Iowa State students expect a better, faster race in their human powered vehicle

AMES, Iowa -- They've done the 3-D computer-aided design. They've cut, shaped and welded the steel tubing. They've tested and retested the drivetrain. They've tuned the components. They've worked for two semesters to create a vehicle that can defend their title at the East Coast Human Powered Vehicle Challenge.

And the students of Iowa State University's Human Powered Vehicle Team still had work to do during finals week.

Team members were recently in the garage building the mounts that will keep their vehicle's aerodynamic shell in place during a 100-meter sprint at what they hope is 45 mph.

Then there was some painting to do. A chain to replace. And more testing of the tandem racer featuring back-to-back riders and three wheels.

Iowa State's team will be taking its second trip to the Human Powered Vehicle Challenge sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The competition will be May 11-13 at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The students have raised about $6,000 in cash and parts to get their vehicle ready for the trip.

Last summer the team's tandem won first place overall in the multi-rider class, first place in the multi-rider sprint and first place in the multi-rider endurance race.

Will there be a repeat?

"I think we are definitely in better shape this year," said Jeff Bartels, a senior from Lansing who's studying mechanical engineering and is the team's leader.

He said this year's vehicle has 18 usable gears while last year's had seven. He said this year's frame is stronger and won't flex and rob the vehicle of power. He said the seats and riding position are much more comfortable and conducive to maximizing performance. And he said the whole vehicle is more dependable.

"I think we have a much better chance," said Deepak Sanan, a senior from Kanpur, India, who's studying mechanical engineering.

This year's vehicle should easily maintain a speed of 25 mph, he said. It was tough to sustain much more than 20 mph in last year's vehicle.

Maintaining speed will be important in two of the challenge's three track events. The team has to get the vehicle through a 40-mile endurance race as quickly as possible. There's also a utility race that simulates the stops, starts, curves and carrying capacity required of an errand run in a human powered vehicle instead of a car.

Then there's the sprint: 300 meters to get up to speed and 100 meters on the stopwatch. Last year's vehicle topped out at 34.2 mph. The team is hoping for closer to 45 mph this year.

Simon Nielsen, a junior from Avoca who's studying mechanical engineering, said the team is looking forward to testing its engineering skills against other students.

Yes, he said, "We have very high expectations."