Cal Poly students set new speed record with human-powered vehicle

A group of Cal Poly students recently headed to Nevada in hopes of breaking a 27-year record.

And they did. Their human-powered vehicle set an American collegiate speed record at the 20th annual World Human-Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, clocking in at 63.68 mph.

The previous record of 61.29 mph was set by UC Berkeley students in September 1992, according to a Cal Poly news release.

A human-powered vehicle is exactly what it sounds like: a vehicle powered by human muscular strength, not an engine. The most common human-powered vehicle is a bike, according to the release.

The Cal Poly students’ human-powered vehicle, named Ambition, is an enclosed recumbent bike. The shell that encloses the bike is made out of carbon fiber and Kevlar “to maximize aerodynamic performance,” the university said.

The group of about 20 students has been working on Ambition for the past year, according to the release.

Ambition was tailor-made for its driver, biochemistry major Josh Gieschen, the university said.

Cal Poly’s team was split into groups that specialized in different parts of the build. Some members worked on manufacturing, while others developed the drive system for the vehicle.

The goal of the World Human-Powered Speed Challenge is “to make the most aerodynamically efficient vehicles possible,” according to the release.

The 2019 event was held from Sept. 8 through Sept. 13. During the event, the vehicles move down a five-mile stretch of road to reach their maximum velocity before they are timed over a 200-meter distance, according to the release.

In order to qualify for a record, wind speeds during the run can’t exceed 3.7 mph, so Cal Poly’s run on Sept. 12 — which clocked 66.43 mph, far more than the American collegiate record — was disqualified because the winds were blowing too fast.

The Cal Poly team broke the record on the last day of the event.

Just after the run was over, Gieschen “dramatically crashed” the bike and it flipped three times, according to the release. However, nothing broke on the bike and Gieschen walked away with just a few bruises.

“We are super proud of everything Josh and the team accomplished,” manufacturing lead Kyra Schmidt said in the release. “We are excited to continue improving and come back even better next year — but first, we can all take a well-deserved break.”

Cal Poly has had a human-powered vehicle team for 41 years, but this was the first time the team tried to break the record, according to the university.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.