Helicopters – The Mountain Bikes of Aviation
By Ettore Poggi
With ExecuJet sponsoring and operating the helicopters (a Bell 407 and Robinson R44) for next week’s Cape Epic Mountain Bike Race in South Africa’s Western Cape, our thoughts of late have turned to mountain bikes. What do mountain bikes and helicopters have in common? More than you might think.
First off, both offer you the freedom and flexibility to “go anywhere.” ExecuJet’s helicopter charter services provide quick access to difficult-to-reach or heavily trafficked locations beyond the capabilities of fixed-wing aircraft. In the same vein, mountain bikes make the most remote mountaintop trails (hopefully singletrack) and destinations suddenly reachable. So in many ways helicopters and mountain bikes are necessary to address the shortcomings of the relatively more delicate suspension-free road bikes and fixed wing aircraft. Much like helicopter owners, passengers and pilots, mountain biking enthusiasts like it this way!
Both police departments and rescue teams around the world use helicopters and mountain bikes to quickly access remote mountaintops, backwoods trails or farflung locations, another testament to the importance and flexibility of helicopters and mountain bikes.
A Look Back
Although primitive mountain bikes were used as early as the late 19th century by the American and Swiss militaries, the bikes ridden off-road in Crested Butte, Colorado or down Northern California’s Mount Tamalpais in Marin County and known affectionately as “Clunkers” (the subject of the 2006 Klunkerz documentary) are often considered the ancestors of today’s modern mountain bikes. It wasn’t until the late 1970s to early ‘80s that the major road bicycle-makers started to manufacture bikes with the staples that are taken for granted with today’s robust rigs: suspension; wider frame, fork and tires; lightweight but strong components; transverse-mounted handlebars; disc brakes and the like.
How about the helicopter? As far back as the 15th Century, Leonardo Da Vinci was illustrating and describing his “Airscrew” invention. But the thing didn’t actually get off the ground, so to speak, until the 20th Century when a Russian immigrant to the US named Igor Sikorsky entered the scene. In 1939, he designed and flew the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300, which is generally considered the first viable American helicopter, pioneering the common rotor configuration employed by most modern choppers. The VS-300 sported a single three-blade rotor powered by a 75-hp engine, and its first practical application was as an amphibious helicopter. In May of 1941, the VS-300 topped the world endurance record by staying aloft for more than 90 minutes.
Another commonality between helicopters and mountain bikes are that they must be lightweight yet durable. More and more, both are made with carbon fiber, an increasingly popular – and expensive – composite material. With an unsurpassed strength-to-weight ratio, carbon fiber polymers are vital for both the cycling and aviation industries.
The best tandem use of helicopters and mountain bikes is arguably “Helibiking,” a popular extreme sport that involves – you guessed it – flying up a mountain by helicopter and shooting down as fast as possible, hopefully on a sturdy downhill bike with a monster 30 cm (12 inches) of “travel” (mountain-bike speak for the amount of distance the wheels can move as the shocks compress; the greater the travel a bike has, the larger a bump it can absorb). Now that’s extreme.
ExecuJet wishes all participants at the 2015 Cape Epic a terrific, safe and fun race. We are pleased to provide the helicopters all week – so just look for us overhead.