Need An Excuse To Visit The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) But Can’t Afford Tickets to the Indy 500?…….

Why not come to the “Brickyard” to watch two of S&T’s premier design teams race on one of the world’s most famous tracks? And what better time to make the pilgrimage than during the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 race?
April 29th to May 1st the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) will host the Human Powered Vehicle Competition (HPVC) EAST cycle races. S&T has fielded the most consistent racing design team for most of the past decade, capping their trophy list with a 100% sweep of every 2010 ASME speed-class event. The Miners’ ’11 team will have quite a few new faces, since Whittney Metcalf is wrapping up her time in Rolla and long-time aero designer Andrew Sourk has graduated with his master’s degree.
We’re not sure how much of the oval will be turned over the the pedal-powered vehicles, or whether the bikes/trikes/quads will run on the Formula-style road course, but either way the track is a pretty fan-friendly place, so come on out and support the Miners!
We could just designate the first week of May as “Missouri S&T Week” at the automotive Mecca. No sooner than ASME clears the paddock than Solar Miner VII moves in May 2nd-7th for the Formula Sun Grand Prix. This week-long tech inspection and track race helps solar car teams train new members, evaluate design changes on older machines and test the road-worthiness of newly-built solar cars. It’s tough to keep a solar car team operating smoothly, since the cross-country American Solar Challenge (ASC) only takes place every two, or sometimes three, years so FSGP is critical for this type of experiential learning.
2011 will be a solar car homecoming of sorts, since Indy was the starting point for the ’97 Sunrayce (now ASC) sprint to Colorado Springs.
See you at the Speedway!

World Speed Challenge Record Was Not To Be

BtlMtnDSC_2581_2.jpgWhen we left you just over two weeks ago, the Speed Challenge Miners were still struggling with Miner Details, the 2010 human-powered speed bike. Andrew Sourk, Whittney Metcalf and David Long spent far more time working on the machine than running down the course, but the vehicle was just too tricky to ride. A post mortem suggests they grafted the best attributes of ’07’s StreaMiner with Siren the 2010 national champion human-powered vehicle, and somehow ended up with the worst qualities of each. This three-member crew ran into production problems late in the cycle and had very limited test results, so they headed to Battle Mountain with lots of presumptions and even more unknowns. And that was risky.
This competition was more like a fraternity of like-minded folks who simply like to push the speed envelope. On Friday of race week they staged a 1/8th mile drag race in downtown Battle Mountain just for fun. Some raced incumbents, some did upright traditional bikes, and a few simply ran the short course. Whittney took 4th in the upright racing category and 5th place overall, beating several male riders. David ran faster than every other athlete, and Andrew Sourk earned the fastest reaction (starting time off the blocks).
Everyone at the site, including record holder Sam Wittingham and our friends at the University of Toronto did everything they could do to help, but it wasn’t to be. Toronto had a superb bike and four great ridesr, and we send congratulations to Amanda Chu and Todd Reichert who both scored the new collegiate of 55.8mph and 63.4 mph respectively.

Battle Mountain/Speed Challenge Update

Last night we reported the riders’ problems with visibility due to MinerDetails’ small windshield. Overnight Andrew Sourk and David Long not only enlarged the bike’s windshield and installed two side windows, but they did it in such a professional manner that you couldn’t even tell that it was a last-minute retrofit. The three windows blended perfectly with the vehicle’s aerodynamic lines, and gave Whittney and David a much better chance of completing a timed run.
Road conditions were perfect this morning. Dead calm, moderate temps, and right after the Battle Mountain school bus went by, plenty of time to start. Andrew tried three times to get Whittney started, but on the first attempt the drive chain popped off the gears just as she started rolling, and threw the bike on its side. On the second and third attempts Andrew strained his arm trying to keep the bike balanced, and was unable to guide the bike until Whittney could power down the track. After three tough tries, race officials decided to cancel the test runs so they’d still have time to run the top-class riders, and Whittney opted to help other teams in the catch area, while Andrew headed back to town to look after his arm.
Tomorrow’s plans still aren’t clear, and further blog postings will be a bit less detailed. We have to return to campus for an event that supports all SDELC teams, so we’ll do our best to cover the remaining Speed Challenge attempts via cell phone.
Hang in there, Miners! You never know what the final result will be.

Pedal Speed Records Now Seem Distant Hope

As reported this morning, Whittney proved that MinerDetails’ power train is in reasonable shape. She managed to qualify with a timed 27mph on the two-mile course, in what race officials called a “white-knuckled, non-wind-assisted, and cardboard-streamlined run.”
The joking “cardboard” comment referred to the cardboard panels used to protect our riders’ knees and elbows while they work without a canopy. They reasoned that once they overcame the mechanical problems, riding with the full aerodynamic wouldn’t be much of a stretch. But now that idea has hit a snag.
It seems that the windshield is too small and too far down on the fairing for the riders to see properly. David and Whittney sit slightly higher than the windshield so they can only see a short distance ahead of the bike, and can’t get a fix on the horizon to help keep their balance. It looks like it’ll take another late night of modification if S&T’s crew is to get a crack at the five-mile run up to the 200 meter time trap.
There are a few more days to go of highway sprints, but things are looking less optimistic.

