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Velomobiles (or whatever you choose to call them)- part 2

HPV / Recumbent 8 10075

If you missed last week’s post at Bicycle Design about velomobiles, be sure to check it out.  In addition to the links that I mentioned in the body of the post, a few of you shared additional interesting velomobile designs in the comments section. I ended that post saying “whether you call them velomobiles, HPVs, or even human powered cars, it is great to see pedal powered machines stealing the show in Detroit.  The answer to that question of what exactly you should call these vehicles isn’t always clear, and it becomes even less so when you consider the numerous electric assist models on the market. Enclosed pedelec vehicles ranging from the practical Organic Transit ELF to the speed-focused Raht Racer (Recumbent Automotive Human Transport) blur the lines between a traditional velomobile (basically a recumbent bike or trike with an aerodynamic shell) and a lightweight electric car. Perhaps we should just view these vehicles as a completely separate sustainable personal transportation category, and dispense with the comparisons to bikes and cars altogether.  Maybe…but for now let’s do compare.

Low Tech Magazine addressed some of those category questions in 2010 with an excellent article titled, The velomobile: high-tech bike or low-tech car? (thanks to Adolfo for sharing that link on the Bicycle Design Facebook page).Toward the beginning of the article, they compare human powered velomobiles  to  standard upright bicycles, with a chart to illustrate the incredible efficiency of the former.


Raht Racer-  "an electric-assist velomobile that amplifies the rider's pedaling power, reportedly allowing them to move as fast as the cars around them."

Raht Racer- “an electric-assist velomobile that amplifies the rider’s pedaling power, reportedly allowing them to move as fast as the cars around them.” Image via Gizmag


“The power output required to achieve a speed of 30 kilometres per hour (18.6 mph) in a state-of-the-art velomobile (the Quest) is only 79 watts, compared to 271 watts on a normal bicycle.”

“Pedaling at a speed of 30 km/h thus requires 3.5 times less energy with a velomobile than with a normal bicycle.”

In that article, they also compare velomobiles to electric vehicles, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of velomobiles as an alternative to the automobile. It is also worth checking out just to see a variety of interesting designs that you may not have seen before.


Versatile velomobile. Image via Low Tech Magazine

A later (2012) post at Low Tech Magazine brings electric assist velomobiles into the discussion, a vehicle category that they refer to as fast and comfortable as automobiles, but 80 times more efficient.”  They illustrate that point with a hypothetical scenario:

“Imagine that all 300 million Americans replace their car with an electric velomobile and all drive to work on the same day. To charge the 288 Wh battery of each of these 300 million eWAW’s, we need 86,4 GWh of electricity. This is only 25 % of the electricity produced by existing American wind turbines (on average per day during the period July 2011 to June 2012, source). In other words, we could make a switch to private vehicles operating on 100 % renewable energy, using existent energy plants.”

For comparison, “imagine that all 300 million Americans replaced their cars with an electric version like the Nissan Leaf, and all drive to work on the same day. To charge the 24 kW battery of each of those 300 million vehicles, we need 7,200 Gwh of electricity. This is 20 times more than what American wind turbines produce today, and 80 times more than what electric velomobiles need.”


eWAW electric velomobile

eWAW electric velomobile. Image via Low Tech Magazine

The article at Low Tech Magazine goes into much more depth about the practical advantages of electric velomobiles… and in part two  they discuss government regulations and societal views that are preventing widespread adoption of human/electric powered vehicles. They point out that “the bicycle ‘evolved’ during the early 20th century into the faster motorcycle and next into the faster and more comfortable automobile, implying a logically ordered series of improvements which reflects an inevitable progress and an increasing rationality.” Because the older forms of transport in that linear evolution model are considered by many to be outdated and inferior, they propose a “non-evolinear” framework for the development of new and efficient personal transport designs (if that doesn’t make sense…read the article).

I could continue on with all of the velomobile links that I had planned to share in part two, but instead I want to cut it short and encourage you again to read the two Low Tech Magazine articles.  For more on the subject, I also encourage you to read Bicycles Don’t Evolve: Velomobiles and the Modelling of Transport Technologies, a chapter from Cycling and Society by Peter Cox and Frederik Van De Walle, and Van De Walle’s 2004 Master of Science Thesis titled “The velomobile as a vehicle for more sustainable transportation (a pdf file) ” (both of  which are referenced in the articles mentioned above).

Since I deviated from the original plan for part two, you can expect to see a third in the series about velomobiles soon. And who knows… at the rate that you all are sharing interesting links with me, there might even be a fourth post about velomobiles (or whatever you choose to call them) soon.  Keep sharing those links…I love to hear from those of you who know a lot more about this subject that I do.



