Beijing-Paris Blog
About the Bikes
Practical Information
Event Website

Fong Huo Lun and Toronado in GermanyI built two bikes for this trip Fēng Huǒ Lún and Toronado. Both were short wheelbase full suspension recumbents.
I spent around 300 hours on the computer getting the design right and hundreds more actually building them. The design has gone through many revisions, earlier versions were intended to have a composite tailbox, however as the deadline approached I gave up on that idea and sewed those single-piece panniers instead.

Fēng Huo Lún (lit. “Wind fire wheels”) is the name of the vehicle given to the mischevious Chinese folk legend Nuo Zha. He rode Fēng Huo Lún into battle against the imperial army of the Shang dynasty. On a similar theme, Toronado (similar to the spanish “tornado”) was the horse of master swordsman Zorro.

Fong Huo Lun

Fēng Huǒ Lún and Olly conquer Norton Summit (Adelaide)


Fēng Huǒ Lún at Semiphore beach.


Toronado in Linear Park.

More bike building pictures

Download plans (warning: 1Mb file!)

Technical details

Including panniers Fong Huo Lun weighed 18kg. The wheelbase was 1050mm. This was later reduced by 50mm in Kyrgystan when I crashed into a rock and bent my forks! The seat angle was adjustable from 39 to 44 degrees, with the seat at 39 degrees the head tube angle was 74 degrees, and there was 50mm trail.

All the tubes were made from aircraft grade 4130 cromolly, with a mixture of 1.2mm and 0.9mm wall thickness. I bronze-welded all the joints, using oxy-propane. I thorougly recommend this approach for the beginner. Compared with oxy-acetalene, the lower flame temperature makes overheating the base metal less likely. Also the fumes are not so bad. I TIG welded my previous recumbent, but found the process much less enjoyable.

New safety gogglesA word of warning here: In the process of building the frame I got an angle grinding spark in the surface of my eye, and had to have it removed by a specialist, with the tip of a needle. It was as horrible as it sounds! I was wearing safety glasses, but they were not good enough. Now I use ski-mask style goggles with a rubber seal around the edge.

Cracked rimBoth wheels use 36 hole 406mm Velocity Aeroheat rims, symmetrically built (I offset the rear triangle 15mm) 3x rear 1x front 1000N spoke tension all round. I made the mistake of re-drilling the valve holes to take schrader valves. Do not try this at home, all four rims eventually cracked around the hole I drilled! Incredibly despite my vandalism the wheels made it to Paris less than 1mm out of true, with only two spokes needing tightening on the whole trip. The front wheel had 10mm suspension built into the hub, which worked quite well, though it affected the braking.

The main tube has been designed to be just short enough to fit inside the panniers during transit. The forks were sourced from our friend Kevin Kao from TW-bents in Taiwan, and the suspension and headsets were kindly donated by Cane Creek.

The seats are combinations of carbon-fibre and Kevlar with a 20mm foam core, laminated from two 10mm sheets. I moulded the core using a hand held electric heat gun, as our kitchen oven is too small. I should have used more carbon and less Kevlar, but at the time Airbus and Boeing had gone and bought all the word’s supply of the strand, and so I couldn’t get hold of any 3K carbon cloth. I bought 12K in desperation, but it was very difficult to mould it around curvey edges due to the large (10mm) size of the weave squares. My seat cracked when I was hit by a truck in Kazakhstan, but it still lasted easily to Paris.

The drive train was mostly regular MTB and road bike stuff, however we got Greenspeed to shorten the cranks. None of the “big” manufacturers offer cranks in suitable lengths for recumbents. I rode on 152.5mm cranks, while Ting (shorter than me) used 130mm. This gave us higher effective gearing without resorting to unusual chain rings. Another word of caution, at the time of writing I have not felt my toes for four months, probably as a result of using too high gears initially, crushing the nerves on the ball of my foot. Remember you need to use a higher cadence if you are going to use shortened cranks!

We used V brakes on the front, and a disk brake on the rear. The philosophy was to use front brakes only as backup in an emergency (as this is the best time to use front brakes on a recumbent), thus avoid wearing down the rims. This worked well, except in the first week, when we were riding through a mixture of mud, rain and coal dust, as we skirted around China’s coal province of Shaanxi. Ting and I both had to replace our disk pads after just two weeks of riding. However the replacement pads lasted until France! In Kyrgystan we had to stop every 3-5 minutes on the downhill sections to allow the disk brake callipers to cool down.

Sewing pannierWe sewed the panniers using an older model domestic sewing machine, I bought second hand. It had no great trouble getting through the Cordura-like fabric. However I doubt one of those modern made-in-Thailand pieces of rubish would cope.

The panniers performed well from an aerodynamic point of view, including in a cross wind. However they are completely impractical for touring, and the larger one was often rubbing on the wheel, which gave me endless trouble. They weren’t totally water proof, and it was impossible to find anything in them. As soon as I have time I will be replacing the panniers with two long bags, one on each side of the seat, and a fluorescent yellow rain cover for safety and streamlining.

The biggest mistake of the trip was the use of Schwalbe Marathon HS 368 40-406mm tyres. They were absolute rubish. We averaged a puncture each every 1000km, and two of the eight tyres ended up with broken beads.  This is roughly five times the rate of puncture I was expecting.   I sent a very frank E mail to Mr Schwalbe.   Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of sensible choices in 406mm.  Ideally for such a trip I would take two sets of 32mm and one set of 40mm, all of them folding.  I might have to start my own tyre factory.

Overall the bikes worked pretty well. I will certainly never again consider purchasing another factory made bike. Building them was at least as much fun as the riding part.


7 Responses to “About the bikes”

  1. 1 velaia May 21, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    WOW! Amazing bike you’ve put together, Olly. Do you have some tips for the flags adjustment because I’m thinking about adding one, two or three to my bike, too.

  2. 2 Olly Powell May 21, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Still just learning about flags. I have a variety of crazy plans about turning them into sails, and possibly moving them up to between the steering mast and the fairing mount.

  3. 3 Ting May 27, 2007 at 11:44 am

    FHL looks great!

  4. 4 Daniel June 11, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Hey, I hope you have had a great start! Tbe bike looks really great! Congratulations!

  5. 5 andrew April 23, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Enjoyed reading about your trip and the bike build in Aus. Cyclist, well done on completing both!! love your bikes cheers

  6. 6 ben May 24, 2008 at 12:57 am

    In a recent edition of Bicycling Australia you said that you would make the planes available somewhere… Interested

  7. 7 Olly Powell May 29, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Hello Ben,

    Sorry, I’ve been a bit slack about that. I have made a number of changes to the design, but haven’t got around to updating the plans yet, and didn’t want people copying my mistakes.

    I might put up the old ones shortly, with a few notes.

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