Whittney Is In!

SUN_7542.jpgEvery Speed Challenge crew member, official, volunteer and rider got up extra early today, when a 5:00 a.m. power outage caused hotel smoke detectors to start chirping away. That simply meant that we had extra time to wait at the start line this morning. SUN_7599.jpg
Last night’s tech help from other teams helped the Miners solve many of their problems. Even though these are one-of-a-kind bikes, and there are no bike shops within 200 miles of Battle Mountain, you’d be surprised what parts you can cobble together at a farm or automotive store. Just as NASA did with Apollo 13, improvisation was the name of the Miners’ game last night. They made chain guards from plastic container lids, devised an idler pulley from an industrial fuel pump bearing, and took a chain ring from Whittney’s road bike to help improve MinerDetails’ steering range.
SUN_7562_2.jpgThey had lots of moral support from other cycling crews, and even world-record holder Sam Wittingham’s “starter”, Steve Nash, pitched in to help. Steve’s experience was a huge help, because all the modifications have changed the bike’s handling characteristics and Whittney and David had to relearn their starting techniques. Both S&T riders had a few “false starts” that put a few more scratches on MinerDetails’ shiny skin. Whittney managed the entire 2 1/4-mile qualifying course in good shape, but David ran out of time before N-DOT’s rules mandated re-opening the highway to regular traffic.
MinerDetails is a very twitchy bike, so this afternoon they’ll head out to another under-used road to practice. Before that all the bikes will be displayed at the Battle Mountain Civic Center, where the public can see the bikes up close, get riders’ autographs, and we get a free lunch.

MinerDetails Update, and Kudos for Nevada!

Before we get to today’s race details, we need to stop and thank Nevada for being such great host for the week-long Human-Powered Speed Challenge. This event has been held on S.R. 305 for nearly a decade, but for 2010 N-DOT really went all out.
DSC_2468_2.jpg Northern Nevada is a big mining area, and that means lots of heavy truck traffic. Smooth roads are not a factor for the big rigs but high-speed bicycles require a glass-like surface to maintain control. When N-DOT repaved the highway last year, they went out of their way to keep this six-mile portion of highway recumbent-friendly. Not only did they make the road smoother, they also left out that noisy rumble strip that runs under the yellow center line
These bikes run on high-pressure tires, and if riders had to contend with a rumble strip, they’d never reach high speeds, their bikes would vibrate apart, and they’d likely rattle all their teeth out of their head. Not pretty.
Anyway, thanks so much to N-DOT for the new road surface, closing the highway in twenty-minute intervals, and even providing the flag men and women to keep our riders safe.
Now about the racing…………
The Miners are making progress on the mechanical issues. They have until Saturday night to qualify and make their speed runs, so we aren’t too worried. To keep MinerDetails in good shape they’ve covered the fairing with cardboard. It’s kinda ugly, but it’s only there to keep from getting scratched up on parking-lot tests.
Other riders? Some have still not qualified, one has crashed, and others are just getting comfortable on the highway. Launching an enclosed bicycle can be an adventure, and every support crew has its own, uh, style that can turn into a spectator sport on its own. SUN_7352_2.jpg
Six miles away, on the other end of the course, stands the “recovery” team that catches the bikes at the end of each run. This crew, often made up from various teams’ support members, has the riskiest job. If a bike comes in too fast it can quickly turn into “human bowling”, tossing volunteers everywhere. Did we mention that not all the bikes have good brakes?
Lastly, desert sunsets can be gorgeous, turning distant mountains orange just as the last riders make their evening runs.
DSC_2447_2.jpgMornings and evenings are REALLY pretty out here, too! Not sure about mid-day, because that’s when everyone heads back to the hotel for a nap.

Day #2 In Battle Mountain

Andrew, Whittney and David are still working the bugs out of MinerDetails. They’re making progress, eliminating one drive-train issue at a time, getting the bike to the point where it’ll qualify.
This event runs through Saturday, so there’s a lot of time yet to make things right. Qualifying takes place in the morning, and the evening is strictly for timed events. Some of the pros are turning in times of 77 or 78 mph, and one bike crashed just as it went through the timing gate. Did you know that out here in the desert you can hear the sound of fiberglass sliding down the asphalt from miles away?
Anyway, no word on the bike but the rider is fine.
And when Whittney, David and Andrew aren’t sleeping or working on the bike, they are in their rooms studying.
More photos and stories later today. And it is 43 degrees out there.

