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Steve Roberts: Computing Throughout America

Steve Roberts: Computing Throughout America

2023-04-11 12:55:18

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Steve Roberts could effectively have been the unique digital nomad. A number of a long time after his “Computing Throughout America” excursions, we’ve uncovered his offbeat story of residing and dealing from the saddle. You may study extra about Steve and the fascinating computerized bicycles that made his 17,000-mile journey round the US attainable right here…

Again within the early Nineteen Eighties, Steve Roberts was working as a contract writer and laptop guide in Dublin, Ohio. It was a time effectively earlier than cell telephones existed, the web was barely in its infancy, and dealing remotely was nonetheless a far-fetched thought. Steve had lately marked the milestone of turning 30 and felt aware of a deep sense of wanderlust that lots of this web site’s readers will perceive effectively. Discontent with being tied to his desk, he started looking for one other way of life and dealing that might fulfill his yearning for journey, freedom, and enjoyable.

  • Steve Roberts
  • Steve Roberts

Regardless of not having any footsteps to comply with or a guidebook to seek the advice of for such an endeavor, Steve dreamed up a plan that may be unthinkable to most individuals, even in the present day. He spent six months making meticulous preparations and outfitting a customized recumbent touring bike with a solar-powered Radio Shack Mannequin 100 transportable laptop that may enable him to keep up a correspondence along with his purchasers and publishers whereas residing on the street full-time. He’d haul tenting gear to have the ability to sleep anyplace and will hit deadlines by connecting to the web through telephone and importing his items in a fashion almost all of us take without any consideration lately.

  • Steve Roberts, Winnebiko

Steve was so dedicated to the concept he bought his automotive and suburban house earlier than setting off on his first “Computing Throughout America” journey. In September 1983, he made the primary pedal strokes of one thing that began as a boldly experimental high-tech bike tour and finally turned his profession. The media took a eager curiosity in what he was as much as, and he’d go on to jot down a e book and publish numerous columns and options for magazines. As well as, he gave common interviews for print and TV retailers as he rode alongside.

All through the years that adopted, Steve pedaled some 17,000 miles round the US aboard three iterations of his extraordinary technomadic touring rigs: Winnebiko, Winnebiko II, and BEHEMOTH. The world of expertise was evolving at a breakneck tempo within the seven years he was touring, and his successive bikes replicate a few of these technological leaps and bounds. You could find a have a look at all three rigs beneath, accompanied by a choice of TV clips that charmingly seize the spirit of every epoch.

Winnebiko (1983-1985)

Steve Roberts, Computing Across America, Winnebiko

Winnebiko was Steve’s first cell workplace, and he rode it roughly 10,000 miles between 1983 and 1985. Primarily a proof of idea for his digital nomadic imaginative and prescient, Winnebiko lacked the extra superior bicycle-computer integration seen in its successors. It was designed round a fillet-brazed chromoly metal recumbent body constructed by Jack Trumbull of Franklin Frames in Ohio. In accordance with Steve, it weighed as a lot as 195 kilos when totally loaded.

“I’m making an attempt to make good time, however the emphasis is on the great, not the time.”—Steve Roberts

On the rear sat a 48-spoke 27″ wheel laced to a Phil Wooden hub. There was a smaller 16″ entrance wheel up entrance, and an under-seat steering mechanism linked to the fork through a stainless tie-rod. Winnebiko had a “wide-range” 18-speed drivetrain with a triple crankset up entrance and was sporting rim brakes. A Blackburn rear rack held a set of panniers and a heaping pile of baggage that may be refined because the journey went on. Behind the windshield sat a zippered bag containing numerous electronics.

  • Steve Roberts, Winnebiko
  • Steve Roberts, Winnebiko

Among the many electronics mounted to the bike was a CB radio for emergencies, a paging safety system with a piezoelectric vibration sensor, a velocity and distance sensor, a 12V battery, and a five-watt photo voltaic panel. Winnebiko’s lights included a yellow barricade flasher, a pole-mounted xenon strobe, a taillight, and a sealed-beam headlight. Steve’s Radio Shack Mannequin 100 laptop computer sat within the rear pack and was changed by a extra superior HP-110 transportable in 1984. Though Winnebiko lacked provisions for writing whereas using, it featured a remote-controlled audio cassette deck that he might use for recording voice memos on the go, which he used all through the method of writing his Computing Throughout America e book (together with a stack of fine old school spiral notebooks).

