Mont Ventoux — In the Provence region of southern France — is the mountain mecca for road bike enthusiasts. Jam-packed with glorious, sweeping, alpine roads and stunning scenery, “what a location!” I hear you say. Believe me, the selection of a location was no easy task.
Mont Ventoux (Photo – Channel 4)
To give us an idea of the most important parameters in the production of high speeds, Dr. Heather Driscoll created a Newtonian model. This allowed us to tweak various parameters, to see the effects of frontal area, rolling resistance and course incline. Similar to the model used in the downhill toboggan world record by CSER last year, and the free software, CA CartieSim, used by the Scottish Carties Association. After running several simulations it became clear that the course location would play a vital role in the success of the record attempt, and that we must aim to optimise course length, gradient, surface condition and straightness whilst maintaining safety.
The initial suggestion was Teutonic, Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. A popular course for downhill skateboard and luge events. Not only did it appear to be a good combination of length and incline, as shown in the Newtonian model (below) , but the local authorities were already used to closing the road for events.
However, Teutônia is over 6500 miles away. Not only would have it been extraordinarily expensive, but we would have had to ship the gravity racer over nearly a month before the record. Practically, we didn’t have the time.
So we cracked on researching alternative locations. We went through so many options:
- Eyre Highway in Australia, one of the longest straight roads in the world (1,675 km) – too flat.
- Baldwin Street in New Zealand, worlds steepest street (average gradient of ~30%) – too short.
- Col du Tourmalet in France – too short.
And some a bit closer to home:
- The Lecht, Cockbridge, Aberdeen, UK.
- Great Dun Fell, Cumbria, UK.
- Rosedale Chimney Bank, North Yorkshire, UK.
- Bealach Na Ba, Applecross, UK.
- Brown Clee Hill, Shropshire, UK.
A record attempt by a British team in Britain – brilliant we thought. However, what we failed to consider is that councils and local authorities are not so keen to close off roads for you to attempt to break the speed limit, thus the law!
North One (the production company behind the ‘speed’ series) suggested Mont Ventoux, it was perfect, and although the French maximum speed limit is only ~10mph faster than ours, we had been given clearance by the French authorities. After a quick scout out by Heather, Terry and Helene — the decision was made — we would attempt the gravity racer world record at Mont Ventoux. The final course was ~ 2km long, including breaking distance, with an incline of ~12%.
Mont Ventoux gradient sign (Photo – Channel 4)
Move over cyclists – the gravity racers are coming through!