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Spinning His Wheels

John Howard, a 37-year-old former Olympian from Encinitas, pedaled a bicycle at 152 m.p.h. the other day--a thrilling achievement if ever we heard one.

“I wanted to go faster under my own power than any other human being who has walked this planet,” Howard told our staff writer, Paul Dean. “Not with an engine. Not with special fuels. But by cycling, a combination of human and mechanical energy where you are the engine, you supply the power.”

Howard pedaled his bicycle across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the slipstream of a Bonneville racer. This bike is so highly geared that it can’t be started from a dead stop by pedaling. It has to be towed to 60 m.p.h. before Howard’s legs get into the act. No matter. Howard pedaled the bike at 152 m.p.h., and that’s no mean feat--however you do it.

What’s more, there’s reason behind it. Howard is a bicycle designer who is improving the efficiency of ordinary bicycles by experimenting with extraordinary ones. Human-powered vehicles have long played an important role in the development of transportation technologies. When the automobile industry started in the early part of this century, much of the technology that it needed--from gears to rubber tires--had been developed for the bicycle. The Wright brothers, who invented the airplane, were bicycle makers.

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Perhaps the next diamond lane on a freeway will be for commuters on a new generation of bicycles.


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