Seriously boys, what.is.the.point?

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a CIA cyborg on my back

Like any sane cyclist, I’ve always considered tandems a lose-lose situation. Sit on the back and the wind in your face is filtered through your companion’s armpits. Sit on the front and there’s nothing to stop your partner freewheeling while you pedal for two.

If I’m going to swing my leg over a tandem, I need a guarantee that my other half is doing their fair share of the legwork. And the solution to this particular tandem problem lives on Bainbridge Island near Seattle and is called Joules.
Joules is happy taking the back seat, he promises to ride for hours without complaint and has legs of steel. Actually, they’re mostly aluminium. Joules is the world’s first tandem-riding robot, the creation of retiree Carl Morgan. Like me, Morgan is a keen cyclist and a born cynic. “On a tandem, I always had the vague suspicion that the other person wasn’t doing their job,” he says. Unlike me, though, Morgan used to be an engineer with the CIA and had the technical skills to solve the problem. Three months and $3,500 later, Morgan rolled a tandem cyborg out of his private workshop.

Joules’s metal muscles are driven by a 14bhp electric motor and powered by a bank of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. A drive chain links them to Joules’s elegant aluminium legs, which are fixed to the tandem’s pedals. A control on the handlebars turns Joules on and off, and a motorbike-style twist throttle governs his speed.

Looking at Joules, I had an image of cruising serenely around Seattle; uphill, downhill — it wouldn’t matter. All I would need to do was turn an occasional, lethargic pedal then freewheel as Joules behind me kept up the tempo like an enthusiastic labrador. I could hardly wait to get started.
I clambered aboard and flicked the power switch. Joules surged smoothly into life, driving the pedals relentlessly in the workshop. Morgan placed a hand on my shoulder and said there were one or two things I ought to be aware of before I set off. “Joules will go up to around 40mph,” he said casually. “And he’ll keep going at that speed for about 40 miles — so keep him under control.” I nodded, but Morgan kept his hand on my shoulder. “One other thing: the brakes don’t work. Well, they work but they can’t stop the bike against the motor. Joules is as powerful as a rhinoceros.”

Wait a second. CIA background. High-tech project. Secluded island laboratory. Is Joules a kind of weapon for dispatching enemy spies? The faint whine from Joules’s motor took on a sinister air. One more thing, said Morgan: “Joules has a high centre of gravity, he’s just not stable. I once rode the bike without training wheels, but never again.”

I stepped back from the bike and made my excuses. An android tandem cycling partner is a great idea but it also appears to be a risky one. I promised to come back and ride with him when the training wheels were fitted.

So you want to roll around the countryside with minimum of effort. You build a freaking TANDEM with some seriously spastic looking thing on the back and nail it to the pedals.

I’m really shaking my head here.

Motor scooters? Electric motor scooters if you want quiet?

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