Power isn’t nearly the whole story

Posted on September 11th, 2007 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

on-trike.jpgI’ve decided that there’s simply no connection between how much power a vehicle has and the enjoyment gained by driving it fast.

Perhaps that’s in part because I’ve never been much into straight-line drags but it’s also in response to changing mores regarding driving fast on public roads. These days, driving fast needs to be done only around corners.

I am lucky enough to live on top of a small mountain, one that can be reached by four different roads. Each is steep, winding, tight and potentially dangerous. Each can be enjoyed enormously, even if never exceeding the speed limit. I think the fastest car I’ve driven on those roads is the ’03 Porsche 911 twin turbo and the second-fastest is probably the Evo 6.5 Lancer. Both had the ability to put their prodigious power down to the road; both telescoped time and distance in a way that has to be felt to be believed. Each was a wonderfully joyful car to drive fast.

So, since they’re both very powerful cars, doesn’t that suggest that in fact there is a very strong correlation between power and enjoyment? Not really. Why not? Well, let me tell you about another vehicle which I think in terms of fun / joy / thrills / excitement was damn-near as good as those two Herculean cars.

And this vehicle doesn’t even have a motor.

The vehicle is my pedal trike. Yep, human-powered with pedals and three wheels.

The other night I decided to put the self-constructed trike to what I consider to be a near ultimate test. Heading off the back of the mountain there is a winding, steeply descending, narrow bitumen road. Free-rolling you do between 30 and 50 km/h, the speed depending on the grades. The road is edged on one side by a vertical cliff and on the other side by a discontinuous guard rail. Where there is no guard rail, the slope plunges downwards into a creek, tens of metres below.

The bitumen surface is awful: lumps, bumps, surface roughness, patches, occasionally a few potholes. Corners are sufficiently tight that some are marked with advisories of 30 km/h.

On this road my headlight was a little too narrow in beam: I couldn’t fully see some of the corners. There are no streetlights and with little moon, all the vision was being provided by the 5W white LED.

And I was throwing the trike into these corners, not knowing the precise nature of the surface, not knowing if the corner tightened (I’m familiar with the road but there are perhaps 100 corners), but knowing that if I made a mistake it would be nasty. And there’s nothing like the fear of imminent disaster to sharpen your mind…

The wind whistled through my helmet, the suspension hammered over the terrible surface, and all my senses were absolutely attuned to staying on the road. One left-hander tightened-up to the extent that I could either go up on two wheels trying to make it – or momentarily cross the white line. I chose the latter and then resolutely told myself that rather than braking back to a saner pace, I’d just have to be more committed – to get the turn-in over as early as possible and then hold, hold, hold those lines. Sometimes that meant deliberately putting the inside wheel onto the (largely unseen) dirt; other times it meant steering with absolute fingertip precision, sensing the shape of the corner way past the sharp cut-off  of the headlight’s beam. Occasionally a car would come the other way and then I’d also need to cope with a momentary loss of vision as the blackness of night turned to halogen-lit daytime. 

When I finally pulled over, my breathe was rasping, my heart was pounding and my fingers tingling. I’d taken on the road and won – and won in a vehicle of my own creation. I think it was the most exciting time I’ve ever had on these roads – and all with a machine having only a few hundred watts of human leg power…

Power? It’s irrelevant to fun.

7 Responses to 'Power isn’t nearly the whole story'

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  1. Jason said,

    on September 11th, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Ahh – but would it have been as fun if you had to pedal up it ??? – – I am sure an extra 10-20kw would have been appreciated then though…. LOL

    Sarcasim aside, I know what you mean though, similar to you, in my job I get to drive a fair few different cars from time to time and I always aim to take them along my favorite twisty bit of blacktop. More often than not, the lower powered / better handling cars are more fun to drive through this area.. they may not be as fast, but they are certainly more fun..

  2. Ben said,

    on September 11th, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    I’ll second the underpowered cars comment. I mean look at the humble JB Camira. Underpowered, but light, and with an engine that seems to thrive on revs. As a speedway car with very minor suspension mods (springs, and oil change for the front shocks) the 1800 versions (JD) it was extremely easy to control on the limit. I also remember reading about it’s good handling, if not outright grip, and willing engine making it very good fun to thrash on winding roads. As long as they didn’t go up.

  3. Leon said,

    on September 11th, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Now maybe you understand why those pesky motorcyclists are pushing it in the corners on those mountain roads… I own a honda CBR250RR sports bike – it is worth about $5000, it has 33Kw, really not that fast as bikes go BUT it is as fun as my $25000 200+kw R32 GTR and on certain roads IT IS AS FAST!!!. Go figure. There is nothing between them on my favourite piece of road both as speed goes and excitement.

    Also ’83 Alfa romeo GTV6, 1100 kg 113Kw plenty or torque and attitude + 2x double A-rms front, Dijion (? spelling) rear end, 100mm ride height = FUN honestly handles nealrly as well as the GTR but with tyres that are a worse compound and maybe 2/3rds as wide. Again heaps of fun to throw around and perfectly balanced o nthe limit in fact i nthat regard slightly better than the GTR (considerin its only 2wd).

    Bikes however are the ultimate rush (even when they aren’t going as fast).

  4. Mal said,

    on September 12th, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Long Live Pedal Power!
    Just watch out for those motorists who have no idea!!!

  5. Conrad said,

    on September 12th, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Nice one Julian

    I agree with Leon, that raw feeling of man VS corners is precisely why I am so heavily involved in custom sportsbikes (“streetfighters” to be more precise)

    keep up the good work, I look forward to the day when autospeed has evolved enough to consider doing a feature on my Suzuki TL1000R (which in its modified state I feel it suits your criteria perfectly!!!)

  6. Jay Coleman said,

    on September 13th, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    The comments reflect what rollercoaster designers use to sell rides. Traveling in the western US across great expanses is an exercise in setting the cruise control and trying to stay awake. Scenery doesn’t change very quickly. Most rollercoasters don’t go that fast. It’s the physical changes and lack of orientation which excite us. It tests us. Putting yourself in an HPV and you’re even more into it. And, the next time you do it, even the same course, you’ll want to push that envelope just a little bit more.

  7. shane "popi" said,

    on February 21st, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    small light nimble and watch the falcadores take all the poles out through no balancing and all weight lumped over the front wheels they are unsafe dont stop dont steer cant catch them when they snap at high speeds