UC Berkeley Human Powered Vehicle Team Rides Again



Between 1999 and 2001, the UC Berkeley Human Powered Vehicle team went on a tear and broke five world records for human-powered speed, but the great college team couldn’t last forever. Graduation took its toll, a faculty member had a baby, and the team disbanded. After a ten-year hiatus, it was announced last week that the once-vaunted team would ride again.

They already have the makings of a ten- to fifteen-person team, primarily composed of engineers and cyclists. “There is actually a lot of crossover between them both,” said team president James Brannon Smith.

The team will put its newly designed craft in competition for the first time on September 13 at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge. Smith is the early candidate to race the vehicle because of his experience on the Cal cycling team.

The event is run on an extremely straight, smooth, and flat stretch of desert highway near Battle Mountain, Nevada. It is essential that the track is smooth and flat. In 2008, Sam Whittingham of British Columbia, with legs like hot pistons, set the HPV speed record with a stunning 82.33 miles per hour. At that speed a vehicle can easily fly off of the track.

Smith said the team has a somewhat unorthodox design underway. They plan to make the riding position extremely recumbent, meaning that the rider will be flat with the ground. The rider, frame, and gears will be encased in an aerodynamic carbon fiber shell. The rider will also travel face first rather than feet fist as is traditionally done with recumbent riders.

The team hasn’t solved the issue of how its rider will see behind him but it’s thinking about using either cameras or mirrors. It hasn’t received all the funding it needs but the Hayward company Brechtel recently contributed $1,000 to its cause. “If anybody wants to chip in to get their logo stuck on our side, it would be great,” Smith said.

To help sponsor the team contact Brannon Smith brannonsmith@berkeley.edu