The Veloscope: Bicycle Transportable Concept Telescope

Danny Landis is a New Jersey based 3-D graphic designer, and also an amateur telescope maker. I came across a design he did a few years ago for a compact and lightweight 8″ travel telescope. In addition to the smart design work, what was really cool was that Danny posted the blueprints as a Google Sketchup file, which basically made it available to anyone to download and use. The file could be given to a CNC machining or laser cutting shop, who could then cut out the entire telescope kit from a single sheet of plywood. He even posted a video of the kit being cut.

The idea of an advanced telescope design that was accessible, inexpensive, and required only a modest set of woodworking skills, sounded pretty exciting. Moreover, Danny’s design looked like it would fit nicely on a bicycle. I contacted Danny on the Cloudynights astronomy forum, and asked him if he would be interested in further developing the design for bicycle transport, and he agreed. We’ve been emailing back and forth ever since, and Danny has done a huge amount of work. It’s really Danny’s design, I chipped in precious little other than nitpicking his designs. He was very patient, and just the other day sent me a rendering of the design to show off. So here it is:


It’s a great illustration. You can see it assembled and ready for stargazing in the foreground, and folded (“boxed”) up on the back of the bicycle in the background. Not sure what the final weight will be, but it will be very portable, and not just on the semi of cargo bikes, the Yuba Mundo; just about any bike that take a pannier should be able to haul the Veloscope.

The Veloscope will be made primarily from carbon fiber and bamboo. Carbon fiber is the darling of aerospace, cycling and telescope making. It’s thermally stable, incredibly strong and lightweight. Had we an easy way to make several million miles of the stuff, building a space elevator would be a snap. The Veloscope’s truss tubes will be made from carbon fiber arrow-shafts, which has the added advantage of being commonly available, relatively inexpensive, and easily adaptable to construction projects (carbon arrow shafts come with metal inserts that are standard 8-32 thread size, so it’s easy to bolt them together and add other hardware.)

The people that first applied carbon fiber technology to the bicycle are now looking at bamboo. Yuba’s Kaytea Petro tipped me off to this nascent trend, and suggested I think about bamboo for the Veloscope body, instead of plywood. In doing the follow up research, what caught my attention wasn’t how “green” bamboo is (that depends on how and where it is farmed), but rather a particular characteristic of it as a material: it is extremely good at absorbing vibration. This is the key attribute that attracted bicycle frame-building legend Craig Calfee to try it, according to an article in Smithsonian:

“What a bamboo frame has that all other bicycle frame materials lack is vibration damping. Bamboo wins heads and shoulders above everything else for smoothness and absorbing vibration—both of which contribute to a comfortable ride.”

This was exciting because the main compromise in compact, lightweight telescope design is stability. Some ultralight scopes are notoriously shaky. When you look through a telescope eyepiece and bump the scope, the image will “jiggle” for a while before settling down, the result of the bump reverberating through the structure. A well-mounted telescope may settle in under a second. Under-mounted, poorly-designed or poorly-constructed telescopes may take as many as five seconds to stop shaking, which can totally frustrate an observing session.

So I am intrigued and excited about using bamboo, which is now manufactured into a kind of “plywood,” which means that Danny’s blueprints can be used directly with either wood or bamboo ply.

Our hope is to prototype the design with the first Veloscope (I actually plan on making two at the same time, since we can easily cut two complete kits out of the same 6 foot by 8 foot piece of bamboo ply), and then release the sketchup file for others to use–along with complete instructions on how to construct the kit, including what parts the telescope builder would need to order. We’re excited to see if others will build Veloscopes, and start their own Bicycle Astronomy adventures.




6 thoughts on “The Veloscope: Bicycle Transportable Concept Telescope

  1. This is awesome! The bamboo version is especially interesting. Looking forward to following your project.

    Kathy Strickland Union Springs

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Hi Doug: I am really excited about your project. One of my interests as an ATM is trying to build minimalist telescopes, and portable telescopes. This one looks really interesting. Can’t wait to find out more as you progress with this project.

    By the way…
    I posted the “Overview” link on our astronomy club mailing list, and you wouldn’t believe how many people commented on it! It was fun to talk to people after they had seen it, and hear how it gave them a new perspective on our place in the universe. So thanks so much for that great post!

    • Ken,
      Glad Overview resonated with your club. I should do the same on my own club listserv, and it would even be a great thing to show at a club meeting and then discuss. I hope to document the Veloscope build pretty completely here, and with the CAD file freely available, you might be able to adapt it or further explore the design. Keep in touch!

  3. Doug,
    As a long time cargo-cyclist myself, I’ve really enjoyed browsing this site since I read about you recently in Sky and Telescope. I particularly fond of trailering, and have been pulling loads behind my bicycles for more than 20 years. Setting one up to do astronomical outreach would be a breeze, and that’s just what I’m going to do this year. I’ll probably focus primarily on solar/daytime viewing, as the distance I need to travel to bring viewing to the populace is at minimum five miles. That five mile return trip in the dark on my semi-rural roads is not something to be taken lightly from a safety perspective. I’ll be sure to stay in touch and let you know how it’s coming along.
    Mike M.
    Plymouth, MA

    • Mike,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. If you’re on facebook, there is a Bicycle Astronomy Workshop page where you could post images of your own setup! The trailer is a great idea…that was what my local bike shop was suggesting to me, and it would have probably been the most cost-effecive way of going. But I wanted to try the cargo bicycle, and also show people that the bike form itself can be adapted for many uses. I understand the worry about riding at night…I went with powerful lights for that reason. What trailers do you own/use?
      cheers and thanks again!

  4. Doug,
    I have two trailers. One is a homebuilt, and the other is a CycleTote. I’ve used the CycleTote almost exclusively since my kids were born, as I towed them all over the place from infancy to about 5 years old. After that I bought the cargo conversion kit and have been hauling our trash and recyclables to the transfer station on a weekly/bi-weekly basis for 15+ years.The homebuilt needs a little work (I rolled it one day on the way home from a trash run) but it will make a fantastic astronomy outreach machine. I’ll post more as the project develops.

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