In the early days of solar vehicle racing, one of the most unlikely competitors was a Turkish nuclear physicist living in Australia named Ugur Ortabasi. He conceived a four-seated, solar-powered, tandem bicycle only a mother could love, but in true underdog fashion, it would go on to win the 1986 World Championships of Solar Vehicles. The story behind this unlikely victory was anything but sunshine and smooth sailing.
CURRENT FESTIVAL SCREENINGS
“I was lucky enough to have witnessed the Solar Tandem’s win at the Solar World Championships in 1986 also known as the Tour de Sol. In fact, I was a helper on the team.
As a 13-year-old, I used my Super 8 film camera to capture the event. At the time, I didn’t realise what my father was trying to do with the Solar Tandem. As a boy watching the team on their various adventures, I felt like it was just a way to bring public awareness to solar energy.
Over the years I have come to understand that my father was imagining something entirely different: a world where human power and solar power could exist in harmony, in a direct and symbiotic way. In a very pragmatic sense, he thought people would benefit from the exercise and that solar energy would reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Today, the Solar Tandem tends to evoke the same reaction it did 30 plus years ago: it is at once preposterously impractical, but on the other hand, it could be a plausible, out of the box, efficient solution for sustainability.”
– Oktay Ortabasi
AN EARLY PIONEER
A Moment in the Sun follows the story of a four-seat, solar-powered tandem bicycle that was built at the University of Queensland, Australia in the early 1980s. Long before the Green New Deal, solar pioneers grappled with the future of our planet. This is the story of one outlandish effort to change public opinion about renewable energy.
The film follows the trials and tribulations of the tandem team, the fledgling solar industry as it struggled against the dominance of fossil fuels, and a family’s life definded by the quest for renewable energy.
A total of 12 riders competed in the Great Paper Chase in Queensland. They were selected in a rather haphazard manner, but the bike did it’s own selection: it attracted free spirits and inquisitive minds.
“I look back and I think it was a particularly remarkable accomplishment to pull that project together and I feel it really gave us our day in the sun.”
– Mark Morrisson, lead rider
After undergoing efficiency improvements, the bicycle was renamed Supernova Australia and was entered in the 1986 Tour de Sol Race from Germany to Switzerland. Despite crashing at high speed, Supernova Australia and its team recovered and won first place in its category.
“It’s different being on a two-seater tandem, let alone a four-seater. We had to pedal while keeping still so we didn’t upset the balance, and keep up the speed to avoid tipping over. It felt a little odd at first, but when we were flying, we loved it.”
– Jim Allison, rider
A bicycle is a very energy-efficient means of transport, and a tandem bicycle is even more efficient because only the front rider needs to slice through the air.
The Solar Tandem experiment combined the efficiency of a tandem bicycle with the energy captured by the lightweight solar panel mounted over the riders heads. The latest lightweight materials were used for the bike and solar panels; and to further reduce weight, there was no battery. The total weight of the Solar Tandem was less than 100kg while its payload could exceed 300kg.
The bike easily reached a speed of 40km per hour, and during a test run on a sunny day in 1984, it exceeded 80km per hour.