Winnebiko II (1986-1988)

Steve Roberts, Computing Across America, Winnebiko II

Know-how progressed quickly throughout the two years Steve was using Winnebiko, and after 10,000 miles collectively, he’d began feeling like its capabilities have been antiquated. An replace was overdue. The primary query that drove the second model of Winnebiko’s design was, “What enjoyable is a computerized bicycle when you can’t write whereas using?”

In 1986, after months of dreaming in regards to the capabilities he wished he’d had at his fingertips whereas using, adopted by an intense growth interval, Winnebiko II was born. “The geeky components have been intense,” Steve wrote in regards to the technique of incorporating a bunch of highly effective new electronics into his recumbent setup. Excitingly, Winnebiko II was a considerable leap ahead from its forerunner, however getting its 5 computer systems and two photo voltaic panels to suit elegantly and pair properly proved exceptionally difficult. Regardless of the steep studying curve, Steve managed, and he additionally made a number of upgrades to the bike at the moment.

Because of the built-in keyboard that allowed him to kind round 35 phrases per minute in binary, Steve might now write on the go, and he says he could have the doubtful honor of being the primary particular person to textual content whereas driving. Along with typing, he might additionally talk through ham radio, offering a way of connection he’d sorely missed throughout his time on Winnebiko. Because it occurs, he met a lady named Maggie round this time, and he or she was prepared to drop every part and depart her Midwest life behind to affix him on the street.

Winnebiko II Electronics

  • 68HC11 Bicycle Management Processor, operating Management BASIC, devoted 2-line LCD
  • Handlebar chord keyboard with auxiliary button set on console
  • Repackaged Mannequin 100 laptop constructed into console, Touring Software program Booster Pak
  • Packet radio TNC (PacComm) for on-the-road e-mail
  • Votrax speech synthesizer
  • Yaesu 290 multimode 2-meter ham radio transceiver
  • DTMF keypad for repeater autopatch use
  • DTMF decoder for distant management through ham radio
  • Cat-eye photo voltaic velocity/time/distance show
  • Movement-sensing safety system with distant actuation
  • CB radio
  • Analog altimeter
  • Digital Panel Meter and thumbwheel for voltage/present monitoring
  • Digital clock
  • Console switches for lights, energy provides, safety, and different assets
  • 20 watts of photo voltaic panels, with cost controller
  • AC charging when utility energy accessible
  • Console speaker
  • Ten-Tec Argonaut 515, keyer, and auxiliary photo voltaic panel & battery for HF operation
  • Bag of single-band wire dipole antennas
  • Hewlett-Packard Transportable PLUS with acoustic coupler

Steve Roberts, Winnebiko II

  • Steve Roberts, Winnebiko II
  • Steve Roberts, Winnebiko II

Maggie and Steve drove from Ohio to Vancouver, British Columbia, to show the almost completed Winnebiko II on the Expo ’86 World’s Truthful. Afterward, they spent a while placing the ending touches on it, and the pair launched into what would flip right into a 6,000-mile bicycle journey collectively. Throughout their trip, Steve continued publishing articles and attracting media consideration.

By February 1987, Steve and Maggie had made their approach down the Pacific Coast and landed in Silicon Valley. They spent just a few months there, assembly fascinating of us with a shared curiosity in expertise, then loaded up the bikes and drove throughout the nation to proceed touring within the Northeast and all the way down to Florida. Following that jap leg of the tour, they took a break from the bikes. They transformed an old style bus right into a cell house and drove 16,000 miles across the US over the course of a 12 months to go to pals and promote Steve’s lately completed Computing Throughout America e book, “changing e book gross sales into gasoline purchases and usually having fun with life.”

Steve Roberts, Winnebiko II

  • Steve Roberts, Winnebiko II
  • Steve Roberts, Winnebiko II

All the time one to dream of the following mission, Steve was additionally planning a 3rd iteration of the bike throughout this time. He says Winnebiko II hit the “candy spot of usability, geekery, practicality” and was his favourite of the three technomadic tourers. Nonetheless, he had plans for a brand new model that may be “over-the-top in a weirdly satisfying approach.” By early 1989, Steve and Maggie have been once more in Silicon Valley to create the final word computerized bicycle.

