Turning heads in Yukon

‘Cool-looking’ velomobiles attract attention cruising local streets

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Yukon’s Gary Cannon (front) and Bethany’s Larry Sharp traverse local streets in their human-power velomobiles. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

Yukon’s Gary Cannon and his friends Scott Freeman and Larry Sharp know how to turn heads.

Since 2018, these three cycling enthusiasts have been traversing streets across the Oklahoma City region in their unique human-power vehicles.

Cannon, Freeman and Sharp are among a small contingent of area residents who enjoy riding around in their velomobiles.

“You can’t ride in one without a smile,” Freeman said. “They are happy!”

Also known simply as a “velo,” the vehicle is enclosed for aerodynamic advantage and protection from weather and collisions.

A velo typically weighs about 60 pounds.

“They do attract attention,” Sharp said.

These bicycle cars are similar to recumbent bicycles and tricycles, but each has a full aerodynamic shell.

“You’re in a recumbent position, so it’s comfortable,” Freeman explained. “You’re enclosed in a carbon-fiber cage that is very aerodynamic, so you can cruise down a flat road 20 to 25 miles an hour and still carry on a conversation.

“In the wintertime, there’s a cover (hood) for the hole where your head is that keeps you very warm. I can ride in sub-freezing temperatures without gloves, but I won’t when it’s icy.”

And it’s not too bad even in hotter weather.

“When you’re moving, there’s enough air flow,” Freeman said. “You sweat a lot, but it’s not uncomfortable. Until you come to a stoplight.”

Cannon, Freeman and Sharp’s velomobiles were custom built in Oklahoma City.
The model is called a Quest, a classic Dutch design.

“It’s defined as a bicycle under state law, so you can take them anywhere you can take a bike,” said Freeman, who lives in Midwest City.

Cruising speeds are typically 22-23 mph.

“Down the hill, we can get a speeding ticket,” noted Freeman, whose brother Tom was a Yukon firefighter. “You can pretty much go as fast as you are comfortable.”

He usually hits the brakes around 40 miles an hour, though.

Cycling enthusiasts Gary Cannon, Larry Sharp and Scott Freeman have been turned heads riding in their “velos.” (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)
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THEY DO LOOK COOL

Cannon, who lives in Sun Valley Acres on Yukon’s east edge, certainly draws attention of passers-by while pedaling his velomobile.

One recent morning, Cannon was rolling down N.W. 10th when admirers started taking his action picture.

Curious people will frequently approach velo owners like him to ask, “What is that?”
“People honk at us, wave and smile,” Cannon shared.

Motorists often get frustrated having to share the road with bicycles. But it’s different with velos, owing to their rarity in this area.

“I have yet to have a negative encounter of any consequence where somebody yelled,” Freeman added. “They do look cool going down the road.

“They have an interesting look and people are curious. I got stopped by the police one time on my way home, and the officer just wanted to know what it was!”

Cannon used to compete in adult soccer leagues. After suffering an injury, he took up cycling in 1989.

Cannon first bought a cross bike but quickly determined it wasn’t quite fast enough for him.

So, his next acquisition was a road bike.

“I rode it for about a year then met a group that rode out at Francis Tuttle (Technology Center),” said Cannon, whose wife Suzanne is a Yukon School Board member. “Most of those guys raced. I never officially raced, but I rode with them.”

Cannon gradually started riding faster, aboard road bikes for many years before switching to a recumbent bike.

“I got on that recumbent and thought, ‘This seat’s a whole lot more comfortable than that bicycle seat I’ve been on’,” he said.

Cannon met Freeman during a ride when both men were on V-Rex recumbent bikes.

“We rode recumbents together for quite a few years,” he said. “We discovered if you get the right recumbent, and get in shape, it’s actually faster than the old road bike.

“Back when we were younger, we all had a ‘need for speed’. That’s diminished a little bit, but not a whole lot.”

Through the Oklahoma Bicycle Society, Freeman met a fellow club member who was designing and building human-powered vehicles locally.

“That sparked my interest in velomobiles,” Freeman said. “At the time, I had been riding recumbents for about a dozen years.

“I saw how fun, unique and efficient they were and thought I’d like to have one.”

The thrill of riding a velo spread to Cannon and Sharp.

“I thought, ‘That looks interesting’, so I jumped in with it too,” Cannon shared.

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CAN’T MISS OPPORTUNITY

Sharp started riding a recumbent bicycle around 2010, about the time his son became interested in high-end road bikes. Sharp’s son met Freeman on the “Freewheel” cross-state tour.

“I decided to start riding with the Oklahoma Bicycle Society,” Sharp related. “The three of us started riding together on recumbents or trikes. We talked about velos on and off.

“At the time, I didn’t have any burning desire to have one. I liked my recumbent. Then this opportunity came up.”

In October 2017, Cannon, Freeman and Sharp bought their velo molds and enlisted the help of another friend Frans Van Der Merwe to help them through the construction process.

Freeman and Cannon drove to Toronto, Ontario in Canada to pick up the molds and bring them back to Oklahoma.

Building a velomobile is quite labor intensive and it took them about 10 months.
“It became a nice retirement project; build your own bike,” Freeman said.

At the time, the pedaling trio primarily wanted the velos to ride themselves.

But they also thought about building them to sell to others – until they realized how much time was involved in construction.

“I’m an accountant, so I look at numbers,” said Sharp, who lives nearby in Bethany. “I’m not interested in working for $1 an hour. Even the factory that builds them actually has the shells constructed in Romania because the cost of labor is so high.”

By building their velos when they did, this cycling triumvirate saved considerably on the cost. Now, these vehicles are only built in the Netherlands and must be imported to the U.S.

The normal price tag is about $10,000.

“We were well under half of the cost,” Sharp noted. “Frans did a real good job of reengineering the carbon fiber. Ours came out lighter than the factory.”

Velos typically have three wheels, although some are four-wheelers that have more room to carry things like groceries.

“Over in Europe, there are a lot of people who use them as their main form of transportation,” Sharp pointed out.

Anyone interested in learning more about the velomobile should contact https://www.facebook.com/USAQuest/.