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Vicious Cycle

Like riding a rocket sled across a canyon, bicycling across the Atlantic Ocean sounds like the sort of bad idea only Wile E. Coyote would have. But Mark Byass and Mike Sayer, two design engineers for Bentley Motors, have a touch more savvy than Mr. Coyote. They’re using 3-D rendering and the best minds in the business to build the Torpedalo, a 27-foot-long, closed-cockpit, self-righting, pedal-driven monohull, which they’ll be riding from the Canary Islands to Barbados in the Woodvale Challenge Atlantic Rowing Race in December. The 3,000-mile trip will take over a month — all to raise more than $400,000 to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation and research into motor neuron disease. Here’s how they plan to pull it off .


Auto designers are trying for the trans-Atlantic rowing record in an odd bicycle built for two (rendered here)

The team will use a standard two-man ocean rowboat designed by naval architect Phil Morrison as the basis for their design. “Phil explained his design and helped us find ways to improve it,” Sayer says. “His was optimized to be easy to build from marine plywood, but we knew we wanted to do carbon fiber.” They tested six different scale models in a tank at Newcastle University and found a design with 40 percent less hydrodynamic drag. “It’s hydrodynamically and aerodynamically stable, self-righting and very usable,” Sayer says. “It also looks unlike any other human-powered craft.”


After consulting with Ulrich Eichhorn, head of engineering at Bentley Motors, they ditched the traditional gearbox in favor of a lightweight, easy-to-repair, belt-driven drivetrain, and obtained a two-stage Gates belt drive and a 14-speed Rohloff gear hub. “Belts are just better all around,” says Sayer. “They don’t stretch, they are light, very efficient and, unlike chains, they don’t need to be in perfect alignment.” Which is important on a flexing carbon fiber boat in the middle of a turbulent ocean.

Sayer estimates the bikers will be spending 38 days on the water, averaging just over 3 mph — without stopping. To power the navigation equipment, radios, cameras and lights (as well as a Sony PlayStation PSP), they’re mounting two hyperefficient Sharp solar panel arrays on the roof. Plus a desalinator will convert seawater into drinking water, providing the lion’s share of Byass and Sayer’s required hydration — which is considerable: Each will be drinking four gallons a day. “We have a couple of spare desalinators on board,” Sayer says. “If they break down, the whole thing goes pear-shaped.”

Life on board is one of the primary design concerns, so Byass and Sayer had themselves scanned in 3-D. “That way we can manipulate ourselves around the virtual design to make sure that we fit.” During the crossing, they’ll take turns sleeping, and while the pedaling position is enclosed, the main windshield can be opened to ventilate the cockpit or seal it in bad weather. “The sleeping cabin is long enough for us to stretch out in with barely an inch to spare.” It’ll also be around 85 degrees inside. “We don’t plan on wearing a whole lot.”

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