BikeCar: The Movie

[[image:bikecar_mini.jpg::inline:1]] A few beers, a crazy suggestion and Walla! We have a road trip movie about four guys who take a month long snowboarding trip in a pedal powered car.


Published March 20th, 2007 by C.I.C.L.E.
Contributed by Liz Elliott


A few beers, a crazy suggestion and Walla! We have a road trip movie about four guys who take a month long snowboarding trip in a pedal powered car. It's not some Hollywood schlock staring today’s latest up and coming heartthrobs, it's an actual documentary of…well four guys who decide to take a snowboarding trip in a pedal powered car.

We at C.I.C.L.E of course being big HPV (Human Powered Vehicles) fans just had to know more, so we contacted JT Fountain (one of da' guys) who gave us some juicy information on how all this came about and what it's like to haul a half ton up a mountain pass by bike.

Q: What was the motivation for building a BikeCar? You guys obviously love to snowboard, but are you into HPV (human powered vehicles) too, or cycling?

A: We were motivated by the idea of taking a crazy, pedal powered adventure. My brother Louie, who was one of the bikecar pedalers/boarders, and I are both avid cyclists. We grew up BMX racing and then got into BMX freestyle. Now we're also into mountain bike racing, road riding and fixed gear bikes. We like anything you can pedal. Scotty (Wittlake), who was also one of the pedalers/boarders, used to be a pro snowboarder but now works as a bike messenger in Portland. Since the trip, Travis (Parker), who was the third pedaler/boarder has also become a big cycling enthusiast. The whole idea started out as a joke in a conversation between Louie, Scotty and Travis after a day of snowboarding on Mount Hood. They were talking about the idea of riding bikes from Portland up to Hood to snowboard, and it was in this conversation that the idea of a pedal powered car came up…as a joke. Somehow, this joke became a reality.

Q: I have actually been wanting a BikeCar for a while, but it’s hard to find an HPV that sits two people. There’s the Twike but it is electric assist, expensive ($20K) and not street legal yet in the US (it’s imported from Europe). It also requires insurance since it can go 55MPV…Now you fellows built your own, how much did it cost? And did you have any run- ins with the law with regards to its street legal status?

A: Yeah, bikecars are hard to come by. I believe I spent around $4000 in materials to build it.

We had a few encounters with the law, but they were all positive. None of the officers ever disputed the fact that we were on the roadways except for once. We were entering the freeway in Spokane Washington and got a warning. It's totally legal to take human powered vehicles on the freeways, but not within city limits. The law says you have to have a slow moving vehicle sign (the orange triangle) on the vehicle and that's it…street legal. But yeah, most of the officers we encountered where just curious about what we were up to in this crazy contraption.

Q: What is it like traveling in the Bike Car with four people? You are also hauling a long bed trailer with all your gear right? What is that like… going up those long mountain passes?

A: It was really fun going down the road with three other people in a contraption I built with my own two hands. Actually, at first it was scary, especially going down our first big hill. But the more miles we put behind us, the more I gained confidence in my design and workmanship. It was especially gratifying when we made it to our final destination. At that point I think we were all amazed that the bikecar held up for the full duration of the trip. We only had a handful of flat tires and a few broken spokes. We also had to do some maintenance of the drive train and brakes, which was to be expected. Going uphill in the bikecar was tough. With the trailer and all our gear, we had a lot of weight. And going uphill was when we'd really feel all that weight. At one point in the trip we took the bikecar through a semi-truck weight station to see how much it weighed. We did the math and figured it was the equivalent of each of us riding bikes that weighed 150 pounds each. So yeah, going up those mountain passes was pretty torturing, but boy did it make us appreciate getting to the top! [[image:almost-finished-2–x-unkno.jpg::right:1]]

Q: Did you ever need snow chains?

A: I'll leave that one to be answered by the movie.

Q: How heavy is the car, and how fast can you get it going?

A: The car itself is about 400 pounds. The trailer fully loaded, about 200 pounds. And with the four of us being about 150 pounds each, that equaled about 1200 pounds going downhill…fast! Fortunately, I built the bikecar with one brake on each wheel, which was barely enough to get us stopped at times. Some of the pre-existing designs only had one brake, so I'm glad I built it with what I thought at the time was overkill. Our top speed going downhill was 37mph…and I believe that was on the brakes. I'm sure we could Have gone faster, but it was already scary enough as it was

Q: What materials did you use to build it? Who designed it? And how long did it take to build?

