The Streetliner II?

I like to sketch during meetings at work because it actually helps me pay attention to the discussion at hand. Earlier this week, I was thinking about the Streetliner and figured it was time to do a fresh sketch. Where that sketch went was less about my current design, and evolved into something interesting. Something longer, and even more aggressive than my current design. Most importantly, I see this as a two-seat (in tandem) vehicle with lots of windows. I’m thinking a much larger power plant, like that out of a Goldwing, and a fully-enclosed design. With all that I’ll surely learn building the Streetliner, this second generation vehicle ought to be pretty straightforward to create.

The Dezso Molnar flying GyroCycle and a quick update

Saw this over on and there are a lot of interesting things about this project.

  1. It’s garage built
  2. The MkII version is a tilting trike
  3. The MkII weight is around 600 lbs

It’s that last item that is so interesting to me. Here’s a chassis that’s much larger than what I intend to build, and relying on a much larger, heavier motor and it’s coming in near my weight targets for the Streetliner. It’s a fascinating project that has me thinking my weight goals might actually be attainable. That low weight plus streamlined aerodynamics ought to mean some terrific mpg numbers. Then again, I’m only shooting for 65 mpg. Should I be more ambitious?

Meanwhile my skill acquisition continues. In working on one of my motorcycle projects, my GL1100, I’ve recently worked with both light gauge sheet steel and fiberglass for the first time. Both materials have their own unique challenges and capabilities. My three main take aways right now are these:

  1. Working with steel is great because it’s really precise
  2. Fiberglass and Bondo are easier to work with than I ever would have imagined
  3. Carving symmetrical shapes into foam is challenging and good planning and technique can save one a lot of rework and wasted time

With the Streetliner design more or less finalized and more and more of the necessary skills at least acquired in a basic working sense, I’m hoping to start work in earnest sometime next fall. Before that happens, I’ll publish a fully revised design, criteria and will likely reach out for sponsorship. Stay tuned.

Rethinking the skin

One of the last things Chris Bangle designed at BMW before he retired was the car you see above. It was a concept for a modular vehicle with a flexible skin that would literally change shape based on what you were using the car for. It’s trunk could change size and shape, and it could hunker down aerodynamically when it was time to go fast.

While obviously just a thought experiment, the flexible skin has me thinking about how to surface the Streetliner. Up to now, I’ve been planning to use foam and fiberglass to create the outer aerodynamic shell. However, looking at this concept and also remembering some fabric-shelled velomobiles I’ve seen online, the idea of using a more flexible material as an outer shell has a lot of appeal.

Firstly, it would greatly simplify construction. Since I’m not actually intending to mass-produce this vehicle, there’d be little point in investing the time or expense in creating a mold for a fiberglass body. Then there’s the added complexity of creating all the mounting points that join that body to the underlying chassis. Then there’s the added hassle of fabricating all the access panels and such needed to access key mechanicals under the body. I shouldn’t have to take the whole nose apart just to top off the radiator, for example. Furthermore, creating a fiberglass shell of adequate thickness so as to be good and sturdy would mean adding a not insignificant amount of weight to the vehicle.

Instead, if I were to build a series of essentially ribs over top of the chassis and safety cage, I could wrap the body in some sort of flexible skin. There are a number of durable thermoplastics I could use that would be resistant to weather, stones, bugs an the like out on the road, yet also be heat shrinkable and easy to patch and paint. Hell, you could use model airplane covering. The cloth-style covering is durable, paintable and very lightweight. Access panels could actually be pre-fabricated in framing, rather than having to be cut out of a hard shell. If designed correctly, the whole look would have a great antique aircraft look to it — like dope shrunk canvas over wooden ribs, spars and bulkheads.

Fundamentally, air doesn’t really care what a shape is made from. It just needs something to push against. Furthermore, an imperfect shape can still be very aerodynamic if it’s smooth enough. Further still, every pound of weight shed from the Streetliner is a pound I don’t have to push through the oncoming air. Additionally, I anticipate that building in this method would cost less, take less time, require fewer specialized tools and actually give me a much greater amount of flexibility to change the body shape as needed. Even the wheel pants could be made using this method — likely lessening unsprung weight and greatly simplifying installation. Anybody out there know of other examples of a flexible vehicle skin?

Of experimental aircraft and the future of transportation

I was rifling through my Flickr last night and came across a collection of photos I took during a visit to the EAA museum in Oshkosh, WI earlier this year. I’ve been a huge fan of experimental aircraft since my teens when I did a lot of radio-controlled model aircraft building and flying. The entire concept of experimental aircraft is inspiring because it takes the overwhelmingly cost-prohibitive world of civil aviation and puts it within the reach of the clever and mechanically handy. It makes an item (a small airplane) cost as little as a decent sports car instead of a small house. What’s more, these kit-built craft outperform their factory-built cousins in speed, economy and aerobatic performance.

This has me thinking. Why hasn’t this happened with cars? I know there’s a vibrant kit car community, but the majority of their time seems spent building Shelby Cobra replicas or other poor man’s super cars. Why isn’t there a kit car equivalent to the LongEZ? Where is that simple, economic, interesting vehicle that almost anybody could screw together and pilot? Maybe the Streetliner is that vehicle. Maybe this project, and others like it, can spur a small revolution in transportation where instead of big, heavy boxes of steel, some of us zip around in lightweight composite vehicles that get us back and forth to work. I like the sound of that. Who’s with me?

Cal Poly students create streamlined trike capable of 2,752 mpg

The Black Widow, as it’s called, is the winner of the Shell Eco-marathon. Looks the business doesn’t it? What’s thoroughly amazing is that they did it without any electrical propulsion at all. Just a 3 hp Honda 4-stroke engine no doubt geared to the ceiling. Good stuff. More details here.

A great piece of inspiration

Courtesy of the one and only Merlin Mann, this 43 Folders interview with Seth Godin is a great conversation about the video below and being “a person who ships.” Their discussion about overcoming the mental hurdles we all face when doing something new or different is truly inspiring.

Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain from 99% on Vimeo.

What Seth and Merlin spend most of their time talking about is Seth’s most recent book, Lynchpin. More specifically, they talk about the commodity of ideas and the real value of actually shipping whatever it is you make or do. I realized that with the Streetliner, neither the concept nor the design are particularly remarkable. What would make it an amazing would be to actually finish. That’s all. Completing the Streetliner at all will be a huge accomplishment. Being literally in the idea business, it’s easy to lose site of the fact that success is 99% showing up — that is 99% “shipping” whatever it is I do. Sure, I have to be creative and innovative, but it’s all pretty meaningless if I never actually ship anything. If I never get my prototype built, then the actual Streetliner is sure to never happen. With that in mind, it’s time to get back in gear. Thanks guys, that was just the push I needed.