Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Around the Bay in a Rotovelo (210kms)

Guest Blogger: Tim Leed

Well, I picked up my shiny new blue Rotovelo, complete with Rohloff hub thingy a few weeks before the Round the Bay (RTB) event. Ben at Trisled had told me that they were having their formal release event at the bike expo there, and it got me thinking. I’d never done RTB before, but as soon as i got Rotovelo and started riding to work, i realised that it was a fairly quick machine, and i started thinking about entering. The big question was: What distance?

After not being able to organise any other Rotovelo riders to ride with me, i bit the bullet and booked for the 210km course. Mind you, this was only about 2 weeks before the event, so i thought i better start training. My ride to work is only 11km or so, but there are a couple of good hills. The wednesday before the event i rode 120k’s, which was fine, i averaged about 29km/h, but had sore knees afterwards (not enough riding practise me thinks!). That means no more riding until the big day.

I was lucky enough to have a mate who lived maybe 500m from the start, and was able to crash there the night before. It would have been a perfect start, if i hadn’t locked the house, just about to get into Rotovelo when i realised i’d left my helmet inside. Spent 15mins trying to wake up my mate, then i was off.

The start line was of course full of eager people on their upright machines, but i managed to find another guy on a recumbent trike up the back to start with. I’d been told to start up the back. Anyway, after waiting around for what seemed like ages, the line started to move, slowly. Heavy traffic was fine in Rotovelo, people didn’t have a problem noticing me, my only problem was going so slow.

I was thinking to myself that i really need to concentrate on pacing myself, but only doing 20km/h with the majority of the riders up the back was just too much. As we worked our way through the lights and inner city streets i started to wind it up a bit, and got the first of what would be a very common reaction from riders as i crept (or sped) past them: WTF!, OMG, Sh##, and lots of other expressions of surprise. Not to mention people asking if i had a coffee machine inside, mini bar etc. Perhaps the funniest was pulling up at one set of lights with one of the 1st Aid Motorbikes behind me. The riders next to me didn’t notice the motorbike and assumed i had a thumping 500cc motor tucked into my shell!

So, by now i’m out onto Beach road, the bike traffic is starting to thin out a bit, and the speeds are creeping up. I find myself sitting on 35km/h now, and feeling real good. I’m getting a few riders frustrated as they tuck in behind me and then realise that i’m too slippery to pull them along.

I stop for my first break at about the 50k mark, it was just before Olivers Hill in Frankston. Well, wasn’t that a great hill to ride up! I had changed the drive sprocket to give me a higher top speed and was concerned about my ability to get up steep hills, but i managed ok. I don’t know how many of the people who had passed me going UP the hill i whizzed past going DOWN. I had some sensational runs heading down where i managed to time the lights just right and overtook 50 or 100 people at a time. Extended downhill sections are almost beyond my ability to describe - I’m in a completely different speed class - got to use the mirror heaps and make sure cars are out of the way because I’m spending all the time overtaking.

I’m really happy with the handling of Rotovelo here - with brakes on both front wheels i can actually help steering by using the brakes - extremely handy when taking emergency avoidance measures at top speed - which on some of these hills is around the 70km/h mark. Soooo many riders are sitting on the right hand side of the lanes. I’m getting really good at calling out "ON YA RIGHT". The run from Dromana on is pretty flat and by this stage i’m starting to feel a bit tired, wondering if i’m going to make it, and then all of a sudden I’m at Sorrento and in the line for the Ferry.

The break was nice, although no chance of getting to the toilets on the boat! One of the cool things about Rotovelo was having room to put stuff - so i had long pants and a warm jacket to wear whilst not riding. Once across the other side we were back into it. This was where the head winds started to kick in, but for me, hills were more of a problem, head winds slow the upright guys down instead! I stopped for a break at a rest stop set up at a servo. Would have been a great photo of Rotovelo next to the fuel bowser!

All of a sudden it started bucketing down with rain - people were dragging their bikes under cover and trying to keep out of the rain. I just put my cover on and hit the road. Well, the rest stop was at the top of a hill, so i let it rip. Did you know that rain drops really sting at 70+km/h? It was a fantastic descent, long straight road, multi lanes, no traffic, and didn’t get stopped at the lights.

Geelong was frustrating - lots of lights, and it felt like the course was going in circles, i was really looking forward to getting out onto the Hwy and pointing towards the finish, not to mention having that nice tailwind. Had my last stop at the BP on the Freeway, and filled up on mars bars and fizzy energy drinks. I knew that we didn’t stay on the freeway the whole way, but it was a real bugger doing all the twisting and turning rather than just sticking on the Freeway.

Eventually i found myself at the Westgate Bridge, and stopped at the base to stick a camera to the bike as i wanted to record the trip over. Going up the bridge wasn’t so bad, even after riding so far. By this stage the bike traffic was really thin and i was in my own little world. I crested the top of the bridge, with a massive gap before the next person in front, and started to go. The whole time up the bridge i had been commentating to the camera.

