On a Couchbike across Maritime Canada

On August 29, 2013 by MarcF

This is the true story about a trip on a home made couchbike along the Canadian East coast. “What kind of bike!?” you might be asking. Fair enough. That’s what I thought as well. But be assured the concept is as easy as it sounds: it’s just a couch mounted on an oversized bike frame. Brilliant, isn’t it?And it was on this bike that Brent and Eivind traveled along the Canadian East coast.

cruising_on_the_couchbike1

Their story is both brilliant and inspiring in many ways. Or as Brent described it: “The Couchbike pokes fun at our sedentary culture but also exemplifies the broad scope of possibilities for human power”

Their trip starts with them being arrested for driving an ‘illegal vehicle’, they then get done for not wearing helmets (“but doesn’t a couch provide enough padding already?” they argue), they crash multiple times, drive their couchbike through a McDrive and they meet a whole bunch of amused and bewildered locals with their kickass vechicle.
In spite of this all they manage to ride their couch 500km along the Canadian East Coast in 8 days time.

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Below follows an exerpt from their amazing trip covered on their blog:

The rain never let up all day. I was feeling pretty guilty for what I was subjecting my innocent friend to. However, if he had any grievances about the state of things; his drenched cotton underwear, the erratic way I drove the couch off the steep edge of the asphalt road each time a car came by, or that this morning had been our second brush with the law in as many days; he certainly wasn’t letting on. He seemed to be content in the face of it all.

Surely anyone else would have been ruing the day they agreed to join me on this bizarre adventure. In Eivind’s case, if he’d wanted to roll back time and extract himself from this soggy state of affairs, the pivotal moment would have been a few months earlier in the spring.

Through the magic of the Internet, Eivind had tracked me down to say hello. It had been over a decade since he’d been to Canada for a high school exchange and we’d been out of touch ever since. He was planning to come back on vacation and wanted to hook up with some old friends for a trip.

As luck would have it, I’d been contemplating a trip myself. For me, past adventures had generally entailed epic feats of endurance; often coupled with severe physical discomfort. Never before had I done a trip based purely on whimsy. For what I had in mind this time, I needed a willing partner, and Eivind struck me as the ideal candidate. English being his second language, I hoped he wouldn’t question the odd juxtaposition of the words; ninety-five pound vinyl chesterfield, with such terms as; self-contained bicycle travel.

Ultimately, it probably had more to do with Eivind’s easygoing nature and his willingness to try anything once than it did with my sly tactics, but within a couple days, he sent back a response. I had myself a Norwegian crewmember.

I proceeded to obtain a massive heap of steel tubing and aluminium billet. Over the following weeks, I began cutting it up and welding it into form. Eivind would drop me a line every now and then just to find out how I was getting along. I couldn’t lie. Having no appreciable time management skills, I was finding it tough to make any headway against such worthy adversaries as work and TV. I would always assure him though, that despite being a little behind schedule, I was confident we’d be ready to roll when he arrived.

When Eivind finally arrived at the end of July, my cheeks were stuffed like a hamster’s from all the words I’d been eating. Our couchbike wasn’t anywhere near ready to roll. On the way home from the airport, I couldn’t tell Eivind what the next few weeks would have in store for us. I had no idea whether another couple of days work would yield the most fantastic touring bicycle known to man, or a feckless monstrosity I’d need to borrow a farmer’s tractor to drag off my property. With no idea what kind of performance to expect, we could only speak in vague terms about a cycling route. We both agreed the Maritimes sounded nice.

It was a good thing that over the next few days, Eivind had some other friends that he wanted to visit. And when he wasn’t doing that, I had the benefit of what one of my housemates had taken to calling cheap Norwegian sweatshop labor.

After three days of practically round the clock toil in the sweltering heat of my garage, no doubt to the great relief of my long-suffering neighbors, our joint venture of nations was finally complete. We rode it around the block. And then, because we had barely eaten a square meal in days, we rode it to the local grocery store to buy food for a celebratory dinner.

Leaving the grocery store, we didn’t have any trouble locating our vehicle among the rows of parked cars. Ours was the one with the crowd around it. As we would realize more and more in the coming weeks, everyone would have their own unexpected reaction to the couchbike. In this instance, the group of mostly older ladies was downright earnest in their praise for the comfortable looking design. Furthermore, obviously embarrassed to have let one of the hottest youth trends slip past their pop culture radar, they sheepishly admitted that this was only the first bike of this sort they’d seen. When we left them, I can only wonder how much longer they stood there waiting for the next pair of youngsters to come cruising in looking for a spot to park their living room furniture.

All told, we’d only logged about three kilometers in testing the bike. But time being of the essence, we decided to ship out the next day. We tore down the bike. Primed and painted it. And the next morning, paint still not quite dry to the touch, we headed off in a roughly eastward direction in a jam-packed rental van.

