Sign of the Times

The other day, Kathy and I were driving into Chicago when we spotted this…


A work van

But take a closer look…

IMG_1022This struck me as pure brilliance!  Just tell all of the bad guys that you don’t have any money.

It all seems so logical.

So simple!

Well, going into Chicago takes me through some pretty tough neighborhoods so I thought this might be just the thing for my next trip to the big city…


And of course, once my massive cranium was set into motion, I came up with several, well… improved versions.

This one is somewhat more sympathetic…


Or playful…


Diversion – Good for group rides…

Remember, it's a ride not a race

Remember, it’s a ride not a race



Or camouflage…



You Following Me?

Back when I got my velomobile, I wanted it to be useful for getting around but also for getting things done.  Most of the things I have to get done around here are trips to the grocery or hardware stores.  And although you can fit a whole lot of stuff into the velomobile, sometimes it just isn’t convenient.  For instance, the thin floor of the velomobile cockpit probably isn’t my preferred place to carry a few gallons of paint or a jumbo bag of dog food.  Want an exercise in futility?  Just try bungee-cording that 24 pack of toilet paper to the exterior of your slippery, sleek machine.

I needed a trailer.  So after searching through all of the options, I finally decided on a Bongo because it’s very adjustable and can be broken down for storage.  It is sold as only a basic frame, hitch-arm, and wheels so it needed a box.  This could have been done easily with a big Rubbermaid bin, but I just couldn’t bring myself to hitch a gigantic piece of Tupperware to the back of my spaceship.  I also wanted it to be lockable so I could make several stops in one trip.  Well, I decided to make my own.

Here’s the YellowMobile harnessed up for work…


Yeah, I know – kind of looks like a Conestoga Wagon hitched to a spaceship but it does suit my quirky sense of surreality.  The foamy stuff in the bottom is to keep the eggs from mingling too much on the way home…


All of the metal loops on top are tie-downs for oversize loads – works well with a cargo net…


There’s also a locking top so I’m not afraid to leave stuff in the trailer…


That’s our first snow of the winter

The wheels and hitch-arm are quick-release so I can quickly tuck all of the protruding bits into the box for compact storage…


I also like the hitch-arm design because it’s adjustable both horizontally and vertically.  You can exactly center the trailer behind your bike.  This is important for a velomobile so you know that whatever opening the velomobile can fit through, the trailer will too.  And because the Strada’s hitch is so much lower than upright bikes, it’s great to be able to set the trailer nice and level horizontally.

The only thing I didn’t like about the Bongo, at least for a velomobile, was its hitch.  The hitch mount on my Strada is horizontal while the Bongo’s hitch has a vertical orientation.  To attach it, I had to order some aluminum angle stock and fashion my own adapter.

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This was inconvenient, but worked out well enough.

Wagons Ho!

The Stud

The Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded snow tire of course.


Last winter I had a blast riding in the snow and ice.  It just felt so crazy to be out pedaling in the frozen expanses of the Illinois countryside while being warm, comfortable and protected inside my velomobile.  It was great.  But there were times when it could have been better.  For instance, our wonderfully scenic bike paths are often heavily forested which makes them… wonderfully scenic, but also keeps the sun from thawing them out for days or even weeks.  No bike path snow removal here!  This can make riding the paths a practice in patience, skill and sometimes… stupidity.  It can also render them inaccessible for long periods of time which puts a definite hamper on my natural inclination toward stupidity.

Well, this year I want to be more adaptable, with the ability to quickly choose a safe tire for the particular roads and conditions.  The first thing I did was invest in another set of front wheels so I can have studded snow tires on one set and normal tires on the other.  I’ll have bike path access when it’s icy but won’t be grinding my studded tires down when the pavement is dry.  And somehow, I know that there is no way that I’ll really spend time changing and pumping up tires in my frozen garage before I take my pre-dawn rides.  If it’s sub-zero in the garage, then whatever is already on the bike will be just fine with me.  If however, I only have to unscrew  a couple of bolts to change out the wheels, that’s something I will do!

The installation of the Marathon Winters was just like any other tire.  Just make sure the rotation arrow on the sidewall is pointed in the right direction…


Left in this case

I don’t know but I suspect that the direction of rotation may be even more important for the longevity of studded tires.

And as for their appearance…


Well, just looking at these babies makes me feel like a leather-clad ice pirate from some frozen dystopian future.


