About Zzipper Designs
Zzip designs was started by Glen Brown in the middle ‘70s. The original patent was issued in 1976 as well as the trademark for ‘Zzipper’ and ‘Zzip Designs’ the company. This was to become critical in a trademark dispute years later with zipp disc, the company who copied our name in ’86 (which the Dept. of Commerce gave a trademark).
To truly understand the motivation and the name you have to remember that in the early ‘70s we had these awful oil embargos. Long lines at the gas pumps, hot tempers, fights in some cases and many a discussion about a solution! I knew Glen in the early ‘70s when he took some drum classes from me. After a while he invited me and a dancer friend of mine up to his house for Sunday afternoon get-togethers. Barbeque, play some drums, the girls would work on dance steps or costumes. Glen had just graduated Cal Tech, majoring in aeronautical engineering. He had this road bike he rode all the time and thought perhaps the most immediate solution would be to get people out of their cars and onto a bike (especially the big cars with only one person in them). He was one of the original members of the IHPVA and was president for 1.5 years in 1985-‘86.
I don’t make any great claims to being hip to all the nuances of aerodynamics. My background had been a missile mechanic/trouble shooter for the Nike Hercules system. A short line defense with nuclear capability designed in ‘58 and continued thru the ‘60s. Since I set the missile up for flight, I had to know a little about ‘pitch’ & ‘yaw’, solid propulsion systems and hydraulics. When my top secret clearance came in, my duties expanded to crypto deciphering. I had to report directly to NORAD Headquarters, FT. ENT, CO. The good old days when the Russian sub’s were right off our coast! I left the service in ‘68 with a commendation sent down from NORAD, which I finally got de-classified. Glen got a kick out of some of the stories about no-notice inspections. Whenever someone would ask about relative Reynolds numbers regarding the road bike fairing, I would hand the phone to Glen!
So Connie asks the question: “What is the deal with this road bike riding around the globe on your logo? Also, what is this word ‘ZZIPPER’?” Well Connie, the upright rider with ZZ-T riding around the globe is mine after Glen & I separated in ‘86. I kept it out of respect for Glen and his favorite fairing. It was his brainchild if you will. The term ZZIPPER comes from aerodynamics, when an aircraft design clicks in and works well, one calls it the Zipper! Any history buffs out there can look up the development of the Lockheed F-104 Star Fighter and see this term used. Of course Glen couldn’t trademark ZIPPER one Z, so he picked 2-ZZ’s!! The original business slogan was ‘Advanced Vehicles and Components’. This was used on all business stationary and cards until we separated the business in Nov. ‘86. I was very proud of this and all the products we developed. I then changed the slogan to ‘windscreens for human powered vehicles’. Also, at this time, we were selling 100 zz-t’s a year to Germany for many years. I later had a distributor in Belgium, however the 180% duties dictated the future there. It was just a dream to be able to sell around the world. We did have two distributors in Japan but when one found out the other got a special price, they both dropped us. We sold quite a few road bike fairings to Australia & New Zealand but for some reason when we tried to export the Alex Moulton zz to Australia the duties were extreme.
Gerry Tatrai, winner of the RAAM, used to visit here in the early ‘90s and was to be a distributor. Gerry’s mother told me he’s never around to answer the phone so don’t plan on many sales! He and his riding buddy, Stephen Poole (rode a modified AM-2 with body skin in the Paris-Brest-Paris ride of ‘86) told me the 350$ U.S. for AM-ZZ and rack system was 700 AUSTRALIAN! Consequently there were only 3 fairings and racks sold there. Years later the import duty laws would be changed and a little more lucrative. However, by then I was involved with live theater when I knew Glen early on, and was asked to move to Montana to start a theatre group. So from ‘73-‘75 I was partners of a horse ranch in the Bitterroot Valley and did the lights for the Butterfield Stage Theatrical Society. Two winters was enough and when I moved back to southern CA, I rang Glen up. I was on a 95 acre orange and avocado grove. A place I had worked years earlier when I was a missile tech working with nuclear weapons. It helped to relieve the stress. He and his son came out and we all went swimming in the San Gabriel river. He told me of his plan to move to the Santa Cruz area and start this company. I told him I had some property deeded to me in that area and was planning to move there anyway. We decided to build his house first and mine later. He had a building permit, need I say more! I’m still waiting for mine! He moved up here in late summer or fall of ‘76. I moved up here in Jan. 77. I ran into him at a lumber company, where I was trying to set up a shake mill. I had been a foreman of a mill in Montana and head sawyer in another. It was like old home week. I followed him up to Bonny Doon and his beautiful 6+ acres. I helped him clear the land and set up a burn pile. Since there wasn’t any money to speak of, I took a job in Watsonville as a mechanic/welder. Glen got a job as project engineer for the wind tunnel at Moffit Field, the largest wind tunnel in the world.
