn notes.

Who knew?

Unfortunately, next weekend's event at the Romeo Proving Grounds isn't open to the public. Insurance and security requirements bar spectators. Participants and MHPVA members are cleared, and the event is being sanctioned by the International Human Powered Vehicle Association.

Eliasohn, who likes to pedal his way around his St. Joseph, Michigan town, says the big event is right up his alley.

"I've always had an interest in oddball things and when it came to bicycles I lean toward the oddball," he laughs.

Though he loves to ride, Eliasohn says he's not cut out for racing.

"I get passed by little old ladies on three speeds and kids on BMX bikes," he says. "But even people who don't race but are interested in bicycles find this (sport) interesting. Part of the attraction is just seeing how fast they can go."

For more information on the MHPVA visit visit or

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