Once a private airfield and aircraft factory site, Woodford Aerodrome is now under construction to become a housing estate, film studios and office spaces. But until those projects are underway, a half mile stretch of runway remains untouched and available to the ULV Team thanks to an owner with a particular fondness for cycling.
As was the case with many sponsors, the owner of this land was keen to help the team and see what they could do out of sheer generosity. He granted free access to the tarmac, giving them the time and space they needed to get ready for September. A big saving on last year’s cost to use Bruntingthorpe’s Proving Ground and testament to the interest many people have in seeing this project succeed.
Heading out with the team of engineers on their first day of testing, I finally got to witness first-hand the engineers, the ARION 2 and the riders together in action.
They didn’t disappoint.
Ken is the current British record holder (75mph) and was the first rider to undergo testing at the Aerodrome. His experience with the bike and its relative instability is clear. With top off or on the bike, each ride looks smooth and steady. What’s also clear is his commitment. Why else would he happily lug about a turbo trainer and custom recumbent bicycle in his car with him so he can keep training while the engineers make their tweaks and adjustments?
Yet experience and commitment has not led to arrogance. Any chance to ride with the top on, in full attempt conditions, is grabbed with both hands. He’s fully aware of how important it is to get the runs in again and again. To familiarise himself with the feel of the bike and how best to coordinate with the engineering team around him.
And when he’s finished, he swaps his helmet for his coaching hat and sets to work helping his new co-rider.
Yasmin joined the ULV Team in March and has since been working under the guidance of Ken’s experience and his custom training plan. Her time in the bike has been comparatively limited but seeing her on testing days, you’d argue otherwise.
She’s a natural, is the consensus.
Still, as the newest rider, she highlights to me just how unusual an experience it is to be inside the capsule and how much technique and concentration is required to keep it under control. Not to mention sweat.
It’s more than a little claustrophobic lying in a blacked out shell designed to have minimal excess space in order to save on aerodynamics. And after a couple of runs, the heat builds fast with nowhere to go. We talk about the physical strength required to get this bike moving but we shouldn’t forget the mental courage it takes to push high speeds in near darkness with a mini screen in front of you as your only window to the world directly in front of you. Yasmin looks to have both attributes.
The current British Women’s record stands at 42mph. Yasmin is 2mph off. There’s no doubt she’ll set a new bar out in Nevada. Personally, we think she’ll be setting two, when you include the women’s world.
Never mind the fact that without these guys, there wouldn’t be a bike good enough to challenge the Canadians and the rest of the world. Without them ordering the signal to brake, there’s a good chance the rider wouldn’t be seen again. Lost somewhere in the desert. Or at least in the overgrown wilds of a disused airport in Greater Manchester.
It takes two engineers to help launch the bike and three at the far end to catch it. In between those points, a chase team rides alongside to keep an eye on performance and is ready to help should a crash occur. When they’re not taking care of the riders, they’re taking care of the bike. It’s fair to say the riders weren’t the only ones working hard in the heat. For these guys, term ended weeks ago. The project hasn’t. The pride in what they’ve been creating is palpable and their tutor recognises it as he watches on, smiling.
This testing period outstripped last year’s by a long way in terms of duration. More time in the bike means more certainty in handling and greater confidence. Each day, the riders increased their speed. On Tuesday, they were at 20mph. By Friday? 40mph.
A long way from 75mph, and even further from 86mph, you may point out.
But consider this; at Woodford, they only had half a mile of runway to play with and the riders barely got out of third gear. Battle Mountain has 5 miles of road and the bike has four more gears to go.
How do you fancy their chances?
On 1st September, the team will be revealing the finished bike to the public and their sponsors at the University of Liverpool Guild hall. Gone will be the core-ex and masking tape and the carbon fibre shell will see the light of day in all its polished glory.
Keep your eyes peeled on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for shots of the finished bike and perhaps some merry engineers indulging in some much needed reward for throwing their heart and soul into completing this project and giving Britain another chance to take the record.
Next stop- Battle Mountain, Nevada.