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Saturday April 23rd, 1994


Appropriate Technology Solar Workshops Hydro Workshops Wind Workshops Hydrogen Fuel Alternative Buildings Tele-Commuting Teachers' Workshop

Electric Cars Human Powered Vehicles System Design Alcohol Fuel Solar Hot Water Energy Efficient Agriculture Appropriate Home Efficiency International Development

Keynote Speakers:

Richard Perez Dennis Weaver (invited)

For more information or an exhibitor's application write us at:

R. E. F., PO Box 4179, Areata, CA 95521 (707) 822-3481

Sponsors include: Arcata Co-Op, Redwood Alliance, Citizens for Social Responsibility, The Arcata Foundation, Campus Center for Appropriate Technology, Solutions, Home Power Magazine, &


High School



Alan Kearney

©1994 Alan Kearney


Raising money was a difficult task in our town. Every school activity is under-funded and each group goes around town with their hand out every year. Tenacity helps here. We approached potential supporters in person, followed by a brochure mailer I designed on my Mac. As a last resort, I would call them personally for one last try. Once we had made some progress that we could show, contributions — in the form of money, materials, technical support, and contacts with different equipment manufacturers — came more easily.

We found that public relations is very important. We kept contributors up to date on our progress. A local

The general response from my advanced auto students was, "You've got to be kidding, this car doesn't make noise or burn rubber." I had just shown them a videotape of the Electrathon race at SEER '91 in Ukiah, California. Their response was understandable. Vehicles racing at the SEER track that day had difficulty maintaining 25 mph.

A few months later, six of these students got to drive different Electrathon vehicles at a "builders' workshop" hosted by Gene Karas at Analy High School. When we got back to our own class (I teach Auto Mechanics and Computer Applications), their excitement was contagious. In early 1992, we formed our club, the Willits High School Electric Car Club (WHSECC), to build an Electrathon race vehicle.

The WHSECC is an after school, extra-curricular activity. Students must satisfy Willits High School requirements for scholastic standards ("C" average with no failing grades) to participate in club activities. Every student in high school was encouraged to participate in the construction and racing of our vehicle.

©1994 Alan Kearney

newspaper reported on races we won and the general progress of the vehicle. We entered a local (but widely attended) car show and drove the car in the Fourth of July parade this last summer. The clear plastic shell over the nose area was there more to display our contributors' logos than to reduce wind resistance!


We kept the cost of building the car to a minimum. Altogether, we spent $500 cash and used about $800 worth of materials. Local businesses donated materials. For example, the roll bar is all welded aluminum tubing, custom built and donated by Advanced Manufacturing & Development. We don't have any way to weld aluminum at the high school so this was a tremendous help. The local NAPA auto parts store donated the 4-point safety harness. Little Lake Auto Parts donated two 30 pound batteries for test driving the vehicle and a local hardware store donated boxes of bolts, etc.

Electrathon: America Answers the Challenge Mark Murphy

©1994 Mark Murphy

An article in Alternative Transportation News (March 1990) caught my eye. Some crazy Australian had brought over a tiny electric fighter plane with wheels instead of wings — an Electrathon class racer. The format seemed designed to create an exciting, low-cost competition while minimizing the liability risk for sponsors and owners of impromptu racing sites. I knew this was something I wanted to do.

I have designed and raced human powered recumbent, three-wheeled streamliners for several years. Electrathon appeared to be an electric powered version of these, so I began with a basic HPV design and added batteries and an extra wheel. Since I was familiar with the advantages of a "cyclecar" three wheeled layout — two steered wheels forward and one wheel in the rear — I chose this design.

As with any design, I began from the inside out. First, I placed the rider in a comfortable position, designing the vehicle around him (or her). The battery, wheels, motor

Electrathon Car Designs

and controls are located to achieve good balance and function — without driver interference.

Another kindred spirit, Gary Raymond, joined me at this point. To save time and money and create a team atmosphere, we decided to build two machines. As a further incentive to finish the vehicles in good time, we decided to hold an Electrathon event as part of the 1992 Earth Day Festival in Thousand Oaks, California.

We spent hours speeding around parking lots, testing combinations of components, varying the gear ratios in a bare, converted HPV. At first, we ran without a controller, just a circuit breaker, on or off. We jetted around the invisible course, inches off the ground, launched with a

50-foot tire burnout each time we tried something new. Next, we built a chassis from box section steel tubing. We settled on 1.75 x 20 inch plastic mag front wheels and Ackermann steering geometry with zero offset. The rear wheel is slightly larger, a 1.75 x 24 inch plastic mag. Cable-operated hydraulic discs handle braking.

