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Andy

(1)

I love the concept of velomobiles. As someone that bikes to get anywhere that's within 100 miles, I could certainly see myself getting a velomobile one day to make those longer trips easier. 100 miles by upright bike takes me around 8 hours, although when riding daily distances like that while touring I tend to average about 10mph including all stops and breaks. I would expect a velomobile to increased that average overall speed to about 13mph touring, or 22mph sustained for a single day of riding (based on 33% increase speed).

There's three big reasons why I don't currently own one though. About 45% of my annual miles are from commuting, 35% riding with groups, and 25% riding long distance alone. The commute would not be better on a velomobile since it has traffic lights and lots of cars to deal with. I would not want to be low to the ground, with limited vision, while riding through the city. For the group rides, being enclosed and low would mean that I'm not able to socialize very easily, which is a big part of why I go on those rides. That leaves 25% (about 1200 miles) that could be ridden on a velomobile. It just doesn't seem worth $5000-$10000 for a vehicle that only goes that far in a year. Only accounting for startup costs (lets assume $6,700) and assuming it lasts 3 years before I sell it at half the costs (my current assumptions for buying bikes), that would be about $1/mile. Between my current road bikes, I only pay about $.30 per mile, so the velomobile is certainly a bigger cost.

To answer your question of whether it's a high tech bike or a low-tech car, I think it's kind of neither. It's not well suited for biking around town OR for going >100 miles. I still own a car because I take trips to see family in various places several times per year, so I need a way to get 200-400 miles in a reasonable time still. So at least for me, at this time, a velomobile would just be an expensive addition to my "fleet."

I did consider buying a used recumbent for about $650. With a few hundred dollars of materials, I could make a fairing for it that would make it a primitive velomobile. That's the most likely option for me, but still an investment I'm not yet ready for.

glen murry

(2)

The lack of windshield wiper option is additionally likely due to the use of polycarbonate or other plastic windshields which would become quickly scratched by the wiper blades to the point of opacity

Guilhem

(3)

Your article is great, it is rare to see an article that depicts so well what a velomobile truely is.

But I jumped out of my chair when I saw your last sentences ! I preferred the velomobile over the bicycle because it is much safer on the road with automobiles, especially out of cities ! Motorits give plenty of room to velomobiles when passing by, and they are much more cautious than with a regular bicycle !

Velomobile can definitively be used on the road, among cars, provided that it is equiped with good lighting and visibility items.

Suman Mitra Subramanian

(4)

I've been considering a velomobile for a while now to extend my bicycle commuting season, and this page provides an excellent summary of their pros and cons. Where I live (Phoenix, AZ area), summer afternoon temperatures can be over 110 F (43 C), while winter morning temperatures can be around freezing, so I would like an open model that can have a closed canopy attached during cold/wet weather (we get very heavy rain during the summer monsoon). Also, it would need to look good! I hope prices come down, especially for the sleeker models.

Thanks for compiling this information!

jamesmallon

(5)

Laboratory numbers don't mean much, do they? Even so, the only great advantages seem to be downhill, when I am going too fast already, or into a headwind, when I admit the velomobile has great advantages. I cannot imagine adapting one of these, or any 'bent, to my riding needs: commute on bike paths and roads, with bollards; and errands in traffic in Toronto. I could see it shine in my out-of-town long road rides... but paying three times as much for a bike to do that, maybe, 150% better? Not to mention the fact that I do not see how I could get out of town with it my train/bus, or take it abroad by air.

@Andy has pointed out that they do not serve the needs well of 95% of us: too big, too heavy, too expensive, too few advantages.

Kris De Decker

(6)

"Laboratory numbers don't mean much, do they? Even so, the only great advantages seem to be downhill, when I am going too fast already, or into a headwind, when I admit the velomobile has great advantages."

James: I suggest you take another look at the numbers.

jamesmallon

(7)

@Kris De Decker, 'bents and velomobiles aren't flying off the racks, are they? It's not just sticker shock: people are practical. If you are an engineering grad, or have a lower back problem I can see the attraction of either, so long as you have a regular ride without constrictions. The other 95% of us?

Kris De Decker

(8)

James: For velomobiles to be flying off the racks, people have to know they exist. I have seen one velomobile in my entire life. I have seen thousands and thousands of automobiles and bicycles. This article explains what velomobiles are, and what they are intended for: medium distance trips between 20 and 50 kilometres (12 to 31 miles). Within this range, they might serve as an alternative to car transport, and since the average car trip is within the range of a velomobile, the potential is much larger than the 5 percent of people you mention.

Provided velomobiles get the space. I can believe that your commute is not suited for them - mine is neither. But the infrastructure can change in favour of velomobiles.

