This entry is a Bike Hacks Classic.
I'll cop to it. It's not easy for me to admit, but yes it's true, I have thought about moving from Manhattan to New Jersey. Oh the horror!
Don't get all offended Garden State dwellers, the horror arises from the fact that there is little chance that I could complete my commute to work entirely on my bike like I am able to do now. The only way it might be possible would be to ride across the George Washington Bridge and its Byzantine bike/pedestrian/death trap walk way.
Navigating that bridge once or twice a month to take advantage of peaceful rides along the water in Palisades Interstate Park is enough for me, let alone doing it on a daily basis. The tragedy is that New Jersey is oh so close to Manhattan. I just plopped in points in Google Maps and the bridge comes out to exactly 1.0 mile in length.
Imagine how cool it would be if there was a pedestrian/bike only bridge connecting Manhattan to New Jersey somewhere around midtown. I think monkeys might fly out of my ass when something like that actually happens, but I can dream!
The other option would be of course to have some sort of aqua bike. I'll admit that I have thought about it, but actually doing something about it? What kind of dedication would it take to do something like that? Well, I can actually tell you.
Recently I came into contact with a real life Aqua Man - AquaCycle man that is. Yvon Le Caer developed and rode his AquaCycle from the Bahamas to Florida in 1981, and also crossed the Western English Channel in 1985. As a result, he appears in the Guinness Book of World Records. His Web site documents all of his accomplishments and you can check it out here. Yvon currently resides in Florida and he reached out to us a while back and was kind enough to grant us an interview. Enjoy and thanks Yvon!
In touch very early, like any French boy in the fifties, with the dominant sports of soccer and cycling, I chose to go towards cycling and entered my first race at the age of fifteen. This first test marked the beginning of a life much disciplined by competitive cycling. As a matter of fact, and to respond to your question in full, I really never rode for recreation. That said, this life-long commitment and dedication to the sport of cycling resulted into a very rewarding racing career, as I successfully competed at top level on the old continent for many of my younger years.
Later, after moving to the United States in 1965, but before switching my cycling activities to the open seas in the late seventies (30 years ago), I won many road races in Florida, as well as several gold and silver medals at the various State Championships. I also raced in Canada and participated several times to the United States Championships and Master Worlds in Austria. All in all, it seems to me now that I have been riding bikes for most of my life.... until I was struck by a hit-and-run driver while training on Key Biscayne in August of 1986; an accident which ended all my cycling activities for many years.
To close the loop on your background, can you tell us more about your personal history?
Born from French parents, I was raised in France and Morocco (North Africa) which was then under French rule. Married to Andrea in 1961, we left the old world for America in 1965. After a year in Atlanta, we settled down in Miami, becoming United States citizens in 1973. In Parallel with my cycling activities, I have, for over 40 years now, pursued a professional career in the field of civil engineering. For the record, I am still married to Andrea and have no children.
When did the idea for cycling on the water arise? Was it your idea or were you inspired by someone/something else?
Even though I initiated the “AquaCycle Program” in 1978, the idea had been in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember. For simplicity's sake, let's call it an “old childhood dream of mine”; a dream that I really cannot explain. Whatever it was, strong, at said program inception, was my quest for a new athletic and technical challenge which would validate cycling on water. That is where I dug my inspiration and motivation at that time.
Did you have any sponsors? How did you pay for the development?
Let's not forget that in the early eighties, sponsorship was not what it is now. As far as I am concerned, I had no major sponsors financing the crossings. As to the development of the watercraft, I bore the cost of it alone since this project was a personal undertaking of which I wanted to retain full control. On the whole, it was certainly a costly venture, but by all means it was worth the expense.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced in putting together the AquaCycle? How many models did it take to get it right?
Although I envisioned quite well the concept when I decided to go ahead with the design and construction of AquaCycle in 1978, I didn't have then knowledge of any reference source which would help me develop such an innovative watercraft merging bicycle and marine-related technologies. In my “bag”, just a rough conceptual sketch and, stored in my mind, a stack of ideas and well defined construction parameters.
Still, with my first objectives also on the table (Operations Gulf-Stream & Western English Channel) that was enough to convince a few South Florida experts in marine technologies to jump onboard. During the eight years that followed the project implementation in 1978, five (5) prototypes were built, each one incorporating some interesting improvements geared at optimizing the seaworthiness, reliability and performance of AquaCycle. The first craft was launched on September 21, 1979, and the last one on January 15, 1986, just a few months before that road training accident which ended all my activities in this field.
What were some of the frustrating/fearful/humorous moments faced as AquaCycle was developed and tested?
Since this project was most serious and well organized/managed, I cannot think of any particular humorous moment(s), except perhaps that day when I inadvertently rode Aquacycle over a huge manatee, in Biscayne Bay, close to the mangrove on the East side of Key Biscayne Golf course. With only a few inches to spare between the propeller and the back of the “beast”, it could have been disastrous for the craft.
