“Sneaky Butcher” (or HPV 101)

by Jake “Cobba” Stevens

A lot of footy fans (and probably most of you on this site) have, at one time or another, tried to explain what Aussie Rules footy is to someone from another country. It’s not as easy job to do. And I would imagine trying to picture how it is would be pretty difficult as well.

I have about as much trouble explaining to people the sport of HPV. HPV is sort of, like, umm, a marathon motorsport race except there is no motor.  It is a cycling based sport and requires 8 students to build and then race a HPV (Human Powered Vehicle) around a track for 24 hours. It is held annually at the small town of Maryborough as part of the RACV Energy Breakthrough. Every HPV is a 3 wheeled recumbent tricycle with an outside fairing made of kevlar, fibre glass with carbon fibre or even corflute.

The Energy Breakthrough is more than just a race. It combines design and construction, safety, fundraising, sponsorship, health and nutrition, training methods, all whilst considering the environment and our impacts on earth. In addition to the race, there is a presentation and a scrutineering where we try to impress the judges with our knowledge of this and our vehicle.

As far as I know it is the only 24 hour long race there is. It would probably be the most interesting and most unique part of the sport. On the Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm the race starts and goes through the night until 12:30pm afternoon on Sunday. This year I had what is known as the Graveyard shift. This is the shift that lasts from 1:30 to 3:30am. It was pretty hard because a lot of the team didn’t get much sleep.

Our Padua College team has been involved with the RACV energy Breakthrough for 15 years now, and have had a proud racing history with the event. Like two years ago when our senior team finished 2nd and last year when they finished 3rd and held the lap record. Unfortunately this year we didn’t have a senior team, but we will next year and I will be a part of it. We are hoping for another podium finish with a lighter, sleeker and faster vehicle to be named “Sneaky Butcher”.

This year I raced in the year 9 and 10 vehicle named ‘Surge’. It was quickly rebuilt for this years race, with a new kevlar fairing, (instead of the old carbon fibre and compressed foam) and was silver instead of the traditional “Padua Blue”. And we also had a year 7 and 8 vehicle called ‘Chucky’. Chucky is the old reliable, heavy and tough vehicle and been part of the race for 12 years. It was a good year with very hot temperatures. I was in the vehicle 3rd. So I copped some of the heat and the glare of the sunset, but likely I wasn’t in the vehicle during the hot part of the day where temperatures can exceed 40 degrees.

Early in the race, none of us were pulling very fast times. It was a mystery. And I was feeling so frustrated because I wasn’t getting any speed. It felt like I was towing a caravan. Eventually we discovered that the brake was stuck on. From then on, I was flying with up to speeds of 55km/h. After that there were only minor mechanical problems which the pit crew handled fantastically. In many ways the pit crew have a harder, less glamorous job as they work longer, colder hours during the night. In total 2 teams work for three 4 hour blocks. And the riders ride for about an hour stint (or 2 half-hour stints) every 6 hours.

For spectators HPV is pretty entertaining. Crashes are very common and are spectacular to watch. The race track is littered with sharp turns and fast paces. This includes the very ominous “Crash Corner”. As you can tell by the name, Crash Corner is a popular spectator’s spot which even includes a grandstand. The corner involves a 90 degree downhill turn, where the road turns from asphalt to bitumen with a gutter to separate them. This makes it easy to flip other vehicles. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NsT4FdHQAc for a great montage of crashes.

In the end we finished 9th in our category of 30, and 30th out of about 90 vehicles overall. We finished with 499 laps. Which is the equivalent of travelling from Melbourne to Canberra. The winning team lapped a record 696 laps which was the distance from Melbourne to Sydney! As is tradition, all riders, pit crews and teachers of the teams run onto the track and lift the vehicles up in a shower of water and powerade. It is by far the most pleasing, tiring and relieving part of the weekend.

I’m already looking forward to next year, and will start training early next year. And participate in the three main races for the year. In March there is the Wonthaggi 24 hour race, which is a community event which means any one can race if you have a team. In May there is a 6 hour race at our local track Casey Fields. And as part of the pedal prix the 24 hour race is held in Murray Bridge, in South Australia. But I’d definitely say Maryborough tops them all. As it is a schools only event, I am sad that I only have 2 more years to race (and hopefully win) in this wonderful event. I will always remember the fun times I’ve had in this unique sport.

Sure, maybe it’s hard to imagine. But can I tell you with most certainty once you begin and feel the rush of the race, you will never forget it.


About Jake "Cobba" Stevens

Cobba Stevens works in sports social media and content. A keen middle-distance runner in both the ammos and the pros, he's also one of the youngest 'old bloods' supporters in Melbourne.


  1. Wow, sounds dangerous Cobba! Great article though, never even heard of this, looks like a load of fun!

  2. My school makes Go-Karts with small motors that barely reached 25k’s, don’t think that i’d be able to survive the “graveyard shit”, good piece mate.

  3. “graveyard shift” sorry typo

  4. HAHAHA ^

  5. Hahaha good one. Yeah, Maryborough is just so much fun, it is a unique but emerging sport. One day I hope it takes off and really grows. Its becoming more popular and I’m really passionate about it like many others. But its not always just about the racing but how all my mates are there, and how we all just hang out and have a great time together.

  6. Jake 'Cobba' Stevens says

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