The Search for Fuel Economy

Pages from a Designers' Notebook

Aug, 12, 2008

Chap. 15: Summary to date
I have been working on this project since Feb, 2008... 6 months. In that time the cost of gas has gone up about a dollar a gallon. I often hear:

"Your timing is good, Craig"

But, it is not about timing. I have been doing this all my life. It is about being a good steward of what He has given us. God gave us dominion over our world. Dominion means taking responsibility. This is how we can take responsibility.

Dooms-dayers tell us that we are burning our fuel up faster than it is being generated. I have magazines from 1973 predicting that it will be all gone in 25 years. Others say we are awash in oil and that it is being made new, as you read.

What is the truth?

I really do not know. Over the past 40 years, I have observed that the guys that have the oil follow a pattern. Periodically, they run the price up to worrisome levels. We get scared, sell off our guzzlers and think "economy". When outcry gets too serious, the oil guys let costs fall back a little. Just a little. We feel better and go back to our guzzlers. The result: Everything costs more and the oil guys get the money.

Addicted to fuel

It concerns me that Americans may be so addicted to fuel that they may do anything to continue getting it.

If fuel becomes genuinely precious, future generations will look back upon this Freedom Machine as being the definitive pioneering model for the vehicles of the future. If fuel continues to exist and we are willing to pay the price, the Freedom Machine will be chuckled at and remembered as being an oddity.

It makes no difference to me. I am not trying to sell you anything. This is my contribution to good stewardship. I believe it is important.

The original goal: If you go back to Chapter 1, you will see that I wanted to design a motorcycle that got 120 mpg in real riding. As I worked, my ideas began to change.

The goal today: 6 months later, I have changed my goals to 100 mpg, at 70 mph, into a 20 mph headwind. I want to carry at least 4 bags of groceries. This represents real driving to me. I can carry the groceries but don't know if it is possible to get that kind of mileage.

More important, in a garage full of machines, I want this to be my first choice because it is comfortable and convenient. Equally important, this machine must be cool to ride. I think you will agree that this is quite a list of goals. I have a name: the Freedom Machine. Nothing like this has been tried before.

At first, I thought I could modify my existing fiberglass Rifle Streamlined body of 1983. But sitting up - the position I prefer - does not lend itself well to this design. I would have to begin from scratch. Because the right streamlined shape would be big, and weight builds up fast in streamlined bodywork, I decided to use thin plastic sheet and plastic foam. The goal would be for the Freedom Machine bodywork to weigh no more than stock Helix.

One more thing: The final design must not be more trouble than it is worth.

I like to get the big problems right before dealing with the small ones. Handling in awful winds could be a major Big Problem. True streamlined shape means a long tail, brought to a point. I needed to know - early on - how such a tail would handle in side winds with semi trucks. Popular Culture thinks a tail is unsafe. I need to know the truth.

So far, my conclusions are:

Side winds: A stock Helix is pretty much un-affected by side winds. With my streamlining, the machine is a little more affected. I have been riding for 50 years so I am used to the affects of the sidewinds on a motorcycle. I, like other motorcyclists, have learned to let it hike over, like a sailboat, and go on. Nothing much happens. The streamlined Helix is OK in winds, but I don't think I would want to put an inexperienced rider on it. He might be concerned.

I think I can make it better.

Curiously, it seems that the streamlined nose is more effected by the wind than the tail. I plan to play with spoilers to disrupt the air going around the nose. I also plan to experiment with heavy lead weights at the front to enhance stability. Remember the movie, "The World's Fastest Indian?" Munro was going to add lead to the front... It would have worked.

On the top is written:

"The goal is to get 100 mpg at 70 mph, into a 20 mph headwind with 4 bags of groceries. It all begins with streamlining and then the right horsepower. This is real streamlining. This is 18 hp. This is a work-in-process.

Craig Vetter Designer, July, 2008"

Putting my feet down: Is the other Big Problem. Streamlining - a smooth, continuous shape can make it hard to put your feet down. We gotta have holes for our feet. Otherwise, we'll fall over when we come to a stop. This is the period in design when I must determine where and how big those openings must be. Once we know this, we can figure out how to close them in to make a smooth, continuous skin.

By the way, I don't know anybody who has done this successfully. The usual solution is to leave big holes that cause drag or include mechanical doors and training wheels which are complicated, heavy and expensive.

Another solution has been to go to 3 wheels. This is my comment about three wheels:

"Three wheelers generally combine the width of a car with the carrying capacity of a motorcycle."

As far as I am concerned, these solutions are "more trouble than they are worth." Personally, I don't like 3 wheelers because they are too wide to split lanes. Splitting lanes is riding down the centerline, between cars, which is perfectly legal in California. It you are too wide, you cannot physically slip between the cars.

Lighting: I cobbed together the stock Helix headlight which does not fit the streamlined shape. My turn signals are too close and my headrest is too high. Many of you have made suggestions for better lighting, but they are either the wrong shape or not DOT approved.
Final materials: I have mentioned that for this project, lightweight foam plastics are in and traditional materials are out. One of the liabilities of a fishey streamlined shape is that it is big and takes a lot of material. A major asset, however, is that the size makes me look big and more visible. If they see us, they are not likely to pull out in front of us, right?

Shipping costs will be a major concern. At this point, I am thinking that the final bodywork will be an assortment of very thin, .050"vacuum formed parts which will mate up to sheet stock and /or foam components.

Final comments: Riding in 100 degree Midwest weather is hot inside and no fun. I will need to direct the hot radiator air somewhere else. In so doing, it looks like we have the opportunity to add even more storage space. Already, I can carry everything for two riders. And, it is all tucked inside, streamlined and dry.

The windshield is perfect. Only 3" tall... inexpensive while providing the best shielding of any fairing I have ridden behind. This is what we get when we place the windshield close to the rider's face.

The huge seat is fantastic... I think I could sit and ride forever. The Helix is famous for having to remove the muffler to change the rear tire. With my streamlining, the muffler is easy to get at. I will make sure that maintenance is a breeze.

Being a lazy designer has its virtues.

In the mean time...

The Yanks begin arriving in England.

From left: Sherry Romero, Gene's wife. Geneo- their son. Gene Romero, Don Castro, Beezumph's Dave Smith in white shirt, Carol Vetter and Don Emde. Rob North, frame builder was on his way. Carol and I were invited by the British Triples club, Beezumph to attend their 17th event at Cadwell.

In 1971, a Match Race was conceived to pit America's best road racers (my heroes) against Britain's best road racers, (also my heroes). Here they are, 37 years later, arriving again. See the story on Beezumph 17.

It is hard to work on solving streamliner problems with temptations like this.

Master Index to the Last Vetter Fairing Story

This page updated from England, Aug 13, 2008