HPVs On Bicycle Island

My misconceptions about the Isle of Wight and your misconceptions about HPVs are probably about equal. I expected the middle of the island to be a smart suburban sprawl tapering off at the edges into an acne of bungalows.

The Public Relations Machine, Sealink, the County Council, the Erstwhile Organisers and some Useful Antipodeans had scrummed down some time in the recent past and decided to promote the Isle of Wight as 'Bicycle Island'. Well, normally you wouldn't trust any of them, would you? This time, though, they did it together and they got it right. The island has a lot fewer bungalows than Belfast and the middle of it, except for one bit of light industry, is green. There is a network of minor roads, there are hills (as in downs), the edges end in remarkably un-commercialised beaches and, although it may still be possible to get the whole population of the world standing on the island, they haven't started trying it yet. I'm so impressed, I wouldn't mind living there.

HPVs were one important part of a week-long spectacle of cycling events and races. Every type of pedal-powered machine from those that should still be safely locked away in museums to those that should still be safely on the drawing board could be seen perambulating or furiously racing around the seafront course at Ryde.

The locals were both welcoming and fascinated by these old-fangled and new-fangled machines that had come from 'the other side'. It was as if Sealink had ferried us across the Styx instead of the Solent. HPV isn't an acronym that slips easily from the lips of the islanders or from them on the other side. Knowing that HPV stands for Human Powered Vehicle narrows the field a bit, but isn't exactly descriptive of the machines. On the other hand, HPV isn't just hi-tech jargon for odd-tech bicycles. HPVs are not just bicycles. Seeing them gathered together at an event like this, the first response is to wonder, to laugh and to enjoy the sheer exuberance of the machines.

All HPVs are dynamic; the fastest are aerodynamic. Some are meant for straight line racing, some for circuit racing and some for personal transport. The best of the machines do everything well; the others do their best and they are Fun. And fun is not a word to be used lightly, it's been seriously devalued by TV sit-coms, fast-food ads and holiday camps. Pleasure Theorem. Fun is the spontaneous by-product of work. Sometimes.


These are still the early days of HPV development. The aim is to do something different, not as an alternative to the bicycle but as another useful or more efficient way of harnessing human power as a motive force. The interesting thing is, the machines that are being constructed are not all designed with the same goal in mind. HPVs are specialised. They were born out of an attempt to make the bicycle go faster by cheating the wind and maximising the rider's power.

It was the success of the early Chester Kyle machines in California at beating bicycle records that caused the formation of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association. At the time there was conflict over the classification of these machines and the US Cycle Federation would not accept records in the traditional bicycle or tricycle categories. From IHPVA comes the now generic term HPV. It is a term applied to machines which are obviously not bicycles as well as to bicycles with aerodynamic fairings. As a fast developing sport (all puns intended), the emphasis is changing from sprint record breaking to circuit racing with hills and bends, generally more testing of the versatility of HPVs.

On Bicycle Island were gathered the strangest assortment of bikes, trikes and pedal cars. They were not all HPVs as they were first conceived, and the event was not run under the auspices of the IHPVA. Like an embryo Edinburgh Festival, the fringe theatre of cycling were gathered to show their wares, compete and entertain. From this fringe we can expect the new generation of machines and mainstream sport to emerge.

A particularly evil downhill course with a sweeping 'S' at the bottom was the scene for the first racing on Saturday. After a Mediterranean Friday, the morning was hushed in a cloak of sea-mist and we stood around like patients in a waiting room hoping for a good result. This was the first time HPVs had been subjected to such a severe test.


Straight line aerodynamic machines with a long wheelbase and narrow track like Poppy Flyer could not safely cope with a course like this and sensibly didn't compete although they did sneak in an ordinary bicycle with a not-so-ordinary rider who promptly set the fastest time, A trackside furore developed and protests about to be made were withdrawn when Bluebell, the HPV bicycle world record holder, plummeted out of the mist and into first place.

All riders needed a lot of nerve on the hill, whatever their machines, but the most confident-looking were those on the low-slung, twin front wheel trikes. These unfaired machines have already shown outstanding all-round ability, excellent braking, handling and predictability. Burrows Engineering had seven models of the Speedy running like pack-hounds throughout the weekend. Their official name is Windcheetah SL. They have been proven on the road and track and are likely to be the first British HPVs on sale for SL (street legal) use. I want one.

The second race was a Junior Time Trial on a flat course along the Esplanade and, like the Senior TT downhill competition, was run against the clock, A supposedly safer course, it included a very tricky corner which, combined with a coarse bumpy surface caused some distress to riders and machines. HPVs with road-hugging fairings scraped and ground their way round leaving trails of cheese-pared fibreglass, while the Speedy-type trikes with drawn faced riders hanging out coped the best.

As a class of machine, the four-wheeled pedal cars are not as exciting for the spectator as the other machines. There is no concession to the principles of aerodynamics and overall they are slower.

Strangely, it was on the fleet of pedal cars constructed and ridden by the Kingsbury family that the most innovative engineering could be seen. All stainless steel, including spun, foam-filled wheels and a total re-think of the pedal/cranks/chainwheel configuration. That talent is wasted on four wheels.

The real excitement is the Circuit Road Race. Five laps for the qualifying heats, then the ten lap final. It was particularly good because on the flat course all the action could be seen. The convention of the Le Mans start penalises the fastest machines - which are the fully enclosed aerodynamic ones - where the riders have to be zipped, squeezed and battened into their cockpits. Most of the unfaired machines were off and halfway round the first lap before the quick HPVs had got away. The charm of this is that you can see how dramatic the differences in performance are. Those with doubts about the effectiveness of streamlining can see the clothed HPVs singing through the air. It almost looks like unfair competition. In the qualifying heat, Bluebell made up the half lap deficit within the next two laps and won in breathtaking style. With its height and sleek bulk, it sails imperiously by the competition when heading into the wind; when tacking across the wind and round the bends, it looked perilously unstable. A stunning and frightening machine.

In the final, the cling-filmed tandem Flying Greenhouse won with familiar style, It shouldn't have but Bluebell was slowed by shattered bodywork rubbing on both wheels. That's tough, but these competitions are the proving ground of HPV development, Hybrid HPVs suffered badly on this rough and tumble course while the rugged versatility of the Speedy machines was thoroughly proven. But there's still a long way to go.

Senior TT
1st Bluebell Tim Gartside
2nd Flying Greenhouse Tony Webb & Dave Hughes
3rd Hawker Hudspith Special Steve Hudspith
Junior TT
1st Longbottom 1 J. Longbottom
2nd Sting Dave Relton
3rd Sturmey Archer Flying Five Barry Hawker
Circuit Race
1st Flying Greenhouse Tony Webb & Dave Hughes
2nd Windcheetah SL Andy Pegg
3rd Windcheetah SL Mike Burrows

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