Rob English started as a Bike Friday customer in 2000. He has been a serious bike racer since his teenage years. His Bike Friday is the only bike he has ever paid full retail for. Below is a little more about what got him started with bikes as he grew up in the UK:
I had bikes like most kids, and started riding to school on a 24″ wheeled 5-speed at age 11. At 13 I got my first ‘proper’ bike, an early ‘mountain bike’ that was too big for me, but which introduced me to what became my first love: off-road riding. Two years later I upgraded to a much more competent machine (a 1991 Specialized Stumpjumper Comp – which I still have!), and entered my first race. The ’90s were the years of exotic machined components in crazy anodised colors; as a kid I couldn’t afford the fancy parts, but having access to machine tools at school I started making my own. Some were successful, others not, but I learnt a lot, and wanting to learn more, I went on from high school to study mechanical engineering at Cambridge University.
Four years later I graduated with my Masters, and despite sending applications to the big bike companies (no doubt like a lot of graduating bike nuts!), I wasn’t making progress towards working in the industry.
I raced quite a bit. Highlights include four 12 hour mountain bike wins (3 in the UK, 1 in New Zealand), 7th in the British National Time Trial championship, 4th in the Hillclimb championship, podiums in France and Italy.
But I was still holding out for that ‘perfect’ job: I wanted to find a company where I could be involved with all parts of the process, from design to prototyping and testing to manufacturing. This means a relatively small company, and there aren’t many that size that are hiring! Just as I was thinking I would have to settle for not working full time with bikes, I was offered a job with Bike Friday. After some time to figure out getting a work visa, I duly packed up and shipped myself off to Eugene. In a small company one must wear many hats, and over the last four years I have been involved and been responsible for almost every part of the process at Bike Friday, culminating in running the production line and being in charge of all engineering and development. During that time I was also fortunate enough to meet my wonderful wife, and I now have a green card and am well settled in Eugene.
Below is just a little bit of history about our own Speed Deamon; Rob English
ONE OF THE FASTEST CATS ON THE PLANET. Rob English, Cat 1 racer and HPV champ trained in Italy for the 2002 HPV Speed Challenge (Nevada) on his Bike Friday Pocket Rocket. He's also on staff as the co-designer of the Bike Friday tikitTM (no wonder it rides as fast as it folds). Check out his vital stats here: http://rob.bikerevuk.com
UPDATE APRIL 20 2007: ROB ENGLISH CRACKS THE 50 mph BARRIER!
Cambridge engineer and his ultracycling smarts now at Bike Friday
Eugene, OR-- by Bike Friday
Rob English Tikit Noon Ride
Photo: Rob English with the Bike Friday he co-designed with Hanz Scholz, the tikit. Ted Wade, from the brazing team, pumps him up for the challenge. What are they doing? The Bike Friday noon ride of course!
UPDATE April 20, 2007:
Just back from his HPV World Hour Record attempt, Rob has cracked the 50 mph barrier at 50.105 mph, beating his own British Hour Record by 0.25 mph (no wonder he's already talking about designing a speeding tikit). Check it out his attempt here.
We farewelled Rob English today as he headed off to attempt to topple Fast Freddy Markham's hour record in Utah this year. Rob is currently the British Hour Record holder. Watch this space and ROB's WEBSITE for progress ...
FRESH from setting a British Hour Record, HPV champ, Pocket Rocket owner and Cambridge-graduated engineer Rob English, 29, has taken up a position in R&D at Bike Friday, teaming with BF's Designer Hanz Scholz. Bike Fridays have already proven they can hold their own in many racing situations where little wheels are legally permitted. Indeed, lurking in the fold are quite a few fast Fridays like Olympian Alexi Grewal, who once worked for Bike Friday. Now with Rob on the design team, things can only get faster and more fabulous! Send welcome wishes to Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his fascinating website.
This Is a Bike. Trust Us.
And you won't believe how fast it goes or how much the guy inside is suffering ...
By Preston Lerner. Preston Lerner has written for Wired, Smithsonian, Popular Science and Automobile.
BARELY VISIBLE against the vast asphalt expanse of the Nissan test track, a white speck emerges from the soft light of the Arizona dawn. As it approaches, it takes shape as what might be a miniature submarine, or maybe a giant suppository on wheels. Crammed within the tiny, fully enclosed, artfully streamlined body is a world-class cyclist who's reclining like guy on a Barcalounger as he pedals furiously enough to make his bike the world's fastest sweatbox. He rockets past with a whoosh, and I suddenly understand why his ride is called a human powered vehicle, or HPV, rather than just a bicycle.
Whatever you call it, this little sucker is honking along so fast that it could merge comfortably into traffic on the 405. Moreover, the rider plans to maintain this speed for the next 52 minutes, thereby setting a world record by covering nearly 55 miles in an hour without the aid of an internal combustion engine, electric motor or flux capacitor. Oh, and we're not talking about a cycling legend like Lance Armstrong, tearing it up on a gazillion-dollar bike built of unobtainium. No, today's would-be hero is a 29-year-old Brit by the name of Rob English who manages to race full-time even though he doesn't get paid for it. "I have a very cheap lifestyle," he explains, "and a very understanding mother."
