See more shots from be­hind the scenes of SA’s Pedal Prix

Australian Geographic - - Contents -

ON THE PACKED RACE track, the ac­tion was fo­cused and fre­netic. More than 200 stream­lined ma­chines jos­tled for po­si­tion, col­lid­ing at speed, their rid­ers battling phys­i­cal and men­tal ex­haus­tion in­side tight, func­tional cock­pits. Those tough enough en­dure this for 24 hours – the ul­ti­mate in cir­cuit rac­ing. But there was no shriek of high-per­for­mance en­gines here; no fran­tic pit teams and no pyra­mids of tyres. In­stead, just me­tres away from the com­peti­tors, river­boats bobbed serenely at their moor­ings on the Murray River. If it weren’t for the sud­den in­flux of 30,000 peo­ple, the res­i­dents of Murray Bridge, in south-eastern SA, might have re­mained obliv­i­ous to the world-class race tak­ing place on their doorsteps.

The an­nual 24-hour Australian In­ter­na­tional Pedal Prix is the old­est, long­est, largest and fastest hu­man powered ve­hi­cle (HPV) race in the world. At Murray Bridge, rid­ers who have gone head to head in the shorter races dur­ing the UniSA Australian HPV Su­per Se­ries gather for one last, gru­elling bat­tle.The 2015 com­pe­ti­tion at­tracted a stag­ger­ing 225 teams – each with 8–20 rid­ers – from al­most ev­ery cor­ner of Aus­tralia.

It’s sur­pris­ingly fast. The Open class ma­chines, the adult rid­ers of which are of­ten of road cy­cling pedi­gree, can hit 70km/h on the main straight of the Sturt Re­serve cir­cuit. De­spite the course’s bumps and trike-tip­ping corners, the fastest can av­er­age bet­ter than 50km/h dur­ing a 2.1km lap. It is a feat of en­durance, too – the 24-hour record stands at 1098km.

IN 1986 THE in­au­gu­ral 24-hour Pedal Prix at the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia in­volved a rag­tag col­lec­tion of home-built ma­chines re­sem­bling bike-wheeled bed­steads. As it grew, it moved to its new home in Sturt Re­serve, Murray Bridge, in 1997.

Se­ries chair­man An­drew McLach­lan dis­cov­ered HPV rac­ing in 1996, when he man­aged his daugh­ter’s school team. With his close friend, the late Tim Bel­lotti, An­drew de­signed and built pro­gres­sively bet­ter ma­chines. Even­tu­ally, with a group of mates, they formed an Open class team, Team Bel­lotti, which won the 24-hour Pedal Prix in 2000 and 2001.“Not with me riding,” An­drew is quick to add.

School teams are the lifeblood of HPV rac­ing, mak­ing up about 80 per cent of en­tries.The youngest teams – those in Year 6 – are al­lowed up to 20 rid­ers dur­ing the 24-hour slog. Most stu­dents are in­volved in the de­sign, main­te­nance and re­pair of their ma­chines.

David de Bruyn, the de­sign and tech­nol­ogy teacher at Kin­ross Wo­laroi School in Or­ange, NSW, ad­mits he doesn’t need to do much en­cour­ag­ing. “They choose this ac­tiv­ity as their win­ter sport, although there’s a lot of aca­demic ap­pli­ca­tion as well,” he says. “We have many farm­ing stu­dents who come in and make projects for home – trail­ers, that sort of thing. A lot of the kids I teach are born with a welder in their hands.”

The school team ini­tially built its own HPV – the ma­chines are es­sen­tially re­cum­bent trikes, with fi­bre­glass or plas­tic body­work – but its two lat­est ve­hi­cles were as­sem­bled from kits. But the teenaged rac­ers need brav­ery as well as skill.The fastest Open class com­peti­tors will out­strip the stu­dents by as much as 20km/h over a lap, and the co­cooned na­ture of the ma­chines leaves rid­ers re­liant on hear­ing the chirp­ing, piezo-elec­tronic horns that warn of a fast-ap­proach­ing ri­val.

AS THE NUM­BERS OF HPV rac­ers swelled, a hand­ful of spe­cial­ist Australian man­u­fac­tur­ers sprang up. Tr isled, based on Vic­tor ia’s Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula, has been build­ing re­cum­bent rac­ers for 20 years. To­day, it makes about 85 ma­chines a year, two-thirds of which are rac­ing ver­sions. Trisled’s four rac­ing mod­els range from an open-cock­pit, school-friendly kit (from $4750), to the aero-tuned, Kevlar-bod­ied Aquila 2 model (a hefty $9900).

“The tech­nol­ogy in some of these chas­sis is no dif­fer­ent from rac­ing cars,” says An­drew. “The de­vel­op­ment some of these guys are do­ing, with com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als – it’s all mo­tor-sport de­rived.”

In­creas­ingly, new and used ma­chines and com­po­nents from Trisled, along with Ade­laide ri­vals Trump Trikes and Sut­ton Cy­cles, and Bendigo’s Wat­tle Rac­ing, fil­ter down to the ju­nior teams. And

“The crit­i­cal thing about HPV rac­ing is that you can bring it to the peo­ple.”

there’s still plenty of room for back­yard in­no­va­tion.

Open-class favourite Aurora Rac­ing, from Mary­bor­ough in Vic­to­ria, built a 24.5kg cus­tom machine. Although 5kg lighter than most, the in­flex­i­bil­ity of the car­bon-fibre chas­sis saves pre­cious tenths of sec­onds in ped­alling and cor­ner­ing.The group of eight friends spent $10,000 to build their racer – but it paid off, as they mus­cled their way to first place after 24 hours.

De­spite Aurora Rac­ing’s creative ef­forts, it was the Trisled team that clinched the 2015 se­ries cham­pi­onship by just two points.The vic­tors have some pretty im­pres­sive rid­ers on its eight-strong team. Among them are Jeff Nielsen, a for­mer 24-hour dis­tance world record holder (1107km), and Gareth Hanks, world trike speed record holder (117.38km/h).

With its tech­ni­cal ma­te­ri­als and creative de­sign, Trisled direc­tor Ben Goodall says HPV rac­ing is a lot like mo­tor sport, mi­nus the noise and pol­lu­tion. “The crit­i­cal thing about HPV rac­ing is that you can bring it to the peo­ple,” he says. “You can race these things right down the main street of a town.”

Eighty per cent of the 225 ma­chines en­tered in the 2015 race were from school teams. Pro teams typ­i­cally do one­hour cy­cling stints, with eight rid­ers in each team, while pri­mary school­ers are al­lowed up to 20 rid­ers.

After a mam­moth 24-hour com­men­tat­ing stint for the event, Ade­laide ra­dio per­son­al­ity Paul Richards waves the flag at the fin­ish line.

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