It looks as if it would be at home on an alien planet or in some far distant century. Uri Geller
was so taken with it, he had the original framed and hung on the wall in his mansion. On September 20, Geller’s 001 will appear as the star of the Futures-Design auction by Bonhams of Knightsbridge. All the more remarkable when the ‘it’ in question is a bicycle.
Somehow, to call the brainchild of Bruce Bursford, UK athlete, designer, and triple world record holder, a bicycle, seems woefully inadequate.
Constructed mainly from the same high modulus, carbon fibre/epoxy composites as stealth aircraft and Formula One racing cars, its metallic parts are chiefly aircraft-grade titanium. Countless hours of wind tunnel testing and CAD/CAM software have given it aerodynamics and internal structures comparable to that of a jet fighter’s wing and the cost of its five year development programme currently stands at a staggering £8.5 million. That’s
why they’re serious when they call it ‘The Ultimate Bike’.
“I wanted to design a machine that represented a quantum leap rather than an evolutionary step,” said Bursford. “It’s taken a combination of the most advanced materials technology and computer techniques to create it, but with the help of our sponsors and a world-class design team we’ve achieved what we set out to do.”
In fact, what has been created is the basis for a range of machines – some built for world record attempts and others for the road or track – all sharing essentially similar technology and produced by Technical Perfection Ltd of Norfolk. Their weights range from a mere 9lbs for the solo to 12lbs or less for the tandem.
In order to push the machines and their technology to the edge, Bursford’s team set out to break world absolute speed records for solo and tandem machines. These absolute records attempts are only possible under conditions of no wind resistance, so they are conducted on rollers, with the cycle securely bolted down to prevent rider(s) and machine from taking off!
The figures speak for themselves. Bursford’s solo world record of 207.9mph was achieved in 20 seconds with a 0-60 time of just two seconds – faster than a Formula One racing car! The tandem world record which stood at a ‘mere’ 100mph was shattered by Bursford and his partner and fitness trainer Cefyn Lloyd in Chicago last year, when they achieved a speed of 233.3mph. The tandem’s construction was sponsored by CAD/CAM company Deleam, whose DUCT Surface Modelling software proved invaluable in its design.
Like all world record challenge vehicles, the tandem presented certain unique engineering problems, not the least of which was making tyres and wheels which could withstand the high temperatures and stresses generated by such high speeds. Carbon composite disc wheels were the final choice, fitted with tyres made from bullet-proof Kevlar and rubber inflated with helium to a pressure of between 400-500 psi. Even with such a sophisticated set-up, the noise and smell of burning rubber during a high speed run is nothing short of terrifying to the onlooker.
The front chainwheel needed to be almost two feet in diameter, with the rear sprocket around the size of a 10 pence piece, giving the tandem a gearing which equated to one pedal revolution for 150 feet, making it almost impossible for most people to move the pedals. All the components of the drive, including the axles and chain were made from aircraft grade titanium. The carbon composite pedal cranks weigh a mere two ounces, and ceramic bearings born of NASA technology were used throughout, giving 30 per cent less drag than the traditional variety.
“Everything about these cycles is divorced from traditional concepts,” said project manager Nick Lamer. “We set out to push the envelope of what was technically and physically possible and I don’t think anyone could say we haven’t achieved those aims. What we’re doing still amazes me, so I can easily understand those disbelieving looks.”
Regardless of advanced engineering, the overall success of the project was reliant on the riders, their strength and their mental state. Whereas a fit cyclist will produce around 400 watts of power, Bursford is capable of bursts of up to 5,000 watts. A punishing physical training regime developed by Lloyd has brought Bursford’s thighs to a massive 35 inches in circumference and a resting heart rate of a mere 29 beats per minute.
Despite this level of physical fitness, Bursford was unhappy as he could ‘only’ manage 180mph. He called on his friend Uri Geller to see if he could help him break through the psychological barrier to achieve the 200mph-plus that he felt was within his, and the bike’s, capabilities. In weeks he was through it, and Geller was so impressed with what he saw, he became a business partner and took on the role of mental coach.
“Not only is it beautiful and alien in appearance, it also functions perfectly,” said Geller. “With the world moving increasingly towards ‘green’ forms of energy and transport, I believe when you look at these machines, you’re looking at the future.”
Production models of the Ultimate Bike and Tandem are now available commercially, starting at £9,000 for the solo to around £14,000 for a made-to-measure tandem. “Orders are coming in so fast, there’s a waiting list,” said Lamer, “and we haven’t begun a serious sales drive. The other significant aspect of our work is that all our components can be fitted to standard bikes, so if someone can’t afford the whole thing, they can still benefit from our technology.”
With Bursford achieving speeds of 70mph on the road riding such bikes, the concealed hydraulic brakes capable of exerting a pressure of two tons per square inch are of particular significance in the production machines. The choice of gears will include electronic, Formula One-style push-button selection.
At the end of July, Bursford and Lloyd will be in Wales to challenge three further world records in one week: the solo, tandem and team, all over a 10 mile distance on the road. Later in the year, they intend to challenge the 25 mile track records.
Their ambitions don’t stop there. The ultimate challenge for the Ultimate Bikes are the solo and tandem cycle land speed records. In the past, a high powered racing car with a fairing attached to the back has been used to punch through the air ahead of the cyclist, but there is no car powerful enough to reach the extreme speeds they expect to achieve. The aerodynamic drag penalties the fairing imposes on the vehicle dramatically reduce its top speed.
With characteristic ingenuity, the team has identified one type of vehicle that could do the job – a methanol-burning dragster! They hope to use the sheer brute force of the machine to allow them to reach similar speeds to those already achieved on the rolling road. The provisional venue for the attempt is a dry lake in Australia.
The Ultimate Tandem on the Kia Cars (UK) stand at NEC Motor Show ’96, where Bruce Bursford and Cefyn Lloyd clocked up 235 mph. The feat earned a place in the record books for the tandem, making it the fastest pedal cycle in history and Bursford and Lloyd the fastest cyclists.
The principle members of the Ultimate Bike team; pictured here during speed trials with a McLaren F1 at the Bruntingthorpe proving ground in winter 1995.
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