A warm spell

Some unseasonably warm weather showed up recently bringing temperatures near 60 degrees, rain, and a few discoveries on my part.  One discovery is that my hands get sweaty while riding the velomobile in warmer weather.  I don’t know why.  Kathy mumbled something about adolescent indiscretions but I’m pretty sure that didn’t have anything to do with it.  Well, pretty sure…

At any rate, my next discovery was that I can’t twist the grip-shifters with sweaty hands.  Not a great thing to find out when starting up a very big, very steep hill!  My quick solution was to slip a hand into my jacket pocket and use the fabric for grip.  I’d suggest this only for emergency use.  If done incorrectly, you risk another sort of emergency altogether.  Don’t ask me how I know.

The long term solution is these…

Yeah, regular bike gloves

Am I an innovative genius or what?!  I pack them all the time now.

I also took advantage of the warm weather to give the YellowMobile a good scrub in the driveway.  This included taking off the wheel covers which keep wind from entering the spokes.  Under them, I discovered not one but several – several! – broken spokes.  Gah!

I think I must have been a bit overzealous in my fast, tight turns as I figure out exactly what I can get away with in a velomobile.  For the record, you can get away with a lot!  They are very maneuverable and very stable.  But all of that lateral turning force has to go somewhere.  Who knew it would be the spokes?

IMG_0150

Both of the front wheels are held on by only one bolt.  Yeah, you guessed it – right in the center.  On the first wheel, I unscrewed that bolt and the wheel popped right off.

The second wheel felt like it was super-glued in place.  And yes, I remembered to take off the bolt!  But no matter how hard I pulled and jiggled, the wheel simply would not slide off the axle.  I had to resort to a gear puller that I had from some long-ago forgotten project.  Just a little hand turning of the screw and pop, off it came.

And off they went to the bike shop for servicing because I don’t trust my own truing abilities at this point.

Toe Cozies

I’ve found that the only part of me that gets truly cold in a velomobile are my toes.  Not the feet.  Not the ankles.  Just the toes.  In fact, the other day when I was out playing on icy trails, I think I came as close to getting frostbite as I’d ever like to get!  True, it took two and a half hours to get that chilled but still, something had to be done.  The answer…

Pearl Izumi thermal toe covers

Pearl Izumi thermal toe covers

They only cost $18, are easy to slip on or off, and have a little window in the bottom for your shoe clips to poke through.  I’m opting to just leave them on for the winter –  I can get out of my shoes just by loosening the top buckle.  I tested them today on a ride to Sycamore, a town about 25 miles distant.  Although the temperatures hovered in the teens with quite a bit of humidity, my toes did much better indeed.  I’d still recommend getting out of the velomobile once in a while to get the blood flowing down to the toes but these little guys did a great job.  And I think they’ll really turn some heads at the local grocery store!  Woo hoo!

Sycamore Victorian

Victorian House, Sycamore, IL

Chilly

It’s been cold here. Really cold.  A Few days ago, we got a bit of snow, turning to sleet, turning to rain, which coated everything in a crystal clear, icy jacket.  My unused car in the driveway is still, for all useful purposes, a Popsicle.  The morning after the storm, the streets were nice and clear.  You could tell that the salt trucks had been busy through the night.  The bike path, on the other hand, looked like it had been visited by the Zamboni.

Yeah, that slick!

Yeah, that slick!

I’ve still been able to get out with the velomobile!  Riding the bike paths in these conditions can be fun – if you’re into that sort of thing.  Want to know how?

Well, let me explain…

Think of it like driving in a skating rink without walls – which is only five feet wide with hills and tight turns.  You just have to be a bit more careful.  And subtle with the controls.  It’s better to suggest rather than tell the velomobile where to go while driving on ice.  Do your braking and turning on spots where the sun has made its way through the trees and thawed out bits of the path.

You have to be gentle going uphill, conserving as much momentum as possible while pedaling very smoothly indeed, so as not to lose precious traction.  Travelling on level ground and going downhill is an exercise in planning ahead.  Look for dry spots to do your course and speed adjustments and continue to survey for places to veer off the path to apply the brakes – just in case something unexpected turns up.  To slam on the brakes while on ice would be bad.  As in – a smooth, exhilarating slide sideways followed by a thud, roll, roll, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” crunch! – sort of bad.  I’d suggest avoiding it.

Or you could use the streets…

Zamboni Road, Sycamore, IL

Zamboni Bike Trail, Sycamore, IL

Lights, mirrors and Body

I’ve been using the velomobile in low-light and dark conditions lately and it is worlds away from riding a bicycle under these circumstances.  The YellowMobile is equipped with running lights, brake lights, turn signals, and two headlights.  Those, along with its bright color, ensure that it is seen at night and treated just like another automobile on the road.  In fact, I use my running lights day and night so that folks can see me coming from quite a distance and recognize me as a vehicle.

The turn signals have been a truly great feature.  There are four super-bright LED lights on each side of the body so that when I signal a turn, that whole side of the velomobile is blinking.  You can’t miss it!

I remember how it was on my old bike – a second-hand citizen, skulking by the gutter, jerking my head ’round to get a glance at traffic approaching from behind, jerking it back to ensure the bike was still tracking straight, repeating this until there was a break in traffic, making my signal with one hand while steering shakily with the other to take the lane.  Yuck!

