Saturday, June 23, 2007

Urban Transportation Contest - June 23, 2007

By Paul Pancella

We had a nice, relaxed Urban Transportation Contest at Waterford this year. Only six contestants entered; I guess that’s what I get for outlawing unicycles. Besides the new multi-wheel requirement, the only other rules change since last year was a slight reduction in the passenger bonuses. In the following table I list the contestants, a little about their vehicles, and their final scores, in finishing order:

Table 1 UTC contestants and final scores, in finishing order

# Contestant name(s) Vehicle description Overall score
701 Dan Thorne/Julie Pitko WizWheels Tandem TerraTrike, 2006 74.3
910 David “Doc” Pearson Sun EZ-3 delta tricycle, 2003, front fairing 70.8
140 Wally Kiehler LCD Lightning F40, faired bicycle, 1991 70.1
486 Paul Pancella Volae Club “highracer,” 2003 68.3
905 Richard Myers Kickbike large-wheeled scooter, 2007 65.5
611 Sue Lyons Raleigh C500 “hybrid” upright bicycle 2004 59.9
911 Dennis Grelk Bacchetta Corsa “highracer,” 2007 57.4

The first thing you might notice is that I have listed seven entries, instead of six. With the relatively small field, I took the opportunity to enter my own commuting machine to see how well we would do. Of course, I was not eligible for any of the prizes. It was interesting to me that I fell squarely in the middle of the pack, with a numerical score barely above the average.
The second thing you might notice (if you are a true UTC aficionado) is that the winning scores are higher than they have ever been before. I attribute this to the fact that the top three finishers are veterans of previous contests and used their experience to increase their scores. More on this later.
The next table shows the details of where the scores came from. Table 2 contains the points awarded, not actual weights, times or sizes. The highest scores in most columns are indicated in bold. Points were awarded for safety, utility, efficiency, and comfort factors, specifically the coast down time, driver vision (day and night), turn radius, timed grocery run, braking distance, weather protectin, comfort; tools, lock and spares; pulling gear ratio; and a "passenger bonus.".


Despite my efforts to keep things tidy by adjusting the rules, contestants still had a few surprises in store. I was not thinking about scooters when I designed this contest, but I think it gave Ohioan Rich Myers’ Kickbike a fair shake. This vehicle is nimble, but not as efficient in forward motion as a pedaled machinE and I think the low score for comfort is justified.
This year’s winner was the huge tandem tricycle, made here in West Michigan by the WizWheelz company. The Thorne/Pitko team, veterans of the 2006 UTC, studied the rules well and made a huge improvement over their previous score of 58.7, which was good for fourth place in a field of nine last year. They got 6.8 out of a possible 9 points in turning radius by exploiting a loophole in the rules. While the ordinary turn radius of their 10.5 foot long machine would max out my scoring formula (giving them no points in this column last year) the rules do not specifically forbid reversing direction during the turn demonstration. Thus they were able to execute a ~50-point turn in a space just larger than their overall length! It took a long time (and they used all three attempts), so in the interest of keeping the contest moving, I may have to make another rules adjustment next year.
Doc Pearson of Indiana also improved over his previous score, 62.2 points that earned him third place in 2004 with the same vehicle. Once again, the strengths of the delta trike showed in a very tight turn and excellent braking. Although not part of the scoring formula, it should be noted that this was one of the least expensive vehicles in the contest this year, about a factor of ten cheaper to purchase than the winner or the third place machine.
With so few entries, I had decided early in the contest that I would only make awards to the top two finishers. However, since the second and third place contestants were so close, I ended up giving out three prizes. I don’t claim precision better than + or – 1 point on this roughly 100 point scale, so I consider Doc and Wally to have roughly tied for second place. These were the only two vehicles sporting fairings of any kind, the EZ-3 with a Mueller Windwrap up front, and the F-40 getting top points for weather protection. Not much else to say about president Kiehler’s machine, I think it is extremely well-suited to urban commuting and am not surprised that it scores high (he won the UTC last year with the same vehicle). I appreciate Wally’s support for the UTC over the years. Not only has he entered every time we ran it, he even supplied his offspring to compete on occasion.
As to the rest of the field, Sue Lyons’ upright was done in by relatively poor aerodynamics, as revealed in the coastdown score, and it took her quite a bit of time to pack her groceries. Dennis Grelk entered his training bike, one of three vehicles he brought to Waterford this year. Although more practical than his racers, it was still not set up particularly well for urban transportation. Since he won everything else that weekend, I hope he was not too disappointed with his low finish in the UTC. It was nice to have another high racer to compare with my Volae, and most of our scores were similar. His long stopping distance was probably a fluke, but my vehicle rightfully scored better for the tools and spares carried, the lighting system, and the lower gearing.
So that’s the story from the UTC this year. I think the contestants all had fun, which is the primary goal. Special thanks go to my crew of volunteer helpers, especially chief assistant UTC official Paul Bruneau of Kalamazoo, who handled the simulated grocery run for most of the field. See you next time.