Gary soon developed an excellent power train: a 12 Volt Bosch motor driving a bicycle chain-and-sprocket arrangement. A stock Curtis PMC controller and potbox completed the power circuitry.

I worked on the body design. I wanted a classic aerodynamic form, slightly shortened for easy transport. I wanted the options of HPV, human-electric hybrid, and Electrathon racer. This meant leaving room in the nose for pedals. Thinking of manufacturing them myself, I opted to use off-the-shelf components.

The Aerocoupe is the result. This body-shell is vacuum formed ABS plastic. The material is durable, easy to trim and paint, and recyclable! Blown from acrylic, the canopy is very good optically. With a final length of 102 inches, a height of 38 inches, a 36 inch track, and a wheelbase of 56 inches, the estimated CD of the finished vehicle is a very respectable 0.20 drag coefficient. The curb weight of our vehicle was 124 pounds (less battery).

Climbing in is like putting on a pair of pants — one leg at a time. Inside, it's much like a sailplane cockpit. Sitting so low, the speed feels magnified by the short course and tight turns. To spectators, it seems silent. Inside, it's a cacophony of sound: chains running over sprockets, the motor whining, the road noise and shock transmitted by frame and body — what it must feel like sitting inside a giant power tool!

What's it like in a race? So far, we have finished in the top five, and we are having the time of our lives. Top speed is about 60 mph (dependent on gearing) and the range, of course, is 25-35 miles. Battery capacity, speed, and driver skill affect these figures!

Electrathon vehicles and events are growing fast. There are dozens of Electrathon events annually along the west coast, from San Diego to Seattle, including the Phoenix races, the International Electric Grand Prix in Los Angeles, and at SEER. High schools and colleges alike are catching on, building Electrathon class racers as a kind of "rolling textbook" on the basics of electric vehicle design. Join the fun! Maybe I'll see you at a race soon!


Aerocoupe CycleCar info: Blue Sky Design, PO Box 26154, Eugene, OR 97402

The Electrathon Design

Our goal was to race safely in as many different events as possible each school year. For this reason, we used a combination of the designs of the southern and northern California groups. The front axle uses two steered 20-inch wheels. The rear axle can also handle a 20-inch wheel, so that it qualifies for Electrathon America events. However, we prefer to use a small 12-inch Go Kart wheel here because it is easier to spin up to speed using direct drive and offers a bit of suspension.

At SEER '92 (Solar Energy Expo & Rally), we geared our vehicle for 25 mph, the speed vehicles ran the year before. However, the competition ran at 35 to 45 mph, using transmissions (bicycle derailleurs) on their drive wheels and more aerodynamic body shells.


Using Australian (and Electrathon America) regulations, vehicles are limited to 60 pounds of batteries for drivers weighing less than 180 pounds. These must be "wet" lead acid type with no modification to the battery (no lightening by removing plastic or drilling holes in the battery posts) or electrolyte (no "spiking" the acid).

Some entries from the Northern California group, Clean Air Revival, used two 40-45 pound, 12 Volt Gel Cell batteries, heated to 160° F for racing performance. These batteries cost $100 each and have a shorter life because of the heating and fast discharge rates. We don't try to compete with these individuals.

Weight and construction of batteries are a constant source of discussion and rules proposals. If only we could find a battery manufacturer willing to sponsor the races and supply identical batteries to each driver the day of the race!

Construction Details

The WHSECC vehicle uses three wheels to avoid the rolling resistance of the four wheel design. The 20 inch "free style" wheel was chosen for its strength. Vehicles with larger bicycle wheels and 3/8 inch axles break down on the rougher race courses. Admittedly, larger wheels are a benefit at events like SEER or tracks using banked quarter-mile ovals.

The main chassis and front axle is aluminum box tubing. Suntools, a local company, donated 50 feet of it to the project. Phil Jergensen showed us how to drill holes every 1.5 inches. This allowed us to easily vary the configurations during the design process. For example, our first vehicle had a tricycle layout (one wheel up front and two in the rear). While this simplified steering and brakes, the vehicle would tip over on fast, tight turns. We quickly rejected this for the current motorbike layout.

Drive Train

We selected the Bosch electric motor for our drive train since Clark Beaseley has made it a track winner! We obtained one from him at fairly low cost ($225, plus tax and shipping). Its high speed (3400 rpm) presented some problems when direct-driving the rear wheel.

