11 November 2011

Danish Cycling Pioneer - Carl Georg Rasmussen and his Leitra

Carl Georg from Leitra_30
At today's opening of the Bicycle Innovation Lab in Copenhagen we presented the first film in our series about Danish Cycling Pioneers. First up is the Grand Old Man of velomobiles, Carl Georg Rasmussen, inventor of the Leitra.

We spent the day at his workshop in the country north of Copenhagen and filmed him talking about his passion, his career and his love of his product.
Carl Georg from Leitra_26
Carl Georg is 76 years old now and he still cycles 10000-12000 km a year. He recently returned from Stockholm in one of his velomobiles (as they're called today).

The series is about these individuals and the products they invented. The formation of the idea, the techniques used in developing them and their entire journey.

It took two energy crisises in the 1970s for Carl Georg to finally go to work on the Leitra - the granddaddy of all modern velomobiles. He is a civil engineer and he worked on designing planes and gliders. This expertise led to his basic idea for the Leitra. His philosphy was to make a cycle that worked and then afterwards place a cover onto it.
Carl Georg from Leitra_14
His first prototype was finished in the early 1980s and he continued to improve upon the design for many years afterwards. As a boy of 15 he saw a drawing of a kabinecykel - "cabin bike" - in a hobby book from a 1930s model made of wood and he went to work building a version for himself which he rode around in for a couple of years. It was heavy, however, and his work in airplane design later led to his use of plastic and carbon fibre for the shell.

He called it Let individuelt transport - or Light Individual Transport - and shortened it to Leitra.

Interviewing Carl Georg was a pleasure. So many fantastic anecdotes. Like when he was pulled over in 1982 by the Copenhagen police. They wanted to know what on earth he was riding in. "A cycle with weather protection", he replied. They called the station and were told to confiscate it immediately. It sounded dangerous, the way the officers described it. He got it back after writing to the Ministry of Justice's traffic division after convincing them that it was actually a great machine. He took it to the State's car inspection and they approved it except for one point. His eye level was too low and they wouldn't approve it.

Fortunately, he had a friend with an MG sportscar and he went to his place and measured the eye level with a ruler. Discovering that his friend actually sat 2 centimetres lower in the MG than Carl Georg in the Leitra.

Another letter to the Ministry. He asked them how they could let MG cars drive around, approved, on the streets with such a low eye level. Shortly afterwards he recieved approval to ride the Leitra in Denmark.

Denmark has never been a great velomobile nation. Carl Georg has survived thanks to loyal customers in Germany, Holland and Austria. He mentions that the Dutch brands, who started ten years after him - and inspired directly by him - had a much easier time of it. They had a home market right away, whereas 80% of the Leitras produced were exported.

Carl Georg has taken part in all manner of bicycle events. Paris-Brest-Paris, Sjælland Rundt in Denmark and many others. His Leitra performs impeccably.

Carl Georg from Leitra_32
I had a go, as well. I can't see myself ever owning one, to be honest, but my goodness what a brilliant ride. I got out smiling like a Cheshire cat.

Leitra Carl Georg from Leitra_5
Choosing Carl Georg as the first in the series of Danish Cycling Pioneers was a given. The man who gave Europe the velomobile and who dedicated his life to his work. We salute him. And thank him for his contribution to cycling.

Carl Georg from Leitra_31

See also www.leitra.dk


Erik Sandblom said...

We want the film!

Velomobiles are an interesting concept. More comfortable than bicycles and almost as easy to park. And faster on the open road.

I briefly tried the Leitra and two Dutch velomobiles. The Leitra was the most pleasant to ride but the Dutch ones are presumably faster, because they are lower. I wrote my impressions here (in Swedish)
Besök på Velomobilcenter utanför Köpenhamn - Ecoprofile

I can't quite see myself owning one either but it would be fun to rent them.

Paul Martin said...

Excellent story, Mikael! A true pioneer.


Martin Keller said...

Thanks or this fine article about one of the most inspiring people I know. I was lucky to meet him on my velomobile tour around the Baltic Sea in 2008 and found him to be a very warm-hearted man with a lot of visions for a better future.

Great to read his police adventure here. To me it's really strange to think of a Leitra as too low for traffic. I think in my Quest the head is 20-30cm lower and I feel very comfortable...

Jimm said...

I live and work in Copenhagen, and regularly visit the Leitra shop. With the new Danish Velomobile Center starting there as well, I hope more Danes and other people in the region get a chance to experience Velomobiles and perhaps commit themselves to such a flexible form of transport!

Carl Georg is a wonderful mentor of this breed of cycling, and without his help and guidance I would never have completed my own Velomobile, using Leitra's new Wildcat nose fairing, nor been inspired to start a touring business using strictly recumbents and velomobiles.

My current ride, seen here at http://picasaweb.google.com/jimm.pratt/NomadWildcat, is such a blast to ride to work daily as I stay warm and dry through the winter months.

Behooving Moving said...

sheesk, I missed this post entirely. What a guy! The Alex Moulton of Velomobiles. I had always thought the Leitra looked dorky, compared to the sunrider, for instance. But when you hear the man speak, and see his enviable hair and deportment, suddenly the Leitra starts looking iconic. Great story! Get it on tellie.

Behooving Moving said...

Suddenly Alex Moulton looks, well, pedestrian. And the Leitra has gone from dorky to iconic, in my eye. What a great way to spend a day, having cups of tea with such a visionary