I could only work on the weekends but we managed to get a lot done. The first shop was in a pre-fab metal shed some 12’ by 24’ feet. A loosely laid tile floor with sand between and a couple of tables. Very cold in the winter with the loud sounds of acorns dropping from a 100’ tree bouncing off the roof. We had a drying oven and a forming oven that Glen had built in Altadena, CA. So this was where Glen made the first road bike fairings, now called the original style. (In ‘81 we chopped off 4” and leveled the lower section of the fairing then changing the name to ZZ-T. This gave a little more hand clearance from the brake levers on the drop bar bikes.) Glen made about 200 between ‘76-‘79 until I took over production.
It was November and I wasn’t sure I could make these things, as I had mostly been a wood and electronics worker. Glen had this great confidence in me that gave me the boost I needed to get started. Meanwhile I was working an Alaskan Saw Mill cutting up a fir tree we had felled. Those were some big slabs at 22-24” wide, 2-2.25” thick and 22’ long. It was all we could do to load them on his old ‘46 Chev. stake back truck and get them down the hill to the saw mill in Davenport! Don’t get me wrong, the county wouldn’t let us use this lumber for the critical support pieces in the house, they weren’t kiln dryd or stamped. Made a great deck though! We finally got his 3,300 sq. ft. house built and family moved in around late ‘81. We moved the shop into it around late ‘81, as I recall. Our slogan during many a house or fairing project was: “No problem is too tough, the impossible ones just take a little longer!”
Jim Langly, for one, used to ride up to our shop on his home built recumbent and try to talk us into making a fairing for recumbents, this was in ‘81-‘82. He did a lot to get us going on looking at recumbents. Of course there was also Gardner Martin at Easy Racers who did as well. One of the first projects after I built the 4 foot long oven was to work on two things, the large fairing for the Easy Racer (that was the name of the bike before Tour Easy), the second was to work on the teardrop fairing for his soon to be named Gold Rush.
There was another project we worked on around this time, some old fly boys that Glen used to hang glide with, had a new contraption that looked like a long pod shaped like a carrot. They used clear poly-carbonate plastic and sewed spandex between for a collapsible totally enclosed hang glider. (This is where I got the idea to sew into the poly-carbonate plastic, I was using all types at this time.) There was a long (at least 6’) zipper that was pulled closed when you got in, and your arms went out thru wet suit material. They wanted a dome bubble for the head canopy. As I recall, it was 19” diameter and about 11.5” deep. It worked o.k. except it would fog up, so they came up with an ingenious solution. They took an industrial heat gun and applied heat to the inside surface, this will keep a 50 cent piece perched on top, this then dimpled the bubble’s apex. While it was hot, they took a hot nail and rammed it thru so as to give equalization of cabin pressure. It worked like a champ and I made 10 altogether. This story was relayed to me by Eric Raymond, one of the pilots years later when I worked on his solar powered aircraft. You can see some of the other flyers in a Sci Fi Flick in about the same time period, ‘83 I think called ‘Space Hunters, in the Forbidden Zone’. A flyer named Roy Haggerd and Chris Price fly down and pick up two girls on the fly from ground level, not an easy thing to do. There was also a movie with an Easy Racer ‘Tour Easy’ in it. An aero space engineer rides thru the Houston Space Center on his way from work on this new, revolutionary HPV. Gardner can tell you the name of it, but I think that was the big highlight of the flick. It was around ‘83 that I made many a trip down to the old Freedom shop of Easy Racers. Gardner and I would draw out plans on the cement floor. This was after putting in a shift 25 miles north. I would then go back and work at another prototype! It was decided that to do things right that we should get a vehicle. Gardner and Glen worked out a deal where we could trade fairings for an Easy Racer. Gardner would drive up on a Saturday and pick up fairings, while I would be off. I saw the bike first thing Monday morning and all I could say was, “WOW!!!” A metal flake midnight blue paint job, not a flaw in it, gorgeous!! 