Cyclist Aniek Rooderkerken broke the Dutch women’s cycling speed record in the Nevada desert on Saturday, with a speed of 121.5 km/h. In the process, she won the World Human Powered Speed Challenge, a competition for innovative bicycles and top athletes from around the world. Rooderkerken had been selected and trained by VU students, and rode the VeloX 7 designed and built by students at TU Delft. Together, they formed the Human Power Team.
“It’s really cool to be able to cycle that fast”, Rooderkerken explains. “It’s like you’re flying over the road. We had terrible weather all week, but it finally cleared up a bit on the last day. We raced on a 10 kilometre stretch of perfectly straight road. The average speed over the last 200 meters was what counted, so I gave everything I had and focused purely on speed. My top speed was 121.5 km/h.”
Her teammate and former professional cyclist Iris Slappendel also rode unbelievably fast, but with a top speed of 115 km/h, she finished in 2nd place. The men’s team had already won four times. The winning time was only 0.3 km/h under the world record of 122 km/h set by the Barbara Buatois from France in 2010. This year, Rooderkerken finally beat Buatois.
The high cycling speeds were made possible by an ideal combination of humans and technology. The streamlined design of the VeloX 7 played a major role: “Most of the resistance at high speeds comes in the form of drag’, explains Emiel de Boer, Team Manager of the Human Power Team and engineering student at TU Delft. “That’s why you see cyclists leaning as far forward as possible, to catch less air.” This year, the team made an extra effort to reduce drag by using computer simulation and wind tunnel tests to find the perfect shape to match the athletes’ dimensions. “That made our bicycle more than 10 times as aerodynamic as an ordinary racing bike.”
Humans & technology
“There’s more to cycling fast than having a fast bicycle”, says De Boer. “The cyclist is at least as important.” Human Movement Sciences students at the VU trained the athletes and designed their competition diet. “Every week, I had a training schedule that kept me busy for 15 hours per week. It was quite a task to achieve this result”, according to Rooderkerken. The athletes went to the Nevada desert more than a week in advance in order to become accustomed to the desert climate. According to the team, the result was only made possible by the optimal cooperation between humans and technology.
Faster than a cheetah
With this project, the students of the Human Power Team hope to show that technological innovations can make it possible for humans to go faster than nature under their own power. The speed record is even more noteworthy in that they also achieved that goal. The cheetah – the world’s fastest land animal – has a top speed of 112 km/h, but Aniek Rooderkerken has far surpassed its performance.
Read previous reports about the Human Power Team in VU Magazine!