The Golden Age of HPV

No, I don’t mean human papilloma virus.  Human-powered vehicles.

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, American and European engineering schools buzzed with activity in self-powered craft. Most famously, a pedal-powered airplane crossed the English Channel.

MIT was at the center of this movement, instrumental in the world’s fastest self-powered vehicles on both land and sea.

Their 1987 land record, which still stands as the fastest non-recumbent bicycle, was set on a 1987 Moulton AM7 with MIT-designed fairing, achieving over 51 mph over level ground.  I’ll write on this in more detail soon, as I happen to own that exact model of bike:  a 1987 Moulton AM7 (with my slower legs and Caltech-designed partial fairing, mine tops out at under 30mph). Recumbent bikes are faster, and new records continue to be set, such as this one in 2008, at over 80mph.

MIT’s sea record was set on the Decavitator, a pedal-powered hydrofoil that achieved 18.5 mph in 1991.  To the best of my knowledge, this record is unbroken by any human-powered boat.  This history of human-powered hydrofoils displays recent 100-meter race times in the 14mph range.

Here is the Decavitator in action, back in 1991.


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