Last month colleague and friend Jos Louwman (founder of Amsterdam’s famous MacBike) and Fredjan Twigt did just that; They sailed (and pedaled) bicycles from Agadir to Dahkla, about 1100km, in eight days. They carried their camping gear and drank about a gallon of water a day. What a great adventure!
The sail-bike is called a Whike and it’s Fredjan’s brainchild; the result of combining his passions for recumbent bikes and sailing. Of course the basic principle of sailing on land or ice is not new; Ice boats have been used in cold regions for centuries and some race boats can exceed 200km/hr. Yes, it IS possible to travel several times the wind speed with low friction sailing vehicles.
But ultimate speed isn’t the purpose of the Whike. On the Whike site it’s described as a fun, original and comfortable vehicle. At least in the Netherlands it’s legal for use on bicycle paths and public roads. An overview of how the sail power at various wind speeds:
Force 1 to 3: The sail works as a “help motor” and you need to pedal along. You note that you easily ride faster than without the sail.
Force 3-4: You now really feel the power of the wind. You easily ride past other cyclists and with a crosswind you needn’t pedal to continue moving.
Force 4-5: Pedaling is simply no longer necessary to get where you want.
Force 5+: Be careful for gusts and always keep the sheet (the line that trims the sail) in your hand. Depending on your skill and weight maybe fit the (smaller) storm sail.
So what does this have to do with practical cycling? A lot. The bike industry is currently doing their best to push electrically assisted bikes, something WorkCycles is more than a little ambivalent about. Thus far we’ve been highly underwhelmed by their lack of reliability, unnatural feeling, ineffiency, poor serviceability and downright ugliness.
Meanwhile here’s a bicycle with a tiny sail that does approximately the same thing: no batteries for the landfills, controllers to fry, sensors, chips etc etc. It’s a lesson in minimalism. The rigging for a sail of this size is practically indestructible and even if something broke or tore in an accident it’d be easy to repair or jury-rig to continue.
Sure, Whiking through the streets of downtown Paris or Manhattan is not entirely realistic but I bet the concept could be made practical for a far broader range of applications than our technology driven perspectives would allow us to believe.
Innarested? Check out the Whike website.
Photos by Jos Louwman and Fredjan Twigt. Thanks!