Then i’m overtaking cars (speed limit was 60), now i’m cracking 75km/h, but the person who was miles ahead of me is now just ahead, and even worse, they are riding on the right hand side of the bike lane, and i can’t safely overtake at speed or yell out to them. So i slow down, ask her to politely move out of the way, then get into it again. But there is not much bridge left now, and i can only get back up to 70k’s before having to turn off. Grrrrrr!

The last bit of the ride was great - mixed emotions from me as i realised i was going to make it. The finish line was good - people cheering, cameras flashing and me zooming in on Rotovelo. Boy was i glad to finish! Met up with Ben and the Trisled team at their display and had a good chinwag.

Final stats: For a distance of 220kms or so, average speed of 26km/h, which i was very happy with considering my lack of fitness and training. Max speed 77km/h down the bridge. No problems with the bike at all. If i had got a dollar for every toot from a car on the course i would be a rich man! Found out that my miniature camera didn’t record - bummer! But do you want to know the funny part? A few weeks later, i was checking over my Rotovelo prior to riding to work, and i actually put a tyre gauge on it, rather than just feeling the tyres (like i do on the mtn bike). Well, the pressure was less than half the recommended, so i pumped them up and had a 10% increase on my average speed. Now if only i had pumped them up prior to RTB!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


After a fair bit of playing around I've decided that the Mango approach of a bicycle bell and a bit of string is the least awful way to get a bell into the rotovelo.
I had a pingping bell mounted next to the cockpit so I could reach out and ping it, but it was about 15cm from my ear which was not ideal. I've been looking around for a bicycle bell that I can bolt on to the shell and bike shops don't have many of those. The pingping bell mounts using an O ring so I just twisted that under a washer, which kind of worked. And on bike to work day I got a free bell with a standard clamp and one problem - the clamp is designed for a handlebar no more than 20mm in diameter, when normal handlebars are 22mm (this is why they were free). I grabbed one just in case, since they're no use to anyone else and I might be able to use it.
The other day I had a brainwave - a doorbell is designed to do exactly what I want. The actuator goes on one side of a barrier, and the ringing noise comes out the other side. All I need is a lightweight, weatherproof doorbell. So I had a look around and most of the ones I saw are designed for a thick door, not a 3mm velomobile shell. They also tend to be heavy (because who cares on a door). I did find one that I thought might work, but it was $30 and heavy, so I put that idea on hold.
Then David Hembrow's post on bicycle bells reminded me of the string idea and I decided to revisit it. The original problem was that my preferred ding-dong bells have short push arms and require a lot of force, which means having to pull hard on the string and also mount the bell very solidly. Not easy on a thin plastic velomobile skin.  But my free bell has a long press arm (perhaps 40mm) and a quick test showed that it's not too hard to ring it using a string. So I drilled out the rivets that held the mounting bracket in place and started looking for places to attach it to the RotoVelo.  Not an easy task, as the bits that don't get scraped regularly when I run up ramps are very visible. I ended up mounting it just in front of the cross member - closer to my head than I really wanted, but at least it's shielded by the shell from direct sight. I'd definitely more audible than the pingping bell and much quieter for me. Quite bearable, even with the cover off.
 (a couple more photos)
Plus I washed it. It seems odd to own a bike that needs to be washed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Today's discovery was that while the RotoVelo might look a bit like a kayak, it doesn't behave like one.

I was riding in the storm drain that is Moonee Ponds Creek, and the grass growing out into the creek has grown out to the point where there's only about 10cm between the edge of the grass and the edge of the water (right where the video snippet the other day showed the dog). So at about 25kph I decided to ride mostly over the grass in an attempt to avoid the water.

Turns out that the "grass" is actually quite a solid mass of mostly soil and roots.

The front wheel bounced up and off the grass, turning me sharply left and into the creek. Which is only about 15cm deep, but that's deep enough for the foot slots to act as big water scoops and stop the trike very quickly. While filling it with water.

Fortunately I was the right way up and could just ride out of the creek, then stop and drain the water out. Which is easy enough, that part is just like a kayak - grab the back end and roll the vehicle over.

Cue rattling sounds as all the junk I've stashed in it clatters out, along with the

The good news is that inside the velomobile there's no real wind, so despite being sopping wet I was still quite warm. It was about 8 degress (Celcius) this morning, not a good temerature to be riding an upright while wet.

Tomorrow I will bring a spade to work and on my way home do some "lawn mowing".

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tim gets excited... going fast in the rain

Tim has just sent me this link and it's worth a couple of minutes of your time. He's riding down a bit of a hill on a motorway, in the rain. With the hatch cover off by the look of it:

Which does remind me, I need to get a better speedo. The Knog one seems to record 145km/hr as my top speed every day, so I suspect it has some kind of limit to what speed it will allow. I don't think I go anywhere near that fast, so I'm going to try for a more accurate speedo. My actual top speed on my daily commute is probably only about 60km/hr, usually on the new bridge near Flemington Station. That's a fairly steep descent on a fairly good path, so I can coast from 30km/hr at the top of the hill and still be doing 50km/hr when I get to the bridge.

