It was a scene that caught attention on west sixth street June 12, Newton Bike Shop owner James Barringer hunched over something that looked like it came out of a science fiction movie, phone in hand and making a live internet video.
He was helping Dave Lewis, one of two competitors using a Velomobile, get started on the day. Onlookers had just three questions:
“What is that," “Is that how he is traveling,” and “where is he going?”
Lewis is a competitor in bike race that started in Astoria, Oregon, and passes through 10 states over the course of 4,300 miles en route to Yorktown, Virginia.
Cyclists competing in the Trans Am Bike Race are stopping in Newton this week, getting service and a place to stay at the Newton Bicycle Shop. There are a total of 114 riders listed at transambikerace.com.
Two Velomobiles have made the stop — the only two in the race at this time. The other rider is Marcel Graber of Switzerland, who is leading the race at this time. Race standings and maps are available at transambikerace.com, or on a large monitor at the Newton Bicycle Shop.
“Velomobiles are new (to the race) and this is a test run,” Barringer said. “The Velomobiles are inspiring more to come. This makes the sport a little more aggressive because of the fact that these bicycles do 25 to 30 miles per hour consistently. It makes it more like Indy car.”
The Velomobiles are not usually accepted in two-wheel races — according to Barringer there is the belief they offer an advantage to the riders.
“There is not a real, real advantage to them," Barringer said. “As you saw when he left, he was not wearing hardly any clothes because he will be burning up in an hour. They are also difficult to pedal uphill.”
The Velomobile fairing adds weight compared to standard upright cycles or unfaired recumbent cycles. For a given terrain, the added weight demands lower gearing and makes the Velomobile slower climbing hills than its unfaired counterpart.
Both of the Velomobiles in the race stopped in Newton within a 24-hour period; Barringer helped with new tires and service for each.
The Velomobile isn’t a new concept; before World War I, Charles Mochet built a small four-wheeled "bike"-car for his son. Mochet built many models of small vehicles called "Velocar." The modern bicycle version is usually constructed using the frame of a recumbent bicycle.