Monday, August 22, 2011

Roaming across America by velomobile

HASSE HOEJLAND of Denmark in his yellow Quest (made in the Netherlands) and Frans Van Der Merwe of Oklahoma City in his self-built Pterovelo prepare to exit their velomobiles at Indiana Dunes State Park near Chesterton, where the Roll Over America participants camped the night of Aug. 17. They traveled that day from Evanston, Ill..

Article and photos by Mike Eliasohn

Coast-to-coast bicycle tours aren't unusual, even if they aren't common.
But Roll Over America was unusual.
On July 28, 52 velomobiles (enclosed three-wheel recumbents) left Portland, Oregon, headed for Washington, D.C. Of those, 22 were from Europe.
The 5,000 kilometer (3,107 miles) journey, titled Roll Over America, ended Thursday, Aug. 25. (The website, which includes profiles and photos of all the participants, most with their velomobiles, is
The group camped Wednesday night, Aug. 17, at Indiana Dunes State Park near Chesterton. Since that's only 53 miles from St. Joseph, where I live, and even closer for fellow MHPVA member Bruce Gordon of Buchanan, we drove to Indiana Dunes to spend a couple of hours talking to some of the ROAMers.
There were two participants with Michigan links, both riding Quests.
John Abbey lived in Kalamazoo before spending seven years in China. He moved back to the U.S. last year, I think, and now lives in Tucson, Ariz.
When Bruce and I arrived at Indiana Dunes, John's Quest was on its side and in need of surgery. That day's ride had started in Evanston, Ill., about 100 km (62 miles) miles away, and when braking for a stoplight, with the suspension fully compressed, a front wheel slid into a pothole, causing structural damage.
John rode only a couple of miles more, then apparently he and the Quest went the rest of the way to Indiana Dunes by motor vehicle. At the campgrounds, he and other ROAMers were trying to determine if temporary repairs could be made so John could pedal the rest of the way to Washington.
Bruce and I then wandered off to talk to others and when we returned, John had disappeared, so I wasn't able to confirm some of the details and find out if his Quest could be repaired. (Update: John's pedal-powered journey ended at Indiana Dunes. He rode the rest of the way to Washington in a sag - that is, motor - vehicle.)

JOHN ABBEY (standing) and Frans Van Der Merwe examine John's damaged Quest to determine if it can be repaired.

The other ROAMer with a Michigan connection was Mike Woelmer of Milan. Unfortunately he wasn't at his assigned campsite or nearby when we were there, so we never talked to him. As Bruce and I were leaving in Bruce's car, Mike went by in the opposite direction, but since we didn't know what his Quest looked like at the time, didn't realize it was him.
I'm hoping to get John and Mike to write accounts of their ROAM journeys for this blog .
ROAM was the brainchild of Josef Janning of Bonn, Germany, who as an international relations expert spends a lot of time in the United States. He said he got the idea for ROAM in March of last year, which has meant a lot of planning and organizing in a relatively short time.
European participant was limited to 24 velomobiles because that was the number that would fit into the two shipping containers. Ultimately, 22 participated.
The velomobiles had to be in Groningen, the Netherlands, on June 4 to be packed into shipping crates (one per crate), then hauled to Bremerhaven, Germany, to be loaded on a ship., which took them to Oakland, Calif.,From there, they were taken by train to Portland.
The empty crates then had to be taken to Washington. After loading into shipping containers, they will be then loaded on a ship in Baltimore for the return trip to Europe. (Each crate consist of a cardboard box on top of a wood pallet.)
“A hard, fun trip, I would say,” Janning said at Indiana Dunes, in describing ROAM. “But then again, it is not impossible. You don't have to be a special person to do this.”
As of when he was at Indiana Dunes, Janning's carbon fiber 65-pound Quest had experienced five flat tires, the result of having to ride on road shoulders littered with broken glass and wire from exploded truck tires.

ROLL OVER AMERICA was the idea of Josef Janning of Bonn, Germany, seen sitting on his carbon fiber Quest. He had it on order from the Dutch company for three years, before getting it in April. It weighs 65 pounds, 20 pounds less than his previous fiberglass Quest.

On 15 days, riders had to pedal more than 200km (124 miles), with the longest day being 268km (167 miles). The shortest day will be the final one, only 40km (25 miles).
The ride from Evanston to Indiana Dunes was 104 km (65 miles). “So that was a rest day we had today,” Janning said.
As of Aug. 17, 36 riders remained, including all 22 Europeans. Many of the Americans only rode for two weeks, Abbey explained, because that was all the vacation time they could get from work. A few dropped out for other reasons, including one rollover, which hurt the velomobile and rider, Janning said.
The Europeans, of course, had no choice but to continue to the end of the journey, in Washington.
Each rider was responsible for his or her own food each day (there was only one female rider, Nina Mohrmann of Germany) and navigation, using GPS. They had to carry everything needed for the day, while one of the accompanying motor vehicles carried tents and sleeping bags.
One of the riders I talked to was Hasse Heojland of Vandel, Denmark, who borrowed the money from a bank to buy his Quest and pay for the journey.
He said there were many days when riders left at 6 to 6:30 in the morning and, at least some, didn't arrive until 7 or 8 in the evening. “Some of my friends said it was going to be a nice holiday trip,” Hoejland said in disagreement. “It's hard work.”
He said he started riding recumbent bicycles in 2005, got his Quest in May, then after shipping, bought a used one so he could continue training.
Joerg Bammesberger of Munich, Germany, races a fully-faired recumbent two-wheeler, so bought his Go-One Evo R, because, “I wanted a bike to train in winter.”
At Indiana Dunes, he said he had averaged 20 mph since leaving Portland. His fastest daily average was 25 mph in Montana; his slowest, 7 mph on that day's leg because of traffic in Chicago.
Perhaps aiding his average was the tires on his Go-One, a 26-inch (559mm) rear Schwalbe Marathon Evolution with a flat tread, designed for tricycles and wheelchair racers, and in front, experimental Schwalbe Trykers, also with a flat tread. He said the Evolutions are not available in bicycle shops and the Trykers aren't available, at least not yet, for purchase. He said Schwalbe made 100 sets, of which ROAM participants got fives.
Other than a right front tire blowout while riding on the shoulder of an interstate highway, Bammesberger said the only problem he had encountered was some items vibrated loose due to bumpy pavement, which he attributed to pedaling a tricycle with a stiffer ride designed for racing, rather than touring.
Most of the velomobiles were “store-bought,” but among the exceptions was the Pterovelo (ptero = feather or wing + velo = cycle) built by Frans Van Der Merwe. Originally from South Africa, he has lived in Oklahoma City for 10 years.
“This is the first one, I'm hoping to make more.” Since finishing construction of Pterovelo last August, he said, he's ridden it 7,300 miles.
Pterovelo has a 700c rear wheel and 18-inch wheels in front. There's no suspension. As can be seen in the photo and on Van Der Merwe's website,, it has a canopy.
There was one four-wheel velomobile on ROAM, built and ridden by well-known British HPV builder Miles Kingsbury.
The oldest rider was David Eggleston, 75, managing partner of VelomobileUSA LLC in Midland, Texas, which sells them. I didn't get a chance to talk to him., but Janning said Eggleston has been pedaling about half of each day.

JOERG BAMMESBERGER of Germany with his Go-One Evo R, made in Germany. The canopy made it very warm inside, so he tried riding Aug. 17 without a shirt. Sunburn was the result.

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