Vehicle Incarnations

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The Tomato Years (1996–1998)
1996 • • 1997 • • 1998
Seattle Bike Expo Story
This was a February weekend not to be forgotten. The Seattle Bike Expo was interesting—mostly as an indication of how far behind the technology all of my bicycle equipment is. I saw a bunch of newer styles of stuff that I can't imagine folks actually using, so maybe there is still a shakeout period going on with some of it (radial spoked road wheels, for instance?).
Getting There is Half the Fun
How conspicuous might you feel on Interstate 5 hauling an eight-foot tall, very red vehicle, with the words Killer Tomato painted on the wheels? The five-hour drive brought hours of amusement to us as we watched gawkers pass us by.
Tomato Turnover
We arrived at the Expo and unloaded the vehicle. Perhaps it was the long ride. Maybe it was the pride I felt watching folks stare at the vehicle as they passed us in their faster-moving cars. Maybe I was having a relapse back to my childhood. Regardless, I decided that I'd try riding it against a wall to find out if I could flip over—like a hamster in a cage.

My wife (and others) got their cameras ready. I buckled myself in as tight as I could. I pedaled up against a wall in the arena. The vehicle stopped. With all my might, I kept peddling. First my feet, then knees were higher than my head. This was real work!

About the time my butt was higher than my head, the wise words of comedian, Gallager, crossed my mind. "Adults should never let their butt get higher than their head."

The hard, concrete floor of the arena was in view as I looked "up." All my blood was in my face and it matched the bright red of the vehicle paint. Peddling was hard. The crowds were cheering. Afterall, everyone likes a disaster. Right?

A few more very hard strokes and...I did it. The crowds roared. I was now equal with little rodents who live in cages.

The crowd wanted more. I did it 4 more times. I got used to when and how hard to hit the brakes as I went over the center point on the top and also figured out how to keep from falling away from the pedals so much.

The biggest problem is that after going over, the vehicle has momentum in reverse and doesn't coast backwards. I learned that I have to remember to back pedal a lot to keep from swinging way forward again (because of the brakes holding me in position) and avoid ending up with too much forward momentum at the end and being sent crashing back into the wall. Not that the crowd wouldn't have like that stunt, mind you.

Because it was relatively easy and apparently looked pretty cool, I performed this stunt during our arena show for the public scheduled for the next day. All went well.

Taking the Tomato for a Stroll
Sunday was a beautiful day in Seattle and after lunch we, KSR pilots, decided to take our vehicles out of the arena and ride them around the Pacific Science Center. We had to circumvent the barriers designed to keep autos out of the central area, but that wasn't too tough.

Lutefisk was able to squeeze between the concrete planters where the people walk but it was too narrow for me, I carefully snuck one of the posts between the wheel and the inside frame and got through.

Muckle Flugga (at right) went over the top of the posts!

We rode around the fountain and paths, much to the delight of the crowds, but an anal cop spotted Muckle Flugga and threatened to ticket all of us for having unauthorized vehicles in the area.

Too bad he didn't try to nail me, or I'd have had some fun with him,"But officer bicycles are allowed in here—I'm just an over-grown bicycle. See my two wheels?"

Haste Makes Paste <Return to Top>
Nonetheless, we departed the central plaza and headed back toward the arena. We decided to not go back the way we'd come, but rather use an access ramp to the arena that we hadn't ridden up because it was quite steep. It was still steep, but now the direction was downhill.

I had some trouble with a tire (sheared the valve core off when it walked around the rim) before getting to the ramp. As a result, I had fallen behind the others. As I approached the top of the ramp, I contemplated whether to try it or not. It was really steep. My cockiness was in rare form, so I decided to go for it.

I belted myself in and started down as slowly as I could. It was immediately obvious that the brakes weren't nearly enough to slow me on this slope. I was definitely spun way back on the frame and in danger of going over—against my will.

At about this point in the acceleration downhill, I realized I had another problem. While, indeed, the ramp was straight it was now quite obvious that there was not enough room at the bottom to stop and avoid a chain link fence and a collection of dumpsters.

Dumpster Diving
The ramp was bordered by a dirt bank (rising up) on both sides that was partially covered with brush. At the bottom of the bank on the left side (the direction of the necessary turn at the bottom) was a bit of a ditch and a couple of galvanized trash cans.

By the time these important observations were being grasped, I was half way down the ramp and travelling about 15 mph (wild guess). I was aware of drifting to the left and was trying to steer back to straight, but riding the brakes full on, the steering wasn't effective.

I clearly was trying real hard now to correct the direction and at about 2/3 of the way down, the stresses blew the steering chains off.

