Monday March 15th
After considerable bad language, I discover that it is just about possible to squeeze a week's worth of luggage into a Kingcycle tail box, as long as it's separated into a large number of handy four-ounce servings. No room for the toolkit, however, which ends up being strapped somewhat precariously into my recently-acquired nose cone. A mile away, Ian has managed to convert Ye Olde Greene Speedy into a Sort of Practical Vehicle, by the judicious addition of bits of Karrimat in the shell to prevent luggage and mechanical bits from coming together - this can have alarming effects on faired Speedies, as Ian himself found out in Wolverhampton two years ago. Due to communications breakdown or bad planning (or laziness, take your pick), we have decided to drive out to Harwich, which turned out not to be such a brilliant idea, as the weather was absolutely glorious. Needless to say, we also wildly overestimate the length of time it's going to take to get there, so we arrive about two hours early and hang around for Chairman Mike.
Mike eventually arrives in his 365-Day Bicycle, being a standard Mk IIIa Speedy, in a cut-down GRP shell with fabric top, leaving the rider's head open to the breeze. Further hanging about ensues, interspersed with Chairman Mike fending off questions from people saying "Aren't you that bloke who was on telly last week?", until a Stena Line gentleman informs us that we can go get on the boat - this is a LIE; we go through passport control and then sit freezing on the dockside while ten million trucks are loaded first. Just as we are starting to get frostbite, we are allowed on and immediately have to test our hill climbing ability up the ramp to the upper car deck. Keeping a recumbent bike upright when your path is blocked by a jolly matelot walking in front of you is NOT EASY. We occupy the cabin, which, Ian has been assured, will accommodate three people. This is also a LIE, unless the third person sleeps in the shower, so Chairman Mike has to occupy his "sleeper" seat after all.
A word about the food. Urg. Go to bed, or at least I do. Ian seems not to be convinced, and spends half the night leaping in and out of his bunk with all the grace and dexterity of a small elephant.
Tuesday March 16th
We get up at the ungodly hour of Early, and wander off to look for breakfast. Another word about the food. Blurgh. CM fends off a Dutch Lotus enthusiast who says "You are Mike Burrows, I think; I saw you on the telly last week". We then descend into the Seventh Circle of Hell - the car deck - and are first deafened and then asphyxiated before we are finally allowed into a sunny but rather cold Holland. Then comes the bit we all dread, navigating halfway across Holland. If you haven't been there, well, bikes aren't allowed on the main roads and the cycle paths, or fietspads, don't always go where you want to get to and are usually appallingly signposted as well. Or that, at least, was how CM and I remembered them. Reality turned out to be rather different, in that the signposting seems to have improved tremendously, so as long as one is equipped with a reasonably up-to-date ANWB map, you shouldn't have too many problems. One thing which hasn't changed, however, is the quality of the surface, which varies from smooth tarmac to bricks set on edge at a bewildering variety of angles and heights. Ian has particular problems with this, due to the less-than-rigid nature of the Crisp Packet, and to add insult to injury, the stiff breeze is sneaking through the side window of the Speedy and around his neck. Now we know why Martin Staubach always wears a scarf...
A useful following wind ensures reasonably rapid progress, punctuated by frequent stops for map reading, the odd ferry crossing, talking to a man on a Flevo-bike and hauling the machines over the Armco when we inadvertently stray onto the main road and are in danger of going through the wrong bit of a tunnel - visions of two Speedies and a Kingcycle splattered across the grille of a 38-tonner ensure a rapid escape. We stop for lunch in Tilburg, then press on towards Eindhoven, but what is this bad language coming from outside the cafe? Three lone Englishmen all cursing the weather; it has started to rain. Due to the wind, I haven't been able to try out my home-bodged fairing, so I get fairly thoroughly soaked, Ian can't see through the windscreen and CM grins in a revoltingly smug manner from beneath his hat. We find the Eindhoven Technical University (hereinafter referred to as TUE) without too much grief, and meet up with Guus van der Beek, drink coffee, fend off Dutchmen saying "You are Mike Burrows, I think; I saw you on the telly last week", and eventually depart for the hotel. We get lost. Eventually the hotel is located; CM sorts out mix-up over room booking, then sorts out second mix-up as to where the third bed is (answer: under one of the others). Noble Larrington volunteers to have it. Shower, beer, and CM being interviewed by Dutch journalists, who, incidentally, have seen him on the telly. Then dinner, in the middle of which the Kingsbury equipe turns up. Miles looks well shattered, as well he might; their machine was finished only at 07:30 that morning. More beer and bed, interrupted by various people walking over me in the night to get to the bathroom.
