July 4, 2013

Streamlined and pedal-powered velomobiles

Human-powered cars have come a long way since the Flintstones. Today’s human-powered velomobiles are enclosed, pedal-powered land rockets built around a recumbent bicycle or tricycle. For the Google-averse, recumbents are the reclined kind of pedaler. Most velomobiles are single-seaters with three wheels, but some seat two, and some have only two wheels. The two-wheeled kind have set human-powered speed records. They are often do-it-yourself projects or home-build kits, so variation in design is the norm. Underscoring that point, there’s even an amphibian velomobile demonstrated on YouTube.

The common factors they share are that they are aerodynamic weather resistant, and they straddle a line between cars and bicycles. Unsurprisingly, velomobiles have caught on in Europe more than in the United States. But they are a global phenomenon. We even saw one at Maker Faire Africa in Cairo, Egypt.

For a look at the vehicle in action, see the video “Velomobile: No gas, burns calories, secure like a car.”

We asked David Eggleston, founder of Velomobile USA, for some insight into this strange vehicle.

“I got interested in velomobiles in 2003 at an event called Cycle Vision in Lelystad in the Netherlands,” Eggleston says.

“I saw these hi-tech pedal cars and thought they would be just the thing to get people exercising. We adopted and further developed the Dutch Alleweder (all-weather) machine. Currently we manufacture the FAW+ (Flevo Alleweder Plus) kit or complete machine. It is like an aluminum airplane fuselage but with a comfortable recumbent seat, comfy cockpit, full suspension, an electrical system with headlight, tail light, brake light, turn signals, and horn. In traffic it is just like a little car.

“Usually human-powered, it can also have an electrical power-assist system to aid in climbing hills and increasing speeds. It can carry quite a bit of baggage, so you can make a run to the supermarket and carry all your groceries home. Or you can do as the Dutch do, and do group rides and group camping trips, and longer excursions. Velomobile technology steadily advances, and new suspension struts have recently made the ride even smoother.

“There are all-around velos and racing velos. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the more aerodynamic ones give the biggest thrill with their high speeds,” Eggleston says.

Not sure what you’d be getting into? Try a virtual spin in the driver’s seat in the video, “How to velomobile.”

Photo courtesy of David Eggleston

Photo courtesy of David Eggleston

Photo courtesy of David Eggleston

Photo courtesy of David Eggleston

Photo by William Cheffirs / Flickr

The Fantom two-seater velomobile. Photo by Liftarn / Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Gandalf24 / Wikimedia Commons

The Danish cycling site Cykelvalg put together this comprehensive graphic showing 27 velomobile models.

Too small to see? Just click on it to open a larger version.

Larger version | Source: IceBike.org / Cykelvalg (reprinted with permission)

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