Bike tech: Daredevil duo drive postage bike 3000km fuelled by alcohol

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Bike tech: Daredevil duo drive postage bike 3000km fuelled by alcohol
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A father and son team have completed an arduous 3000km journey across Australia on an ex-'postie' motorcycle, all for the sake of proving that the impossible can be done with expensive Polish alcohol

Father and son team Ken and James Stanford are probably the first to admit that setting out to conquer the vast Australian continent by postie bike is not the most logical way to traverse the countryside.

We have already been covering some of the feats of motoring technology to arise from this year's Global Green Challenge, including the new mileage record set by an all-electric Tesla Roadster.

But one of the less publicised, and decidedly low-tech efforts must be this one by the Stanford team.

James, a motoring journalist with Top Gear Australia magazine, came up with the unique idea: to go 3000km with an iconic Australian mode of transport and to show that it can be done with low carbon, good-for-the-environment fuel; the kind served in the swish bars of Krakow or Warsaw and often sells for as much as $65AU for 500ml in local bottle shops in Australia.

James' father Ken scoured local auction sites to purchase the ex-postage Honda CT-110 motorcycle and then reconverted the bike.

The modification was undertaken in order to allow the carburettor to process an extra 40% more fuel into the tank - a necessary modification, because ethanol burns substantially quicker than normal unleaded fuels and hence needs more to keep it going, especially over longer distances.

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The Honda CT-110 motorycle is the classic Aussie postage bike. Image source: Honda


On October 24th, the duo set out from Darwin for the annual Global Green Challenge which stretches from the top of the continent, all the way down to Adelaide, by the Southern Ocean.

An international field

Unlike traditional road races, the Global Green Challenge's sister race, the Eco Challenge, drew a star studded field of eco-friendly cars, including big brands such as Tesla, Holden, Hyundai and BMW - each competing to use the least amount of fuel (or battery power) and the most efficient use of that energy.
 
Some of the cars are already in production, while a few, like the Stanford's converted Honda CT-110 motorcycle, are still at the experimental stage and offer an important chance to begin a conversation about the future of environmentally sound transportation and low carbon options.

The wild winds of Outback Australia

Driving an average of 10 hours a day, James alternated in shifts with his father to avoid fatigue and general body meltdown, a problem heightened by the bike's inability to handle the constant vibrations and extreme head encountered on a bike built for short runs around dense city suburbs.  

At times, the head winds were so bad, a solar car racing close by, actually flipped over and crashed out of the race.   Because of the winds, the bike could only manage as a maximum 60km/hour - hardly thrill seeking, but necessary to avoid the fate of the other solar driver. 

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A solar car flips over in the strong head winds on course in the Solar Challenge. Photo credit: Global Green Challenge

"I was tucked in like a Moto GP rider to keep down wind resistance, but I couldn't get more than 60km because of the strong head winds", James recalled.

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Picking up the pieces: a clean up crew rescues the flipped car from the Solar Challenge. Photo credit: Global Green Challenge

The Skoda team, a Czech republic-built car with similar fuel efficiency goals, decided to tag along with the duo to help cart supplies and provide a much needed area of respite between shifts.

Owing to their personal budget (and a meagre magazine supplement to cover costs), the duo were forced to wean themselves off the very expensive Polish alcohol during early stages of the race and exchange it for another - albeit one much cheaper. Using methylated spirits, which comprises 95% ethanol, the team had found the perfect fuel substitute.

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The Skoda car provided back up support for the Stanfords during the race. Photo credit: Global Green Challenge

The point of fuelling the bike on alcohol was to prove it could be done, James says, and though it ultimately burnt more - the upside was the extremely low carbon emissions.

"We never had any grand ambitions. It's easy to convert the cars to run on it and the question is, do we want to run on it?", James said, still aching from his trip.   

Next page: Driver mishaps, fatigue settles in and getting to the finish line. 

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