Technomadics
May 21, 2009 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Inspiration to do something with your holiday weekend: Steven K. Roberts is an interesting guy with a bit of a hobby problem. In 1983 his recumbent bike sported "only" a security system, lights, a CB radio and a state-of-the-art TRS80/100 laptop. Winnebikeo would eventually evolve into BEHEMOTH, the "Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine... Only Too Heavy". BEHEMOTH incorporated (amongst other things) HUD, cooling system, small Sun SPARCstation, HAM Radio, credit card verifier, bubblejet printer, hydraulic disk brakes...

Eventually Roberts discovered that BEHEMOTH was developing a life of its own as he worked through trade shows and talk circuits. Feeling that bicycling still constrained one to roads and rest stops, he turned to kayaking. Of course, not much room in a kayak for modding...well, enough. Roberts has more recently turned to a number of larger vessels, including the S/V Nomadness.

In between kitting out vehicles he's made a portable universal comm device for the modern era, written a bunch of tech articles and keeps up a blog on his multitudinous ongoing projects.
posted by Ogre Lawless (28 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
BEHEMOTH, the "Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine... Only Too Heavy"

That's brilliant and I love it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:48 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I met this guy when I was a kid. He came to speak about the BEHEMOTH at, er, a nudist resort in the Santa Cruz mountains. His experiences in custom building really made an impression on me, and perhaps contributed to my career in manufacturing and customizing.
posted by wzcx at 1:00 PM on May 21, 2009


PS, ham radio isn't an acronym.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:08 PM on May 21, 2009


pps, that wasnt meant dickishly.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:09 PM on May 21, 2009


There were four pushbuttons on each handlebar, and I typed in raw binary. To form each character, the OR of all the active bits was strobed by the transition to no bits (when I let go). The action was synchronous and without the speed advantages of “n-key rollover,” but I was able to reach about half my normal typing speed. Later versions added a table-lookup step that allowed more efficient letter-frequency-based coding instead of ugly ASCII.

Somewhere, Mel is nodding with approval.
posted by AmberV at 1:10 PM on May 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am just starting my fall down this deep dark rabbit hole, but can someone tell me how the illustration style for the magazine is called? Who where the main exponents of this style? Looking at that illustration sent my mind back in time to the 80's, when I was trying to learn English by reading abandoned magazines in beach hotels.

This is an inspiring post at just the right time. I am just getting serious about biking, yesterday I joined a bike coop to learn me some mechanics, this morning I enrolled into a welding and machine shop classes at the city college, I am saving money and vacation time for a frame building class, and for the last 3 years I have been dabbling with microprocessors, my best project being a wind speed vs tire speed comparator for my bike.

This post brings it all together. Now all I need is the startup I work at to go google so I can retire into bike building and world touring. With current low cost hobbyist level technology, one could fit all his computing and communications into a small suitcase.
posted by dirty lies at 1:50 PM on May 21, 2009


I live in Seattle and there are a lot of recumbent bikes around here.

Every time I see a recumbent bike, the rider is always, without exception, a bearded man. Always a beard.
posted by Ratio at 2:00 PM on May 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


This guy was a big inspiration for me in the early 90s. Glad to hear he's still doing his crazy thing.
posted by Nelson at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2009


I've never heard of this guy. But god, he seems like someone who is insanely busy. I wonder why I can't find free time to read more than hour a day. This guy has accomplished all kind of modifications... what a hobby. I can't believe he has the time to enjoy his creations!
posted by dios at 2:17 PM on May 21, 2009


If it incorporated the entire U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), no wonder it was too heavy.
posted by scratch at 2:27 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


As of a few months ago, the actual BEHEMOTH was on display at the computer history museum in (or near) San Jose, CA.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:50 PM on May 21, 2009


In 1977 my dad built me a boxy go-kart out of 1/2" plywood, wheelbarrow wheels and a steering wheel from an old Mazda.

Over time I added green two-tone shag carpeting, a two-way headset radio (bastardized walkie-talkie mounted in the cockpit under the plastic housing from an old tape recorder), flickering tri-colour LED panel powered by an AC bike generator, in-dashboard LED calculator and an Estes-style rocket launcher electrical system linked to a removable wooden tank turret with separate gunner seat and an azimuth-adjustable metal cannon with handheld clay breach (very dangerous and smokey... nowadays you'd be taken downtown for that stuff, back back then it was just kids messing around).

By the time I finished all this tinkering I was 15 years old and way to big to ride in it, so I ended up pushing all the younger neighborhood kids around while all my friends were discovering girls.
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:57 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whoa this is a blast from the past. In the summer of 1984 my parents packed me into the back of the car for a cross-country road trip. Being a 10-year-old science weenie, they supplied me with the new issue of Popular Science to help shut me up. Popsci was new to me then, and I was enthralled by it. (Here's the cover of that issue.) It was a long trip, and I read every word of that rag multiple times. This guy's bike had a feature article and man oh man oh man did I want a bike like that.