To get back to your question, the most frustrating moment for me [fearful for Andrea] was undoubtedly the aborted first attempt across the Western English Channel in 1983. If I made it across in September of 1985, I had failed 2 years earlier, on October 22, 1983, losing, in the middle of the night, not only to the weather and the sea but also, quite unexpectedly, to my escort vessel which “sliced” 4 feet off the front-end of AquaCycle. Speaking of frustration, that was a huge one; I had to return to the United States empty-handed and wait 2 more years to try again.
How do you physically prepare for such odysseys at sea?
Well, this is no job for an occasional rider. Weather and sea conditions set aside, it takes hard preparation work and training, on the road and on water, to be able to ride so many hours (almost 17 hours during the Western Channel journey) through sometimes chaotic conditions. In the early eighties for instance, I was still riding an average of 15,000 miles a year on the road and, while in Cherbourg, during the few months preceding the 1985 channel crossing, it was not unusual for me to ride in the morning 60 or 70 miles on the road, then ride AquaCycle for 3 hours in the afternoon. Quite a tough regimen, isn't it?
How would you describe the feeling between cycling on land and cycling on water?
For me, cycling on water my way (upright position), and being able to accomplish what I had dreamed of for decades, has been the most unique and rewarding challenge/experience of my entire life; a sensation actually difficult to share in details. Millions of people, racers or not, know the great feeling of cycling on land; however, very few, if any, have pedaled like me across the sea.
With regard to my prevailing impression when riding on water for recreation/fun (ocean endeavors set aside of course), it's a feeling of space, tranquility and beauty which first comes to mind.
However, when dealing with serious business, the endeavors and all the tasks at hand then, this was quite a different ball game in which there was no room for amateurism. It was no piece of cake... it was like going uphill all the time... it was tough!
Is the actual propulsion system the same as one might find on any common pedal boat?
Since AquaCycle was not a “common” pedal boat, but a fully customized watercraft, it is obvious that its propulsion system, the actual heart of the craft, was not just a cheap piece of machinery. As a matter of fact, largely profiled and shown on my website, the propulsion unit which allowed me to cross the Western English Channel in 1985, was especially designed for me and superbly crafted in Florida.
Again, as said on my site, the particularity of said propulsion system [an all gear driven, totally independent system fitted with crank arms, pedals and “push-pull option”] was that it could easily be replaced at sea, in case of malfunction or breakdown. Only two units were built and I still keep them for sentimental reasons. Still in perfect condition, it looks like they could even be competitive nowadays.
Are you aware of any efforts by others to duplicate your crossings and break your records?
No, I am not aware of anyone actually planning to repeat my journeys of 1981 [Crossing Bahamas-Florida (from Cat Cay to Dania Beach)] and 1985 [Crossing of the Western English Channel (from Cherbourg to Poole)]. There exist, in many parts of the world, some human-powered vehicle associations holding mainly speed contests and featuring also ongoing technological development for human-powered vehicles in the water, in the air and on land. However, regarding the water, these associations seem to seclude their efforts and contests on lakes alone, a fact which, in my judgment, is certainly not conducive to the promotion and advancement of the cause; these events being rarely given any serious media coverage.
Are you still cycling? If so, are you cycling on dry land or do you still hit the water?
At this time, due to their crushing impact on the AquaCycle project and on my cycling activities as well, the severe injuries I suffered in that 1986 training accident on the road to Key Biscayne must be reminded. Let us not forget that I was sidelined for years as a result. It was tough to lose it all at once! However, after a long healing and undergoing physical therapy for what seemed to be an eternity, I eventually, in the nineties, got back riding again on land... sort of. Yet, unable to fully regain my physical condition/potential, and with my body clock ticking relentlessly, I had to face reality: there would be no more daring trips across the seas.
What did the recent construction of your website bring you?
Putting together my website allowed me to reunite again with the other me, with my clone: Yvon Le Caer the road cyclist, the ocean cyclist, the dreamer, the conceptor, the achiever and also for some, the challenger of limits or the daredevil who confronted the seas. It also brought back loads of fond memories which were locked up since long in my “treasure chest”, and mostly forgotten. On the whole, I revisited the past and it was a trip full of emotions and nostalgia.
That said, I am overwhelmed by the number of people from all over the world who are each day visiting my site, and find sometimes inspiration within; such as Dylan H. of Austin, Texas, who wrote me: “Your story and what you did is truly awesome. I am so glad that I found your story, because it just goes to show that anything is possible.”
Lastly, judging by the visits the site generates and the comments I receive, it shows that the general public interest for human stories, challenges and epic journeys, such as mine, is timeless.
Care to dispense any advice or inspiration to our audience?
Motivation is, and has always been, the key to my formula of success and also a vital ingredient to my health, physical and mental that is. At first, and until the late seventies, competitive road cycling generated that motivation. Then, after switching my activities to the open seas, AquaCycle became the new instrument of said motivation.
True, my journeys at sea were certainly hazardous and there was some danger in all my ocean cycling activities, but that was the name of the game and I accepted the rules. Unacceptable mode of life, some would argue. Perhaps for some, but who wants to go through life without taking risks at some point in time? Man has always been a challenger of limits, and I personally loved being on the high road of adventure.
My last words: You have only one life to live. So, if what you want is important enough to you, then, by all means, go for it, do it.
To get the full meal deal check out http://yvonlecaer.com.