We used a stock Curtis PMC unit for the controller. Microphor, another local company, donated the controller, the Curtis Battery Fuel Gauge, forty feet of #2 gauge wire, and a digital volt meter to the project. The ammeter, fuses, connectors, and the custom-built wheels were purchased or donated by Earthlab. Our wheels are made from a utility hub which takes a 5/8 inch sealed bearing. These are custom spoked to 48-

Electrathon: an emerging race format

Michael Hackleman

©1993 Michael Hackleman

A new breed of racer has found its way from Australia onto USA streets. Electrathon! I remember vividly the first time I saw Clark Beaseley's bright red racer. I had encouraged him to bring it to the annual EVAOSC (Electric Vehicle Association of Southern California) rally in 1989. He pulled in with the sleek machine bungeed to the roof rack of his car!

I drove it that day. What a feeling! Accelerating quickly and nimble as a cat, it was an exhilarating experience. Already a veteran of several races and the antics of dozens of novice drivers, the racer squeaked, rattled, and chain-whined its way through the streets. My brain filtered out these idiosyncrasies. What I noticed was the speed, the response, and the faces of astonished adults and excited children. This was what driving was supposed to be about. I can't remember what Clark called it. I named it that day: Slingshot.

Clark Beaseley brought his Slingshot racer and the concept of Electrathon racing to the USA from Australia in 1988.

Clark Beaseley brought his Slingshot racer and the concept of Electrathon racing to the USA from Australia in 1988.

spoke Araya rims using the "four cross" pattern. This design allowed us to use stock Go Kart 4.5 inch drum brakes.

The front wheel spindles are 5/8 inch (grade 8) bolts welded to seamless, thick-walled (1/4 inch) steel tubing. The spindles pivot around a similar 5/8 inch bolt that acts as a king pin. Of course, the inside wheel must turn tighter in a turn than the outside wheel. We fabricated the steering arms from 1/4 inch steel plate. Bent in and back, these yield the Ackermann steering needed to reduce tire "scuffing" (and wear) in turns. The connection of the tie rod point at the steering post is adjustable so that we can change the steering radius of the vehicle. We use zero degree for camber, zero toe-in for low rolling resistance, and ten degrees positive caster for steering stability on bumps.

We elected to use no suspension for reasons of simplicity. Consequently, we usually break eight spokes at each race. We carry a spare front wheel in case we have a tire failure. A double coil auto valve spring has been inserted into the front king pins for suspension for SEER '94. We hope this will reduce the spoke breaking problem. Also, we install "DT" brand (Swedish) spokes whenever the Japanese spokes break. The new ones are 18 gauge stainless steel.

Safety is very important to us. Our driver must wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and gloves. The battery is enclosed in plastic and we have the required seat belts, roll bar, main electrical disconnect switch, and rear view mirrors. Our brakes will stop the vehicle in 40 feet at 25 mph. These vehicles are considered motorcycles in California, so the driver must wear a helmet. Registration is $7 per year. In this area, the

Now, more than four years later, the sport of Electrathon racing is growing quickly. Nationwide, I estimate that as many as a hundred Electrathon-qualified vehicles exist. Why the popularity? There are several reasons.

One has to do with the challenge. The format for Electrathon racing is simple. How far can you go with 64 pounds of lead-acid, deep cycle batteries on a closed course in one hour's time? With all drivers ballasted to 180 pounds, kids and adults compete evenly. Cost and competiveness are other factors. Unlike the prohibitive cost associated with racing solar cars and the fluctuating rules of the stock and open classes at Phoenix, the Electrathon format rewards strategy and reliability over cost and sophistication. More than a decade of evolution in Great Britain and Australia stands behind it, too. A competitive design need not exceed $1,200 in total cost.

Simplicity is a third factor. Tool and fabrication skills taught at the high school level are sufficient to build an Electrathon racer. I'm excited at the implications of this. What better arena to educate and train young people than a high school auto shop! As well, competition is not a good word for this sport. The races I've attended feel more like a good outing with friends and peers than the crazy win-lose weirdness I find with other sports. Sure, you'd like to come up with the trophy, but it all seems more like good sport, participation, and the refinement of skills.

The ability to compete often is another attractive quality of Electrathon racing. Currently, dozens of races are run each year in California, most of them in parking lots. Linking up with other events, like the Electric Grand Prix, Phoenix, and SEER, has been a smart move for Electrathon organizers. This provides additional incentive for a builder-owner to go the distance required for a competition. Like other sport racing, points accumulation through many races each year decides the overall champion.

A few years back, Electrathon racing was challenged by a new breed of vehicles that included designs based on go-carts and "leaners" (vehicles with wheels that lean into the turns) from Clean Air Revival and Bob Schneeveis. These fast hounds began racking up trophies. The races looked different, too. Certainly wilder and maybe a little intimidating to slower vehicles. Things heated up, a struggle ensued to define the qualifications of an Electrathon racer, and a division occurred.