You know that feeling, when you see something you haven't seen since the age of 10... it makes you 10 again for just a moment.
posted by rlk at 3:04 PM on May 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


When I was little I taped a calculator to my bike to make it look cool. I quickly realized there was little utility or purpose in having access to a calculator while on my bike. I can imagine this man starting the same way I did... only that same realization eluded him.
posted by banished at 3:46 PM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Always a beard.

Confirmation bias.

Ladies, may I present Sam Whittingham, the fastest man on two wheels.

Of this guide to the leading lights of recumbent cycling there are plenty of guys like John Axen and Dale Hammerschmidt with big (white) beards, but there's also Bryan Ball, Managing Editor of bentrideronline.com, Andrea Blaseckie and Barbara Buatois.

I don't have a beard & the other recumbent-commuter at work doesn't either.

I know the comment was about Seattle and jokey, but in Europe bikes are transportation, not toys and it's not only beirdos that are willing to spend $3k for on a nice recumbent.

--

I'm glad this was posted. I read about Roberts in his Winnebiko era & when I got a 'bent I looked for him & couldn't find it. The chordal keyboard was an inspiration.
posted by morganw at 7:11 PM on May 21, 2009


Ogre Lawless: "In 1983 his recumbent bike sported "only" a security system, lights, a CB radio and a state-of-the-art TRS80/100 laptop. Winnebikeo would eventually evolve into BEHEMOTH, the "Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine... Only Too Heavy". BEHEMOTH incorporated (amongst other things) HUD, cooling system, small Sun SPARCstation, HAM Radio, credit card verifier, bubblejet printer, hydraulic disk brakes..."

Posted, secured, lit, broadcast, computed, displayed, cooled, processed, communicated, scanned, and printed at 19.6 mph
posted by Rhaomi at 9:00 PM on May 21, 2009


Always a beard.

Sam Whittingham, the fastest man on two wheels.


Funny to see recumbents associated with speed!

I have a old friend who puts probably 5 - 6 kilomiles on a bike every year. We did a couple cross country bike trips during Steve's Winnebiko/BEHEMOTH era (though we never ran into him and traveled much more lightly in the tech dept. -- just a couple of 2m hand-helds).

Anyway -- my pal is fond of pointing out that folks on redundants are always ridden by older dudes and are never going fast. We've done the 200 mile TOSRV ride 30 odd times (and a couple even) and we've never been passed by one. Maybe now that I am one (an older dude, not a redundant) this may change.
posted by Herodios at 9:47 PM on May 21, 2009


Hmm, better make that either

my pal is fond of pointing out that folks on redundants are always ridden by older dudes and are never going fast.

or

my pal is fond of pointing out that folks on redundants are always ridden by older dudes and are never going fast.
posted by Herodios at 10:10 PM on May 21, 2009


I think there's a skewage based on the price factor of a recumbent: by the time you have enough to buy one, you're probably not too interested in going really fast, and in fact bought it because it was easier on your back. And if you ARE interested in going really fast, you're probably going to shell out the money for a full-carbon monstrosity, since they generally won't let you race your recumbent and prove just how fast you are relative to the other people with full-carbon monstrosities...
posted by kaibutsu at 11:06 PM on May 21, 2009


My buddy who worked in a bike shop described all recumbent owners as "wack jobs". Since I've always kind of wanted one, I guess that fits.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:52 PM on May 21, 2009


dirty lies: are you talking about this type of illustration or this type from Popular Science? I'd guess acrylic for the PopSci stuff. Robert T. McCall does/did similar stuff for NASA. He works in oil, acrylic paint and india inks for finished pieces like that.

At about the same time (I think, 70s-80s thereabout) Soviet artists were doing similar space graphic work.

The 'Winnebikeo' image looks more like a watercolor or ink maybe. Style-wise I remember lots of pieces like this as illustrations in Reader's Digest, Boys Life or similar middle-Americana. Illustratively it reminds me of Atari 2600 box art.

Nowadays you see guys like Chip Foose -- a car designer by profession -- as well as 1.000.001 manga artists blasting out colorful pen pieces using professional markers. They're fast and can be manipulated in a number of ways. Paint really captures depth of color but when you're just trying to get an idea across paper works fine too.

The digital age has obviously zapped most of this style. What do all the kids copypasta with these days -- Illustrator?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:44 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


PS, ham radio isn't an acronym.

Yeah, but the morning news report is nothing but predictions on pork belly futures.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:42 AM on May 22, 2009


Ladies, may I present Sam Whittingham Rocky Robinson, the fastest man on two wheels.
posted by Pollomacho at 4:47 AM on May 22, 2009


When I was a kid, I was going with my dad to a hamfest (ham radio flea market) halfway across the state. We couldn't find it, so we stop at a store and ask where it is.
"Oh, you mean that big pig thing they have every year?"

