A new Human Powered Vehicle speed record has been set. Sam Whittingham hit 82.4 miles per hour in a specially built racing bike in the Nevada desert. That is much faster than the 40 MPH or so records set by Olympic cyclists. The lesson here for saving on gas is to see how he reached such speeds. Of course Sam Whittingham is in great physical shape. He was a competitive cyclist himself. But how did he reach double the speed of the Olympic record?
The real secret is friction reduction. The bike has a very carefully streamlined shape and is small, so as to present less of a front to the wind and reduce weight. In fact, the bike is basically just big enough to hold his body. He can't move his head or arms when riding or maybe better wearing it. To reduce rolling resistance in the tires, they are very thin, less than an inch across. The bike also has very highly leveraged gears. The lowest gear has such a high velocity ratio that it is harder pedal than the highest gear on a racing bike. It takes 5 miles to get up to his top speed.
Although we are not going to be traveling around every day in body hugging, lightweight missile bikes we can see how friction reduction and gearing provide the key to massive increases in performance. Now what we need is for Detroit to seriously start applying the same lessons to their products.