By The Dawn’s Early Light, and Baby, It’s COLD Outside!

SUN_6908.jpgThe high Nevada desert can get cold at night, and that was certainly the case in Battle Mountain before dawn today.
David, Andrew and Whittney had to bundle up to practice starts in the hotel parking lot, but those tests uncovered a few problems with the drive train.
Qualifying takes place on a section of S.R 305 for a few hours each morning, and NDOT officials has been great about closing the road right after the morning school buses pass, then hanging around to ensure traffic is not blocked for more than about twenty minutes. This cycle repeats for about 2 1/2 hours and then it’s back to the Super 8 pit stop to work on the bikes.
DSC_2303.jpg S&T didn’t make it to the qualifying line this morning, which lies some 15 miles south of Battle Mountain, because a warped chain ring caused the chain to pop off when Whittney really started to crank the pedals. The Miners DID manage to find a machine shop last night and got help repairing stripped threads on the steering clamp, problems not uncommon at races like these. Each machine is an experimental, custom-built device that can break in many ways, so riders are constantly tweaking and adjusting their mechanisms.
This evening, after the school buses headed back out into the sticks, riders will return to the highway and try again. Speeds typically increase throughout the week, so today’s runs in the high 40-mph range will soon be forgotten.

The Semester Has Barely Started, And One Team Is Already On The Road

DSC_0064_2.jpgTen student design teams that operate within Student Design and Experiential Learning Center (SDELC), but every so often a special group arises to capture our imagination by tackling a special project. Just because.
Whittney Metcalf, Andrew Sourk and David Long have been quietly working all summer to build MinerDetails, a purpose-built bicycle that will go very fast. As we speak these three Miners are en route to Battle Mountain, Nevada and the World Speed Challenge event, where the Nevada Highway Dept closes down Hwy 305. Just because.
Just because professional riders, college teams, and a few er, eccentrics want to see how fast they can pedal a bike (or trike).
Back in ’07 Jerrod Bouchard drove StreaMiner, the machine that debuted Missouri S&T’s new logo, and came oh! so close to breaking the collegiate speed record of 61.5 mph, and now the Miners are back to set TWO records. This crew designed a much lighter faired bike that has to accommodate two different-sized riders. DSC_0081BTLMTN.jpgJust because Whittney wants to establish the womens’ collegiate record (no record exists at press time), and David wants to pick up where Jerrod left off three years ago.
This new craft is made of aluminized carbon fiber edit. fiberglass, so it is light, strong, and it looks really sharp in the sunlight. Why? Just because.
Anway, this intrepid trio put the finishing touches on MinerDetails yesterday and headed west. They’re due in Salt Lake City tonight, and will pull into Battle Mountain early tomorrow afternoon to join perhaps dozens of racers who turn a local hotel into a bicycle workshop.
Race qualifying starts Monday morning, and there are a few changes since our last visit. Word is that NVDOT has repaved that long, flat section of Hwy 305 so it’ll be a smoother ride, and this year racing will take place twice a day, morning and evening, so riders get more runs, and we don’t sit around bored all day long waiting for the supper-time sprints.
We’ll have more info and photos tomorrow night so stay tuned.
Why? Because it’s what we do.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch……….

Spring is the busy season for student design teams. So busy, in fact, that as many as three teams may be on the road at the same time. Concrete Canoe, Steel Bridge, and Human Powered Vehicle are now back at class and catching up on laundry, and the newly-validated Advanced Aero Vehicle Group leaves tomorrow for the SAE Aero fly-offs near Ft. Worth, TX.
During all this mayhem a special group, the Human Powered Speed Challenge, is quietly working away, designing, evaluating and testing for a September race that will be nearly devoid of spectators. This project is open to the public and is not sponsored by any industry association. It is run, instead, by a dedicated group of individuals who like to push the limits of pedal-powered speed.
Many of us recall Jerrod Bouchard’s heroic attempt to break the collegiate record back in 2007. Battling winter-like racing conditions in the high Nevada desert he came painfully close to that 61 mph mark, and in September a renewed S&T group wants to pick up Jerrod’s ensign and bring the record back where it belongs. In the S&T trophy case.
Speed challenge blog 4:10.jpg
Whittney Metcalf, S&T’s premier female rider, will pair up with David Long to see if the Miners can’t pull off a double record. StreaMiner veteran Andrew Sourk will again be responsible for the blueprints, and he and David will build Miner Details in what we HOPE is the last summer in the sweltering Design Center.
Whittney and David will take turns on Miner Details, and that means it must be the right fit for both. They have already measured each rider’s pedaling path to see how the outer shell must be configured. Fortunately their toe and heel motion, as recorded by the blue and red LEDs respectively, shows nearly identical techniques. More to follow.