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Velomobile 101

Updated on October 12, 2013

You say velomobile?

A velomobile is mostly a tricycle with a lightweight body shell put on top, also called a fairing. They come in different sizes and weights and keep the driver clean and dry whatever the outdoor conditions. The biggest advantage is an extreme decrease of wind resistance thanks to the low profile. Aerodynamic properties of most velomobile are so good even untrained people can travel a big distance with a decent average speed. Something they could never do on a traditional bike.

Some models even come with an electric motor that supports the driver. Especially starting and going uphill need a little push sometimes, but if you want to rest a bit the electric motor will get you going for a long time. It is also important to say that manufacturers try to use as much as regular bike parts as possible. This allows you to go to your local bike store and buy replacement parts very close to home.

A gathering of velomobiles in Brussels (Belgium)
A gathering of velomobiles in Brussels (Belgium)
A gathering of velomobiles in Portland (USA)
A gathering of velomobiles in Portland (USA)

Have you ever heard about or seen a velomobile before you read this?

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What kind of people buy one?

It's hard to describe who buys a thing like a velomobile. For sure you have to be a bit adventurous, somebody who dares to think out of the box. Let's also not forget that the pains that a lot of people tend to have when riding a normal bike are not present for the velomobile rider. You are literally seated, just like in a car, except for the fact your legs form the engine. The fitter you are, the better you will ride. It is known that a lot of people that have continuous saddle pains buy velomobiles and are so fond of it they would never again get onto a normal bike.

Another group of people that buy these low riding machines are die hard commuters. Like most people they hate being in traffic jams and putting gas in their car just to go working. In some countries you can even get a tax deduction so the velomobile pays itself and the extra health is free. Although you should take in consideration that you will need some bananas or some other supplement to keep going day in and day out.

The last big group I have to mention is the fanatics. People who want to go hard and really really hard. The aerodynamic advantages are so massive a trained biker can do an average of 30mph. Only professional road bike riders can keep up speeds like this. So if you are a road bike fanatic like me, don't challenge the velomobile rider! He or she will crush you on the flats and still be smiling while you are dying far behind him or her. Trust me, I tried and lost.

Different types

Mainly there are 3 groups of velomobiles. First, you can buy a recumbent trike first and buy the body shell separately. Second, some brands sell velomobiles that you have to put together yourself. And last but most expensive are velomobiles that have a body shell that is the support structure for the whole vehicle itself. They all have their specific advantages and off course disadvantages. It all depends on what you want in a velomobile and what you use it for.

Keep in mind that they all are more expensive then their equivalent in parts bikes. It's great fun to have one but they are made to be ridden, no matter what the weather.

After reading so far would you consider buying a velomobile?

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First type of Velomobile: Kit Form

A great example of a kit form velomobile is the Ocean Cycle Challenger from the United Kingdom. They offer you two options. First, you can buy the complete velomobile which consists out of the tricycle and the body shell already put together. The second options is to buy the body shell separately. Let's say you already have an ICE Trike, more specifically a Trice Q, Trice QNT or a Sprint Bike. Then you just place an order with Ocean Cycle for the body shell and you mount it yourself. It gives you a great option because as you now know a velomobile is rather expensive. So, if you're not really sure a velomobile is your thing you buy a compatible tricycle, new or second hand. Then you get the driving experience and are far more sure about the possible future investment of the Ocean Cycle Challenger body shell.

Taste is something very personal but I think this body shell looks really great and you are protected from the elements. If I am not mistaking they are developping a cabrio version too for those who fancy a more open ride, especially in warm weather as the interior of a velomobile can get really hot.

Ice Trike TriceQ
Ice Trike TriceQ
Black Ocean Cycle Challenger
Black Ocean Cycle Challenger
White Ocean Cycle Challenger
White Ocean Cycle Challenger

Second type of Velomobile: Build it Yourself

Let's talk about velomobiles you build yourself. A company in the Netherlands that is called Alligt Recumbent Bikes offers high quality velomobiles and they send them to you in packages. Once arrived you have to build it up yourself. These velomobiles are called Alleweder which is dutch for all weather. The photo and the video below show you the Alleweder A4, the cheapest of the range. It's an all aluminium body and chassis and easy to customize for the handy people. Because the body is made out of aluminium it's quite a bit stronger than a lot of other velomobiles.

