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File:Sherpa carrying woods.JPG

Sherpa carrying wood to Mount Everest base camp

Human-powered transport is the transport of person(s) and/or goods using human muscle power. Like animal-powered transport, human-powered transport has existed since time immemorial in the form of walking, running and swimming. Modern technology has allowed machines to enhance human-power.

Although motorization has increased speed and load capacity, many forms of human-powered transport remain popular for reasons of lower cost, leisure, physical exercise and environmentalism. Human-powered transport is sometimes the only type available (especially in underdeveloped or inaccessible regions), and is considered an ideal form of sustainable transportation.

Available muscle power[]

File:Cyclist itt cyfac.jpg

Road cyclist

In the 1989 Race Across America, one team (Team Strawberry) [1] used an experimental device that consisted of a rear wheel hub, a sensor and a handlebar mounted processor. The device measured each cyclist's power output in watts. In lab experiments an average "in-shape" cyclist can produce about 3 watts/kg for more than an hour (e.g., around 200 watts for a 70 kg rider), with top amateurs producing 5 watts/kg and elite athletes achieving 6 watts/kg for similar lengths of time. Elite track sprint cyclists are able to attain an instantaneous maximum output of around 2,000 watts, or in excess of 25 watts/kg; elite road cyclists may produce 1,600 to 1,700 watts as an instantaneous maximum in their burst to the finish line at the end of a five-hour long road race.



  • Crawling
  • Walking (240 watts)
  • Running (1000 watts)
  • Sprinting at 25km/h (1700 watts)[2]
  • Swimming and diving
  • Climbing as in mountaineering and abseiling

Human-powered vehicles (HPV)[]

File:Pedlow Field Skate Park.JPG

The Skateboard is propelled by pushing it (one foot riding on board, one foot pushing on ground) or by the natural effects of gravity.

File:Trikke HPV.JPG

The Trikke works by shifting the rider's body weight.

Vehicles for transporting others[]

  • Stretcher
  • Travois
  • Litters, e.g. Sedan chair
  • Rickshaw
  • Cycle rickshaw
  • Handcar
  • Bicycle
  • Gondola
  • Galley
  • Gurney, for medical transport

Some of the vehicles also transport cargo and/or passengers.

Human-powered land vehicles[]

File:Brosen city bicycle.jpg

The bicycle is the most popular human-powered vehicle

File:Red DX Surrey.jpg

Surrey style rental quadracycle built by the International Surrey Company

Human-powered land vehicles, such as the handcar (a human-powered railroad car), normally travel at ground level but can also travel above (for example, on a trestle) and below ground (such as when used in mining).

Skateboards have the advantage of being so small and light that users can easily carry them when not skating.

The most efficient human-powered land vehicle is the bicycle.[3] Compared to the much more common upright bicycle, the recumbent bicycle may be faster on level ground or down hills due to better aerodynamics while having similar power transfer efficiency. In 2008, Sam Whittingham pedaled a streamliner (a fully-faired recumbent) for 200 m at 132.50 km/h (82.33 mph) in the Varna Diablo 3.[4]

Velomobiles and cabin cycles are increasingly popular in colder and/or wetter countries due to the protection they offer against the environment. Freight bicycles are used as low-cost, zero-emission vehicles to haul cargo. Cycle rickshaws can be used as taxicabs.

Dutch cyclist, Fred Rompelberg set a 268.8 km/h (166.9 mph) speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on October 3, 1995 while cycling in the wake of a motor dragster pace-car.[5] The wake of the pace-car reduced the aerodynamic drag against which Rompelberg pedalled to almost zero.[6]

Greg Kolodziejzyk set two world records recognized by both the International Human Powered Vehicle Association and Guinness (TM) World Records on July 17, 2006 on a race track in Eureka, California. The first record is for the most distance traveled in 24 hours by human power (647 miles, 1041 km), and the second for the worlds fastest 1000 km time trial (23 hours, 2 minutes).[7]

In 1969, artists in a small Northern California town began the Kinetic sculpture race which has grown to a 42 mile (67.2 km), three-day all terrain, human-powered sculpture race and county wide event. It is held every year on the last weekend in May.