There was no fanfare there to greet us when we arrived at our arbitrarily selected starting point at the visitor’s centre in Miramichi, New Brunswick. No marching bands clashing cymbals and beating drums as we extracted piece after piece of our couchbike from the impossibly small van and laid them all out for assembly in the parking lot. No horn section responding in crescendo as wheels were mounted and cushions were put in place. Nor was anyone lurking in the bushes with lips pursed against a giant tuba. It’s a shame about the tuba player, because that much maligned musician would surely have had his moment. In the height of all the frenzy, the tuba man could have blown an abrupt and dissonant tone to silence the band as I came to the realization that a critical component of our couchbike had been left behind. In any event, there I was — immersed in silence, pale faced and sweaty palmed, trying to explain the predicament to Eivind.

Without getting overly technical, the crux of the situation was this: I had built a custom clamp that was meant to lock down the bearings of our steering mechanism and also permit precise tensioning of these bearings by means of a tuning bolt. Although I had left this critical component behind, all was not lost. It was with great relief that I realized we still had the wherewithal to clamp the bearings. Unfortunately, the precision adjustment would have to be achieved by walloping the bearings with a rubber mallet, a tactic we executed with mediocre but satisfactory results.

Within a few hours we’d reassembled our bike and begun our journey along the wide shoulder of highway 11. After about 7km, we’d turned down a small side road in search of the coastal highway. We were taking up a full lane as there was no shoulder, but we were cruising along, and the light traffic flowed around us in a procession of cars and trucks occupied by people in hysterical fits of laughter. Many were so tickled to see a couch rolling down the road that they dangled out their windows to take pictures of the spectacle.

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Eivind was sitting shotgun and had the map spread open in front of him looking for our turn. The turn came quicker than we expected. Although I had access to brakes for both sides of the bike, the excitement got the better of me, and I only squeezed the left brake lever — the one that was mounted on the tiller. This threw our equilibrium off kilter and the couch went into a high-speed wobble. Suddenly, one of the wheels swung too far and jammed against the side of the couch. It happened in an instant but it felt like slow motion. I felt the couch lift up underneath me. I watched as my passenger was launched in the air and pitched over the pedals. I hung on to the couch like it was a rodeo bull. At the pinnacle of our trajectory everything seemed to be balanced precariously on the two front wheels. Then, slowly, everything came crashing back down. The luggage, which had been mounted behind the couch landed on top of the bike. The couch came down on top of the luggage. Once everything had settled, and I was still clinging to the couch, I looked down to discover that I was sitting about two feet higher than before.

Eivind picked himself off the highway. I was glad he wasn’t hurt. Together, we frantically began clearing the wreckage from the road. We lifted the couch into the ditch, and pitched all the bags on top of it. When we went to move the bike itself, I noticed one of the wheels was no longer touching the ground. We moved it across the intersection to a dead-end lane for closer inspection. Even standing on the frame with all my weight, and jumping up and down to flex the rear suspension, I couldn’t bring the fourth wheel in contact with the ground. I feared the frame had become irreparably mangled.

Before sharing my fear, I racked my brain for a euphemistic way of saying irreparably mangled. I continued to puzzle at the contorted bike. Eventually, I realized that the telescoping tubes of the frame had simply twisting inside one another. Greatly relieved, we loosened up the pinch bolts in the frame and everything settled down straight again. As I began tightening the bolts on the frame, a pickup truck pulled up and the driver leaned out the window.

“You know what I’m going to ask…” he said, “What the heck is that?”

Eivind, who felt he could field this question, responded by stating it was a bike.

“Where do you sit?” was the next question.

“On a couch”, replied Eivind.

“On a what?”

Eivind turned his head to look across the intersection at the large piece of furniture resting by the roadside. “On a couch”, he said.

A period of stunned silence ensued. This would prove to be a typical encounter. From there, more questions would be asked. The central theme tended to be “why?” This was a line of questioning to which we could never offer a completely satisfying answer. But as long as people were smiling and laughing, then we knew we were on the same wavelength and that’s all we could really hope for…..

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Eventually they rolled their couch up to the lighthouse at East Point, Prince Edward Island. Their odyssey complete, they gazed with satisfaction over the steep sandstone cliffs to the ocean below.

couch_on_cliff1 at finishing point

Today, the couch sits quietly in Bent’s living room at home. No medals or ceremonial afghans adorn its backrest. But as Brent explains:

Every so often, in a search for the remote control, cushions will be overturned to reveal some treasure like a seashell or a stone. These accidental mementos take me back to that crazy summer, and the trip I took with Eivind. We may not have ridden the fastest or traveled the farthest, but we most certainly laughed the hardest. And in cycling as in life, I think that’s about all that really matters!!!

Kickass idea, kickass trip….that actually inspired some others to build similar couchbikes…..even an amphibious one….

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOther couchbike4

Sources: bikeforest.com, Makezine, Treehugger, Instructables, Chicagofreakbike

About MarcF

Global wanderer of the world. Avid cyclist, skier/snowboarder and passionate ping-pong player. Can't live without mountains in my vincinity. Fascinated by cryptocurrencies and hackerspace-like collaborative creations. Linguaphile with a special interest in Chinese, Russian & Spanish. Lover of both good & cheap wines, random facts and singing in the shower. Travel and backpacking remain my first true love. The crazier and more original those earthly exploits the better!