Picking up the Borealis; or: To Canada and back (the hard way….)

Ever since I first came across the concept, the idea of a velomobile greatly appealed to me. Riding a bike is my preferred method of getting around, but having to dress up for the weather even if you only have a short journey gets tedious; as does getting cold and wet….. Now that I am settled in Oregon I have these conditions to deal with on my daily commute, and so I had started to investigate how I could have a velomobile in my life. Unfortunately the beasties are incredibly expensive, due to basically being a cottage industry in Europe, not to mention the long waiting lists to get one. One option was to build my own, but although my job at Bike Friday gives me access to a great workshop, it also sucks up a lot of my time! But when I had a near-death experience last winter involving a hill, sheet ice and a large truck (I was remarkably unscathed; my bike however was rather squashed), getting myself on three wheels became a necessity rather than a luxury. In a chat with Sam Whittingham he mentioned a kayak maker in British Columbia who had been playing with Velomobile design. Shortly after hearing this the ICE Borealis was released to the public. Given that I had a connection and (in US terms), Canada was just up the road, I contacted Steve to see if he might need a beta tester or if he had any ideas on helping me get a vehicle. With over 80 orders already, and the final production shell not yet ready, it wasn’t looking too promising. But then Steve came up with a plan – he had been commuting in the 2nd prototype for some months, but needed to be using the latest version, so offered to sell me his bike once he had a replacement built. An offer which I gratefully accepted. I initially had the idea that it would be fun to ride the bike down from Canada, but didn’t really have the time to spare. However, shipping was going to be a lot, and we had a little slow-down period at work, so I planned a whistle-stop four day trip – one day to get to Vancouver by train, and three days to ride the 450 miles back…..

Thursday 4th December
Up at stupid o’clock in the morning to get the 5:30am train. Incredibly kindly, my colleague Chris was also at the station to lend me some maps he had promised earlier but forgotten to bring into work; these would come in very useful later…. I was able to doze on a lot of the train to Seattle, plus study the maps for the upcoming epic ride back home. From there it was onto a bus for the leg to Vancouver – interesting crossing the border by bus, we all had to get off with our belongings and walk through to be inspected. I of course held things up with having to get my foreign passport stamped. Then on, and remarkable enough we arrived in Vancouver exactly on time. Which gave me precisely 30 minutes to walk across town to the other station to catch the commuter train out to Maple Ridge. It felt very sketchy walking through that part of town – very run down, lots of dodgy looking people on the streets and more smell of pot than I have ever come across in a public place before! But, I got to the waterfront station safely and on time, and boarded the crowded train for the final leg of a long day of traveling. At the station I was met by Steve and Jan, who took me out for a lovely meal at an Indian restaurant. Then Steve and I headed to the Nimbus shop to get the bike set up. This took some time, and when we left Tim hadn’t arrived to finish sorting the lights; hopefully he would have them done for my intended 7am departure….. Finally got to bed about midnight.

Friday 5th December
The alarm was a rude awakening at 6am, but time for breakfast and then heading back to the shop before 7, all ready to go. But unfortunately Tim didn’t have the lights ready yet. I was eventually able to leave a bit before 9am, with the first thing being a short ferry ride over the river. Then it was off into the morning traffic heading towards the border. Here I parked outside and went in to be processed – all the staff loved the bike, but the guy checking my passport was either being a smart-ass or was taking things far too seriously. Upon obtaining my occupation as a mechanical engineer he asked me to name two of Newton’s three laws in order to prove it! Once I had passed this test I was back on the road to pick my way South towards Bellingham; somewhere along the way I got off my route (and hence my map) and ended up just following I5 as best as the back roads allowed. Some of these were very rough, which made for noisy, slow going. At one point a truck driver passed me, then stopped ahead to flag me down and ask about the bike – handily I was able to ask for directions for the best route through town too. I got through town and back on route, but then I came to signs announcing a road closure and a diversion. Not being sure what to do – I’ve found in the past that sometimes cyclists can get through road works, but this was five miles ahead so I couldn’t tell – I asked a passing walker who informed me that there had been a big road slip and there wasn’t a way through – I would have to follow the diversion. Which went up. And up. And up some more…. And then, as always tends to happen, a junction and no more diversion signs. I took a couple of educated guesses before catching two cyclists who fortunately were able to furnish me with details to get back on track. Having started two hours late, I was just pushing on with no real stops except for bladder relief and route finding; I had a supply of energy bars to keep the fuel levels up. Rt20, when I got to it, was busy and had a good shoulder. But going over a bridge, I was unable to miss a brick in the road – missed it with the front wheels but SLAM! The rear wheel nailed it at over 30mph. I felt sure I must have at least flatted, if not totaled the rim – but incredibly the suspension took the sting out and all was fine. The bike handles nicely, very stable, although gusty crosswinds on the downhills make it twitch a bit. Then more road works! And a special bike diversion – fortunately this time with great signing. Beautiful views across the ocean and islands, and one very steep climb that required the granny gear for the first time – the chain promptly dropped all the way off, but not too big a deal on a trike! I finally got to the ferry after seven hours and 120 miles, just before the light faded completely. I had an hour to wait, so grabbed some food – with the restaurant having chips actually called chips instead of fries! After the ferry trip, I rolled into Port Townsend and found a motel and the grocery store. The Borealis just fit through the door, and I was ready for some sleep….
190.1km, 7 hours 11 minutes, 26.4km/h average, 71.6km/h max.