For the most part velomobiles are made of composite material and the high end racers are even built out of kevlar and carbon to keep the weight down. But if you get in an accident, even minor, the repair costs are far more expensive than with an aluminium body shell like the Alleweder A4. Main reason is the material itself and the lack of paint like most of the velomobiles.

Original Alleweder A4
Original Alleweder A4

Third type of Velomobile: Self Supporting Body Shell

Last but certainly not least we have velomobiles that have a body shell that is the support structure for the whole vehicle. We can divide them into two major groups. The ones with an ordinary composite body shell and the much lighter kevlar/carbon bodies. Needless to say that the latter is more expensive, but if you are bit of a weight weenie, you will surprised about the technology that is involved in making these velomobiles.

A really great example of the kevlar/carbon version is the WAW Velomobile made in Belgium. The body consist of a kevlar inner body which they rap in carbon fiber to strengthen the whole body shell. It is also very important to know that carbon fiber doesn't bend too good. It shatters and we don't want that. Imagine being in a whole carbon fiber body and you get in a collision. You could be severely cut. Therefor they put the kevlar on the inside to prevent this from happening. They have even built in crumpling zones in the body to protect the rider. This is a very high tech machine and offers a strong body shell but keeps the weight down as much as possible. They even sell a RAW version. More use of carbon fiber and less of kevlar pulls the weight even down further.

They also provide optional electric assist motors in their velomobiles. They call it the eWAW. The extra force is handy in starting and getting uphill and lifts normally trained people to an athletic level. With or without the electric assist motor, the WAW is still one of the most low flying velomobiles on the market and is a high end racer. They also offer a big range of additional options, like e.g. integrated lighting and turn signals (see video below) or acoustic material the place inside the cabin to reduce noise.

Black and white WAW Velomobile
Black and white WAW Velomobile
Red WAW Velomobile
Red WAW Velomobile

If you were to buy a velomobile, which one would it be?

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Customizing your Velomobile

Check out the pictures of these pimped out velomobiles!

Free as a bird.
Free as a bird.
When art becomes mobile.
When art becomes mobile.
I thought Jaws lived in the water?
I thought Jaws lived in the water?
Velomobile riders seem to like water animals.
Velomobile riders seem to like water animals.

You can even earn money on riding your Velomobile!

Yes believe it! You can earn money on riding your velomobile. The body shell is an empty canvas and customizable to your own liking, so why don't put advertising on it? Especially if you were to find a company that wants to promote energy sustainable products in a healthy environmental way you can even earn big money.

What they will ask off course is that you drive in places where a velomobile stands out like no other vehicle. A good example is to go riding next to cars in traffic jams. They probably will not sponsor you if you drive on moments and in places where almost nobody sees you. You can find a lot of information about this topic on the net.

Velomobile Quest
Velomobile Quest
WAW Velomobile in france
WAW Velomobile in france
WAW Velomobile in Belgium
WAW Velomobile in Belgium
WAW Velomobile in the Czech Republic
WAW Velomobile in the Czech Republic

Is a Velomobile legal and where do you ride it?

Off course a velomobile is legal, but laws in countries may differ. For the most part as soon as you have a track width of more then 30 inches or 75 centimetres you are allowed to drive on the main road. However, keep in mind that legally it's still a bicycle and you are not allowed like on a highway for example.

What you also should take in consideration is that it's a good idea to fit decent lights onto your velomobile. Because of the low profile of most velomobiles you want other people who take part in traffic to see you and see you well. Most companies who sell these marvellous machines also provide the option of putting a decent light kit onto your velomobile. Even turn signals are included as in some velomobiles you are fully enclosed and just can't put your arm out.

As I am a Western European, I know bicycles are very popular here and they make a good alternative to car related problems like traffic jams, especially for daily commuters. But honestly, commuting on a bike in the less fortunate weather conditions like rain, hard wind, cold weather and snow is just too harsh to do it every single day. Let's not forget you can even take a lot of work related items like food, a laptop and some fresh clothing with you inside your velomobile. If you have an electric assist motor in your velomobile you just charge the battery at work if necessary.

Some countries like the Netherlands, who have the most bikes in comparison to their population, and Norway even constructed bicycle highways to separate traffic streams. Wouldn't it be a dream if these were everywhere? Personally I hope this idea gets more popular because I hate traffic jams. Don't get me wrong, I like driving my car, but it's just silly ridiculous to be stuck on the same spot every day. I am an enthusiastic bike commuter and hope to buy a velomobile pretty soon.

How do feel about velomobiles now?

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