John Duffy travels across Europe, East Coast in his Velomobile

Ferries, jet, human power take cyclist from Germany to Georgetown
March 24, 2020

“I want to ride my bicycle.”

John Duffy is living out those words daily from the song Bicycle Race by Queen, except his “bicycle” is somewhat unique – a bright-orange, fiber-encased, three-wheeled recumbent in an aerodynamic shell resembling a small rocket.

Duffy, who lives with his wife, Darlene, near Georgetown is probably the only person in Delaware who rides a Velomobile Carbon Quest three-wheeled recumbent.

Based in Germany with the U.S. Air Force, he purchased the recumbent last year in Amsterdam, Holland, and rode it home that day – a mere 150 miles.

As he rides his recumbent back and forth to work each day, he attracts a lot of attention. “I feel safer than riding a bicycle because people are astonished when they see it, and they always slow down and give me a lot of room,” he said.

Duffy was deployed for eight years at the NATO Geilenkirchen Base in Germany, home to the E-3A AWAC (Airborne Warning and Control System), where he was lead maintenance manager.

The adventure begins

After retiring in June 2019 from the Air Force, he set out on a 1,750-mile adventure to his new home in Georgetown. The trek required a long-distance ferry ride to the Faroe Islands, another to Iceland and a plane ride from Reykjavik, Iceland, to New York City. He set out on June 19, 2019, and finished in five weeks on July 28.

He cycled through Germany to the northern tip of Denmark – about 900 miles – during one of the worst heat waves in that part of Europe in recent memory.

But, he said, he had to push himself to stay on schedule because he had already booked his ferry passage from Denmark to the Faroe Islands aboard the MS Narrona, the islands’ largest ferry, holding 1,500 passengers and 800 vehicles.

He camped out in a tent every night, averaging 90 to 100 miles per day. He carried nearly 80 pounds of gear so climbing hills, especially in Iceland, was a challenge.

Duffy consumed from 5,000 to 6,000 calories per day, ate six bananas to ward off cramps and tried to sleep eight to nine hours each night. “And I drank a lot of water,” he said.

Iceland is the highlight

He cycled around the Faroe Islands for four days, mostly on the island of Vágar, traveling in several of the underwater tunnels connecting the 18 rocky, volcanic islands, located in the North Atlantic about midway between Scotland and Iceland. In one tunnel, he hit a top speed of 60 mph on the downhill. He boarded a ferry for Iceland in the capital Torshavn, where he also landed from Denmark.

During his ride on the Faroe Islands, he was interviewed by a TV station. “It was the first time a Velomobile had ever been on the islands,” he said.

Duffy said his trek across Iceland was the highlight of the trip. “You would think you were on another planet. It reminded me of Mars,” he said. “The volcanoes and waterfalls were incredible. It was 500 very hilly, beautiful miles.”

Even in the middle of summer, he encountered cold temperatures and snow.

“The east edge of Iceland is serious landscape with a lot of mountains. I had to push myself a lot,” he said.

He had his Velomobile crated up and he flew from Reykjavik to New York City, where he cycled through Brooklyn, Manhattan and Central Park before taking a ferry to New Jersey. Duffy said at that point, he decided it was time to get home.

He made his longest daily ride, a 140-mile trek to Cape May, N.J., before crossing the Delaware Bay on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. “I got on the new bike path on my way to Georgetown where my wife, son and mother were waiting for me. My wife, who I hadn’t seen in six months, had a large banner for me,” he said.

The couple selected Georgetown for their new home as a central point close to family and John’s work, and near the beach.

Not long after settling down in his new home and getting a job at Aloft in Georgetown, he was offered a job back in Germany. “It’s a job offer I couldn’t pass up, so we are in the process of packing up and moving again,” he said. He was one of 100 applicants who were interviewed.

In his new job, he’ll return to the same NATO base, where he will develop training curriculum.

Duffy grew up in the Wilmington area, graduated from Hodgson Vocational High School, worked for three years in Newark as a machinist, married his high school sweetheart and eventually enlisted in the Air Force. The couple has a son, Issac, who is serving in the U.S. Navy.

“The best thing about the whole trip is the people I met everywhere I went from at least 30 to 40 countries,” he said. “The Velomobile always draws a crowd; it’s a conversation piece.”

About the Velomobile

Duffy’s model of the Velomobile, costing around $8,000, comes equipped with a horn, bell, headlights, turn signals, brake lights and rear-view mirrors. Built as a commuting vehicle, it also has room to store luggage and equipment. Because of its carbon construction, it weighs only 60 pounds. It also comes with a hood to allow for riding in inclement weather.

  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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