By the way, saying that they are too big and too heavy only applies when you compare them to bicycles. It's different when you compare them to cars. Velomobiles are at least 30 times lighter than automobiles.

Will Stewart

(9)

Kris, this represents one of the most promising modes of transportation available where mass transit is not available. Kudos on highlighting these. If there were one technology to reduce our dependence on foreign oil (or institute sustainable transport) in the suburbs or even transit-challenged cities, this would be it.

Do you know anyone with one of these (or are you game enough to try one out yourself)? Please continue reporting on this topic, it's that important...

Paul Nash

(10)

Great article Kris! I have seen many recumbent bikes, but only ever two velomobiles (from the back, as they passed me on my bike). It seems to me a natural evolution for a recumbent to add the fairing.
While the examples given use exotic materials like Kevlar, that does not mean they have to. You can build them out of wood, using the same techniques for making canoes, either with marine/aircraft plywood, or in cedar strip style. And this fellow has done just that (this is actually a tandem velomobile!);

http://picasaweb.google.ca/lh/photo/TddLbh0J2_6yg9aEgdBPFA?feat=embedwebsite

or this;

Some good examples of old style, wooden, velomobiles from the 30's and 40's here;
http://www.mochet.org/Velocars/velocars.html

Having built my own cedar strip canoe, I can vouch that it is lighter (and better looking) than any fibreglass one, and cheaper than any kevlar one. It would be easy to make a kit that the velo owner builds themselves - this is widely done for canoes/kayaks - and allows for flat packing!

The power/speed numbers are interesting, as you can compare to what you would get on an electric assist bike, which I think is what you need if you are going to use the velomobile in traffic. Here in Vancouver, Canada, bicycles are allowed 500W of electric assist, and maximum speed of 32km/h. Assuming that you have the "standard" velomobile, and allowing 150W average power, a 3kg Li-ion battery pack would give you two hours and 64km of range, and more if you pedal.

However, I think for velomobile to catch on as a serious means of transport, they will probably become "electric scooters". The rules here are up to 1500W, maximum speed of 72km/h, max weight 90 kg, not incl rider or batteries, must be registered and insured, and rider must wear a motorcycle helmet. pedal power is optional. You could easily design a velomobile to those rules that would keep up with all but freeway city traffic, and it could be strong enough to give you some crash protection (safety cells on F1 cars are less than 50kg and good for up 150km/h crashes).

For electric vehicles, these are the ones that make sense - light and aerodynamic and affordable

Michelangelo Du

(11)

Dear Mr. Decker, I hope you don't mind, I just want to comment from a Philippine perspective, where we have many types of alternative relatively inexpensive transport from the Jeepney, the Electric Jeepney, the Tricycle, The Trisikad, The Motorela and the habalhabal; You will notice that most bikes here are not recumbent, and travel only on traffic ridden streets where they have the advantage. For climbing uphill, bikes and recently, electric bikes, are available right now. Thailand has its own version of The Motorela which is called the Tuktuk,electrically powered. None of Bicycles here seems to use a recumbent chassis, and if ever we need to go high speed, we can take a commute thru a the Jeepneys, Trisikads, Motorelas or as some of my friends do, travel on an electric bike or motorbike, on the main roads (there are no freeways here).

I find this blog of your quite interesting since it features out of the box, but practical, inventive solutions to world problems.

Best Regards, Michelangelo "Mike" Du

For your reference:

the Jeepney
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeepney

the e-jeepney

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/filipino-jeepney-green-energy-050707/

The Trisikad
http://crankandpedal.wordpress.com/2007/08/09/we-have-our-trisikad-ny-has-bicytaxi/

The Motorela
http://www.photo.net.ph/displayimage-3505-135.html&lang=arabic

The Habalhabal
http://istambay.wordpress.com/2008/09/27/1343/

This is an electric bike similar to those recently being sold in the Philippines
http://www.ecvv.com/product/934181.html

jamesmallon

(12)

Hate to piss in the cool-aid you're drinking, but velomobiles ain't moving out of the fringe. Tried to explain the obvious reasons, but you clearly don't want to hear. Enjoy trying to popularize them, if you don't think you'll get discouraged.

Rick

(13)

They don't look like they'd handle potholes very well. Unfortunately most of our roads are not so great.

The other thought I had was are there any races featuring these? Could they run on automotive race tracks? Maybe with sponsorship, athletes, and some exciting drama, the manufacturers of these things could build up some good publicity and recognition. "The Daytona Velomobile 500". "NAS-Velomobile". etc...

