April 29, 2013
We just returned from the ASME HPVC East Competition at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. Although we had a number of problems with the vehicle along the way, the team refused to give up and managed to finish in 8th place overall out of 31 teams.
On Wednesday night when the shop closed, the vehicle was not done. We had it riding by about 11pm that night and got a few laps in around the O before a human error (adjusting the pedals where they weren’t supposed to go) caused a jam. We took apart the bike, painted it and headed to bed at 3 or 4. On Thursday, we did some last minute tweaks, painted the plaid and the trailer left Olin by 4pm or so. Everything just finished much later than planned this year.
Four team members arrived with the trailer at Friday just before 2pm. We went through our design report presentation and safety inspection which went extremely smooth with no issues to correct other than a couple sharp edges. The judges liked our vehicle and we won 3rd in the design event. We then proceeded to ride the bike around the parking lot for an hour or so before going to dinner to meet the rest of the team who had left Olin on Friday morning and driven straight through to Michigan.
After dinner and back at the campsite, the team was hard at work fixing some issues with the bike. We stiffened the landing gear mounting, tightened the pedals, fixed the door attachment, applied the decals and more. It was awesome to see so many hands working so hard (by flashlight) on the vehicle late into the night. Eventually, we called it a day and headed into the two very cozy 4 person cabins (there were 15 team members present).
Day 2 was the sprint event hosted at a local airstrip. It was a beautiful day! The morning started with qualifying races where the top 16 teams by time would be entered into a drag tournament. Jackie and Ben qualified us by putting up the 5th and 2nd best times in the women’s and men’s events. Jackie then raced all of our women’s races and placed 4th. For the men’s event next, Alex and Ben alternated riding and both were doing great. However, on our third race, the drivetrain fell apart just yards from the starting line and we were out of the tournament. Our final place in the men’s tournament was 9th. We put the drivetrain issues on hold to prepare for the design innovation event in the afternoon.
The design innovation event went very well. With Janie in the bike, we demonstrated our Slow Speed Stability System (SSSS) and answered questions. We placed 3rd in the innovation event which was judged by this presentation and by a written section in the design report. The top two in the event were antilock brakes from Rose-Hulman and a bike that could fold into a box from Florida.
Next, we went on to assess the damages done to the drivetrain. We saw that two pins connecting the pedal linkage had broken, replaced them and intentionally bent the frame slightly to avoid a chain interference. However, after just a minute or so of riding, another issue emerged. The bearings on the two drivetrain shafts were held in inserts which had been welded in to the thin aluminum tubes. The welds on both of the inserts had cracked and the pedals were no longer constrained – the bike was unridable. However, everyone seemed to be in good spirits.
At this point, all but two other teams had left the airstrip. We sat down for a team meeting and had a decision to make. We could work to try to fix the bike, replacing the broken welds with a strong adhesive and possibly bracing them with some gusset plates. However, we had been working hard for weeks and there was no guarantee that this fix would hold up at all. It would have been easier to call it a day and have some fun. The decision was unanimous – we couldn’t go home saying “what if” and needed to at least try everything we could.
After disassembling our frame with the help of a large hammer and some farm equipment, we moved on to address the broken welds. With the help of our friends from the University of Toronto, we bonded the pieces back into place with some high-strength bonding epoxy. We went back to the campsite, ate dinner, started a campfire and started the process of helping the epoxy cure (heat gunning it for 2 hours). When the heat gunning process was done at about 11, a couple team members stayed up to assemble the pedals and were all to bed by 12:30 or so.
We got up bright and early and headed to the Ferris State Campus for the endurance event. After some early morning fixes, the bike seemed fixed and the race was about to start. However, we discovered that the deployment chain tensioner on the landing gear had moved and was pushing the chain off of the sprocket. With no time to fix it before the race, we pulled off the chain and ran without landing gear.
Janie started the race with the Lamar-style start. With the landing gear stuck down, she made it to the grocery pick up and picked up groceries. Slowly, we made it through the course and started down the hill. At this point, it became clear that the landing gear would not work on the rough roads of this course. Designed for smoother roads, the small landing gear wheels got stuck in potholes and some of the critical parts fell off along the first half of the course. Team members helped Janie retract the landing gear and she rode along for another third of the course before the bike started making an awful noise. After catching her at the bottom of a large hill, it was clear that the epoxied fix had failed and the bike was not working. Janie decided to run the bike up the hill and we met to regroup in the pits.
The team decided that we were going to finish the endurance race – no matter what it took. Ben, Dan, David & Cullen each took turns pushing the vehicle around the track, picking up & dropping off the groceries and coasting down hills whenever possible. Along the way, the rest of our team (including Meghan who came to support us!) yelled our hearts out cheering at not only our team but also the other teams. After the race, a rider from Toronto came up to us and thanked us for cheering for her louder than her smaller team could have. We placed 23rd out of the 24 teams that finished the race – but we finished.
After regrouping, the team packed up and a few of us got to take a ride in the incredibly cute tricycle that the University of Toronto team had made – wow, what a great ride. We later headed to the event banquet where we were awarded our two 3rd place trophies and a special award for exceptional team spirit and perseverance. On the way back to Olin, we stayed the night with Heidi’s extended family who not only housed us but also cooked us a pancake breakfast in the morning!
I’d also like to say that although the tone of this summary may seem down, the weekend was incredibly fun and everyone had a great time. We pulled together a bad situation and did the best we could to make the most of it. We may not always take top ranks but sure as hell will try our best.
Thank you to everyone for a great weekend. This has been a hard year and a phenomenal team.