Human-powered aircraft[]

Fixed-wing aircraft[]


MIT Daedalus human powered aircraft

The Pedaliante flew short distances fully under human power in 1936, but the distances were not significant enough to win the prize of the Italian competition for which it was built. Furthermore, the fully human-powered flights were deemed to be a result of the pilot's significant strength and endurance; and ultimately not attainable by a typical human. Additional attempts were made in 1937 and 1938 using a catapult system, launching the plane to a height of 9 metres (30 ft). With the catapult launch, the plane successfully traveled the 1 km (0.62 mi) distance outlined by the competition, but was declined the prize due to the takeoff method.[8][9][10]

The first officially authenticated regularly-feasible take-off and landing of a human-powered aircraft (one capable of powered takeoffs, unlike a glider) was made on 9 November 1961 by Derek Piggott in Southampton University's Man Powered Aircraft (SUMPA).

Perhaps the best-known human-powered plane is the Gossamer Albatross, which flew across the English Channel in 1979.

The current distance and duration record recognised by the FAI was achieved on 23 April 1988 from Iraklion on Crete to Santorini in a MIT Daedalus 88 piloted by Kanellos Kanellopoulos: a straight distance of 115.11 km (74 miles) in 3 hours, 54 minutes.

The current speed record is held by the Monarch B, built by a team at MIT in 1983, which won a Kremer Prize of £20,000 for sustaining a speed of over 30 km/h over a 1.5 km triangular course.


The first officially observed human-powered helicopter to have left the ground was the Da Vinci III in 1989. It was designed and built by students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California, USA. It flew for 7.1 seconds and reached a height of 8 inches (20 cm). The second was the Yuri I in 1994, designed and built by students at Nihon University in Japan. It flew for 19.46 seconds and reached an altitude of 20 cm. Both were attempts to win the Sikorsky Prize.

Airships and balloons[]

French inventors have built man-powered airships and balloons. Solar hot air balloons and solar hot air airships are new types of balloons and airships.[11] Because lift is supplied through buoyancy, human power can be devoted to thrust.[12][13]

Human-powered watercraft[]


A Punt Pedalo


Birchbark canoe

Human-powered watercraft include prehistoric and well-known traditional and sporting craft such as canoes, rowing boats and galleys. The term human-powered boat is often used for more modern craft using propellers and water wheels for propulsion. These can be more efficient than paddles or oars and especially allow the use of the leg muscles which are generally strong also with non-athletes. In addition, there is little skill required for forward propulsion while looking forwards and such craft are popular at resorts as pedalos.


Hydrofoils have less water resistance at the highest speeds just obtainable by humans and are thus usually faster than displacement boats on short courses. The world speed record on water was set 27 October 1991 by MIT Professor Mark Drela who pedalled a human-powered hydrofoil, "Decavitator", to 18.5 knots (21.3 mph)(9.53 meters/second) over a 100 meter race course in Boston, Massachusetts.


In 1989, the first human-powered International Submarine Race (ISR) was held in Florida with 17 craft. Since then nine more races have been held. The races themselves have been moved from the waters of Florida to the United States Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division David Taylor Model Basin in Bethesda, Maryland, and are held biennially. At the 9th ISR in 2007 (in which 23 submarines participated) several new records where set: A single-person craft, Omer5 achieved a record speed of 8.035 knots breaking the Omer team's previous record of 7.19 knots set by Omer 4 in 2004. Also Omer 6 snatched up a record for non -propeller driven craft with a speed of 4.642 knots.[14]

See also[]


  • Adirondack guideboat
  • Animal locomotion
  • Animal-powered transport
  • Bicycle and human powered vehicle museums, list of
  • Carfree Cities
  • Fuel efficiency in transportation
  • International Human Powered Vehicle Association
  • Row boat
  • Rowing (sport)
  • Sculling
  • Self-propelled travel
  • Sidewalk
  • Utility cycling
  • Watercraft rowing


External links[]




Template:Human-powered vehicles

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