At the time, I was unaware of my loss of steering ability. Instead, I was desperately trying to avoid the hazards on the left (ditch and trash cans), and immediately ahead, (chainlink fencing and dumpsters). I really wanted to slow down and regain control. Gravity is an interesting force.

Obviously, letting up on one brake to control steering was not an option (nor could I have processed which handle to let up on quickly enough). Of my options, left was better than straight ahead.

As I went up the left bank with the left wheel I was turned (this was purely luck) just enough to miss the trash cans and the ditch, but was now seriously worried about the fact that I was tipped onto its right side. I later learned from a speechless observer (who remained in that condition for quite sometime) of my deployment down the ramp that I was tilted about 20–30° onto the right wheel. All I knew at the time was that it felt like a lot. I was fearful that the whole machine was about to self-destruct from too much side loading on the right wheel. Mind you, that seatbelt didn't seem to offer much comfort or resolve.

The Good News The Bad News
At about this time, the brakes really grabbed hold. I went completely over—out of control and at high speed.
Kinetic Karma <Return to Top>
Perhaps the brakes didn't grab? Maybe some portion of the vehicle (pedals or handlebars) hit the uneven ground and gave me an extra push over? I'll never know.

After the 360° roll, I realized that I was high in front, facing forward (not down), slowing nicely, and well away from the dumpsters. Hal (from Lutefisk) had been walking back to see if I needed some help when he witnessed me coming down. He was the speechless observer I mentioned earlier.

He stood in awe (or was it terror?) as I came to a halt, unbuckled and stepped away (a good landing is one you walk away from-right?). The flat tire had come completely loose and was limply draped around the rim, frame etc. Two detached steering chains dangled below the drive mechanism. The right wheel stood at an unnatural angle. Inspection showed that the weld holding the axle to the plate that attaches the wheel to the rest of the frame had bent/broken partially.

The price of showing off
The bend threw everything out of kilter. Fortunately, the vehicle was still moveable. So, we loaded it onto the trailer and hauled the mangled machine back home.

I always suspected that this weld/arrangement was a weak point and this proved it. However, I was very pleasantly surprised that it held up under the extreme side load that it was subjected to. There was no other obvious damage. During the long drive home, I gave thought to making the welds more robust. I hoped only simple repairs were needed.

Killer Tomato Rules!
In retrospect, going upside down under extreme braking wasn't that bad. It was the side hill, garbage cans, dumpsters, and loss of steering that were far more worrisome at the time. I'm sure that centripital forces were helping me. I never felt as though I would fall out of the machine. Under the controlled pedaling demonstration for the crowds in the arena, however, I did feel I would fall out.
Show me the pictures <Return to Top>
Unfortunately, there were no cameras on hand at the ramp, to record the event and only two witnesses besides myself. Fortunately, Hal has regained his composure and now can talk about what he witnessed. He does, however, have a noticable flinching reflex when the words Killer Tomato and ramp are used in the same sentence.
Q: Where do you go when you need BIG BIKE parts?

A: To your favorite bike shop—where else?

In this case, Bob stopped by Scott's Cycle in downtown Salem enroute to a race in Port Townsend, WA. Scott's Cycle owner, and Bob's former boss ages ago, Larry Lewis, runs a kinetic-friendly bike shop. This probably explains Bob's affinity toward building a bigger and better human-powered mode of transportation.

The permanently affixed foam paddles didn't offer enough surface area to tread through the Port Townsend Bay's currents. Swing-out aluminum paddles were fashioned. It was a fashion that didn't survive the water.
Cool Fool <Return to Top>
Floating down rivers is one thing—the ocean is another! The paddles didn't offer enough propulsion to get Bob to the take out before his TUSH became numb from sitting in cold seawater.
Lean Mean Exercise Machine
Ever wonder why there are handle bars out on the front of the frame? Study the photo carefully and you'll learn the secret:
Road Trip <Return to Top>
The road portion of the PT race gives pit crew a chance to keep the pilot company.

Few spectators have the stamina nor inclination to bike the entire route. Note the added flotation under Bob's seat. Too bad it didn't offer him more lift in the sea!

Nordic Travelers
Fellow racers, Paul Vibrans and Jim Short (Paul's friend from high school), spread Lutefisk joy throughout the Port Townsend countryside.
Spreading Cheer
Ah, the miracle of cheap paint!

As the seasons change, so does the color of the Tomato. The day after Thanksgiving, Corvallis hosts a community Christmas Parade. Even human-powered, all-terrain vehicles get into the spirit of Christmas (as well as elementary chemistry).

The Christmas parade marks the end of a year of kinetic frolic. Soon, the annual kinetic sculpture workshop will rekindle rusting gears.

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Updated: 11/6/06

© 2001 by S. Clark