Kris De Decker

(14)

Concerning potholes: a velomobile can be equipped with very good suspension, similar to that of an automobile. This is a necessity if the roads are not so great. Similar to a car and contrary to a bike, you cannot come out of the saddle when you encounter a pothole or a speed bump.

G Frank

(15)

"The concept of the velomobile is sound as long as the vehicle does not have to share the road with automobiles. On current roads, piloting a velomobile would be relatively dangerous."

I think that statement is sorta silly. I DRIVE my recumbent trike on the street and use the right traffic lane safely with cars seeing and changing lanes to share the road with me even in car-obsessed southern California. I think that trikes and velomobiles are actually more visible and noticed... and maybe safer than riding a conventional bicycle on the side or sidewalk of a road.

Per Hassel Sørensen

(16)

I use an Alleweder that I built from a kit. It works nicely, no problem with cold weather like we have here in Norway in the winter.

The speed is too high to go fast on bike/walk paths, the road is best for a fast commute.

My Golden Motor Magic Pie motor assist uses 5 wh/km in average, and my motor is regenerative improving range approx 40% on long trips, 20% on short ones (then I brake less). With 36V battery (1.3 kg Li-Po) I have a top motor speed of 26 km/h which is within the 25 km/h (+10% tolerance) European Pedelec legal speed.

Highly recommended transport if you do not want to get wet but still want to ride a bike for exercise even in rain or snow.

Daelach

(17)

I live in a big city, and bike theft is a major problem. I do store my Brompton folding bicycle in the kitchen, and I put my other (conventional) bicycles in the cellar. But carrying a velomobile downstairs and upstairs? As awkward (for carrying) as it is, and as heavy?! No way.

Another point is that the lining is quite easy to damage - and not that easily repaired.

IMO, you underestimate the weight problem. There is a big reason why those machines are most common in the Netherlands and Denmark: both are flat. You won't catch up the time downhill that you lost uphill because the slowest parts in the journey determine the average.

Overmore, a velomobile only gives advantage at higher speed - nothing with "same speed, 3.5 times less power". The linear rolling resistance is at least just the same. Or higher, because of the camber which also tends to rub down the tyres considerably faster than with normal bicycles.

And if you consider the price of these things, just calculate how many hours of additional work you need. Same as for cars - the "social speed" is lowered by the costs.

Or, try to take a velomobile aboard a train. Sounds funny..

Kris De Decker

(18)

@ Daelach (#17):

It is correct to say that velomobiles are not very practical in mountainous regions. However, the Netherlands and Denmark are far from the only flat countries in the world. Many US states and cities are on flat ground, too, to name just an example. There is not one technology that will be suited for everyone. We need solutions that are adapted to local situations. For instance: solar plants should be located in sunny regions and wind turbines in windy regions, not the other way around. There are sustainable transport options for mountainous regions, like cable trains. http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/09/water-powered-cable-trains.html

It is also correct to state that you can't take a velomobile on the train or carry it up to your appartment. So what? The same goes for cars. The problem is that you only compare velomobiles to bicyles, you should also compare them to cars, since they are an alternative to them, too. Nobody tells you to give up your folding bicycle if you want to commute by train and cover the additional distance by bike. But if you want to commute long distances in a private vehicle at relatively high speeds, the velomobile might be a great alternative to the automobile.

By the way, cars get stolen, too, and it is much harder to steal a velomobile than to steal a bicycle. And I don't see any reason why you cannot park them in a garage like you do with an automobile.

@ Rick (#13):

Races with velomobiles would be utterly boring. You cannot see the riders and their speed is not spectacular if you are used to watching racing cars. This is exactly the reason why they were banned by the International Cycling Association at the beginning of the 20th century.

Anon

(19)

Nice ongoing discussion! These things wouldn't need windshield wipers if the windshield can be treated with Rain-X or a similar surface treatment or water repellent. Would WD-40 work?

Jake

(20)

@Andy One could set up simple fm two-ways where you could still communicate within 300 metres, for all your social rides

mi7d1

(21)

A group of velomobiles are leaving tomorrow (28 July 2011)for a cross country tour from Portland, Oregon to Washington DC. Riders come from six countries. Twenty-two Europeans and twenty-six N. Americans. They plan to average 200km (124 miles) a day.

http://www.rolloveramerica.eu/

Gerd Z.

(22)

Clear & positive text, I really like it. I recommend people this article if they wish to know more about velomobiles. If only they could be somewhat less expensive...

B. Trost

(23)

To answer the lead question: Low-tech *sports* car. And, like some sports cars, your typical velomobile doesn't appear have room for a briefcase, let alone a bag of groceries. Getting there fast is OK -- getting there with dinner fixings is much more useful.

