2013-08-02 / Columnists


By Rick Horan

We’re shifting gears this week from macro ideas like Rockaway seceding from New York City to a more gadget oriented one. It costs less, can be done in an afternoon and is a lot more fun.

Some of you may have seen me riding around the neighborhood on a strange looking bicycle. It’s a recumbent bike, sort of like a Lazy Boy chair with wheels. The pedals are located ahead of the front wheel and the handlebars are under the seat.

All in all it’s a strange looking contraption. The chains (there are two) are hidden inside the aluminum frame as is the 14 speed transmission, just behind the seat. The reason for buying the bike was not to attract attention, although it does do that, but rather to enjoy a comfortable ride.

Long bike trips on upright (diamond frame) bikes usually ended with pain in all the usual places, neck, wrists, butt, lower back, etc. Since getting the recumbent there is no pain at all, no matter how far I ride. Problem solved.

GreenMachine with fairing retracted. GreenMachine with fairing retracted. The bike, called the GreenMachine, is handmade by Flevobike Technologies in Holland. In fact when I went over there to buy mine four years ago I became the North American importer, in case anyone wants to buy one. Caution, they only make about 150 of them a year, so they’re rather expensive.

Recumbents are nothing new; they began appearing in one form or other in the late 1800s. Besides their ergonomic advantages, they proved to be faster than “regular” bikes, primarily because of their streamlined shape.

This speed advantage (a recumbent holds the world speed record of 82 mph for a bicycle), got them banned from racing by the Union Cyclist International in 1934. This is why you don’t see them in races like the Tour de France.

One of the things that can make recumbents even faster is “fairing,” essentially aerodynamic bodywork that reduces the bike’s air resistance.

Fairing can cover part of the bike or the whole thing, but it is expensive, bulky and permanent, which is why you don’t see it much.

So I begin to wonder if I could make a fairing out of a clear umbrella, mounted just in front of the pedals, that was easily removable. It would be cheap (like me) and I could deploy only when needed? Hmmm, it just might work!

Now I needed a prototype to test. After some research I bought a 40” model for $22 on EBay. I decided to make the umbrella more of a streamlined oval rather than a big round air dam.

This was accomplished with a few strands of weed whacker monofilament that I picked up at Browns.

The collapsed umbrella was mounted to the top of the frame using bungee cords and out of the way when not in use.

GreenMachine and Rick. GreenMachine and Rick. For the test I rode the bike to Beach 129th Street where the umbrella, er…fairing, was opened up. I had to admit that it looked like something from Mary Poppins, but I reminded myself that this was for science.

I pedaled west along the Boulevard, getting even stranger looks than usual.

When I dismounted at Riis Park I assessed the results: the umbrella made it hot as it blocked the breeze, hampered visibility, looked ridiculous, but worst of all, made it harder to pedal than without it.

You could say the test was a flop because the idea didn’t work.

On the other hand, I learned that making an aerodynamic fairing takes more engineering than just pushing air out of the way.

You need to carefully control how the air flows around the entire vehicle. And I got a bonus, a nice umbrella which I can use the next time it rains.

What’s your idea! RickHoran- @ideasimprov.com

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