> Saturday 6th December
Breakfast was served at 7am, so I was up at 6:40; was wheeling the bike out and discovered a flat front tyre. Handy not having to take the wheel off, I just put a spare tube in, but had to pump it up a couple of times in order to get it to seat properly. I knocked some breakfast back and was on the road at 7:30, when it was just about light. Heavy roads (and legs…) – long ups and rollers, very slow going. Eventually 101 got a bit faster, but with a headwind. Nice surface and almost no traffic though. The bike is way undergeared – I could only pedal up to 30mph, which meant I struggled to carry momentum on the rollers. Pretty cold all morning, foggy too. My toes were getting very cold, so I added plastic bags inside my shoes, which helped. Nice scenery, but it was a bit dull just pedaling on the one road with no navigating to do. 101 eventually turned into a busy dual carriageway which wasn’t very fun, especially when I missed the turn off to the quiet parallel road. Ah well, rolled into Olympia and found a Subway for a late lunch. Whilst waiting at a very long stop light, there were plenty of folks slowing down to stare at the vehicle, to the point of holding up traffic! One sandwich later I was back on the road and over some steep little climbs to get across town. Then onwards South to Centralia just as the sun was going down. I found a pretty cheesy motel, where unfortunately the bike wouldn’t fit through the door, so I had to chain it up outside. Pizza for dinner and early to bed.

Now, the plan had to been to have gotten to Portland by Saturday night; the lack of daylight, lack of fitness, leaving BC late and being slower than expected meant I was about 100 miles behind schedule – I had called Misha on Friday night to this effect, and with much effort of organising, she had managed to arrange to borrow a truck on Sunday and thus would meet me in Portland then to drive me the last 100 miles back to Eugene.
197.6km, 7 hours 52 minutes, 25.0km/h average, 83.3km/h max.

Sunday 7th December
Up at 6am and on the road (in the dark) before 7. When I first looked out side I thought ‘oh cr*p, it’s raining’. But then remembered that I had my enclosed bike and it didn’t matter! Being a Sunday all was quiet and I made my way South, once again paralleling I5 on the back roads. By 10am I was in Kelso and made a quick call home to check on timing for meeting up. Then it was over the very steep, narrow bridge over the Columbia gorge, which set me up on Rt30 for 50 miles into Portland. I made another Subway stop for refueling, then trundled off once more. Somewhere along the way, a guy on a road bike caught and passed me on a little rise. I wasn’t too happy with that, so I picked up the pace and went back past him on the next downhill, then kept cranking to try and stay away. He got back on my wheel over the next hill, but when I got away after that I held the gap. I had to keep working for it though, so was happy when it appeared he had turned off and I could relax a little – tough going hard after six hours, not to mention the 15 hours over the previous two days…. Then a bit later he reappeared behind me and we spoke – turned out his mudguard had started rubbing so he had stopped to adjust it. We chatted as we rode into town, before I spun off to cross over the river and pick my way through the streets to our friends’ house and my waiting wife. The Borealis was a bit long for the truck, but I got it strapped down and we got home safely.
168.4km, 6 hours 46 minutes, 24.8km/h average, 68.3km/h max.