Kris De Decker

(24)

@ B. Trost: most velomobiles do have a luggage compartment, which can be large enough for both the briefcase and a bag of groceries. This one, for instance, can take 70 litres of luggage:

http://www.notechmagazine.com/2010/04/recumbent-tricycles-the-sinner-mango-sport.html

Jay

(25)

I love this tech and I look forward to the future iteratons that will come. I think one great addition to the velo would be a flywheel system that could store energy much like a KRS in an indy car. This could normalize the pedaling input and greatly assist in launching from a stop. With this and a few other improvements it could be a better option for some. Like most of those who posted here the velo is not for everyone but there is a place for them and you have to admit they represent interesting tech.

Grant Connor

(27)

This is an excellent article and the velomobile with electric assist may prove a useful option if room for cargo or child seating is included. For most of us the fully faired upright bike offers more flexibility at lower cost. A 26" ladies'3spd geared 40/19T with a curved coroplast front fairing and rectangular Rubbermaid trash can tail box is truly low tech and affordable. We do not live in a "one size fits all" world. Find what works for you.

Paul B

(28)

The last thing velomobiles need is a government subsidy, which will ruin the industry. Instead, subsidies of automobiles need to be removed, as do government zoning laws which mandate separation of residences from work. Anyway, they will stay on the fringe until the price of gas goes significantly higher, which it is bound to do. But the cost of production will have to come down; otherwise it will remain squeezed to a tiny segment of the market between small motorcycles and ordinary bicycles.

seb

(29)

@Rick (#13) Yes in Adelaide, Australia they have the '24hr Pedal Prix' every year. With hundreds of 'velomobiles' and thousands of spectators. Shame we don't have it here in the UK.

superkaos

(30)

And exactly why would it be dangerous to ride one of these on the road? What type of risk would get increased as to driving a motorized vehicle? I think it is kind of silly to think that one would need to separate these vehicules from motorized cars. Just like a bicycle does not need any special "facilities" to be ridden safely, quite the contrary, those "facilities" make riding more difficult and dangerous. Please, let's be more rigurous and not fall for the same old myths, fears, and superstitions about cycling.

Corey

(31)

A simple velomobile is a nice concept but I would prefer to have a two person velomobile with an electric assist motor and decent storage and a regenerative breaking mechanism.

I think the realistic requirements to make this technology more popular is higher speeds, safer, multiple passengers, ample storage, cost effective, and attractive design. Also, I think it would be important to have the option of pedaling to power vehicle, using electric motor, or using combination. I have considered building one and I have some concept designs. At this point I would need some assistance in cost and building.

Tad Ermitano

(32)

Just a thought: windshield wipers could be run via a mechanical linkage (clutch, leaf spring, etc) to the pedals

Amit Baum

(33)

Hi,
I am now working with a group of Master students on a eco-city around Shanghai region. We are straggling with the concept of cycling highways: how to create a cycling grid without traffic lights combined with a top priority pedestrian sidewalks? I am a cyclist myself (no drivers license) with broad touring experience (South America and Europe). If you think it is really possible please share your ideas with us. This is an academic project, but the project is very real and the budgets are huge, even in the Chinese scale. Our deadline is around May 2012, but you are welcome to contact me at anytime, as I am really curious to find a way to make this utopian dream come true.

Amit.
Baum.Amit@Gmail.com
Skype: baum.amit
SHOHAMIT.freevar.com

Bob Fairlane

(34)

I like velomobiles very much, but I think they will remain rare in the US until drug abuse and reckless driving are reigned in somehow. Ignorance costs America untold fortune and happiness. It's not hard to see a velomobile from a car, but many car drivers are just plain high or stupid, and they feel entitled to be "first" everywhere they encounter a bicycle. I think the best substitute for a car is a motorized bicycle, the best of both worlds, and which can travel in both bike lanes as a bicycle, and car roads as a sort of "moped". I am reading up on motor assisted velomobiles now, as I think a faired motor bicycle could get very high mileage and easily travel 30-40mph with little strain on the legs or the motor.

