Pedalling into the future

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Pedal power was recently joined to photovoltaics in a successful marriage of the old and new, followed by a hot and sweaty honeymoon right across the Australian continent.

The inaugural 1996 World Solar Cycle Chal­lenge, held in conjunction with the fourth triennial 1996 World Solar Challenge race for solar-powered cars from Darwin to Adelaide, attracted nine entrants from six countries. In this event, the first of its kind ever to be held on an open highway, the competitors travelled 3021 kilometres in nine stages over nine days, reaching Adelaide on November 4.

A solar cycle is any vehicle which combines human muscles and solar-generated electricity for motive power. These vehicles allow riders far greater flexibility than conventional cycles do, giving them the option of travelling at higher speeds by combining both human and electric power, or cruising on stored solar power alone.

Developed as a lower budget adjunct to solar car racing, the first solar cycle race was held in 1994 at Ogata Mura, in Japan. That event is now held annually, and attracts over 100 teams to compete in a 100 km race on a specially built 30 km track. Regular solar cycle races are also staged in the USA, Switzerland and Germany.

The 1996 World Solar Cycle Challenge had separate classes for aerodynamic vehicles (generally recum­bent with three wheels) and non-aerodynamic conven­tional bicycles. All cycles were equipped with solar panels. The panels on the aerodynamic cycles provided be replaced. Those in the non-aerodynamic class were allowed the use of a “solar service station” a solar panel mounted on the roof of a support vehicle to recharge replacement batteries. These bikes looked very conventional, apart from a moderate-sized sheet of solar panelling projecting out the back.

Daily starting times in the race were staggered, with the fastest starting last. Cycles not reaching the evening destination were transported.

Seven teams actually crossed the finish line in Adelaide. Sadly, the team from Germany withdrew after one of their members died from a heart attack on the first day out of Darwin. Contrary to media reports, he was not actually riding his solar cycle at the time.

The overall winners, “Team Zero to Darwin be a carbon fibre construct, but when time ran out the balsa mould became the actual vehicle. Outside temperatures on the Darwin to Adelaide race were mostly between 32 and 42°C, but temperatures inside the dark solar-panelled coffins­on-wheels probably reached much higher.

Project” from Japan, averaged 54.9 kph over the entire journey, with an average of 61.5 kph on day six. (If compared with speeds achieved by the WSC solar car fleet, this cycle team would have achieved ninth place in the car race.)

In second place, with an average speed of 45.65 kph, was the AeroVironment Inc. team from USA. Most team members were employees of solar pioneer Paul McCready’s company, which was involved in the design of the GM Sunraycer, winner of the inaugural 1987 WSC, solar and human powered aircraft, and the GM Impact electric car, just released to the American public.

First place in the standard production bicycle class, and third place overall, went to the Dreamy Boys from Japan, with an average speed of 27.92 kph. Employees of the local government of Ogata Village, the home of solar cycling, this team won a race on the Ogata racetrack earlier in the year, which allowed them free entry to the Australian event.

Finishing in sixth place

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