Oh yeah!  Beware you post-zombie-apocalyptic bike-path-walking undead.  These spikes are made for rolling and…

…well, you get the idea…

Unlike other tires I’ve used, this studded version requires something called “running in.”  According to Schwalbe – “In order to ensure that spikes are permanently fixed, tires should be run in for about 25 miles (40km) on asphalt, while avoiding any fast acceleration or heavy braking.”  Well, I’m not in any shape to ‘run in a marathon’ so I decided to sit and pedal instead.

The first thing I notice is that it’s a bit harder to get these things spinning.  Well, I guess that’s normal because these tires aren’t exactly smooth anymore.  But once up to speed, they seem to roll nicely enough, although there is a noticeable difference in speed and effort.  Not terribly great, just noticeable.

The next thing you notice is a crackling, popping sound as the tires roll over the asphalt.  They sound like the electrical sparks and pops from some old Frankenstein movie…


Then when you get up to speed, there is a definite low hum resonating throughout the velomobile.  If people thought that there might be a motor in your velomobile before, this will be proof enough for them.

But the most surprising part is when you decelerate to a stop.  There’s a sound just like the Death Star when it powers up to destroy a planet.  You know, the part where the guy in the funky helmet pulls the lever…


… just before the laser starts up… ?


Yeah, just like that!

So, all in all, the strange sounds and spiky good looks of the new tires, combined with the Flash Gordon body style of the velomobile, tend to give off a real science fiction/mad scientist sort of vibe…

I like it!

But as far as their actual performance on snowy, slushy, ice rutted bike paths – that remains to be seen.  And that’s about all that I can test for now until either the first snowstorm or the zombie apocalypse –  whichever comes first.  So until then, I’ll have my leathers at the ready and my nose pressed to the front window in breathless antici…



A couple of weeks ago, I started feeling like I wasn’t quite as strong in the pedals as I had been all summer.  It wasn’t much, just a nagging feeling that I was paying more attention to how my legs felt than I was to the passing scenery.  I could still go fast and coasting was just the same as it always was, but the pedaling took more out of me.  I was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with my health.  I even had to turn back early on one of my rides.  I never turn back early.  It was feeling like too much work.  And I prefer not to work too hard at my exercise.  That’s why I chose bicycling in the first place – so I could get my exercise sitting down!

Anyway, I was getting all worried that I was getting old and feeble and would have to buy myself a walker soon, start fighting over handicap parking spaces, and recite my health history and current medications to any hapless passerby, when something unexpected happened.  It got cold.  No, that wasn’t the unexpected part.  That came when I pumped up my tires, dusted the cobwebs off my Racekap and went for a ride in the frigid temperatures with my super-sleek hardtop on.  I was actually slower!  Slower?!  How could that be?!  Had I entered some alternate universe where the laws of physics were reversed?  Had all of the hot air spewing from the thick heads of global warming deniers somehow caused a strange thickening of the local atmosphere?  Had insidious mind control beams from my semi-naughty nemesis Kevin somehow penetrated my aluminum foil helmet?  Yes, the well-oiled rationality of my keen mind astounds even me… sometimes.  But no, it wasn’t these obvious conclusions.  It was this…


This little booger!

It’s called a chain tube.  It guides the chain coming from under my seat (on the right) towards the chain-rings (out of the picture on the left).  It is supposed to guide the chain up and over that hump called the tunnel (where all of the steering gizmos are housed) in one smooth path with minimal friction.  I discovered that kinks are not conducive to minimizing friction.  Here’s a better picture…


Makes my knees hurt just looking at it!

Perhaps you can’t see it very well but the tube has split in a couple of places and is completely collapsed – basically grabbing the chain as it passes through.  Yah!!

Well, I searched around town for a replacement but it seems that replacement tubing is something of a specialty item in the bike shop world.  I finally found a shop that had a clump of used tubing that they dug out of a workshop drawer and were willing to sell.  I figured that used tubing which was actually round was better than used flat tubing so I bought it.

After my last run-in with chain maintenance (imagine mud-wrestling on the garage floor with a pissed off, greasy python) I decided to try something a little different this time.  I found one of the chain’s quick-links and coaxed it to a convenient location at the middle of the cockpit.  Then I tied that python down – before I opened the link.  I suspect that this is where I went wrong last time…


Baling wire leash tied to the frame

Ah, so much easier!  I removed the idler sprocket, opened the quick link, and slid the tube off.  Then I attached another piece of baling wire to the end of the chain and used it to thread on the new tube.  Easy.  Join the chain back together, attach the new tube to the sprocket shaft, install the sprocket, then stand back and unleash the python.

Woo hoo!!  Back to skating on asphalt.