I'm a week into this Schiller bike journey around Norway's coast and the unusual craft that I first tried one week ago today has now become familiar, and seeing as 90% of the questions I've faced so far revolve around my waterbike, here's an attempt to outline just how fit it is for travel.
I don't train for my adventures and often I'll start a journey without any experience riding the transport that (I hope) will take me at least 1000 miles, but after watching films and enjoying a couple of conversations with the Schiller Bike inventor, Judah Schiller, I was confident that this pedal-powered bike would be more than adequate for a long journey.
Pedalos as a category have always been fascinating to me, but until now there haven't been many obvious options for a long journey. A swan-shaped pedalo in the local pub's lake in England travels about as fast as a swimmer towing a 35kg raft and any speedy pedal-powered boats were built for ocean crossings, so cut out the open-air appreciation that I so enjoy on my 1000-milers.
But the Schiller Bike has been on my radar for a couple of years and appeared to tick all the boxes and so, when Hurtigruten and Visit Norway suggested that I might find a way to travel 1000 miles around the Norwegian coast, the Schiller was top of the list.
Last weekend, in front of the Thon Hotel in Kirkenes, I eagerly unpacked all the pieces from a box that three grown humans could have fit in, and then easily pieced together a puzzle shaped from a mixture of invention and art.
And there it was, in all its glory. The Schiller Bike is impressive. It's big, for a one-person water craft, but as solid as it felt there was a sense of fashion to it. The carbon fibre propellor shaft is just plain sexy, and the wooden running boards either side of the bike are a joy to behold.
It took about six or seven minutes to pump up each pontoon to 10psi, and although the pressure could increase this was more than enough to get onto the water.
I added a handlebar extender so I could still grip the handles while sitting upright. The standard handlebar set-up means the rider needs to adopt more of a leant-over racing position.
If this thing moves as well as it looks, I'm in for a treat, I thought as Adam and I carried it the two hundred metres to the water's edge. For one person to carry, it's a push. For two, easy. In the last week, since travelling and often reaching shore alone, the inflatable pontoons are more than tough enough to withstand a solid drag up onto the shore, whatever the surface.
And then it was time to ride. Stepping out off dry land and onto a pontoon and running board is like a leap of faith, but the Schiller Bike barely flinched. Wow! This thing is stable. I've since realised that I could stand with my whole weight on one pontoon and the opposite pontoon wouldn't leave the water. This gives so much freedom. I've been bounding around mid-fjord like Kevin Costner in Waterworld, to get different camera angles, adjust bag straps, find some more snacks, and I haven't thought about falling in.
If you've ridden a bike before, you'll be at home on a Schiller. The frame is solid, strong and fixed in position and the pedals have rubber foot straps rather than cleats, which would rust fast when exposed to salt water.
Adam let go of the carry-handle at the rear of the pontoon nearest to him and I was on my own. I started pedalling, angling the steering wheel away from the pontoon and wheeeeee! I was clear of the platform in seconds. This thing moves!
"Wow, it's fast!" shouted someone from dry land, which was fast shrinking into the distance. I tried turning sharply, and the Schiller Bike responded. It's not a tight turning circle, but you could be facing the opposite direction in ten metres and frankly, unless you're pedalling in a swimming pool this isn't going to pose a problem.
After a minute at sea, marvelling at my new friend, I returned, finished pedalling a few metres out, and neatly sidled up flank-on to the pontoon. Amazing.
To carry gear, Schiller provide a specially-made inflatable platform which spans between the side pontoons (or legs, as I call them) and straps in at four points. We rigged it up in ten minutes flat about half an hour before my journey started. I've adjusted the strapping technique each day of my journey, carrying my waterproof bags on the front platform and under the bungees to the rear of the bike on each pontoon. I recommend purchasing some bungee cords with carabiners at each end to make strapping in all the more pleasurable.
The Schiller Bike can bear an impressive 900lbs of weight, I'm told, but I'm never going to break a quarter of that. It sits high in the water even fully loaded, and whizzes along happily. So, so impressed. Already planning the shopping trips along the canal once I get back to London.
This is worth noting, and something I've slowly been able to work with in my first week on the water. The prop and rudder shaft drops down about 2ft/60cm below the surface so in shallow water it needs to be brought up to the surface to avoid being bashed around.
There have also been numerous kelp beds where ocean vegetation almost tickles the surface, and pedalling through this has ended up with my prop entangled.
Back-pedalling cleverly pops the propellor right up to the surface in one rotation, so coming into land on a shallow beach involves a couple of quick rotations forward to get speed up for the landing, and then a quick back pedal to get the prop up out of harm's way.
Norway's coast is fairly rocky most of the time, so to avoid that gorgeous carbon fibre shaft getting bashed by something hard I've played it safe, stepped off the bike, crouched on the standing board and brought the prop out of the water by hand. Sometimes I've manually held the prop just below the surface and pedalled forwards with my other hand to get me closer to a spot where I can jump in at ankle's depth.
I also carry a two-piece kayak paddle with me, and this has come in handy when crossing thick kelp beds or coming into land in rocky situations.
I've been on the water for six days so far and here how the stats play out.
Average speed unloaded in flat conditions: 5 mph pedalling normally. I've gone up to 8mph in short sprints, but these aren't sustainable.
A very slow rotation of the pedals will sustain around 3mph.
Headwinds up to 15 knots have slowed me by 1.5 mph
In the 47 hours I've spent on the water so far, I've averaged 3.3 mph, including drifting, resting, taking photos and navigating. My moving average would be closer to 3.8mph, I estimate.
Each day is between 7 and 9.5 hours. So far.
My shortest day is 16 miles.
Longest so far is 32 miles.
Most asked question: "Is it stable?"
Second most asked question: "Isn't it dangerous?" (this is more about being offshore in Norwegian waters than the Schiller Bike, but my answer is always the same, "it's safer than driving a car".)
I've loved this first week. It has been hard at times, for sure, but these journeys should be. The Schiller bike is a super bit of kit and I'm a very proud owner. It's fun, stable and safe, and I literally have to trust it with my life. I do.
It's also neat to be so high, simple trigonometry means my view, like Stand Up Paddleboarding, is so much better than in a kayak or canoe, but of course the Schiller Bike is so much more stable than a SUP.
I've had some wonderful seal encounters already, and they've been heightened by my vantage point, as has my safety. Looking down into the water is so much more enjoyable and filled with peace-of-mind than looking across it.
If you have any questions about the Schiller Bike or the way I'm using it, please don't hesitate to ask, and I'll update this article or write new ones in answer to your questions and suggestions.
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All images by Adam Brown from Yellow Matilda
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