18 speed, bar end shifters and we rode it around the mountain. We decided to take it down the hill and ride in on somewhat level ground. Every morning I rode with this beauty, with many a stare from the locals. One week my ‘50 Dodge pickup was in the shop and I rode up the hill to work. If I missed granny gear on the last 90 degree turn I had to go back to the coast and start over. The wind is always blowing down the hill so in this sense I think the fairing helped but it is hard to say for sure. I know on the way down I was making tracks. The fairing would catch what wind that would go around from the rear and help pull the bike thru that same 90 degree turn. What a rush! I was ready for another work shift! I should point out that naming this special fairing wasn’t easy. We pondered this for weeks. Finally Glen stuck his head out of his office and said: “Gardner just called and said, “Call it the ‘Super Zzipper’!” We both laughed and said, “That’s it!” I rode that bike for 5 yrs. and loved every minute of it. I had to sell it in ‘88 for monetary reasons. I think I’m still in shock!
One thing about working with Glen, was we could go from the concept stage to prototype in a relatively short period of time. We had all these high tech plastic materials around, as well as an industrial sewing machine that we owned in conjunction with Easy Racer’s, Inc. I geared the machine down so it would work slower for sewing into the poly-carbonate plastic. In ‘81 I made a slightly larger ZZ-T and sewed a spandex body skin directly into the bubble. We put a reflective triangle on the back. Glen had done the pattern work and it worked great. We decided on a San Francisco to LA record run. An old friend of Glen’s from Cal Tech, Jim Woodhead, was to do the ride. Sponsors were Specialized for the bike & Velo-lux lights for their excellent reversible light. The first attempt was down Hwy. 1. After starting at 02:00 at the S.F. City Hall, Jim made it to Santa Maria before flatting. Since they don’t let you follow right behind the rider, it took a while before Glen could find him in the fog, meanwhile Jim had cramped up! It wasn’t until the next spring that they tried again, this time we had a Cal Trans observer along, and Jim was allowed to go across the Bay Bridge. Then down 101 and across Pachaco Pass. Jim told me later he just about lost it when that cross wind nailed him by the San Luis reservoir. He made it all the way to the beginning of the Grape Vine when he got down to relieve himself. What an athlete. If it hadn’t been for that chicken truck that tipped over and all the truck recaps and that crazy storm that blew in, who knows. He still did it in 21 hours and some minutes! This is for a scientist who had discovered a new element for the periodic table. We decided not to market this very aero fairing but to wait for the recumbents, smaller wheeled bikes or until I did the longer ZZ-Thriller. This would balance the spandex around the center of balance.
The basic concepts of partial streamlining became apparent. That any extra weight above the center of balance or ahead of the steering axis is an unstable situation. For example, we have never advocated handlebar bags but if you do ride with them it’s probably better to streamline the airflow and stabilize that area. Also, the more curvature around the sides helps in redirecting the wind vector. I found this out later when I developed the ‘88 Mtn bike zz and the ATB zz.
I was made Production Manager in the spring of ‘82, and I’m very proud of this. I remember making over 2,000 zzipper-t’s and 770 tailwind panniers (both front and rear sets). 1983 was a year that broke all records! I was cranking out 100 zz-t’s a week and many, many tailwind systems! I should point out that Specialized Bicycle Components was our money partner. I would be negligent if I didn’t say something about the far sightedness of Mike Sinyard and also Jim Blackburn who designed his ever popular front & rear racks to accommodate our bags. We worked in conjunction with Blackburn Design’s on weight distribution of a road bike. As I remember it was something like 48% front and 52% rear for a stable system. We didn’t spare any expense with a full 2” wide strip of reflective Scotch Brite® material (very expensive) 200 times early warning. We had a reflective triangle on the giant stuffer which fit over the rear panniers. I had 2 gals working for me putting the bags together.
