Each year, the unincorporated town of Battle Mountain, Nev., population 3,635, is overrun with superhumans participating in the IHPVA World Human Powered Speed Challenge. This year was no different.
For five days in mid-September, cyclists clustered around a stretch of State Route 305 just outside of town deemed as one of the straightest, flattest and smoothest roads in the world. There, the athletes climbed into specially built recumbent cycles designed with aerodynamics in mind. The smooth exteriors of these egg-shaped shells are so efficient that one splattered bug can cause turbulence and reduce the bike's speed a measurable amount.
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Early in the event, rain washed out one day of racing, but it was followed by low winds and warm weather, which settled onto the more than 20 teams prepared to compete. The course lies at an altitude of 4,619 feet and gives competitors an acceleration zone of five miles that leads to a 656-ft zone, where the official speeds are recorded.
At the end of the week, four competitors had broken records:
1) Todd Reichert of the Canadian team AeroVelo reached 89.59 mph, breaking last year's record of 86.65 mph.
2) Sarah Piercy of Project Nevada team at Plymouth University in the U.K. broke the Women's Arm Powered (Multitrack) with a speed of 24.85 mph.
3) 17-year old Florian Kowalik of the USA GeeBee team set a Men's Junior (Age 15 to 17 years) record of 62.69 mph, beating the previous record of 61.45 mph, set by Mackie Martin in 2003.
4) Gareth Hanks broke the Men's Multitrack with a speed of 73.95 mph.
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Underneath the egg-shaped shell of the winning AeroVelo is a surprise: a low-slung bike with razor-thin tires. It seems like it would require superhuman strength just to keep the thing balanced. But the low center of gravity helps as does the lightweight frame.