BEHEMOTH (1989-1991)

Steve Roberts, Computing Across America, BEHEMOTH

As with the unique Winnebiko, it didn’t take lengthy for Winnebiko II to really feel outdated. Steve was annoyed by the place this put him in, writing, “Know-how was transferring quick—a lot sooner than the ambling tempo of a man on a bicycle. I had develop into a spokesman for the very gizmology that was leaving me behind, caught within the sluggish lane, getting whiplash from rubbernecking the miracles zipping by and never having almost sufficient lab time to maintain up.”

Again in Silicon Valley, having constructed fairly a repute by this level in his uncommon profession, he satisfied round 160 company sponsors and greater than 45 volunteers to assist his imaginative and prescient of a 3rd and closing state-of-the-art computerized bicycle in 1989. What adopted was a growth interval of roughly three and a half years with an estimated value of $1.2 million USD (about $2.7 million in in the present day’s {dollars}) that concerned whole immersion in a number of labs working on the forefront of varied applied sciences.

To create this new bike, Steve would dive into fiberglassing, sheet-metal fabrication, machining, system architectures, harsh-environment packaging, networking, bike tech, energy administration, audio processing, haptic interfaces, and antenna design, amongst different realms. Wanting again, he described with awe the “devoted group of geeks pushed by the obsession of machines flickering to life, novel architectures, and the fun of integrating the most effective accessible applied sciences into one thing that had by no means earlier than been tried.”

He referred to as this new bike BEHEMOTH, which, hilariously, stood for “Massive Digital Human-Energized Machine… Solely Too Heavy.” It represented the end result of six years and 16,000 miles of classes from the street, connections with like-minded people, and advances in computing expertise.

See Also

  • Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH
  • Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH

“It was inevitable. Extrapolating from the primary two, I had no selection however to construct a geek extravaganza of cell computing instruments,” Steve wrote of BEHEMOTH’s creation. A far cry from the comparatively easy setup he left Ohio on in 1983, BEHEMOTH housed a number of computer systems, satellite tv for pc communications, a heads-up show, a head-controlled mouse, a multimode ham station, speech synthesis, mobile connectivity, and way more.

Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH

New for this third iteration was a trailer with a metal body constructed by Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Cycles and a fiberglass-over-cardboard composite construction. Steve referred to as it the WASU (Wheeled Auxiliary Storage Unit), and it opened up an exciting vary of expanded capabilities that in any other case wouldn’t have match on his trusty recumbent body. These included an embedded cellular telephone with interfaces to a modem, fax, credit-card verifier, cordless telephone, and answering machine; a Qualcomm satellite tv for pc antenna that gave him 24/7 e-mail connectivity; and the top-mounted BYP (Massive Yellow Pole) that offered international protection on HF beginner radio bands.

BEHEMOTH Characteristic Record


  • Macintosh 68K (management GUI and first workspace)
  • Bicycle Management Processor (FORTH 68HC11)
  • Ampro 286 DOS platform for CAD system
  • Toshiba 1000 repackaged laptop computer for scrolling FAQ
  • 80 MB exhausting disk area
  • Audapter speech synthesizer
  • Speech recognition board
  • Trimble GPS satellite tv for pc navigation receiver
  • Audio and serial crosspoint swap networks (homebrew)
  • PacComm packet TNC (VHF datacomm)
  • MFJ 1278 for AMTOR (HF datacomm)
  • Diagnostic instruments (LED matrix, DPM, and many others.)
  • Handlebar keyboard processor
  • Ultrasonic head mouse controller
  • Icom 2-meter transceiver; devoted Larsen half-wave antenna on seat
  • Radiation monitor
  • Cordless telephone and answering machine on RJ-11 bus
  • Folding 6-segment aluminum console
  • Fiberglass fairing

RUMP (enclosure behind seat)

  • Stereo System (Blaupunkt audio system, Yamaha 18W amp)
  • 10 GHz Microwave movement sensor (safety)
  • UNGO bodily movement sensor (safety)
  • Rump Management Processor (FORTH 68HC11)
  • Audio crosspoint community, bussed to console
  • Ampro DOS core module for heads-up show
  • LED taillight switch-mode controller (together with flip sign logic)
  • Single LED taillight cluster
  • Motorola 9600-baud packet modem for backpack hyperlink
  • 7-liter helmet-cooling tank and pump
  • Private accent storage
  • Air compressor for pneumatic system
  • 15 amp-hour sealed lead-acid battery (1 of three)

Mind-Interface Unit (Helmet)