We published our coast-down tests in ‘Bike Tech’ a new offshoot publication of Bicycling Mag., which showed a drag advantage of 7% with the front panniers although the ZZ-T only came out with 13%. Glen was always a little disappointed about this but I think it had to do with the sensitivity of the accelerometer and perhaps the short down hill we were using. I used to make accelerometers for a company called Lab Standard Instruments in Pasadena around ’64-’65 (run by a Cal Tech engineer, graduated ’26, Mr. E. Florent Bailly, in Who’s Who of Scientists – 40 patents). This particular instrument was very sensitive. As I reflect upon it now, Glen told me once that in the early years at Cal Tech he threw his books in a back pack and went on the Indy circuit. The Frank Monise Race Car Co. was directly across the street from lab standard instruments. He told me at Indianapolis he experimented with spoilers on each of the Indy car’s wheels. The car did 200 mph laps which shook up the powers that be! This is on the old bricks in the ‘60s! Another coincidence, when he was hang gliding over the Angeles National Forest above la Canada, I was working for a TV lab repairing Hi Fi’s and TV’s. (I was the outside man, so I might have seen him soaring around the skies.)
We always had to do our testing in as little wind as possible which meant early AM wake up calls. Glen would say: “Karl, wake me up at 03:30 and we’ll go down to Scott Creek, on the coast and do some coast downs.” The big highlight was when the Davenport Cash Store would open at 07:00 and we could have a cup of fresh French Roast coffee. As we were sitting there having our first cup of java, Glen would say: “OK Karl, let’s see you integrate over a wheel.” He was thinking of spoke drag and the first calculations thereof. We experimented with numerous Spandex or Lycra wheel covers but they wouldn’t work very well. The big problem was the laminated wooden framework would warp and the front ones would cause handling problems. The only forming oven we had at this time, was 24” square (not big enough for 26-27” wheels). When the Alex Moulton bikes came along in ‘83-‘84 we could foresee a market for the 17” wheels.
He was another far seeing individual. Dr. Moulton discussed the possibility of mounting a front fairing to his latest AM-14 fully suspended 14 speed breakdown bike. It took us a year before we figured out how to mount a fairing to accommodate the steering axis and suspension. I got to ride it on a bumpy dirt road outside the shop, and found it very comfortable although somewhat noisy. We discovered at least two things about partial streamlining. One: every point of connection is a potential source of noise, with this I mean between the fairing and any mount points (in this case eight points). Two: the relative head position determines a lot of the reflected road noise. A rider next to you might not hear so much noise as you yourself. This would come into play years later when I worked on the ZZ-Thriller road bike fairing. We learned that thickness has a lot to do with it and Dr. Moulton decided to go with the stouter poly-carbonate or “093”. This did quiet it down considerably and gave us the capability to add a Spandex addition later.
In ‘84 we got some more sponsors, Santana bikes gave us the great tandem, Velo-Lux lights again, and I made a slightly larger ZZ-t for the record attempt. Glen had been ill with a cold so I was ‘on call’ to go along with Pete Penseyres and Rob Templin. I made up some macaroni salad for the guys and the next morning Glen said he was going to do it! That’s my life story, had to stay back and answer the phone! Even when we had a tandem lay down streamliner in the early years, Glen left it in L.A. Anyway, the team of Penseyres/Templin proved very good as they set a record at 19 hrs. some minutes. This was Pete’s first long ride, little did anybody foresee what a long distance rider he would become!
The first IHPVA meet was in ‘82 and what an event. We showed off our tailwind panniers and zz-t fairings and let riders test them out. We were to catch hell for trying to sell stuff at a HPV meet. No more would we be allowed to set up a booth. The only one to beat a road bike with fairing on the ¼ mile drag strip was a Nelson Vails (sprinter with 38” thighs), who in the ‘84 Olympics, would take the silver medal.