Which brings us to the dirty little secret of cycling: The fastest, most innovative, highest-tech bikes in the world aren't found in the Olympics or the Tour de France. They're the creations of the small and largely mocked world of HPV racing, a close-knit community of free-thinkers dominated by engineering geeks - many of them California dreamers - whose idea of bling is a platinum-plated pocket calculator. Even when ridden by top pros, conventional diamond-frame bikes rarely exceed 40 mph on level ground. Meanwhile, HPVs (also known as speedbikes) have blasted past 80 mph thanks to their sleek composite bodies and recumbent, i.e. prone, seating position.
In October, HPV racers from all over the world will congregate near Battle Mountain, Nev., for a weeklong series of late-afternoon runs along State Route 305. Each record attempt will entail four miles of banzai pedaling to accelerate up to top speed and then - when the cyclist is about to puke, pass out, explode or all of the above - powering through a 200-meter-long timing zone. Four years ago, Canadian Sam Whittingham became the world's fastest human by blistering the speed trap at Battle Mountain at 81 mph.
On this Friday morning at the end of June, English and most of the other luminaries of HPV racing are braving the broiling desert heat here in Casa Grande to assault another world record, this one is the so-called Hour, the most hallowed mark in cycling lore.
The distance traveled in an hour from a standing start has been the ultimate test of a cyclist's skill and heart since 1876, when an Englishman riding a high-wheeler covered 15.8 miles over the grounds of Cambridge University. Five-time Tour-winner Eddy Merckx called his record-setting Hour "the hardest ride I have ever done" - this from a cyclist so legendarily fierce that he was known as "The Cannibal." Whittingham, a former Canadian national team rider-turned-HPV superstar, set the record of 52.3 miles two years ago. Although he's not here to defend his crown, six of his rivals plan to take a crack at it on the banked 5.7-mile-long oval at the Nissan Technical Center North America.
The carrot they're chasing is the Dempsey/MacCready Hour Record Prize. In 1999, Santa Ana businessman Ed Dempsey and visionary engineer Paul MacCready of Pasadena offered $25,000 to the first cyclist to cover 90 kilometers, or 55.9 miles, in an hour. MacCready had achieved international celebrity with his Gossamer Condor, a human-powered airplane that won the Kremer Competition in 1977, and he thought another cash-money competition would inspire innovation in the hidebound bicycle community. As he watches English's run, MacCready acknowledges that he set the bar too high. So even if nobody breaks the 90-kph barrier this weekend, he's agreed to award the prize money after the final record attempt on Sunday to the three riders with the best Hour marks to date.
English's first lap, starting from a standstill, is 47 mph and change. His first flyer is better than 54 mph, and he backs that up with another lap at 52-plus. He's close to a record pace, and the crowd - about 50 HPV junkies - perks up. Then English's speed heads south. Fifty-one miles per hour. Fifty. Forty-eight. Because it's so early and there's some cloud cover, it's only 84 degrees. Outside, that is. Inside English's carbon-fiber cockpit, which is sealed with tape and could double as a thermos, the heat is brutal. His bike wiggles like a fish (pedal-induced oscillation, it's called) as he grinds away at the cranks. "It's an ordeal," says American record-holder Matt Weaver. On Sunday, Weaver plans to ride his Cutting Edge II, an HPV so insanely complicated that it makes the Space Shuttle look like a Model T. You'd think he'd be pleased to see one of his competitors punking out. But the expression on his face suggests that he's imagining himself inside English's oven. "Once your body temperature gets up around 102 degrees, your muscles say, 'OK, let's wait until we cool down a bit,'" he says. "And there's nothing you can do about it."
Rob faired hpv
English tries. Man, how he tries. But by hour's end, he's covered only 49.8 miles - a British record, though too slow to earn any Dempsey/MacCready booty. As he freewheels off the track, I hear him shout through the bodywork: "Get me out of here!" A furnace-like blast of heat eddies out of the bike as the canopy is ripped off. English is helped up, then crumbles to the ground, physically shattered. Covered with ice and draped with wet towels, he hardly moves for 15 minutes. "Dear God," he finally says, "it's unbelievable how hard that was. My heart rate was over 200 for at least 45 minutes."
Says John Weaver, Matt's father and a retired physician. "He went through hell. If he'd been a normal person, he'd be dead."
The architecture of the conventional diamond-frame bicycle hasn't undergone many fundamental changes since it was introduced more than a century ago, and for good reason. It's cheap, reliable, robust, easy to build and remarkably efficient. But it could be better. Recumbent bicycles are faster, safer and more comfortable. Build them out of Space Age composites and skin them in streamlined bodywork and they'll make conventional bikes look second-rate.
A case in point: Brothers Steve and Craig Delaire race a recumbent built by Steve, a motorcycle racer who went into the bicycle business in Santa Rosa because it was better for the environment. Middle-aged and nobody's idea of world-class athletes, the Delaires aren't here to challenge the Hour record but to set personal bests. Even so, they go fast enough - Steve logs 43.3 miles and Craig covers more than 36- that they would have lapped Lance Armstrong if he'd been racing against them on a conventional bike.
