There’s a surprising amount of energy locked away in the fizzing bubbles of hydrogen peroxide. Enough, in fact, to propel one daredevil and his modified bicycle into the record books at nearly triple the speed limit of your local interstate. Eat your heart out, Wile E. Coyote.
Cyclist François Gissy reached a top speed of 263km/g along an open runway in Munchhouse, France, using a bicycle outfitted with a hydrogen peroxide-powered rocket engine. His record setting attempt beat out the previous mark of 242.6km/h set in 2002.
Gissy outfitted the bike with a powerful monopropellant rocket. Concentrated liquid hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) — about 90 per cent concentrate, compared to the 3 per cent stuff sold in drug stores — is fed from a storage tank into secondary chamber filled with a catalyst, typically silver. This causes the chemical bonds to break down and the hydrogen peroxide to decompose into heat, water (H2O) in the form of 340C steam, and oxygen (O). The steam is then forced through a rocket nozzle to provide thrust. Swiss company Exotic Thermo Engineering built the one-off rocket used in Gissy’s attempt.
What’s really impressive was that Gissy only missed the overall powered bike speed record — 268.8km/h set in 1995 by the Slipstream — by about 5km/h on a completely stripped bike; no aerodynamic superstructure or trailing arms for stability. Just watch him wobble at the take off.