I got to see Gardner in action at the recently opened 7-11 velodrome (place for the ‘84 Olympics). Very hot late Sept. early Oct. day. The ice in my ice chest came in very handy. Chet Kyle was setting up the timers for a race between the big time Shimano & Huffy teams and small town America/Gardner and team. The most exciting race I had ever witnessed. First off Gardner comes out onto the center field with a front flatted tire! I said something to Glen and he replied, “Don’t worry Karl, just watch him as they get the sew-up glued back on the rim.” One minute to spare, Gardner is coaching Greg Miller (who road for us in ‘75) holding the machine up and the race is on! It was estimated the big boys had about $10,000 invested in their machines, while Gardner had a lot less, but a lot of time! After 12 laps of pursuit racing, the winner was uncertain for some time. Chet Kyle finally said it was about .02 seconds separating the Shimano & the Huffy machine from Easy Racers. Did they lose, hell no, they made it clear that they were contenders!
The next year Huffy Bicycles ordered 15,000 zz-t’s for all their lines of bikes. I was Production Manager then and came up with a way we could produce them working 6 days a week by hiring 2 helpers. I’d have to build 2 more forming ovens and we’d have to lease a larger space (something like 2,000 sq. ft. with options on more). My plan called for a production schedule of 250 per week or 1,000 per month minimum. After much discussion between parties, a price per unit was determined. We would end up making a snappy $1.00 over cost, so we respectfully declined. We also discussed the business philosophy for the future. Were we to be on every kid bike in Sears and Montgomery Ward or were we to concentrate on unique futuristic vehicles which would be faster and therefore the benefits of streamlining more apparent?
It was in ‘82 that my folks drove up from Pasadena and visited. My dad said, “Did you know your grandfather had a bike shop?” I said I had thought he was a gun/tin smith! Turns out he had a letter head, correspondence from 1899, a photo of his shop in Mora, MN, circa 1905. There is also a trike in the background with a tiller steering arm! What a kick! (We sponsored an Olympic rider in ‘99, Kent Bostick, who was shown riding the latest Olympic bike with a tiller steering arm.) He had a patent but it was not related to bicycles.
I’d always been comfortable around bikes especially when I was kicked off the bus on the first day of school in the second grade and had to ride my bike all through school. My dad and Glen talked about the Cal Tech wind tunnel. My dad was an engineer in the war years working on the problem of torpedo’s going off at random times. He told me that they could only fire up the wind tunnel during the late night/early morning hours as it took so much electricity (dimmed the lights of Pasadena). There is a photo of my dad riding his bike to the original shop in White Rock, SD from Mora in ‘28. I visited there a few years ago, and there is nothing left but a cement landing for the outside stairs. I would like to do that ride someday. He said he had 13 flats! My grandfather was known as C.J. Abbe and still remembered by the town historian whose son happened to have ordered a fairing from us. Michael Anderson owns a shop called Sport Chalet in Mora, MN.
Debbie Herr (who was with me from ‘82-‘87) is now back as of ‘98. She does my e-mail and helps a lot with everything! She and I were in Santa Barbara (approx. ‘83) showing off our tailwind panniers and fairings at an HPV meet. Steve Delaire was there with his Rotator, and a rider had just completed a ride across America in 25 days (boy how things would change)! Debbie and I took off one Christmas in ‘82 I believe, to play in the mud of Callistoga Hot Springs. I mention this as Glen always told me that when we came back with all those Sail Plane brochures it led to a lot of business. We made numerous ultra light airplane fairings. One of our biggest customers was the Powers-Bashforth Co. of Everett, WA. We made the cover of Kit Plane Mag. in Feb. ‘90 with a smoke tint maximum width bubble, with flange all the way around, that went up to 40,000 ft. (according to Harry Powers). Glen thought it was probably a quick up and down or “spike” as the fly boys call it.
