Record-Breaking Bike on GMC Grounds
How GMC’s Test Facilities Played a Part In Breaking a Bicycle Speed Barrier
A variety of vehicles regularly undergo testing at General Motors’ Milford Proving Grounds in Michigan – including new GMC pickup trucks and SUVs – but the facility recently hosted a rather unusual vehicle: a radical bullet-shaped bicycle that’s precisely engineered to shatter a land speed record.
Affectionately known as “Eta,” the cycle is the handiwork of Aerovelo, a Canadian team that regularly works with engineering students to challenge the convention of what the human body is capable of -- with advanced technologies and precision engineering on their side, of course. In 2010, the group flew a pedal-powered ornithopter (a plane whose wings flap to sustain altitude and momentum). In 2013, Aerovelo built a human-powered helicopter that flew for 1-minute and reached 10 feet in altitude.
Compared to Aerovelo’s prior projects, rolling on two wheels hardly seems radical – but compared to a standard bicycle, it certainly is. Its ovoid shape has very little drag, allowing it to slip through air with ease. And since the bike is only 40 inches tall, rider Todd Reichert is not only forced to pedal in a recumbent position, but also lie beneath the bike’s carbon-composite frame. Once inside, there’s little room to spare, and there’s even less of a view outside – Reichert looks at the road ahead through an LCD screen tied to cameras mounted on top of the bike.
Eta made its competition debut in 2014, with Reichert pedaling his way to a top speed of 78 mph during the a land speed record competition held in Nevada. But having an all-new, untested design readied mere days before the competition meant many elements weren’t quite functioning as well as the team had hoped. Knowing the bike had greater potential, Aerovelo shifted its focus from creation to iteration, using every moment available to test Eta and improve its design before this year’s race.
And much like GMC does with each and every vehicle it brings to market, Aerovelo utilized the Milford Proving Grounds to improve Eta’s performance and reliability.
“Since the rider can’t balance the bike at speeds below ten mph, it’s really hard to actually test it without having a lot of space,” said Cameron Robertson, co-founder of Aerovelo. “Working with GMC in order to utilize a closed course at the Milford Proving Ground was absolutely critical to our new focus on refinement. We were simply able to test and tune the bike to a level we wouldn’t be able to once race week began.”
For starters, Aerovelo worked to improve the ergonomics for Reichert “Our original structure was designed with a 3D human model, but it wasn’t specifically optimized for our pilot’s shape,” said Robertson As such, he was banging his knees against the inner wheel enclosure and not making full power. Additionally, the team revised Eta’s steering geometry, allowing it to be incredibly stable at high speeds, even as Reichert pedals away. “These revisions resulted in the best-handling bike we’ve ever built,” Robertson said.
The result of Aerovelo’s diligence and dedication is nothing short of professional-grade. At this year’s race, Reichert piloted Eta to 85.71 mph, setting a new speed record. That result wasn’t a fluke either – the next day, Reichert increased his top speed to 86.5 mph, and to 86.65 mph the day after that.
Much like GMC engineers, who continue to improve and refine designs year after year, Aerovelo isn’t done improving on Eta, despite those outstanding records.
“We’re really hoping to break 90 mph next year,” says Robertson, “but more importantly, we’d like to set the one-hour distance record, and travel over 90 kilometers in that window. That record will not only further prove Eta’s robustness and consistency, but also showcase the true potential of the human body and of efficient engineering.”