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Roll Over America – an Interview

Josef You may have read already in the recumbentblog.com or in ligfiets.net. During a discussion on the Bentrideronline.com message board, a velomobilist, Josef Janning, expressed his wish to cross the USA in his VM. After a short while this has become the Roll Over America Tour (ROAM). The developments of the plans can be followed at rolloveramerica.eu, further there are discussions on the German Velomobilforum, Gentseliggers, and the Dutch recumbent google-group. The Event is going to start at the Left Coast Velomobile Gathering in Portland, organized by Craig Johnsen. BentBlog interviewed Josef and Craig:

BentBlog: Craig, you are organising the Left Coast Velomobile Gathering in Portland, Oregon. Please tell us, why did you start doing that and what is the idea behind this event?

Craig: The original Left Coast Velomobile Gathering was started in southern California as the result of a casual conversation online with a couple of local VM riders. Its purpose was to draw together in one location a few of these rare machines, in order to ride together as well as to help publicize the concept of a VM as a possible alternative to a car.  Last year, in conjunction with the Oregon Human Power Vehicle Club’s Human Power Challenge, we were able to move the event to Portland, Oregon, which is a very cycling-friendly City (for the USA). The timing was also coincidental with the growing interest in North America for velomobiles as an alternative form of all-weather transport. Last year’s LCVMG was the largest yet with 20 VM’s attending.

BentBlog: How would you describe the US-American velomobile and recumbent scenes?

Craig: While recumbent riders are slowly becoming more visible in the US, the VM movement in NA is just moving out of its infancy with the addition of sources such as BlueVelo in Toronto and the availability of new models such as the Glyde, which is available through various Greenspeed dealers.  That said, the recumbent market here (in NA) is still quite small, making up only a tiny percentage of annual bike sales. As a personal example, at a local well-attended charity bike ride of 10,000 riders, I would estimate that there were no more than 50 recumbents present and no VM’s at all.  However, the internet continues to serve as the main method of learning about VM’s through forums, videos and publicizing of organized events such as the Left Coast Velomobile Gathering and we are hearing more “buzz” about these machines this year.

BentBlog: Josef, the Roll Over America tour, I mentioned in my introduction, first appeared in a Bentrideronline-Forum post from you. What is your motivation to take these huge efforts of planning this event?

Josef: It started out as just one of those wild ideas. With positive feedback coming in almost instantly I concluded that I now should turn it into a project. Doing this with a group is something really special. I have always admired the Dutch velomobile riders for the events they hold. Roll over America is a tour in that same spirit.

BentBlog: The Left Coast Velomobile Gathering will be the starting point for this tour. The destination is the US-capital, Washington DC. Is any kind of political statement tied to ROAM?

Josef: The key message to people is that these bikes are fun and they are very practical. We’re not using race bikes; this tour is done with machines that riders otherwise use for their daily transportational needs, like going to work. So, I guess, in political terms we stand for the “ride to work” idea. Portland is a well known bike-friendly community and DC is the place where people need to become aware of this.

BentBlog: Do you think this event will have an influence on the American recumbent scene, Craig?

Craig: I do think this will help focus attention on velomobiles and their capabilities and because it is planned to cross the USA, it should provide a great opportunity for people who live somewhere near the track to not only see these rare machines in person but to also have the opportunity to meet and/or ride with the European velonauts. New perspectives always seem to help the understanding of such a “different” way of traveling.

BentBlog: Bringing your velomobiles to the US most probably requires a transport of a container across the Atlantic Ocean. Including the preparation of the container, the customs and the transport times, the VMs might be away from their owners for approximately 3-4 weeks prior to and after the event. How can a VM-addict survive this? How will the VM-commuters come to work?

Josef: That’s the hard part. Shipping takes about 12 days, so we will be without our VMs for three weeks. Then we have 30 days of open road in front of us, which will compensate for the hardship.

BentBlog: Selling the VMs at the end of the tour and ordering a new one for the time when you push your ?old? one into the container might be a solution. Do you think there is a market for used VMs in the US, Craig?

Craig: Without a doubt!  The recumbent and VM forums include many people who mention that they cannot afford the cost of a new velomobile, and who, as a result, are willing to try building something which can be adapted to an existing trike in order to enjoy some of the benefits of a velomobile.  Yet the VM’s which will be brought over most likely will include many of the refinements of the recent generations of VM’s.  Developments such as full suspension, good integrated lighting systems and well-proven designs make these machines a great value, especially if the price asked is realistic.

BentBlog: Josef, what must someone bring and have to participate in the event?

Josef: Participants mostly need three things: A velomobile, the will & legs to do it and 30 days of their time.

BentBlog: To clarify: you are not explicitly looking for racing drivers, right?

Josef: No. We’re not racing; we’ll be cruising or rolling as I like to put it because that is what a velomobile in motion appears to do. We should be riding around 200 km per day with a rest day per week. That’s manageable for an experienced and trained cyclist. You don’t need to be an athlete to do this, simply because of the efficiency of a VM.

BentBlog: Will the participation be allowed for Europeans only, or will American drivers join you?

Josef: There’s an open invitation to all North American velomobile riders to join in for any length of time. In fact, quite a few have already indicated to me that they will come on for some time. Riding together will be an essential part of the experience.

BentBlog: Apart from the participants in the VMs what else do you need? How are service vehicles, accommodation, catering and the contact to the local media organized?

Josef: This is all to be dealt with as the project proceeds. Progress will be monitored on the website at: www.rolloveramerica.eu. I am planning for three support vehicles, two vans and a truck. The truck is the repair shop and VM-transport in case we cannot fix a problem on the spot. One van will go ahead to prepare the rest stops and one will stay near the group if help is needed. For accommodation we will look for good camp grounds and motels. With a group of this size you need to plan ahead. In terms of media relations, I will get in touch with media along the route with the help of the many US riders that already follow and support the plan. There are a couple of bike related organizations that I am getting in touch with to engage their support on this.

BentBlog: Right now: what kind of help do you need to proceed? What are the next steps for you?

Josef: I am happy to say that there’s already a good range of people supporting the plan in various ways. That’s essential. The key step now is to get a group together, to enlist around 30 riders who say they would want to be part of it (which is less than formally signing up but more than just saying they like the idea of doing it. With this group and the work that has been done I will then approach sponsors. My goal is to get the transport, support, organization covered plus a travel allowance for all participants. To get this I need to be able to present a strong and realistic case.

BentBlog: I will follow the development of ROAM and I am curious about the things to come. Good Luck with ROAM, Josef and Good Luck with theLCVG to come and of course, thank you both for this interview.

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