The prospect of top pros being waxed by wankers prompted the Union Cycliste Internationale, the body that governs bike racing, to ban streamlining and recumbents back in the '30s. Cast out of the UCI family, 'bents have grown up as the unloved, overlooked and, let's face it, peculiar-looking orphans of the bicycle world. According to biking stereotype, they're ridden either by old geezers with long beards and aero bellies or by over-the-hill engineers in bad shorts. Their cool quotient, in other words, is strictly negative.
Fittingly, the HPV movement was initiated by card-carrying members of the slide-rule club. Back in 1974, a streamliner designed by mechanical engineering professor Chet Kyle to energize his students at Cal State Long Beach set several speed records at the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. In April 1975, he and Orange aerodynamicist Jack Lambie organized the first HPV event at Irwindale Raceway. MacCready served as official timer. "It was probably the strangest bunch of vehicles ever raced in one place at one time," Kyle recalls.
HPV racing has been relegated to footnote territory in recent years, tarred with the "clown cycle" brush. But back in the '70s and '80s, the mind-boggling speeds achieved by these unconventional racers briefly brought several of the studliest pros into the fold. U.S. Olympian "Fast Freddy" Markham was the first cyclist to exceed 50 and 60 mph. Then, in 1986, he won the $18,000 DuPont Prize for breaking the 65-mph barrier. In recent years, Markham has limited himself to the top speed competition near Battle Mountain, but he has come to Casa Grande for what promises to be his last hurrah. "I'm not sure that I've got a record in me; I'm just an old guy." He smiles ruefully. "I sure wish I had this bike when I was in my prime."
At 49, Markham is taut and wiry, with a full head of graying hair but the restless energy of a teenager. He runs his hand over the sinuous body of his black beauty, lovingly polished by crew chief Gabe DeVault so that it resembles a patent-leather slipper. "Cycling is a matter of who's willing to suffer the worst," Markham says. "These days, if I get to hurting really bad, I'll just cave. I suffered through the pain years ago. Now my big thing is just finishing." Unfortunately, he can't even manage that. After turning a lap faster than 55 mph, his chain derails. Back in the paddock, he vows to try again tomorrow.
Next up is Damjam (pronounced Damian) Zabovnik, age 31, a soft-spoken Slovenian with a sparse beard who's working in an aircraft factory in Northern California. Polish aviation student Jacek Kesy is his entire crew; they ferry their bike around on top of a Honda with a mismatched fender and 180,000 miles on the odometer. Last year, at Battle Mountain, Zabovnik set the European speed record of 73 mph - traveling backward. Yep, he sees the road in a mirror and steers via controls that are reversed. (Otherwise, he'd have to steer left to turn right.) Like Markham, he's fit and tightly sprung, but instead of the Californian's sunny disposition, he's under a perpetual cloud of Eastern European pessimism.
Me: How's the track?
Him: Bad. Bad cracks in the turns.
Me: Can you break the record?
Him: The bumps are very bad. I adjusted the wheels but . . . . (He mournfully shakes his head.)
Me: So how's your bike now?
Him: It's better than nothing.
The originality, craftsmanship and sheer nuttiness of Zabovnik's bike make it a favorite in Casa Grande. I'd come here expecting to find a vibe similar to land-speed car racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats, another venue where ingenious do-it-yourselfers chase records that interest nobody but them. But Bonneville mostly showcases blue-collar gearheads rooted in the glory days of hot rodding. HPV speedsters, on the other hand, are built by engineering iconoclasts looking toward a green future, and they're ridden by athletes who push the limits of human endurance. Zabovnik gets extra credit because he has a foot in each camp.
At the start, his knife-edged bike sways like a blade being brandished before hand-to-hand combat. He steadies himself and starts pounding out laps in the mid-50s. After 45 minutes, he's ahead of the record. Then we hear a tinny radio report from the chase vehicle: Zabovnik is down!
"I wasn't tired and I wasn't overheated," he says phlegmatically when he returns to the paddock. "But over the bumps, I was like this." He mimics a marionette being jerked around by a kid with a bad case of attention-deficit disorder. "The front tire exploded."
I expect him to be devastated: In 11 minutes, he would have had been the world record-holder. Instead, he looks resigned, as if this experience merely confirmed his conviction that the only immutable law of the universe is the one attributed to Murphy.
The last rider of the day is Weaver's crew chief Rob Hitchcock on one of Weaver's old bikes. A 43-year-old Arcata general contractor who used to run the service department of a giant bike shop, he recently returned to school to study mechanical engineering. He is making his first run ever in what's known as a camera bike. To maximize aerodynamic efficiency, Weaver designs his HPVs without windscreens. Instead, riders "see" the outside world via video screens that display images from cameras mounted in the tailfin. Camera bikes are notoriously tricky to ride. Markham, the most experienced HPV cyclist on the planet, crashed his camera bike six times - and once ran over his former team owner - before reverting to a conventional model.