A landing strip at the Stead Airport was alive with the buzzing of bike wheels Saturday morning, as crowds of mechanical engineering students from across the country competed in the Human Powered Vehicle Challenge.
The 25th annual event was held throughout the area from Friday through Sunday, and the student engineering team from the University of Nevada, Reno competed against 24 other teams.
Saturday's speed competition was full of cheers of victory, concrete-scraped legs and some last-minute duct-tape repair work.
All 24 of the human-powered vehicles in the competition used sit-down or lay-down bikes as their means of propulsion. The vehicles spanned a wide range of features — from simple to exceedingly complex — but they all faced the same whipping winds of the Stead airport.
Some sported simple plastic windshields, eggshell-thin front shields, or canoe-shaped bases that wobbled on two wheels at lower speeds.
Others were complex, featuring bikes with three wheels and big gear contraptions, surrounded by sleekly painted, strong carbon fiber shells shaped like old-fashioned race cars or one-man prop planes without wings.
Oregon Institute of Technology brought an eight-person team to race "Mt. Fury" after spending about 700 man hours constructing the vehicle.
"When it's up, it's great, but when it's down ..." mechanical engineering sophomore Patrick Hunt said.
Hunt was pedaling Mt. Fury at a speed of more than 20 mph, tipping over as he crossed the finish line. Hunt tore his sweatshirt and got some road rash in the spill, but was still smiling afterwards as the team prepared the Kevlar-shelled vehicle for its speed race.
"Kevlar is good," Hunt said.
Team members had varying opinions on how fast the vehicle would reach during the race.
"The gearing allows us to get to 60 under ideal conditions," project leader Nick Evans said. "I'm shooting for about 37 mph. We got going about 20 mph. Our braking works."
UNR team captain Scott Waters spoke to the Tribune from the cockpit of their sleek blue vehicle covered with sponsor stickers. Both Waters and teammate Blanca Miller raced the vehicle on Saturday.
"So far, it runs really well," Waters said. "It's cool to represent Nevada in this competition on our home turf. We designed it during the summer and started building it in November, putting in a lot of late nights."
Their vehicle is nearly all molded carbon fiber, except for the aluminum on the wheels. He said the material cuts down on vibration from the race track. The elongated, tall bullet shape takes a beating from the winds, so the team chose three wheels to increase its stability.
"Every year, we've found ways to improve it," Waters said.
They expected the vehicle to reach speeds of up to 40 mph. Although team members didn’t expect to win the speed competition, they expected the vehicle to perform well in the afternoon obstacle course.
"We hope the tight cornering will help us," Waters said.
San Jose State University brought a 17-member team to compete in the race and obstacle course on Saturday. The team spent six months building a bike-based vehicle with a windshield and no side covering.
Driver Andrea Rios seemed a little skeptical that the vehicle would reach the projected 35 mph that other team members estimated — especially after the other driver, junior engineering student Steve Kelle, toppled over at the end of the first run.
"I'm a little timid at the beginning because it gets kind of wobbly," Rios said, as she pointed out her knee pads. "We don't want anyone to get hurt."
Kelle was still enthusiastic that the team had a chance at the top spot.
"On our first run, I crashed at the finish line," Kelle said. "We are definitely the fastest upside-down."
Cal State Northridge brought a team of 16 people to race the sleek silver "Mean Shaahin." The vehicle was named after the team's leader, and "shaahin" translates to "falcon" in Persian.
"We made it to look like a bullet-ridden B-51 (plane)," said David Deal. "We'd like to hit about 30 mph. It's a stable, versatile bike and does well on corners."
The fastest times halfway through the morning's competition were the male and female drivers of "Infinity" from Rose Hulman Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana. Their speeds were recorded at 32 mph and 41 mph.
The competition wraps up on Sunday at the International Game Technology headquarters in Reno.