Now, I have two rear-view mirrors which, because of the narrow width of the velomobile, are much easier to check than in a car.  As I approach the intersection I can easily time my arrival with a break in the traffic passing me from behind.  When there is a break, I put on my turn signal and take the lane just like a car.  And the other drivers give me the same respect as if I were driving a car!

Having a large, bright body around the bike certainly gives the velomobile more of a road presence.  There are no more drivers passing within a few inches, as though the bicyclist only needs the road-space taken up by the width of their tires.  They give me plenty of room.  Riding the bike path has the same effect unfortunately.  Although I take up about the same amount of space as a bike, (my shoulders are snugly touching both sides of the body), the velomobile just looks more impressively massive.  I’ve had a woman actually scream as she looked up and saw me coming!  Now I know how visiting aliens must feel!  And I don’t drive crazy when I approach pedestrians!  My rule is to slow down to walking speed for kids and senior citizens, and jogging speed for everyone else.  When people aren’t around, Yahoo!

There are also many folks who, because they can’t see the legs going round, assume that there must be a motor in there.  Some of them give quite a nasty glare and may even hog the path to force a slow down or make me take to the grass.  It’s times like these that I wistfully remember what my dear old Granny would say in situations like this…

“Some people… are just dick heads.”

Not really.  But I could tell she was thinking it from time to time!

Changes

Ever since I was little, I’ve always owned a bicycle.  It’s always seemed miraculous to me that a small construction of wheels, gears and chain could grant a normal person super powers.  To fly like the wind and easily travel distances that you wouldn’t even consider walking. The best thing is that it doesn’t require anything extra to work its magic – no gas, no batteries, no special licenses, permission or knowledge.  It is total freedom.

Windmill in Geneva, IL.(Near Chicago)

Here I am in Holland.
Not really. It’s actually in Geneva, IL. (Near Chicago)

I’ve always ridden bicycles and it’s always felt quite natural to ride but there are some drawbacks compared to travelling by car.  Weather is a big one.  A bit of strong wind can turn a normally pleasant ride into a monster.  Add a downpour of rain and it becomes thoroughly miserable.  Add some ice and it becomes impossible.

Transporting personal gear on a bicycle can be quite a problem as well.  This is usually solved by adding special packs and special racks to the bike to support the special packs.  These can work but always seem to be a burden once you reach your destination.  Leaving the packs on your bike may get them stolen so you end up carrying these awkward things with you, along with your helmet, pump, and computer, through all of your non-biking activities.

It was because of these two main drawbacks that the idea of a velomobile became so appealing to me.  It cuts through the wind as though it were nothing, offers total protection from the weather, has three wheels so it can ride through snow and ice with ease, and has enough space inside to carry everything I might need.  A perfect form of all-weather transportation.  Now that I own one, I have found many other advantages which aren’t so apparent but add much to the vehicle’s value.

One of the biggest changes and biggest concerns about switching to a velomobile was the reclined riding position.  I’d always owned upright bikes before and was a bit worried about how efficient this position was for speed and climbing.  And how well would it perform with all of the velomobile’s added weight (63 lbs. compared to my upright racer at 19 lbs.)  Well, it certainly doesn’t jump off the pavement for a green light but I’m really very pleased with its performance.  I’ve been riding upright bikes for so long that they just felt “natural” to me.  When I switched, it was quite a surprise to find out how many upper-body muscles are required to maintain position on an upright bike – the hands gripping, arms pulling, abdomen flexing, and neck straining to keep the head up.  In the recumbent, the upper body is completely removed from the equation.  This was a huge relief – to be sitting there, comfortable and relaxed, simply letting my legs go round while enjoying the scenery.  It all seemed too easy.  There must be a terrific energy savings along with that distinct drop in fatigue.  How wonderful!

A view from the cockpit

A view from the cockpit

Another thing that has surprised me is the tripod wheel arrangement.  I had some concerns about the one rear wheel’s ability to push the heavier bike and rider up slippery, steep hills.  So far, there have been no problems.  I’ve had the velomobile out in fresh, slick snow on roads and bike paths, up steep arching bridges covered in icy snow, and even some stretches of very steep incline on a loose dirt road.  Only the loose dirt caused the wheel to occasionally lose its grip during the torque-y, granny gear thrusts – but we still made it to the top!

The tripod wheel arrangement is wonderfully stable and agile.  The super low center of gravity provided by the velomobile’s low stature and the fact that the rider’s butt is only a few inches above the pavement gives the rider a wonderful sense of stability.  Now there is no minimal speed required to maintain stability as on an upright bike, no balancing to be concerned about, and no worries about the bike skipping out from under you on sheets of black ice.  If you need to come to a stop on a steep uphill, there is no reason to un-clip from the pedals, no reason to have a death-grip on the brakes (put the parking brake on if you’ll be stopped for a while), and none of the “normal” balancing act as you start up again while trying to get up to speed as you get your shoes clipped in (just start pedaling).

Going uphill is indeed slower but I find it much more relaxing in the velomobile.  I no longer feel like I’m wrestling the bike with my upper body as I try to get every last bit of energy directed to the pedals – just find the appropriate gear and let the legs do their thing.  Any horizontal or downhill sections of smooth road simply feel like one long, exciting bobsled ride.  Ya-hoo!