Another misconception about ham radio that bothers me: When you're keying Morse code, you don't push down with the tip of your finger like they always show in the comics and movies because you don't have any control- you have to hold it between your index finger and thumb.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:51 AM on May 22, 2009


Funny to see recumbents associated with speed!

Repeal uprights' protected status in racing and see how long there are any uprights left in racing.
posted by Zed at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Always a beard.

And we called it "Ratio's Law".
posted by MikeMc at 6:10 PM on May 22, 2009


In the summer of 1984 my parents packed me into the back of the car for a cross-country road trip. Being a 10-year-old science weenie, they supplied me with the new issue of Popular Science to help shut me up. Popsci was new to me then, and I was enthralled by it. (Here's the cover of that issue.) It was a long trip, and I read every word of that rag multiple times. This guy's bike had a feature article and man oh man oh man did I want a bike like that.
On-line and on the road.

As a free-lance writer, theoretically I can work anywhere. But unfortunately, the reality didn't quite measure up. My work has required three cluttered desks, a word processor, a copier, two large filing cabinets, hundreds of books, and thousands of magazines. I remained chained to my desk in a three-bedroom ranch in suburban Columbus, Ohio, with little more real freedom than the average corporate employee.

But all that has changed. I now live on a recumbent bicycle, and I am writing this piece on an 85-degree mid-January afternoon while basking on a Key West beach with a Radio Shack model 100 baking in front of me on the sand. The computer slowly fills with text, and when I'm finished writing I'll wander down to the pay phone beside the raft concession and "sign on."

From there, the article will be transmitted to CompuServe, whence it will be "downloaded" by my assistant into a personal computer back in snowy Columbus. After editing, it will wing its way electronically to POPULAR SCIENCE, and there, at last, find its way into print.

Electronic transmission of manuscripts is hardly a new phenomenon, but that's just one part of the computer's role in this trip--a human-powered journey that has already passed the 3,000-mile mark and is expected to reach at least 14,000 before I move to another continent or on to a different venture entirely.

The portable computer and the CompuServe network not only link me with publishers, they also provide a network "community" that sharply reduces the traditional loneliness of the nomadic lifestyle. I can sign on from any telephone and find the electronic equivalent of a friendly neighborhood pub, with friends calling out across the country, "Hey, Wordy! Where U B tonite?"

The bicycle on which all of my equipment is mounted also represents the latest available technology, allowing me to carry my full load of 135 pounds (including the bike itself) without undue difficulty. It is a custom 18-speed Franklin recumbent, intrinsically more efficient than traditional bicycles with its improved aerodynamics and ergonomically optimized rider position. My bicycle also happens to be equipped with some rather unusual accessories.

The Solarex solar panels, for example, not only tilt on their ball-and-socket mount to make a handy table top for fast-food stops, they also charge the Saft nicad battery pack that powers the lights, pager security system, computer, radio gear, tent fluorescent, and horn. Providing about five watts in full sun, the solar system frees me from the commercial power grid--though a constant-current charger is aboard just in case.

The net effect is a unique product of technology: a self-contained system that allows me to continue a full-time, highly interactive profession while living a nomadic lifestyle. My "Winnebiko" is home and office as well as a long-distance touring bicycle.

A business venture of this nature has some interesting effects upon people: My accountant still chuckles at the idea of taking an investment tax credit on a bicycle, and I have to deal with a small crowd of people every time I walk out of a restaurant and return to the bike.

In a small town in western Ohio, for instance, I pulled up to the only pay phone to send an article. The solar panels sparkled in the afternoon sun. A cable ran from the bike electronics package to the computer on the ground, another cable ran from there to the pay phone, and I sat on the pavement, typing.

A dusty old pickup truck rattled to a stop, and out climbed an even dustier farmer. He walked slowly toward me, carefully eyeing the CB, the under-seat steering, the liquid-crystal displays, the computer, the halogen headlight, and the xenon strobe atop the antenna.

An enlightened smile slowly crept across his face as at last he asked, "Are you with NASA?"

Steve Roberts can be reached through the CompuServe network at address 70007,362. An on-line travelogue may be obtained by typing GO CAA. You may also read excerpts of PS by typing GO PS.
posted by cashman at 7:19 AM on May 27, 2009


Yo. I sing soprano, sport no wrinkles, and I'm on my second recumbent. I have never earned more than $2/hr over minimum wage. A recumbent can be acquired for about the same price as a decent upright.

Also, damn. Sam Whittingham is my computer's new background. Thanks, morganw!
posted by aniola at 3:40 PM on May 30, 2009


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