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River Falls man's unique vehicle found after Journal story

Velomobile owner, Kirk Chaffee is all smiles after the return of his unusual electric recumbent bike. <i>Jillian Dexheimer photo</i>

Kirk Chaffee never thought he would see his yellow velomobile - a tiny electric vehicle with a removable fiberglass shell top and a pedaling component -- again after it was stolen Sunday, Oct. 14.

But a few weeks later the velomobile is back sitting in front of Chaffee's Charlotte Street apartment -- though this time it's securely locked.

After the vehicle went missing, it was somehow taken on a 75-mile trip across state lines to Chisago County, Minn.

According to Bruce Brandenburg, investigator at the Chisago County Sheriff's Office, the police do not know how the velomobile made the trip from River Falls to the area between North Branch, Minn. and Rush City, Minn.

Chaffee is a bit unclear about how the velomobile was spotted in Minnesota.

He has heard that a man from Stacy, Minn., tried to buy the velomobile but got suspicious when the asking price was around $300.

This led the man to "Google" the velomobile, where the Journal's online story popped up and he identified the vehicle as stolen.

Chaffee also heard that the Chisago County Sheriff's Office spotted the yellow electric recumbent bike while serving an unrelated warrant, where they also "Googled" the velomobile and the Journal's story brought the theft to the sheriff deputies' attention.

Brandenburg couldn't verify the validity of either story but did say: "I can confirm that the velo was recovered in our county and we transported it to our district office in Harris, Minn. and that is where Mr. Chaffee met me to pick it up."

Either way, Chaffee is just thankful that his velomobile is back.

"I was shocked," said Chaffee. "I had gotten used to the idea that it was gone."

Chaffee did not recover everything -- some electrical equipment, totaling about $300, was never recovered. Until he can replace those parts, he will not be riding the velomobile around town.

The top was also sanded down a bit and the decals were taken off the recumbent bike.

Chisago County is still investigating the theft and according to Brandenburg, "There will be charges referred to the Chisago County Attorney's office when our investigation is complete."

the owner of three recumbent bikes, including the velomobile, Chaffee does not own a car.

Chaffee said about his decision, "A day came where I felt aghast, I felt a strong personal need to stop using gasoline."

Chaffee agrees that it is a huge change, like on rainy days -- if he needs to get to the grocery store, he gets wet. He feels that he lives comfortably because he does not have a car.

"Vehicles create the need for more money," he said. "I make money not using a car."

According to Chaffee, the three-wheelers he rides are safe and comfortable. With the velomobile, he can get 30 commuter miles on a battery charge. He does see a large need for public transportation.

He went on to say that if others cut their gas dependency and used electric vehicle or bike transportation "...we wouldn't need war, the planet would be safe and besides, they're fun."

See the full story in the Nov. 22 edition of the Journal.

Jillian Dexheimer
Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.
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