Me, hella schweebing
Anyhow, one of my much anticipated highlights of the trip to NZ was a chance to ride the Schweeb at Argoventures in Rotorua. Schweeb lately has been the source of much press and online ridicule as it got a google investment and a wired article as the "future of transportation!".
It is basically a hanging recumbent monorail. It is fun to ride. It is really fun to ride really fast. I am not impressed with it as the future of sustainable transportation as you can't ride a monorail faster than the dude in front of you. And then they would just add a motor to it anyway and then it would become a singlepod monorail. But as a fun race around real fast type thing, it was an absolute blast. In fairness to Schweeb, check out their FAQ which more or less address most of the criticisms to a point. I am not here to conduct a critique on this as a transportation alternative, as the Schweeb in rotorua is merely a carnival game as a concept demonstration, so check out the Schweeb website and read away.
It is billed as the first cycling monorail, but there is at least a currently operating clunky themepark one in the UK
There was also both a above and below rail cycling monorail in Smithville NJ in the late 1800's:
I have also heard of them in Japan. Kolelinia is a concept for a regular bike on a monorail, sort of a single rail railbike if you will. Anyhow, onto the schweeb!
Schweeb Scorching in Flip Flops
The schweeb is a recumbent in a pod with a track overhead. It has a simple seat, narrow bars and then a normal crank with a single chainring and a 7 speed IG hub that has a second chain on the non drive side that runs up to some sort of powertransfer mechanism between the schweeb and track. I completely forgot to ask or poke around in the drive mechanism, so I will just say it magically drives the schweeb pod around the track.
New Zealand is a country of extreme sports opportunities. Everywhere you go there is BungyJumping, sky diving, jet boating, cave rafting, etc. etc. etc. Argoventures has most of these plus giant inflatable hampster balls to roll downhill in. And the Schweeb! While there was a steady stream of bungy jumpers, swoopers and jet boaters at Argoventures that day, I was the only Schweeber. As Elena overheard some onlookers say, "that looks like exercise". However, the Agroventures is connected with the Agrodome that features a spectacularly interesting sheep show, which I can't recommend enough. Aida got to see so many sheep and lambs that her head almost exploded.
Aida and I and the mighty Merino and other lesser sheeps
Prices at Agroventures were not too cheap, Schweeb cost $39 NZD for one ride, it was the cheapest ride there, other rides were $49 or more. Fortunately I had a $5 NZD ticket for the Schweeb as part of the Single Speed World Championships, so I took advantage of it. I did spend a further $35 NZD for the photo/video package so I can share the schweebishness with you, my small yet loyal handful of blog readers. The track is a 200m oval with dual tracks with two small hill/crossover features so you could race two up on a similar length track.
They had a Schweeb contest as part of the SSWC, but I was not in town early enough for that, but they ran my race the same way they did for the race party night. One lap to get up to speed and a flying start for 3 laps. They recommended get rolling for half a lap and then crank it for the start line then keep on pedaling. They also recommended keeping it in gear 4 or 5 max.
Pre race looking good
So they took an elegant portrait of me sitting on the track, I stood against a height gauge so they could set the seat for me. Note this is what I was riding in, long shirt, shorts and flip flops. It was not too hot or sweaty. I climbed in the pod, they took another photo, they locked me into the pod, then pulled the pod back and pushed me off the start line and I started pedaling. I started in first, got around the first turn and then ramped it up and started pedaling hard.
Floating in my tin can
As I got going I was surprised how much the pod banked on turns and wobbled coming out of turns. It was difficult for me to go all out the first lap as I had no idea what to expect and the banking and wobbling was a bit unsettling. By the second lap I figured out that I was not going to rip the pod off the track so I tried riding faster. It was a weird experience. It was hard to tell where I was on the track. The up and down at the crossovers were at first disconcerting and then fun. The wobblyness turned into uncontrolled slamming back and forth as I got to higher speed. Clearly some leaning was in order, but as I had no idea where the turns were or how to compensate, I did not even try.
Banking hard through the start finish
When I finally got my rhythm the race was over, I finished 600m in 57.8 seconds, as a contrast, SSWC race winner Garth Weinberg also set the schweeb record at 51 seconds. My time is an equivalent average speed of 23mph, Garths was about 26mph. My best standing start kilo time on the track was about a 30mph average, I think my best standing 500 was around a 28mph average. Now I am not in that kind of shape anymore, but I a bit surprised that it was not possible to far exceed that with a flying start on the super aerodynamic aeropod, if not by me, certainly by Garth.
Finally, when I climbed out of the pod I could barely walk as my quads were so pumped up. I used to ride lots of recumbents when i was on the UC Berkeley HPV team, but had not been on one in over a decade, so I forgot how different it was to ride hard on a recumbent. I would love to see how Sam Whittingham or some similarly well trained HPV'er would do on this.
In conclusion, this was a blast, I wish I could ride it again to get the hang of it, I am pretty sure I could easily shave a second per lap, especially with some confidence that I wasn't going to break it and with some strategic leaning. Most of the photos above with the exception of the first video (shot by Elena) were from the photo package I bought. Now here is the video they shot with the in pod camera while I was racing. The footage of me is interspersed with stock footage of exterior view video, but it is still fun to watch. As has been pointed out, I make funny faces, so watch away!