Windexplorer, a fully electric vehicle based on the DuoQuest velomobile. Image via Low Tech Magazine.

Update: The Raht Racer, the “highway speed” electric assist velomobile mentioned and shown at the top of this post, is now on Kickstarter. Take a look at the page to learn more about it, and be sure to watch the video. As a pedelec with the power to amplify a rider’s effort to speeds of up to 70 mph, this is definitely an interesting human/electric vehicle that defies categorization. Regardless of what you call it… the Raht Racer looks like fun and I would love to take a test spin in one.

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  1. Ricky March 6, 2015 at 5:29 am -  Reply

    I have wondered for a while why it is that so few people buy velomobiles. I have come to the conclusion that it is, in part at least, because few velomobiles are designed for “most people”. Typically, they seem to be designed for speed and this means compromises in terms of comfort and space ; a notable few have attempted to build two-person machines (like the wonderful looking Windexplorer) but they are more typically “racing cars with pedals”. I think this lack of practicality is market limiting. There are materials problems, and (at the expense of added weight), I think it’s encouraging that a few companies like Rotovelo have started to experiment with more robust material design. Why have so few others taken up this initiative? There also seems to be a perpetual issue with wind screens fogging. I am convinced that there could be a significant market for velomobiles but someone needs to come up with a design that addresses what a greater number people want: something that confers many of the advantages of both cars and bicycles. My guess is that people want: protection from the elements, a comfortable ride, space for two people (and/or baggage), not much maintenance on bodywork or machine parts, electric assist and a useful suite of “accessories” in terms of lights, indicators, phone mounts, locks etc It’s not an easy challenge! The more one adds, the more it weighs and the more it weighs, the harder it will be to drive. Until these problems are cracked, I cannot see how velomobiles will ever be more than of interest to any but the tiniest markets: rich toys or speed-spot machines. Meantime I shall continue to lust over machines like the velotilt and hope my wife doesn’t find out if one day succumb and “invest”, purely to show off.

    • Jason August 7, 2015 at 4:42 pm -  Reply

      Hi Ricky,

      I really like some of your comments.I myself tried to design and build a velomobile for most people, but I found a big problem is this area of industry is has so limited resource to boost up. It is really cost time and money to make the profile one cause the place and machine all sorts of things. People enjoy to see these future machine but without heart to really to buy it. Even price could down to 1000$ , most people still believe should buy a car or moto, although we could put an electric assist system but no way this thing can beat up speed than vechicle most time. Plus the automotive is so well develop through decades. If one day , velomobile could has all similar function like car, maybe it will has an advantage but I personally believe, this part of supercool stuff is only stay on paper, until most people stop to think to buy an automotive is first choise instead of an velomobile.

  2. Alerios March 13, 2015 at 8:55 am -  Reply

    Hi, we are also developing a 3 wheeler electric vehicle as an alternative for Latin America’s mobility and contamination issues. Ciclover is a clean-energy powered, healthy-transport alternative, designed to inspire people to take action on both the climate change effects and mobility sustainability challenges.

    Clean, Healthy Transport in LATAM

    Ciclover is a solar-chargeable, recumbent tricycle. It has an electric hub motor and batteries that can be recharged in 3 hours from the grid and 10 hours from solar energy. Ciclover has an autonomy of 20 miles per charge, in assisted pedal mode. The first prototype was built in 6 months and had a cost of nearly US$ 3,000 and the goal for the next phase if to cut that cost in a half with a crowdfunding campaign.

      • Jimm Pratt March 30, 2015 at 5:27 pm -  Reply

        That looks like a great project Alerios, but you might want to look into either better batteries or better motor. 20 miles is not very much. In comparison, the 250 Watt e-bikes in Europe can do 30-40 miles on a single charge. The Bionx motor, on a recumbent trike, has been known to have a range of 40-60 miles, depending on terrain and how much assist is used. But good luck in your project!

  3. Jimm Pratt March 30, 2015 at 6:16 am -  Reply

    One correction (that I forgot to post weeks ago), the Versatile shown in the post no longer exists. It’s been updated a bit and is now called ‘Orca’.

  4. Richard R Schink April 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm -  Reply

    All the cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area have made the use of electric assisted bike/trikes illegal on the streets, sidewalks, parks, bike trails, etc.

    I currently ride a recumbent trike which I enjoy immensely, but velomobile types are too heavy to ride without assist unless you are a racer. I’m in my 70’s and ride a trike for medical reasons.

    • Ernesto April 27, 2015 at 1:32 am -  Reply

      I have a friend in Phoenix that rides his electric bike daily, with no issues. He’s even got a trike now. I can’t find any reference of such ban in the Phoenix area.

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