Uwe Goerlitz

(35)

Hi,

for the discussion about windshield wipers: The Leitra offers a simple manually operated wiper and the german dealer for Leitra developed an even lighter and simpler wiper (http://www.mikusliegerad.de/html/leitra_updates.html ) I personally use this carbon-wiper with good results.
The wipers are working on a Leitra, because the Leitra uses a classic flat glass panel as the central part of the windscreen.
The need for wipers isn't really that big. e.g. in central europe we're facing precipitation approx. 10% of the year, so roughly every 10th ride will see water on the bike and not every ride in the bike requires the wiper.
Other climates will probably have a bigger need.
My own experiences with velomobiles in moderate climates (winters with temperatures down to -15°C and summers up to 39°C) show the need for small windows on a velomobile. (a Go One 3, Pannonrider or Twike will work as a glasshouse boiling you on the go) In the Leitra with it's small windows I still feel comfortable and don't want to switch back to an open bike / recumbent bike in summer. It's more comfortable even in 39° in the Leitra than it was on any other bike I used during the years.
The biggest disatvantage I noticed so far is a difficult communication. I can't talk to other cyclists while riding a velomobile. I have to stop for conversation. An open velomobile (Versatile / Orca) is preferable in those cases.
Pricing of velomobiles is still a problem. Prices will fall when numbers are increasing, but numbers will not increase as long as prices are so high.
For a very good overview over the current state of recumbent bikes and velomobiles it's a good idea to visit the annual special bikes show in Germersheim / Germany. ( http://www.spezialradmesse.de/index.php?welcome )

Brennan

(36)

I'd like to see photos or video of someone 2 meters or 6'6" Tall getting IN & OUT of an incumbent and fairing. When I'v ridden a "sit on top" kayak [the only kind I & my shins'll trust], my legs Must Be strait and flat-out, this puts my ankles Over the foot mounts, this is awkward & uncomfortable, but the rest of me feels balanced and well ...comfortable :) Also if the seat reclined into a flat [2 m] bed! and it floated? well then I'd have to have one ;).

Vivek

(37)

I have seen these bikes on tv, mostly on discovery channel. Can anyone build it at home? Or they are too hitech? I live in India. If I want to get velobike, where I can get it? Or can you post any article on building a velobike? Please do it. Thank you.

Brian

(38)

I like the concept of velobikes, but like trained beer opening monkeys they aren't practical for most people. They are small and slightly cramped for anyone over 6 feet tall unless you have the cash for a custom bike, though this is a general problem with all recumbents. The other problem with the velo is the weight issue, beyond hills you also have the constant stop and go of traffic which seems as though it would wear most people out. The last problem that I see is probably because of my location in Florida, USA, it just doesn't seem to have much airflow to cool the rider. Especially when I see that enclosed model, I can just imagine being trapped in that thing at a stoplight with the temp near 100 degree F and the humidity levels climbing past 90%. Hello heatstroke.

So just get the sizing bigger and cheaper, regen system for traffic, and some ventilation for riders and I will be right behind you.

Kris De Decker

(39)

@ Brian:

The weight issue can be solved by an electric assist motor, see http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2012/10/electric-velomobiles.html

Cramped? Manufacturers of velomobiles have started to offer different sizes, both for shorter and taller people. (like the WAW Extra Large that I test drove, see the link above).

Your last point is valid. A velomobile is not very well suited for a hot climate. Ventilation helps (and is generally included) but what you need for cycling in hot conditions is a non-faired cycle. As much as I love velomobiles, I am not driving one in real life exactly for this reason (I live in Spain).

Mr.Clifford Charlesworth

(40)

As a motorist I am becoming more familiar with these types of vehicles on our roads & I am surprised to read all these comments about how good these pedal powered vehicles are i.e.- speedy etc . & yet I see nothing about the capability or competence of the person driving the vehicle. As these vehicles are used on the road I suppose they are subject to the `Rules of the road` & in my opinion the driver should be in someway assessed as to their knowledge of the Highway code` & ability & competence to drive or pilot the vehicle. Just a thought . If car drivers & motorcycle riders have to pass a test then I believe so should the drivers of these vehicles if they become road users.
Cliff Charlesworth

Wolfsbane

(41)

I've discovered the magic bullet that make velomobiles desirable and functional.

Instead of a large battery pack, install a self contained portable emergency generator. Install a couple of batteries that move it around slowly when the generator isn't running to further the ruse that the vehicle is battery powered and the generator is just carried for emergency recharges and running lights at night.

You can find them up to 8000 watt sizes for around $600usd at places like discount tool purveyor Harborfreight. Their biggest generator fits in a compact 30"Lx27"Wx24"H compartment. Less capable ones are smaller.

Then replace the anemic electric assist motors with a Briggs & Stratton Etek or equivalent. It's unfortunately not made anymore but there are substitutes.

You can easily make these light vehicle keep up with the average automobile. So I'd recommend upgrading to narrow motorcycle tires instead of bicycle tires.

Just don't get caught and don't be obvious about it. I'd suggest laminating a thick fabric covering like felt to the velomobile's body to make it less visible to police radar.

www.Harborfreight.com

www.briggsandstratton.com/us/en/support/faqs/availability-of-the-etek-motor#

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