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The Winnebiko II and Maggie

It looked like an aircraft cockpit. Bristling with switches and LEDs, the Winnebiko II flickered to life in the summer of 1986. The primary design objective -- being able to type while riding -- had evolved into a mad tangle of processors and other subsystems. The bike now had a speech synthesizer that could be triggered by security sensors or remote radio command, a packet data communication system for email via ham radio, 20 watts of solar panels, an offline HP laptop, and more. And, equally significantly, I took on a traveling companion named Maggie Victor, having grown weary of solo wandering after a year and a half of brief on-the-road relationships.

Winnebiko II

The ability to type while mobile was amazingly liberating. Every 10,000 miles is about 1,000 hours of raw pedaling time, perhaps better expressed as half of a full-time business year. Could I take advantage of it? During the first trip, I had watched brilliant tales crystallize in my head and then evaporate, lost forever in the passing breezes. Motivated by the desire to capture them, I built the new system and catapulted the adventure into a whole new phase: not only could I do word processing while riding, but I could also exchange electronic mail via packet radio.

Through ham radio and computer networking, the sense of living in a virtual neighborhood grew more and more tangible, until the road itself became merely an entertaining backdrop for a stable life in Dataspace. I moved from CompuServe to GEnie, and began exploring Internet and many other layers of the increasingly complex network world -- each a unique subculture with a different class of resources.

Steve's & Maggie's recumbentsMaggie and I pedaled 6,000 miles together, covering most of both coasts, and all along the way fired the imaginations of people who were sensing the implications of new information technologies but weren't quite sure what to do with them. In a small way, the bike represented the outrageous notion that very soon now, it might not matter where your body happens to be... as long as you maintain a presence in the networks.

In these days of WiFi, the thought of truly decoupling via a tenuous 1200-baud link seems amusing. But the implications were staggering. Home, quite literally, became an abstract electronic concept. From a business standpoint, it no longer mattered where we were, and we traveled freely, making a living through magazine publishing and occasional consulting spinoffs, seeking modular phone jacks at every stop...

UPDATE from 2011: I've started an archive blog for all the media coverage and articles written during this time (and will even be podcasting the full editions of Computing Across America and Miles with Maggie). Eventually, this antique corner of the site will be deleted, since Wordpress is infinitely easier to deal with than antique HTML. Here are a couple of Winnebiko II links to get you started... a 1988 video from CNN and a tech article about the bike written in 1987.

Buy Now       I have some posters of this version of the bike (1824 inches), and would love to sign one and mail it to you… $10 plus first class postage in a mailing tube. The Winnebiko II is accurately represented, and the associated text highlights the features of this machine... the version that covered both coasts of the US from 1986-1988. Click the button at left to order one... it will take you through PayPal checkout (which works with a credit card even without a PayPal account).  

Maggie Victor