Wednesday 17th March
Rise and shine bright and early, eat breakfast and hunt the DAF test track in the pouring rain. We are disturbed to discover that no-one else has ridden even to the track, let alone the event itself. What's a practical vehicle for? Swarms of Media Types immediately descend on CM, interview him, take his picture and totally ignore Ian and me, which allows us plenty of time for machine prodding. The assembled machinery varies from the sensible (Speedy, Leitra) to the intriguing (3-Weibel - a Speedy-layout trike which leans into corners, Kingcycle K3 - linear drive trike with natty wooden dashboard; the walnut veneer could not be added in time, but expect it, along with Wilton carpet and Connolly leather upholstery in time for Hernia Hill), via the rather odd (Derk Thys' joystick-steered Super-Velocino, with what appears to be one tri-bar). In the middle of this, drama. The Kingcycle K3 has broken! Being linear (sort of) drive, it needs a neutral drive setting to allow it to go backwards. Little Stevie Slade manages to jam it half-way, and the machine is ignominiously hauled off to the workshop.
Meanwhile, the speed test is getting underway; one hour around the slightly banked 2.1 km oval. CM is disconcerted to discover that no-one is apparently check luggage weight or capacity, so he has to stooge off with all his worldly goods aboard and hope for the best. Shortly afterwards the K3 appears, once more moving under its own steam. Steve charges off into the distance, but initially there are problems - it just won't go fast enough. After about nine laps, he suddenly starts going faster and appears to be in danger of making the 35 km/h qualifying average, but after thirty-three minutes, the transmission cross-shaft parts company with its mounting, and half the British entry is out. Mike makes the average with room to spare, and is immediately pounced on by a Dutch media person. "How was it?" she asks, sweetly. "Bloody awful," replies Mike, who is recovering from the flu, "what do you think?" Rude man. This was faithfully quoted in the local paper the following day. Obviously fed up with having cameras and microphones stuffed up his nose at every opportunity, Mike decides we should push off back to TUE. This is more difficult than it sounds, as the electrically-operated gate is out of sight of the control room, and the only microphone is on the outside. We contemplate digging a tunnel, but decide to send Ian back to ask them to let us out. Meanwhile, Mike reads the directions on how to get back: "Turn left out of the track entrance and DRIVE towards..." We finally escape from the track and return to Eindhoven. Mike is handed a piece of paper. "What's this?" "A car-park pass" "What for?" "Your car" "WHAT car?".
We stooge around the car park for a bit being photographed (fame, eh?) and then queue patiently to load the machines into the lift to get down to the basement, unless called Sheen or Kingsbury, in which case you get fed up with the wait and carry one's machine down the stairs. Lunch, then in the afternoon, various competitors stand up in front of the class and tell everybody why their machine is going to win (even some of those who haven't qualified). Mike makes the best comment: "It's a Speedy. It's red. I didn't bring it to Eindhoven, it brought me". Second best is probably the Meufl team from Munich, displaying their unique Meufl-hat, which features a rain gutter to direct water away from the rider's ears. These are the guys who competed in the road race at the Europeans with a guitar strapped to the back of the bike... By five p.m. even the durable Guus has had enough, so it's back to the hotel for the usual evening's entertainment.
