What inspired you to attempt to break the land speed record?


I was inspired by other student-led teams who have used their ability to do something new and different. T U Delft and Amsterdam Universities worked together to set a world human powered land speed record of 83.13 mph. We are the first UK university team to compete in the World Human Powered Speed Challenge (WHPSC) in Nevada, which has attracted many skilled people from across the UK to collaborate with the ULV Team. We want to test the limit of human power, and give a sustainable message.


How long have you been working on this project and how did you all get involved?


I became involved just under two years ago. We got involved as part of a Master’s degree two year project. The team rapidly gained motivation to push the project to where it is today - spending countless nights in the library on design, and sending thousands of emails to gain sponsorship.


Whilst it doesn’t look like a conventional bike, I’ve read that it does have two wheels, steering, seats and brakes. Can you explain how it works?


The ARION1 is essentially a bicycle, although it’s hard to tell from the outside! It has two wheels, a set of pedals, a seat, handle bars and many other components that are found on an everyday bicycle. One of the key differences is that the ARION1 is entirely encased in an aerodynamic shell or ‘fairing’, designed to cut through the air – minimising drag.


The rider is seated in the recumbent (horizontal) position. This brings them lower to the ground, and minimises the size of the area in contact with the opposing air. The ARION1 has a sophisticated transmission system with a huge 14:1 gear ratio, meaning at high speeds, one revolution of the pedals will result in 14 revolutions of the wheels. This gear ratio is achieved through using a 104 tooth Royce Chainring.


The male record currently stands at 83.13mph and the women's is 75.69mph. How do you get a human powered vehicle to travel at these kinds of speeds?


When the ARION1 reaches speeds beyond 20 miles per hour, aerodynamic drag (or wind resistance) accounts for over 80% of the total drag of the vehicle. To reach these record breaking speeds, reducing the amount of aerodynamic drag is essential. To put the speed in context, the world's top cyclists in the Tour de France hit a top speed of around 60 mph (100 km/h) - and that's downhill. The way to minimise drag is to make a super-streamlined shape.


Much inspiration can be taken from nature; birds, when they dive to catch prey, adopt a pellet – or capsule – shape, which is what is replicated in our velocipede shell. Its form keeps the airflow nice and smooth. It’s similar to the design of an aircraft’s wing, which resembles a teardrop shape – thicker at the front, tailing off to a point.


What kind of training have your riders had to undergo in preparation for the contest?


The Rider is the engine of the ARION1. The ULV Team conducted a nationwide campaign to find the best riders for the ARION1. Three excellent athletes have been selected, and they are being put through an intense eight month training programme leading up to the event in September. In these eight months, they will work with leading sports scientists from Liverpool John Moores and Liverpool Hope Universities, who will help them to hone their existing strength, speed and stamina into that of a record-breaking athlete. The riders will build up their peak power output, which will accelerate the ARION1 through the 200m traps at the end of the 5 mile straight.


Each rider has a recumbent bicycle to train on. Adapting to the recumbent position is a challenging part of preparation, as they are very difficult to control and balance; it is a completely new experience to all three riders!


The event is held on a long straight and flat stretch of Route 305, in Battle Mountain, Nevada. Conditions can be difficult for an athlete due to the high temperature and altitude. Riders will spend a week prior to the event, training in Nevada to acclimatise to the conditions. The aerodynamic shell is designed to be as small as possible, and was designed to fit the riders tightly inside. The ULV Team worked with creative 3D scanning company Sample & Hold to create accurate 3D models of the riders, from which the shell was developed. The riders are preparing to fit into the ARION1, having to lose weight around their shoulders, and focus on purely leg power.


If you achieve your record break attempt, what will your next project be?


Work on the ARION2 has already begun, with a 2016 record attempt on the cards. Hopefully they’ll be aiming to break a record set by its predecessor! With it now being our final year, many of us will be moving onto projects with future employers.


FACTLab, our innovative in-house laboratory, will allow people to use pioneering technologies for themselves. It is a technologist meets artist space, where traditional skills will be combined with digital tools. As Engineers, you explore how design impacts performance....how important is it to provide an environment for people to experiment with these tools and ideas? 


It is hugely important for people of different backgrounds to collaborate in a creative environment. Our project is a great example of how those with a sports background (the riders and sport scientists) and those with an engineering background, can share ideas and tools to achieve a common goal.


And finally, what are you most looking forward to seeing at our new exhibition Build Your Own?


I’m most looking forward to seeing DesktopProsthetics. 3D printing has a huge amount of practical uses, many of which are yet to be realised. I am very interested in the technology, and I think open source design brings great opportunities for innovation, as well as making design more accessible.


Follow the team's progress as they attempt to set a new world record.


Build Your Own and FACTLab are open to the public until 31 August, Tuesday - Sunday 11am - 6pm.