Anyone who has ever ridden a stationary bicycle and found themselves wondering, “What is the point?” may be viewing the 2017 America’s Cup sailing competition with a sense of bemusement at the Kiwi innovation that has mounted four stationary bikes to take the place of hand-cranked winches.
One thing is certain, riding a stationary bicycle while sailing through the azure waters of Bermuda Bay has got to be far more interesting than pedaling away one’s fat in front of the telly.
For one, thing, there is the element of risk, as the Kiwis demonstrated recently when their boat did a nose dive when the sailors went beyond the point of no return during testing trials.
Uninformed yacht racing observers need to be reassured that the Kiwis are not cheating. The stationary bicycles do not drive secret props hidden beneath the water line.
The decision to switch from hand-cranked devices to leg power to charge boats’ hydraulic systems is a radical one. Some keen yachting observers hail the Kiwi innovation as a game changer, but others, those with perhaps a more conservative bent, have rejected the new technology out of hand.
One thing we found intriguing was that in photos of the new system in operation, the bikers were wearing helmets. We wondered, should they not be wearing flotation devices? It turns out that being flung from the deck of a speeding yacht into the briny is not all that dissimilar to striking one’s head on the pavement.
Further, beneath the surface (sorry), the innovation makes a great deal of sense, as a bicycle-powered system recruits far more muscle groups than hand-cranked systems.
There is a trade-off. According to Sir Ben Ainslie, a most competent British sailor put forth the opinion that the bicycle-driven system exacts a toll on a yacht’s manoeuvrability.
In our eyes, the final innovation that would make us much more keen on yacht racing would be to equip the boats with grog and cannon.