Thursday 18th March
Thursday morning sees the judging. The nine entries who reached the qualifying speed have to stand up and tell the world about their machines, while the others give marks out of ten for various aspects of the machine. The finalists are, in no particular order:
Dutch, Speedy-layout trike, with full suspension. Constructed as a riveted aluminium monocoque, it looked vaguely familiar; it transpired that the prototype was at Milton Keynes in '85. Martin Staubach tells Ian and me that he tried it the previous day and found it unable to do a U-turn in a normal-sized road. The front wheels cannot be reached from the inside... Personally, none of us was terribly impressed.
I expect you all seen one of these by now. Featured the "standard" shape fairing, but with the upper part of the rear bodywork cut down and with a removable fabric top, leaving the rider's head exposed. Large luggage space alongside the rear wheel, accessible through a fabric-covered hole in the side, and several smaller spaces inside the shell.
Danish, now with rear suspension. Mike had expressed a worry that if Carl-Georg Rasmussen could find a tame gorilla to drive it in the speed trial, there could be trouble. In the event, Carl-Georg rode it himself, and made the average reasonably comfortably, not bad for a 58-year old. If you've not seen one, it's another Speedy-layout machine, but with the front wheels outside the shell. Lots of neat details and a proven practical machine - they've been on sale for years.
Another Danish machine, this one a medium-wheelbase bike with a small GRP nose-cone and the remainder of the fairing made from insulating foam. This aroused considerable interest among certain Brits present, so expect to see the odd Karrimat-faired Kingcycle next season. The luggage space is a large nylon pannier, permanently fixed to the seat; the whole assembly is detachable in seconds and sports a pair of small wheels for ease of handling. We were impressed, especially when we discovered that the guy riding it in the time trial hadn't ridden it before - he didn't fall over despite the strong wind.
It had a model name but I can't remember what it was. Dutch. As far as I could tell, this was a standard Jouta - single driven front wheel, two at the back and hinged in the middle - with a fairing open at the bottom and a tail box sporting a pair of 1950's-Cadillac style fins. Whichever one of the Jouta brothers had entered it confessed that it was rather heavy, but overall it looked pretty good, although certain cynical British types were heard to mutter that it looked a bit too "Art College" for their liking.
This used the same fairing as the other machine from the Jouta stable, but had a single steered rear wheel, and two at the front, of which one only was driven (nothing wrong with that, barrows have been using the same system for years). To overcome the potential problems of steering one rear wheel, it had a rather neat system whereby if the joystick was held vertically, then the steering was very high-geared, enabling the machine to be turned practically within its own length. If the joystick was held at the normal Speedy-riding angle, then the steering became very much less sensitive. How it worked I don't know, as I never managed to get close enough to find out. The same criticisms of the first Jouta also applied to this one, although personally I was quite impressed with it.
This was one of Bram's standard steel (I think) recumbent bikes, with a tail box, and only made the grade due to having Bram riding it; anyone else would have been hard pushed to reach the required speed. For rain protection, it sported a sort of bivvy-bag which attached round the rider's neck and to an upright at the bottom bracket, while additional luggage capacity was achieved by the use of a carbon-fibre Thing, looking like an oversized crash helmet, to be literally stuffed up the rider's jumper. The thing most of us liked best about it was written on the side of the tail box:
This is a 350-day bike
When it rains
I'll take the train,
or just stay in bed
Derk Thys standard rowing bike with a transparent "tent" fairing and a large soft bag on the back. The fairing could be easily detached and strapped to the side of the bike. It looks alarming in action, with Derk's head bobbing in and out of the fairing like a demented chicken, but was fastest in the speed trial.
A Dutch low-level, partially-faired bike, with a large soft bag on the back. It obviously worked OK, but had no particular distinguishing features.
