A Pedal-Powered Desert Whale Bus

There's a yearly festival called Burning Man in the Nevada desert on a vast windy flat dried lakebed. Heat, camping, fantastical art, partying all night, tons of people. I would not go unless I had a very good reason to go. However, I was thinking about a pedal-powered whale bus that seems like a good fit for that.

The whale would be tarp over scaffolding. About 60 feet long (10 foot head, 30 foot body, 20 foot tail), 20 feet wide, with flipper sticking out an extra 5 feet on both sides with wheels at their tips for stability. It would have 7 wheels, run by 1 to 7 pedalers, room for 13 extra passengers, and a top speed of 10 miles an hour (3 to 5 miles per hour is more plausible when loaded). It would weigh about 3000 pounds empty and 6000 pounds loaded.

The tail would be sail material, a 10 by 20 foot half circle, and it would be counterbalanced and rigged to flop up and down slowly as you pedal along. You could also hoist the tail vertical and rotate the tail to act as a sail if the wind is coming from the sides or behind. Back-of-the-envelope says that the tail will not give enough thrust to move the whale on its own, unless there is a very strong tailwind. With a wind over about 30 mph you'd be best off parking the whale with the tail down.

Some of the scaffolding may be plastic. Some may be inflated rubber tubes. Some may be pipes. Maybe the pipes could be played like an organ or a windchime so that the whale could sing. I'm very unclear how to best make it a singing whale. Maybe bowed strings, maybe bells. No speakers though.

The wheels would be 8 feet in diameter, with the pedaler sitting on a frame inside each wheel. Three or four small wheels at the bottom would drive the big wheel. The remainder of the big wheel would be an unsupported hoop, except for some guide wheels at the top of the big wheel that are also used for steering. The hoop only needs to be strong enough to span the distance between consecutive small wheels at the bottom. The rest of the hoop doesn't encounter significant forces. The platform is hung from springs from the center of the frame. Turning is accomplished by turning each of the wheels in a concert so the whale goes in a 100 foot diameter circle rather than a straight line. Turning the wheel does not change where the springs attach, because they attach in the center. A single big wheel and frame can be used as a fast recumbent unicycle. (Such standalone wheels exists already, they're called a monowheel or monocycle.)

There would be wheels in front (in the sides of the mouth), two further back by the flippers, one in the center back (used by the captain), two more by the tail. Each pedaler is responsible for between 600 and 3000 pounds of load, so they'll have to be in a very low gear. The whale as a whole moving forward has to deal with air resistance for a cross section of about 13 x 20 feet, but it's faired.

The captain has to navigate by computer screens. There would be video cameras in the center of the eyes, on the weathervane on top, in the sides of the mouth pointed forward, and underneath the belly pointed forward and back. The eyes could be computer controlled to point in different directions. If there are pipes, the computer might control how those are played too. Moving the wheels and tail and mouth have to be done by pedals or hand cranks though. Solar cells on the back could charge batteries which run the computer and cameras.

I don't know how to do the floor. The wheels would be arranged so there are supports every 10 feet usually, no more than 15 feet, except for the tail which is light because nobody stands on it. I'm thinking of a plastic two-level tiling of pink hexagons on top and Mitsubishi symbols on the bottom and a bolt tying it all together securely through the center of each hexagon. The top surface has to be solid, but the bottom might be a lattice like a radio tower rather than solid or solid edges. Lots of possibilities.

On further thought, a bolt through each hexagon with a locking washer at the bottom is needlessly complicated. There's a much simpler way to secure the tiles. A peg could go through the sides of the Mitsubishi symbols, and a flexible lever could hold the peg in place, and allow the peg to be pulled out.

I don't know if any of those tiles are better than, say, a sheet of plywood. A back-of-the-envelope estimate usually comes up with about 5000 pounds for the floor alone, which is way too much. I only have a budget of 2000 or ideally 1000 pounds for the entire floor, including support beams. Maybe airplane decks or concert stages have a good solution for this already.

Usually braking would be done by stopping the big wheels, but there would also be emergency brakes (essentially plows to drop into the dirt) just in case.

People would board through the open mouth, or through a door at the tail. There would be three 5 foot by 4 foot windows on each side. The mouth can be closed, the tail and windows can be zippered shut, which can keep the wind out. But there would be 1 foot under the whale and the wheel openings are always open. This thing has no security at all.

Bob Predicts the Future

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