A: Originally, we had planned to purchase one from a one of the few companies out there that produces them. The closest thing to what we needed that I found was a four seater, but only the two people in the front could pedal. We planned to get one of these and modify it so all four people could pedal. But then I found out there was a waiting list and wouldn't be able to get one in time, so I decided to build it myself. A lot of time was spent just thinking about how the design and what would work best.

It was quite a big task building the car, but I'm really glad I decided to. It was a project in itself over four months of working on in part time. I probably spent a full two months working on it. I basically learned as I went. I had the benefit of using my Dad's workshop and tools. He helped me quite a bit as did Louie (my brother). I had the chassis welded by a professional and also some machining work done to have some custom parts.

The main chassis was made from 2 inch square steel tubing. We considered using aluminum to save weight, but decided to go with steel because it had more flex and would provide a smoother ride.

[[image:bikecar.jpg::left:1]] For the frame of the body/enclosure, we used 1 inch square aluminum tubing. Some of it was welded, but most was riveted. The outer material was foam core/foam board…the same material architects use for building models. I was going to use a pvc plastic, but opted for the foam board because it's extremely lightweight and surprisingly strong. The drawback to this material is it can't take an impact as well, so we had to be somewhat carefully with it. At one point in the trip we ran over a piece of metal road debris which bounced up underneath and puncture a hole in the back end of the bikecar on it's way out. The other issue with foam board is that it's prone to water damage. I sprayed foam board test samples with a clear coating which kept the water out, but on the actually bikecar, the water somehow penetrated the surface on the roof of the vehicle where the water had a tendency to pool. We covered the roof with a layer of contact paper and that seemed to do the job.
The front window was plexi-glass and the side windows were clear vinyl.

Q: So what is it like pulling up to a ski resort? What kind of reaction do you get?

A: Pulling up to the ski resorts was a really good feeling. Every time we made it to another resort, it felt like quite an accomplishment. We especially felt that way when we made it to our first resort. At that point, we felt like the trip was officially a success. We had built a bikecar, pedaled it to snow, and gone snowboarding. Every mile we traveled and every ski hill we made it to after that was just a bonus.

As far as reactions from people when we pulled up to resorts, it was great! We got a lot of cheers and honks from cars…total encouragement.

Q: What’s the experience on the road too, how do motorists treat you? [[image:snow-bikecar-jt.jpg::right:1]]

A: People were great on the road as well. Even when we'd hold up traffic, people didn't seem outwardly angry. In fact, when people we were holding up would finally pass us, they'd usually give friendly honks and waves. And some people looked at us with blank stares as if they were totally confused by what they were seeing. From behind, people couldn't tell what kind of vehicle they were seeing. It wasn't until they pulled up beside us that they could see four guys pedaling inside.

Q: How has the BikeCar project influenced your lives? Think you will keep using the BikeCar?

A: I've g
ained a lot from this project. I've learned to multi-task like a mad man, design, build, weld, fabricate and compromise. I've learned to look at roadblocks (metaphorically and literally) as opportunities for problem solving, which I enjoy. I've learned to learn from my mistakes instead of dwelling on them. When we were traveling down the road in the bikecar, we really saw a lot moving at the slow pace we were. There's a lot you miss when you're traveling down the road at 65mph in a conventional automobile. When you're only going 10 mph, you're able to notice things, like how much garbage people throw out of their cars onto the side of the road.

Traveling at the slow pace we did was nice in the sense that in these times, everyone seems to be in the "fast lane", including us, so it was nice to take a slower pace of life for a month. Pedaling to our destinations really made us appreciate our arrival. It made us appreciate how easy we normally have it with modern conveniences. I'll never complain about a trip taking too long in a conventional automobile again.

The trip also made me want to go on more adventures. I now find myself thinking, "What could our next adventure be?" It'll be hard to live up to the last one, but I'm going to try. The bikecar has been in the workshop for the most part since the trip. We've taken it out a few times, but I've mostly been riding my bike.

Q: When did you release the movie?

A: We released the first cut in November of 06 on DVD to the snowboard world. I'm now working on an extended version of the movie, which will be released late summer of 07. It'll be a deluxe edition DVD with a lot of bonus material.

Q: Anything else you want to add or elaborate on?

A: A lot of people think we were trying to make an environmental statement with bikecar, but really, we just did it for the fun of it and for the adventure. We just like to pedal. We just like challenges. I guess you could say we like doing things the hard way.

Bikecar dvd available at