The judging, frankly, was silly. Each entrant stood up in front of the mob and did a five-minute spiel on the virtues of their machine, while the other finalists sat in the front row and awarded marks out of ten for the likes of comfort, handling, ability in traffic, etc., without having seen the machine in action other than around an oval test track, without having been able to try out, or sit in, the machine, without even being able to get up and have a closer look. There was no driving test; even something as artificial as the Dexterity Test during the European Championships might have helped. A perfectly good set of criteria for Practical Vehicle contests was evolved years ago by Dennis Taves; this was certainly not an improvement. More than one competitor pointed out that there was no one "best" machine; while a Speedy or a Leitra is fine for someone like our Illustrious Chairman, or someone living in a country well provided with cycle paths, trikes and heavy urban traffic are an uncomfortable mixture, and it's physically impossible to get a faired Speedy into my flat at all. Faired bikes fall over in the sort of weather where you need a fairing. Monocoques don't give you the option of having an unfaired machine for cruising on sunny days. And so on. The "Winner Takes All" philosophy of this contest, while doubtless generating plenty of column inches, left several worthy machines totally devoid of recognition.
In the afternoon, there was a Symposium, organised by TUE's student Engineering Society, and introduced by an amiable Dutch academic who sounded exactly like Henry Crun of the Goon Show. The first speaker was the father of the modern HPV movement, Dr Chester Kyle, on "The Aerodynamics of Human-Powered Vehicles". We all feared that this would be duller than ditchwater, but it turned out to be a slide-show featuring many of the pioneer American machines from the seventies and early eighties. The technical stuff was confined to the accompanying booklet, which anyone who has ever suffered a lecture on Fluid Mechanics will know to be a Good Thing. Next up was a Dutch professor, on the subject of bio-mechanics; as he had been asked to deliver his piece in his native tongue, Messrs. Sheen, Larrington and Staubach escape and go vehicle-prodding in the basement.
We return for Chairman Mike on the subject of materials - basically extolling the virtues of composites. Last to speak was a man from the Dutch Ministry of Transport talking about the "Masterplan Fiets", which seems to be a good thing, only we're not sure, coz this was in Dutch too. I think at one point he accused Bram Moens of eating Sausages in private, to which Bram retorted that he didn't have to take this from someone who kept a live bison in his bathroom, but owing to my rickety knowledge of Dutch, something may have been lost in the translation. What is certain is that no British civil servant would have gone to such an event and faced a sometimes hostile crowd of cyclists with such composure.
Following this comes the Big Moment, the result. Despite pleas from Messrs. Burrows, Moens and Thys to have more than one prize, the Organisators are adamantly sticking to the original script, and the upshot is that five minutes later the Alleweder team are beaming at the photographers from all sides of an outsized cheque. General despondency ensues; we hang around the HPV exhibition drinking free beer and fending off various Erics wanting to know about Lotus bikes, the Bean and what Chairman Mike thought about the result (indignation tinged with relief that he now doesn't have to do the Trondheim-Oslo). It is eventually decided to go back to the hotel to drown our sorrows, but to add insult to injury, someone has taken the Speedy away and hidden it.
Friday 19th March
The condemned men eat a hearty breakfast, pack and try to pinch a purple stuffed cat found on the lawn of the hotel, only to discover that it belongs to the hotel dog. DL is rather embarrassed to be caught sitting in the car park with said cat gaffer-taped to his tail box, due to the delay incurred by Ian's jury-rigged luggage compartment escaping into the chain. The ride back is much the same as ride there only into the wind, but at least it stays dry. On one of the ferry crossings, the conductor recognises Chairman Mike: "You are Mike Burrows, I think; I saw you on the telly last week". We hang around Hoek van Holland drinking expensive beer until the boat comes in, land a three-man cabin, eat a vile dinner, and don't sleep at all well due to being approximately three feet from the engines.
Saturday 20th March
Home! Chairman Mike departs for Norwich,
while Ian and I rescue the car and trailer from the car park. Fortunately,
the man in the kiosk cannot do basic arithmetic; we are only charge eleven
quid instead of the expected thirty. In the afternoon, to round off a perfect
week, and while England are losing at both cricket and rugby, and Charlton
Athletic are going down to Portsmouth, Ian and I go down to Brisbane Road,
to watch Leyton Orient lose to Port Vale. Practical Vehicle competitions
- who needs 'em?
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