The Man Behind the Fairing
An interview with Mark Mueller, America's favorite builder of Bent farings
By Jose Hernandez, Bentrider Online Magazine
Recumbent bike fairings or windshields are not new. Thay've been around for years. Yet one can argue that fairings have not been alll that popular among the "typical" bent folks.
Mark Mueller, the maker of the Windwrap® fairings is an a mission to change all that. Mark has employed his engineering genius to build an affordable, yet aerodynamically superior fairing that is rapidly being adopted by some of the major makers of recumbent bikes. BentRider Online would like to thank Mark for taking the time to talk to us and set the fairing record straight.
Mark Mueller with a Rotator Pursuit
A: I have been involved with the IHPVA (International Human Powered Vehicle Association) since the early '90s and have followed the IHPVA since the early '80s. Through my involvement I learned that there was a shortage of front fairings for recumbent bicycles. I had a job doing production work, materials searching and process development for 6 years and had been looking for a business of my own to start. My buddy, Al Krause, said I ought to give it a try. It looked very doable to me. So I put the down payment on my first major piece of equipment in the Summer of 1998 and let my employer know that July 24th would be my last day there.
When I was a student at Humboldt State University, Energy Resources Engineering, I started making my own fairings out of coroplast. In 1991 I made two fairings for my Mad River recumbent, a uss lwb. The first fairing had too much side area which caused it to blow into the pedals, and affect handling in strong side winds and yucky paint job. The next version had less side area and I left it natural white. It worked nicely. I was impressed with the extra speed it gave me, even though it had faceted corners instead of smooth curves. It rains a lot up here in Eureka so it was wonderful to stay dry from mid chest down. And it was a lot warmer in our chilly climate.
This fairing was a keeper so I set it up with a retractable Nite Sun dual beam headlight and a glove compartment. I entered that bike in the 1991 International Human Powered Speed Championships and got 1st place in the static and dynamic portions of the practical vehicle competition in Milwaukee.
It seemed to me the shape of this fairing was missing one thing and that is more of a nose. The wind seemed to be blowing under the fairing like a low aspect ratio airfoil (inefficient wing.) For the longest time I was dreaming of a way to gracefully have more of a nose cone on the fairing. When I began my fairing business I knew that this was one of the features I would incorporate into the design. The other issue seemed to be shaping a polycarbonate fairing so that it could lean back quite a ways. Some other polycarbonate fairings have a limit to how far back they could lean before they start aiming air back down at the rider's chest. After using up hundreds of pounds of polycarbonate on experimentation I figured out how to get the shape I wanted. This fairing style I call the Windwrap®.
Q: I think more bent folks are considering a windshield? Am I right about this?
A: I think so. The fact that more people are considering recumbents is very clear. I think people who buy and ride recumbents are more willing to try different things. For example I used to ride quite a bit on diamond frame bikes and would try stuff like upside down three speed bars for better comfort. Often other riders would question me, 'drop bars have multi positions you should be using those.' It was like I was a mental case for trying something different. The three speed bars had less positions but they comfortable. The drop bars had more positions but none of them were comfortable for me. Heck when you buy a recumbent all that goes out the window. Now the only test is, "Is it good?" Do you get a better ride? What is *your* definition of a better ride, not someone else's definition.
So getting back to your question, I'd say that more people are considering fairings for their recumbents. Recumbent seating lends itself to a fairing much better than diamond frames. And diamond frame bikes are based on UCI sanctioning which doesn't allow aerodynamic devices such as fairings.
Q: Will I go faster if I install a fairing?
A: In most cases yes. The closer the rider is to the fairing the more reduction in wind drag. In other words the front fairing must be installed as far back as possible. It is debatable whether there is drag reduction when installing only a front fairing on a bike with extremely seat laid back 45 degrees or more because the part of the fairing that does the work is the part in front of your feet. So the rest of your body is considerably far from the front of the fairing. Extremely laid back bikes like lowracers are pretty aero without a fairing anyhow. For these bikes a fairing would offer only weather protection and aesthetics.
Q: Are there any other benefits.
A: Weather protection. You'll stay warmer in cold weather. You'll stay drier in wet weather. As well you will experience better temperature stability when going up and down hills. After sweating up the hill (which you would do without a fairing) you don't get cooled to a cold sweat down the hill.
Style. Fairings look great. It feels good to be behind a fairing. For me its feeling of security.
Q: Many bent folks claim that fairings are heavy, unsafe in cross winds and hard to install or maintain because they scratch easily and are way too expensive. What do you say to those folks?
A: Don't get a fairing ha ha. No really, look at this. Is there any other one component on your bike that you could change and get a 2 mph increase in speed? The Windwrap® design is especially designed to sit as far back as possible. So on a LWB OSS bike it will be close to the steering axis and has minimal effect on the handling. On a SWB the Windwrap® will be mounted to the frame and not the steering. Also side area is kept to a minimum which makes for better handling too.
To get a fairing that does not scratch it would have to be made out of glass. I use the best clear material in terms of impact resistance and scratch resistance. With some simple care you can keep your fairing nice looking. The main thing is to just ride your bike and leave the fairing alone as much as possible. The more you rub the fairing the more scratched it will get. Next when it is time to clean the fairing, use a lot of water flow and a soft rag to wipe it. The idea is to loosen the dirt just enough to let the water wash it away. The garden hose or shower works well. I wash my fairings while they are on the bike in the driveway. For light scratch removal toothpaste, soft rag and water work well. You can buy plastic care products at the auto supply for better scratch removal.
As far as expensive goes. You can make a fairing a lot cheaper out of coroplast. I invite you all to try this. It is fun creating your own stuff. But Lexan® in compound curves looks much better. Fairings look simple. After all there are few parts. But they cannot be popped out real fast. Each part of the process requires time and care, from cutting and drying the plastic before thermoforming to rolling up the finished and quality checked fairing and placing it in its box.
The best way to transport a fairing is to remove it from the bike, roll it up carefully and store it in the box it came in. Roll it in the plastic foam it came with or use a soft fabric. If there is room in your car you can lay the fairing open in a place that it won't roll around.
Q: RANS is obviously impressed with your product? Are there any other manufacturers who'll follow this lead.
A: My first OEM (original equipment manufacturer) account was Recumbent Barn for the Black Bent. Then I landed BikeE, Vision, and then RANS. I am working on some others as we speak. Grant Bower at Vision is ecstatic about my fairings and had an opportunity to do some wind tunnel testing on one. On the R45 he found a 15% increase in the aerodynamic efficiency by adding a Windwrap®. They manufacture a great mounting hardware system and sell it with a custom designed Windwrap® fairing.
Q: As you know many bent folks think that a rear fairings is just as good. Will you ever manufacture a rear fairing (Tail Box.)
A: I am one of those folks who think that way. It is in my plans to make and sell some kind of tail box. MHP will be moving to a new shop soon and that will let us add some new equipment for making new products like tail boxes. Body stockings are in the works too. I am also contemplating making vacuum formed full fairings for racing use if I get enough requests. I will probably choose a belly button (everyone's got one) recumbent to design for. I like racing and I know others do too.
Q: What bikes do you have in your garage?
Q: How can I get more info?
A: Call me up (800-371-5871), or check out my website (http://www.windwrap.com). I can send a brochure as well. I am also interested in setting up bike shop dealerships. If you want to see some of my nonbusiness bike related activities, you can visit my personal website (http://www.mueller-hp.com/art_motion/).