Ride to Work Day

Today is National Ride to Work Day, and there were free breakfasts all over town put on by bike shops and random advertisers. Naturally I planned a route and got up early to maximise the number of free snacks I got.

I left home at about 6:30am (actual time 6:45am) and headed to the Human Powered Cycles stall in Merri Parade / St Georges Road since they opened first. Free muffin and a quick chat with Bill and Lewis then off down St George's Road to the bowling club and a particularly badly located stall. In a park some distance from the road, on the inside of a corner, with no pram ramps and a high curb. But they had muffins and fruit, as well as juice and coffee. So the few cyclists that stopped were well rewarded.

Stop three was Velo Cycles who are located brilliantly for a day like this with the Park St bike path giving them lots of quiet outside space. Another banana and muffin, a quick peek inside the shop (they stock the Taga bike/pram that I haven't had a chance to peer at before). Then off to Commuter Cycles by 7:30am to watch Huw getting organised and meet up with a couple of Victorian Greens people winding up for the state election next month.

Those were all within a couple of kilometres of home, so I added less than 10km to my commute.

Then off to work along the usual route and one last stop at Docklands which was very corporate as you'd expect. The Melbourne Bike Share people were there in force peddling their scheme with its "bring your own helmet" problem, as well as their RACV sponsorship problem (We love cars! We sell car insurance! Win plane travel!).

Lots of comments on the rotovelo, especially since it was foggy with light misty rain, making it a bit unpleasant for other cyclists :) People were impressed with the lights and how visible it is as well as the "out of the wet" aspect. And the "not falling off" thing on a day like this with nice greasy roads.

All up a slow and well-fed ride to work today.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Video from the social ride

Ben has edited together video from the social ride the other day. We had a bunch of the cheap cameras on different bikes:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recalibrating to Velomobile speeds

One thing I expected from the rotovelo was to go faster. Which has definitely been happening.

I normally ride about 300km each week, at about 30kph on flat roads, averaging about 25kph over the week. On the upright I've been riding Moonee Ponds Creek cycleway (shared path) and through Docklands to Port Melbourne where I work. It's about 25km round trip, and takes about 30 minutes there (downhill) and 40 minutes home. Those are door to door times, not riding times. What matters is the time I have to get out of bed :)

With rotovelo on the same route the overall time is about the same. Mostly because the bike path doesn't really suit going any faster. There's a couple of decent stretches where I can cruise along at 35-45kph for a kilometre or more, which is nice. But the back streets between home and the bike path are mixed - if I take the direct route it's faster but that end of the bike path is slower with a couple of blind corners, but if I wander the back streets more to avoid the slow part of the bike path I have extra corners and speed bumps. The bike path at the bottom end is just bad - narrow, bumpy and lots of stops.

So I've started exploring the on-road routes to work. There's a nice run through Royal Park and through the CBD where I can cruise along at 40kph most of the way. Being able to keep up with rush hour motorists when they're moving, and still being narrow enough to filter through gaps is brilliant. To overtake cyclists in the bike lane I have taken to moving out into motor traffic rather than slow down, wait for a chance, then overtake. As I get more confident I'm riding in traffic more.

At traffic lights I do accelerate more slowly than athletic cyclists, but if I let them get past me I just have to pass them again (sort of like car drivers feel about cyclists). So I've taken to going really hard out of the lights to stay ahead of them, which leads to entertainment when someone tries to chase me. One guy on a single speed stayed with me at 40kph for nearly a kilometre the other day. 40kph is not bad at all for a single speed! I wasn't working anywhere near as hard as he was once I got rolling :)

Through the CBD grid of streets is quite fun. It's generally downhill, and I need to move a couple of blocks to the right as I go through the grid (Australia drives on the left). So I do the cyclist trick of making right hand turns at red lights (with the pedestrians), then leaping back onto the road when the lights change to keep ahead of the pedestrians.

There's a section at the end of the CBD run where there's no bike lanes, 3 or 4 lanes of traffic and it's all moving 40-50kph. There is an alternative route for bikes, but it's longer and slower. So I just mix it up with the cars and that works pretty well. When I get lucky with the lights I can get to work in a little over 20 minutes, about 2/3rds my best time on the upright.

While I'm complaining about bike paths, here's the worst spot on the Moonee Ponds Creek path (for cyclists, anyway):,144.936929&z=21&t=h&nmd=20100711 Note that the right hand side as you come out from under the bridge is a good 3 or 4 metres lower than the left hand exit. The right hand turn coming out from under the bridge is also viciously off camber, and leads into a short, steep climb. Or you can go straight ahead at that point - I posted video the other day of me coming the other way and exiting up the ramp and under the bridge. But the low route is slippery (there's water trickling down and moss on the path), and if you slide you end up in the water. On the upright I take the longer, higher route. On the velomobile... it's much more fun.