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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cycle speedway - fast action in 45 seconds

ACTION AT the Dave Blinston Memorial Trophy races, May 7, 2011, at Stockport (England) Cycle Speedway Club. (All photos taken by author at this event.)


“All riders ready,” the referee shouts. “Under starter's orders.”
Then the cloth tapes that form the starting gate lift, four riders push down on their pedals and they're off.
Four quick laps of a short oval track and perhaps 45 seconds later, it's over – until the next heat.
Cycle speedway contains elements of velodrome and BMX racing, with a bit of roller derby thrown in. Using one's shoulder to get past an opponent is allowable, for instance, and spills sometimes happen.
When rounding the corners, riders take their foot off the inside pedal and hold their left leg out, just above and sometimes touching the paved inner perimeter of the track.
Each heat consists of four laps, counter clockwise, of an oval tracks from 64 to 92 meters (210 to 302 feet) around the inner perimeter. Banking is slight and the surface is unpaved, usually shale.

The official website for cycle speedway in the United Kingdom, the predominate country for the sport, says, “Top riders are explosive sprinters - but they also have stamina to enable them to keep going through a long match. Skill levels are high with slick starting, cornering and passing techniques essential. Strength is also required during contact with other riders.”
The bicycles are unique. Steel or aluminum tubing, straight forks in line with the head tubes (that is, no offset), one- speed freewheels, no brakes, narrow upright handlebars and flat pedals with non-slip surface – clipless and rat-trap pedals and toe clips and straps are banned.
Cranks are 175mm for leverage, the seating position is low enough that the rider can put his feet on the ground while seated, and gearing is very low. Cycle speedway equipment supplier Archie Wilkinson lists 32 and 33-tooth chainrings and freewheels with 16, 17, 18 or 19 teeth. With the standard 26x1-3/8 inch knobby speedway tires, that works out to gearing options ranging from 45 to 54 inches.
Cycle speedway is a mostly British sport, but also takes place in Ireland, Poland, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Ukraine and Russia.

TWO POSTS (one at left out of sight) mark the starting line. The cloth tapes are held in place with pins, attached to ropes. The starter (back to camera) pulls on the ropes, releasing the pins, then elastic cords pull the starting tapes to the top of the posts.

WITH THE starting tapes at the top of the posts, riders push down on their 175mm cranks and they're off for four quick laps.

Cycle speedway in the U.S.A.
There's only one cycle speedway track in the United States, in Edenton, N.C., which in April 2011 hosted the world championships, with riders competing from the U.K. Ireland, Australia, Poland and the U.S.
There's interest in creating a track in Portland, Ore., according to Brian White, creator of the Edenton track and U.S Cycle Speedway founder and president. A track in Prescott Valley, Ariz., lasted from 2004-09.
So how did cycle speedway find a home in the remote corner of northeastern North Carolina? According to the U.S. Cycle Speedway website (, it started in 1990, when White, only 6 years old, attended a stock car race and decided if he was too young to race cars, he would race his bicycle. He started organizing Saturday morning races for the neighborhood kids, using his parents' front lawn.
After several years, the races moved to non-busy neighborhood streets, and finally in 1997 to a track built on donated land.
White and his fellow racers didn't know about cycle speedway, so their track was larger and their races longer. But word about the racing in Edenton made its way across the Atlantic, and in 2001, they were contracted by Rod Witham, then British Cycle Speedway national chairman. The following year, two top British riders visited Edenton, and changes started to make the track and races to conform with international standards. In 2003, the first competitors from Edenton participated in the junior world championships in Poland and the senior world championships in England.
In 2004, the races moved to a new track at Northeastern Regional Airport in Edenton, where there is an international track, 88 meters, and an endurance track, 101 meters.
Cycle speedway, fashioned after motorcycle speedway, traces its origins to Britain just after World War II, when cyclists started racing their bikes around craters created by Nazi bombs. There were more than 200 cycle speedway clubs in East London alone by 1950, according to a Wikipedia reference.
Unfortunately, the numbers have been declining since. When the press and publicity officer of the Cycle Speedway Council wrote a chapter about the sport for The Bicycling Book, published in 1982, there were almost 100 clubs and 75 tracks in the U.K.
The British Cycling Cycle Speedway Directory for 2011 lists 30 clubs and tracks. (Cycle speedway in the U.K. is now administered by British Cycling, which is the governing body for most forms of bicycle sport in that country. The Cycle Speedway Commission, advises on racing rules and competitions.)
Except for some sponsorships, cycle speedway is an amateur sport, according to Alan Taylor, a former racer and 30-year veteran of the sport, who was doing the announcing at the May 7, 2011, races at the track at Stockport, England. He said the only prize money may be at the national championships.
The winner of the Dave Blinston Memorial Trophy that day won a set of wheels and second and third place each won a set of tires – all donated by Archie Wilkinson (, the biggest supplier of cycle speedway cycles and equipment. (Blinston, who died in 2005, devoted 50 years to the sport, as a racer, club officer, team manager and league and national committee member.)

THIS CYCLE speedway bike is a Polish-build Mielec ( Aluminum frame, rear facing dropouts, one-speed freewheel and no brakes.

AN UPSIDE VIEW shows the Schwalbe 26x1-3/8 tires, made specifically for cycle speedway, and pedals with non-slip surface. Clipless and rat-trap pedals are banned.

Cycle speedway is a family sport. The Dave Blinston event was organized by Julie Higham, Stockport Cycle Speedway Club secretary. Her father, Derek Garnett, is five-time British champion. Her son, Ben Higham, finished third that day.
Another competitor was Dylan Radcliffe, 16, who started racing at age 8 or 9, his father, Jeff, said. After Dylan started, Jeff raced for a while, as did Jeff's father, Maurice, that is, Dylan's grandfather. Both were spectators at the Dave Blinston event.
The event was open to all ages, with 23 riders competing, with at least one of them female.
Each raced in five four-lap heats, with the top 16 then racing in another set of five heats to determine the top three. But at the end, there was a tie between Chris Timms of the Birmingham club and Lee Aris of the Wednesfield club, so those riders raced another four laps to determine the winner. Timms won. (Scoring is 4 points for first in each heat, 3 points for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth, but no points if lapped.)
The Dave Blinston event was a competition for individuals, but “cycle speedway is essentially a club sport, with inter-club matches within leagues the mainstay of the sport,” according to the official British website. “Each match normally consists of between 16 and 20 races. There are also individual championships, including a world championship and some inter-country series, including regular contests between England and Australia.”
Riders can start competing the year of their 8th birthday. The super veteran class is for the oldest riders, 60 and older.
As a suggestion from the writer of this article, cyclists interested in trying cycle speedway could organize races by setting up traffic cones on a parking lot or some other surface, using regular bikes. (In Britain, they race indoors in winter on gymnasium floors, so a special surface isn't essential.) Instead of a starting gate, use duct tape for a starting line and have a starter shout, “One, two, three, go!”
If enough interest develops, then a more formal track could be built and cycles modified to more closely resemble those built specifically for the sport.

Numerous cycle speedway matches are on posted on YouTube. Type in “cycle speedway.”

THIS PHOTO of the ceremony for the 16 finalists at the Dave Blinston Memorial Trophy, prior to the start of the second round of heats, shows the size of the track in Stockport, 75.5 meters. Tracks can be from 64 to 92 meters around (210 to 302 feet.