The Land Rower at Burning Man. Photo by Jordan King
New interview this week with Eric Schmidt, who developed the Land Rower for Burning Man 2012. Eric is a junior studying mechanical engineering at UC Davis. Be sure to check out the video of the Land Rower in action!
row2k - Can you tell folks about the genesis of the project?
Eric Schmidt - I went to Burning Man for the first time in 2011 and was really wowed by the amount of creativity and work people put into the projects. While at BM I thought about many things, some of which inspired the Land Rower project. Some of my key thoughts:
-The desert is a perfectly flat dry lakebed.
-There are a lot of boats at BM, but no human powered boats.
-I like rowing, and am unable to row while at BM.
-Single sculls look cool.
-I should build something fun and original for next year.
Considering these thoughts, it seemed logical that I should do my best to create a single scull I could row around the desert for BM 2012. In the van on the way home I decided the goal of my project was to re-create the look and feel of a single scull on the water in a vehicle built for the desert.
row2k - How difficult/easy was it to rig this up?
Eric Schmidt - I think I spent on the order of ~150 hours building the Land Rower. That estimate does not including all the help I got from friends and family, or the many hours spent designing and doodling.
The final product is many design iterations from the original idea. A few key design breakthroughs include: using an erg to convert rowing motion into rotation, building the vehicle off of the erg structure, making the boat be an aesthetic body on top of a frame, and making it a two person vehicle.
For me, the hardest part of the build was figuring out how to best mount the fiberglass training single to the vehicle. We struggled to fit it on the vehicle's frame while still retaining the boat's structure and aesthetics. Eventually my Dad came up with an awesome solution.
row2k - What was the approximate top speed?
Eric Schmidt - The estimated top speed with both coxswain and rower is between 16 and 20 mph. It feels faster than rowing in a single on the water. With minimal gearing modifications and no coxswain I think a rower alone could push it to well over 20 mph.
row2k - Was it hard to row?
Eric Schmidt - Nope. The gearing is a little steep; it feels roughly like a Concept2 on setting number "8", but once you get going, it's nice and relaxed. I rowed around the desert for about 5 hours one day and got really tired, but I would've been more tired if I had spent 5 hours rowing a single around in the water.
row2k - Any future designs for toe steering?
Eric Schmidt - My plan up until a few months before the festival was to steer with the footboards. Then one of my insightful friends suggested I add a coxswain seat and make them steer. This plan was easier to implement, sounded like it would be more fun, and was a better fit with the general BM mentality.
row2k - What was reception like at Burning Man?
Eric Schmidt - The reception was great! I think the vehicle got a lot of attention not because of its flashy looks or loud music (how most burning man vehicles publicize themselves), but because of its novelty. Many people sincerely thanked me for bringing it.
row2k - Did you run into any other experienced rowers there? What were they doing at Burning Man?
Eric Schmidt - A fair number of rowers got to try it. They would see the vehicle row by, and then catch up pronouncing their affiliation to the sport and begging to try it out. Two ex-national team rowers took it for a spin. They both loved it and said it sure beat erging!
row2k - Anything unexpected happen - crashes, piracy, races with other vehicles?
Eric Schmidt - I actually didn't expect the vehicle to survive the week unharmed, which it essentially did. I thought for sure something would go wrong, a major part would break, or some major crash would happen. So that was unexpected.
I let a group of very strong, excited Russians try out the Land Rower. They were so excited to go row around that they started rowing away while I was teaching them how to operate the brake. I wasn't sure if they heard me, and sure enough when they came zooming back pointed at the group, the coxswain started yelling in Russian and frantically searching for the brake. The group of us in their way scattered and luckily avoided a messy crash. We all laughed about it after they rolled to a stop.
row2k - There seems to be a widespread fascination with land rowing; do you have any thoughts on this?
Eric Schmidt - I personally enjoy both rowing and cycling. I like cycling mainly for the practicality. This summer my commute took 45 minutes by car during rush-hour, or 35 minutes on my road bike.
I like rowing because of how effectively it uses your whole body. I haven't done an exercise that leaves me feeling as utterly and wonderfully spent as rowing does. It makes sense to me that people have a fascination with combining these two pastimes.
row2k - Do you have a favorite story about the project?
Eric Schmidt - I have a number of stories, and it's hard to pick a favorite. Transporting the Land Rower to and from BM on top of an old Toyota pickup was an adventure in and of its self. The looks, honks, expressions, and questions we got were priceless.