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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Thursday, 2 August, 2001, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
In search of a quick lie-down
Bike
Wacky racers: Lie back and pedal fast
What's got two wheels, pedals and a go-faster cocoon? A human-powered vehicle - weird bike to you and me - and the world championships are now on in Brighton, writes BBC News Online's Megan Lane.

There's a weird and wonderful collection of pedal-powered vehicles plying the streets and cycle tracks of Brighton this week.

Repairs
Is it a bike? Is it a giant scooter?
Riders from the UK, Europe and North America are in the English seaside town for the Human Power Vehicle World Championships, an annual event for participants of all fitness levels.

Yet their chosen method of transportation - low-slung recumbent bicycles in which the rider reclines to cut wind resistance - typically top the speeds reached by conventional bikes.

Just as the competitors range from the have-a-go brigade to elite athletes, their magnificent cycling machines are similarly diverse. Some are seemingly cobbled together from fibre-glass and duct tape, others are hi-tech marvels of aerodynamic engineering.

Click here to see more vehicles

Among the 100-odd competitors is Nick Green, of the British Human Power Club. His prototype vehicle - a transparent cocoon on wheels - clocks speeds of more than 40mph on the practice day alone.

Nick Green
Speed wobbles: Nick Green before take off
"That may not seem very fast, but compared to a car, which has a 60 to 80 horsepower engine, I've got about a quarter of a horsepower," says Nick.

"This machine is a like a Ferrari powered by an Austin Allegro engine, yet I've managed the same speeds as [Olympic gold medallist] Chris Boardman at Manchester velodrome."

His machine has been tested in a wind tunnel during which it proved to have the same wind drag as an Audi 100's wing mirror, although whether this is an evaluation worth bragging about is unclear. As he whips around the track on the practice ride, admiring school children remark: "I'll never go that fast!"

Geoff Bird's machine
Geoff Bird's creation: Bullet on wheels
Also trackside is Geoff Bird, who applies his skills as a Formula One designer to his pedal-powered hobby.

The event marks the maiden voyage of his latest creation - a bullet-shaped contraption - which was 500 hours in the making.

"I found a lot of technical information on the internet, especially on American websites, and it's real cutting edge stuff," he says.

"Now that I've got the machine, I'll have to do some cycle training," he says.

Rear-view mirror on glasses
Dutch rider Jaab Stork and his rear-view mirror
The internet also brought together a group of five Dutch participants, who pedalled from Holland for the event.

"We'd not met each other before - we contacted each other through the club website," says Gerard Arends, of Eindhoven.

Although the Dutch are a nation of cyclists - there are twice as many bikes as cars in Holland, about one to each of the 16 million inhabitants - their recumbent racing-cum-touring vehicles still turn heads.

In the UK, the sport is very much a minority pursuit, something the British Human Power Club seems quite proud of. Its website boasts it is "without a doubt not the fastest growing sport in Britain".

Record-breaker

Whereas many of the participants are amateurs building up their fitness to match their machines, Canadian Sam Whittingham has been racing competitively for more than a decade.

Sam Whittingham
Sam Whittingham leads the field
He's been dubbed the fastest man on earth after setting a world speed record of 72.24mph in a custom-made vehicle last year.

"When I first got into this, I thought recumbent bikes were the way of the future. But you know what? When I want to go down to the shop for milk, I still just jump on my mountain bike."

For him, the event is a warm-up for another record attempt in October, when he'll be lining up against Jason Queally, who won the UK's first gold medal at the Sydney Olympics.

Andy Harrington, of Aberdeen, has a more modest goal - to improve on his showing at the 1997 championships in Cologne, when he was placed outside the top 50 riders.

"What I like about this sport is that someone like me - an ordinary club cyclist - can take part in the world champs."

The World Human Powered Vehicle Championships run from 2-5 August.

Duct tape and DIY improvements
...and outside, armed with duct tape

Gerard Arends
Gerard Arends commutes to work on his hands-free machine

Sam Whittingham
And they're off: Sam Whittingham shows his speed
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