  • Reflection Know-how Personal Eye show
  • Ultrasonic head-mouse sensors
  • Helmet lights (2)
  • Life Help Techniques warmth exchanger for head cooling
  • Setcom headset with growth microphone
  • Rear-view mirror on gimbaled mount
  • Jacks for stereo ear-insert headphones

SPARCpack (aluminum case on high of RUMP)

  • Solar SPARCstation IPC with 12MB RAM and 424 MB disk
  • Sharp Colour active-matrix show
  • Motorola 9600-baud packet modem
  • 10-watt photo voltaic panel


  • 72-watt Solarex photovoltaic array (4.8 Amps at 12V)
  • Qualcomm OmniTRACS satellite tv for pc terminal
  • Ham Radio station
  • Oki cellular telephone, repackaged and built-in
  • Telebit CellBlazer high-speed modem
  • Telular Celjack RJ-11 interface
  • Bank card verifier for on-the-road gross sales
  • Trailer Management Processor (FORTH 68HC11)
  • Audio crosspoint community, bussed to console
  • Bike energy administration {hardware}
  • Two 15 amp-hour sealed lead-acid batteries
  • Safety system pager
  • Canon BubbleJet printer
  • Fluke digital multimeter
  • Cell R&D lab, instruments, components, and many others.
  • Makita battery charger (for drill and flashlight)
  • Microfiche documentation and CD library
  • Tenting, video, digicam, private gear
  • Fiberglass-over-cardboard composite construction
  • Excessive-brightness LED taillight clusters
  • Bike- and Body-Mounted Elements

Customized recumbent bicycle

  • 105-speed transmission (7.9 – 122 gear inches)
  • Pneumatically-deployed touchdown gear
  • Pneumatic controls, strain tank, air horn
  • Hydraulic disc brake
  • Below-seat steering
  • Handlebar Chord Keyboard
  • CD participant

As soon as accomplished, BEHEMOTH was a rolling assortment of each superior gadget that Steve and his group might think about becoming onto a bicycle and integrating into its restricted consumer interface. Nonetheless, all that expertise got here with a big weight penalty, and BEHEMOTH turned a 580-pound mammoth by the point every part was mounted. Using such a beast of burden meant rethinking the bicycle itself. Amongst different modifications, it wanted to be geared up with a 105-speed transmission, hydraulic disc brakes, and pneumatically managed touchdown gear that made it attainable to crawl up hills in its 7.9-inch ultra-granny gear.

  • Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH
  • Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH

Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH

Steve took BEHEMOTH to RAGBRAI in Iowa to strive using throughout the state in July 1991, however it was a largely unsuccessful maiden voyage. A hub failure and subsequent subject restore slowed him down two days in, and many of the occasion’s 10,000 riders pedaled on previous him. He plodded additional east to Illinois and up into Wisconsin for a tour alongside the shore of Lake Michigan, the place, as a lot as he loved the thought of being again on the open street, BEHEMOTH didn’t fairly really feel prepared.

  • Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH
  • Steve Roberts, BEHEMOTH

He headed again to California to complete growth and finally purchased a trailer to haul the bike across the nation for numerous talking engagements and shows, together with an hourlong episode of the Phil Donahue Present in 1992. Most of his rides aboard BEHEMOTH concerned TV cameras, and it will appear that each one that expertise finally got here on the expense of the easygoing using expertise he loved aboard Winnebiko, charming and memorable as BEHEMOTH was.

After Behemoth

Whereas he was touring across the shore of Lake Michigan, Steve was already dreaming of his life’s subsequent enthralling chapter, which might be no much less fascinating and would see him swap bikes for boats. He’s spent the three a long time because the BEHEMOTH days exploring his fascination with boats.

Steve Roberts

Steve Roberts in 2022

From 1993-2002, he constructed his dream boat, a hybrid amphibian pedal/photo voltaic/sail micro-trimaran referred to as Microship, and he has since gone on to dwell aboard two totally different boats that he transformed to cell labs, Nomadness and Datawake, the place he’s immersed himself in “nautical geekery” together with communications, digital actuality, an underwater car, a piano, an audio studio, knowledge assortment, a machine store, and a deployable micro-trimaran for native exploration. Nowadays, Steve lives aboard a ship in Washington’s San Juan Islands and runs a digitizing enterprise. BEHEMOTH now resides within the Pc Historical past Museum in Mountain View, California.

With due to Steve Roberts for offering pictures for this piece. You may take a deep dive into the totally engrossing world of Steve and his Nomadic Analysis Labs over at

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