This is the story of the Sail Bike, a tandem sailing bicycle. Built with limited resources and time, it actually worked pretty well, and gave me a few ideas on how to improve it next time. It was a lot of fun to sail, and also a lot of fun to bike. Got a lot of great feed back from interested people at burning man. Sailing it by myself at dusk across the open playa, was like being on a martian desert, and one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
Note: I have included hotlinks to definitions to words the layman might not know, if you see a highlighted word/link.
What was the sail bike?
Two cheap beach cruisers bolted to a custom metal frame. Steering linked with ackerman steering.
A rotating windsurfing mast mounted between them. A dinghy jib cut down and used as the loose footed roller furling main sail.
Why make the sail bike?
For years i had been to burning man and wanted to sail across the desert. As an avid sailor, the freedom and expansiveness of the playa as well as the constant wind made for great conditions. At one point last year i sat down and drew a sketchup of what i thought it might look like, and actually pretty much stuck with that vision. I had a much bigger much more time consuming project going this last year for the burn and built the sail bike as almost an after thought, so i didn't put as much time or energy or resources as i would have liked, but it turned out pretty well regardless. I actually built a good percentage of the project actually on the playa in the dark with an angle grinder and a little 110 mig.
How did it work?
My goals were to be able to sail on a broad reach, and bike anywhere I wanted, if it could go upwind that would be awesome, but I wasn't holding my breath. Mostly I was hoping for any sort of "sail assist". In the end, it would go to weather pretty well, could fly a "hull" both upwind and down, and generally hauled ass. Flying a hull down wind was incredible, as i could go lower and faster, the more the apparent wind came forward.
With two people I had to reef the sail half way so my friends could keep up on regular bikes on a reach. I was very happy with the performance. The brakes built into the bikes, as well as just general boat handling kept it safe, and it actually felt very stable while flying a hull. If you're familiar with catamaran sailing then you know the feeling of playing the main and tiller to keep it flying. I would absolutely build another and improve on this design, it was so much fun.
A note on Burning man regulations regarding sail craft.
Some people might be wondering about Burning man regulations regarding sail vehicles, and how mine fit in to those rules. Lets just say that I saw and talked to hundreds of police and Black Rock Rangers and interested burners, and not a single person even hinted that they thought it might not be safe or allowed at the burn. I did my utmost to sail it safely, and took the responsibility of being an ambassador of sailing very seriously. I would love to see more sailing vehicles on the playa, and I think as long as they are piloted safely and responsibly it would be a match made in heaven.
Ok on to the tech!