You might be interested in the story of when I rejected $1,000 worth of Lexan® plastic. After just becoming Production Manager I was very concerned with clarity. We had just made the cover of Bicycling Mag. in the ‘81 Christmas issue, a zz-t with gold light shone thru, beautiful to the max! I was getting a lot of small crazing’s (squiggly lines of 1-2”) specks both clear and black colored. My thinking was, if I started out with so much garbage in the plastic, then expanded it 12 times, I would end up with super garbage! I don’t think it was more than 2 days before the boys with the three piece suits showed up at our shop in the woods. I explained the situation and they said they would relay the message back to G. E. They asked if there was anything else, and I mentioned that we were getting hairline checking around the mount holes. They took a sample of the black vinyl foam tape we were using back to their testing labs. Turns out the vinyl tape had an oily substance that reacted with the plasticisors in the Lexan, when the sun hit it. Swell! I remember replacing over 2,000 of these fairings. Some day I’ll talk about all the plastic companies that I’ve used! Their respective qualities and down sides. I think we have to set up optical standards, better define distortion with a grading system perhaps. I think that since we are working with such lightweight material, that it is collapsing under it’s own weight. The mount system might be inducing distortion, so to speak. (I.e. after a crash the mounts might get bent a little and pull the bubble into an unusual shape).
In ‘88 Dick Ryan came out here and we talked about developing a fairing for his bike. He had a bike in Los Angeles which he had shipped up to me. I had a chance to look at it up front and personal, and we developed what is now the Ryan Vanguard mount system and fairing. It seemed very successful. Dick took the bike and fairing to the MIT wind tunnel and he found a 20% drag reduction, which is quite significant.
The development of the bodyskin fairing was designed after the fairing we made for the ultra light airplanes back in the early ‘80s. It is made out of maximum width experimental fairing which is the biggest fairing we can make (21” wide straight down the sides 44-44 ½” top to bottom eye line distance). This has a slightly different curvature to it. It has a little flatter response to it than the standard thickness Super Zzipper. Gardner wanted a fairing that was a little bit wider so that we could get the Spandex out around the rider’s hands. I brought him one of these fairings and we marked it and came up with a template. This was back in ‘86-‘87. At that time it took about 4 hours to sew the Zzipper into the Lexan (a very time consuming process). Finally Gardner figured out how we could use sticky Velcro to attach the bodyskin.
In ‘86 Glen was talked into becoming President of IHPVA for a 2nd year. He didn’t have the time but went along with it. Then in the summer of ‘86, someone was sending hate mail around to all the members about Glen! This was totally unacceptable and Glen resigned both from the IHPVA and the bicycling industry per say. He sold me the company for $1.00 and I took the baton and ran with it.
The last time I worked with Glen was in ‘98 I believe. He wanted an 18” tear drop bubble to protect a Perkin Elmer camera for a rocket going Mach 3! It was like old times working together. We had a template made in under 1 hour! I formed a few bubbles and they came out nice, good clarity! I asked him how he was going to attach it to the rocket and he said, “Aircraft duck tape!” I love it!
The reason I haven’t mentioned Glen in my brochures was that he requested his name be withheld from all future literature. I swore on a stack of zz-t’s! I feel that after 15 years that the cycling industry should recognize what an influence he had. Glen is a phenomenal person, and I think he deserves a lot of respect.
We made the first fanny bag and we made all these original designs. In fact everything we make is our original design. He was the first to do the calculations for tread free tires. He set up a tire testing machine for Specialized! On & on!
Connie wanted some biography material, which I have included, but for those interested in a little more go to: Strathmore’s Who’s Who In Business ‘97-‘98!
To date I have made over 23,000 fairings and I have never had anyone return a fairing stating that the fairing didn’t make them go faster. It’s just a question of how much. Now that can be a 45 minute discussion in anybody’s book on any particular fairing, but one thing you have to keep in mind is that the more the fairing wraps around the more we redirect the wind vector and the more effective I think the fairings are. Also, the more you offer curvature around the sides the more effective also (but here again you want to minimize the amount of side force to the wind – that’s a trade off, part of the fairing design).
Originally printed in ERRC #12 - Fall 2002 Edition. For more information or to obtain a hard copy, visit www.geocities.com/e_r_r_c for the order form.