In 2008 Bowlby experienced an epiphany. He was attending the U.S. motorcycle Grand Prix, marveling at the sight of motorcycle riders leaning at 45-degree angles as they drifted through 100mph corners, tires squirming at the edge of traction. It struck him that any spectator, no matter how clueless, could see the courage and talent of professional bikers. Racecars, on the other hand, hide their drivers’ skills. Their giant wings produce so much grip that driving them looks effortless. The wings also generate a wake of turbulent “dirty air” that prevents cars from racing closely together, robbing races of drama. Bowlby wanted to get rid of the wings. What would happen, he wondered, if he mounted a single front wheel in the center of a super-narrow nose? The streamlined snout would reduce drag and cut weight. Plus, it would permit a wingless aerodynamic profile that would showcase the driver’s prowess, allowing him to slide more outrageously into corners and run closer to competitors.
This triangular profile—known as a delta wing planform—is common among Top Fuel dragsters and land-speed record cars. But those machines race only in a straight line. If they had to turn at high speed, wouldn’t they just topple over like a little kid on a tricycle? As Bowlby thought more deeply about the issue, he realized that the problem with most three-wheelers was not the number and arrangement of the wheels. It was the disastrously high center of gravity. So he conducted an experiment. He bought a pair of radio-control cars, modified one to run with a single, centered front wheel, and tested them both on a frigid winter night on the suburban streets around his home in Zionsville, Indiana. The battery-powered three-wheeler, with its low center of gravity, turned just fine. In fact, it cornered at higher speeds than the four-wheel version. Later, back at the Ganassi shop, computer simulations showed that a full-size car built on the same template should turn just as well.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.