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COLUMNS The Bike Madame

Dreams of an Amphibious Bicycle (and Other Odd Human-Powered Vehicles)

Amphibious bicycleIf the ditches turned Venetian canals at the side of the road and the curtain of rain were not enough, the flashing lights on that yellow “Check Out the Hideous Weather!” sign on Route 26 westbound confirmed that the floodplains south of Seaside had opened up their gates again. Upon arriving at the 26-101 junction, I would have to fold my bike and hop on the bus, since ODOT is careful not to let cyclists venture into the enhanced version of the Necanicum River, even with drysuits, snorkels, and/or scuba gear.

Waiting for the bus gives me ample time to fantasize about a cool amphibious bike. Imagine the niftyness: while ODOT employees are busy turning back drivers of small cars and SUVs are braving the wakes created by larger vehicles, I press a button, a raft hidden in the bike frame inflates, and I pedal gracefully atop the waters. Or maybe a hydrodynamic bubble forms around the bike and I cut through the water with the speed and sleekness of Jaws, except I’m not in search of tasty humans. Best of all, maybe wings emerge from either side of my seat and lift me high above the murky mess.

Inspiration emerges from my childhood in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where my neighbors on Heart Lake jerry-rigged a combination bicycle and paddleboat. They sat atop these funky contraptions and paddled around the lake. Alas, these unique conveyances would not do well in the Necanicum, as they are water-worthy but not roadworthy. (They did have cool low-rider ape-hanger handlebars, though—oh, those funky ‘70s!)

A search on my good friend the Internet provided me with more options for land-and-sea cycling, from the plausible to the outrageous. A You Tube video called “Amphibious Bike: The Ultimate All-Terrain Vehicle” shows an elder serenely crossing a tropical river on an ordinary road bike with pontoons attached to each wheel. After showing off how he can ride backward and do circles in the water, he emerges on the other side, to the acclaim of curious children, folds the pontoons into panniers, and hands the bike off to a young man, who returns to earthbound riding down a dirt path.

A sleeker version is the Amphibious Bicycle, a finalist for the 12th annual International Bicycle Design Competition, created by Chinese designers Bin Yu and Jian Wang. This stylish, streamlined vehicle converts from land to water use via extra wheels to either side of the terrestrial wheels—just inflate them and hit the waves.

A website called Good Design showcases a contraption by Li Weiguo of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, using the big water bottles from water coolers as pontoons. It’s propelled by his daughter, Li Jin, a smiling lady in bare feet and a skirt. (She gets extra points for staying dry on her way to work!) The (empty) water bottles lift out of the way to ride on the road. To power it through the water, instead of spokes, the rear wheel is equipped with weather vanes.

PSFK, another website focused on design, touts the Di-Cycle, a wacky-looking beast with two huge wheels that lean inward and a seat suspended between them. One uses joystick-like levers to steer. It’s the offspring of GBO Design of the Netherlands, a region even more familiar with flooding than ours.

After seeing how many of these vehicles were assembled out of ordinary materials and generic bikes by regular folks, I have no more excuses. Once my one-of-a-kind SurfBike hits 101 Lake, North Coast cyclists will truly rule the waves.