When the dust settled, Clark Beaseley had formed Electrathon America to further the sport in the traditional style. Ten bucks will buy the Rules book, which includes a healthy section on design and construction tips for the novice. The package includes an application to enter Electrathon races, and a newsletter with race results and the dates and locations of upcoming events. The rules contain three specifications that exclude the race-busting designs. One, the minimum wheel diameter is sixteen inches. Two, leaners must be automatically self-righting. Three, the driver must be fully enclosed in the vehicle. Sorry, no bail-and-fly designs (bail if you see the crash coming, fly if you don't).

I am currently involved in a project, building an Electrathon vehicle with a dozen seventh and eight grade girls and boys enrolled in a Problem Solving class at a nearby junior high school. We purchased a Murphy AeroCoupe shell and are using Jergensen aluminum box-beam for the main chassis. The students lack materials-working and tools-handling skills but are enthusiastic and imaginative. In addition to competitive racing, the vehicle will be made street-legal. If we can get some sponsorship, I'll bring a giggle of children and the car up to SEER '94 in July. See ya then!

terrain is too hilly for the vehicles to travel far afield. I live in town and could easily commute to school (3/4 mile) in the vehicle.

Our Racing Experience

We have competed in four races to date. The first race track was so rough and bumpy that we broke 25 spokes and blew a tire after 45 minutes. This prompted us to carry a spare wheel and tires. In the second race, we finished ahead of all other high schools at De Anza College Days. Our third race was at SEER '92. We were the only high school to compete because of the conflict of north/south politics. The fourth race was at Santa Rosa in the fall of 1993. Our driver tried to keep up with the "Gel Cell" powered car from the San Francisco Bay Area and ran the batteries dead after 50 minutes.

Knowing how to read your instruments is as important as their quality. To do this, WHSECC team members keep track of the number of laps and the elapsed time in the races. This is reported to the driver every 15 minutes via a chalk board. Prior to each race, we make timed test laps on the track with a spare (second set) of batteries. We calculate the battery reserve and best gear ratio to use on the track, and make the needed changes. Our "racing batteries" are maintained at a full charge by a solar panel right up to race time.

Project Benefits

The importance of this project is difficult to limit to a few points. I like that we are instilling an awareness of alternative energy sources in these students. It's a good place to apply practical math skills and problem solving. We have taken our vehicle to two other high schools and school board meetings in our area, hoping to spark interest in students and teachers alike. The students are easily interested. The teachers are more difficult to sway because it means donating time and energy. I estimate that we have 400 hours of construction time in building this vehicle.


Alan Kearney, Willits High School, 299 No. Main St., Willits, CA 95490 • 707-459-7720

How to get involved!

Are you interested in Electrathon or other types of ultra light vehicle racing? Some enjoy the original Electrathon design and an oval track marathon race concept. Others enjoy exploring new designs and a road race to test their skills. Whatever your pleasure, ultra light vehicle racing is happening!

Electrathon America: For a rule book which contains construction tips, send $10 to 1251 West Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 142, Torrance, CA 90502. The $10 covers a newsletter with upcoming races. Clark Beaseley has a video describing different designs of Electrathon racing to help spark plans for your design.

Clean Air Revival: Contact Gene Karas for a rule book and racing in the Bay Area and all over California, for high schools, Explorer scouts, adults, and others interested. Gene Karas, Electronic Tech Instructor, Analy High School, 6850 Analy Ave., Sebastopol, CA 95472 • 707-824-6460

Explorer Scouts: (co-ed, 12-20 year olds) are getting involved in ultra light vehicle racing. Join the Scoutarama at Rohnert Park soccer stadium on June 4 for a demonstration. Contact Matt Myers, 2240 Professional Dr., Santa Rosa, CA 95403 • 707-546-8137

Oregon: Portland General Electric is sponsoring a six race Electron-run championship involving 20 high schools all over Oregon. Races are happening April 23 in Aurora, May 7 in Gresham, and May 21 in Salem. Contact Lon Gillas for details: 503-434-4332.

Michigan: Jordan Energy Institute is hosting the Michigan High School Electrathon Competition on June 11. Twenty-one high schools from all over Michigan will compete in this first annual event. If you'd like to display your electric vehicle, or take a ride around the track, come to this event at the Berlin Fairgrounds. For more information about the race or JEI's Associate Science degree in Electric Vehicle Technology, contact Paul Zeller, 155 Seven Mile Road, Comstock Park, MI 49321 • 800-968-3955

International & National series of ultra light vehicle racing: for information, contact Steve Van Ronk, Global Light & Power, 520 Pine St., Sandpoint, ID 83864 • 208263-5027

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