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A velomobile, or bicycle car, is a human-powered vehicle (HPV) enclosed for aerodynamic advantage and protection from weather and collisions. They are derived from recumbent bicycles and tricycles, with the addition of a full fairing (aerodynamic shell).
There are few velomobile manufacturers; some are home-built. Some models have the operator's head exposed; this has the advantage of giving the operator unobstructed vision, hearing, and some cooling, with the disadvantage of being more exposed to weather and less aerodynamic.
Hybrid vehicles exist which can use both human power and assistance by an electric motor. Generally speaking, the velomobile community expects that the assistance offered by an electric motor not exceed the potential power of the human pilot in order to qualify as a velomobile with vehicles exceeding this ratio often referred to as a pedelec. Small three- and four-wheeled motor vehicles are called microcars.
Before World War I, Charles Mochet built a small four-wheeled 'bike'-car for his son. Mochet built many models of small vehicles called "Velocar". Some models had two seats, most were pedal powered, but as the years went by, many were fitted with small engines.
In the 1970s, the People Powered Vehicle was produced. It was a two-seat, "sociable" tandem with a steel sub frame and molded plastic body. It was actually well designed and relatively light, though weighing over 50 kg (110 lb) (a recently restored version weighs 59 kg or 130 lb) but had flaws in the execution that doomed it as a practical, everyday vehicle. Positive features, such as easily adjustable and comfortable seats, independent pedalling for both passenger and driver, adequate cargo space and relatively good weather protection, could not overcome the negative features, such as a complex, heavy and badly spaced three-speed gear box, ineffective brakes, and pedals that slid on sleeve bearings on steel shafts, which made it difficult to use as an everyday vehicle.
In Sweden, a two-seat design called Fantom was sold as blueprints and became very popular; over 100,000 copies of the blueprints were sold, but few were actually completed. In the 1980s, Fantomen was rediscovered by Carl-Georg Rasmussen, who built a redesigned version called Leitra. The downfall of the 'bicycle' car came when the economy improved and people chose motorised transport.
All current velomobiles are produced in low volume. The only attempt at a mass-produced velomobile, which was in the mid-1980s, flopped. This was the Sinclair C5. The C5 was a delta trike (one front, two rear wheels) with electric assist designed to be mass-produced and sold for a low price. The C5 was poorly designed; it was heavy, had only one gear and had no adjustment for the distance between the pedals and the seat, which is important to get a comfortable pedalling position.
A concept and a potential assessment concerning low-cost velomobiles for daily short trips as well as strategies for reaching a critical lot size for mass production was the subject of a research project called RegInnoMobil.
Electric assisted velomobiles
Some velomobiles have been converted to provide electric assist. Electric assist means that a small battery-operated electric-propulsion system is provided to assist the driver's leg muscle effort. Most electric-assist propulsion motors are of the in-wheel design in the rear wheel, such as geared hub motors (like eZee, Heinzmann, Bafang, BMC, etc.) and direct-drive hub motors (like Crystalyte, BionX, 9Continent, etc.) but mid-drive units (like Sunstar, Cyclone, Ecospeed, etc.) are used as well due to design constraints in velomobile models with one-sided rear wheel mounting like the Quest, Strada and Mango or front wheel drive in the Velayo, or better efficiency by using the multiple speeds of the chain drive or internal geared hubs (e.g. Rohloff 14 speed hub).
While an electric-assist unit does add extra weight to the velomobile, it is somewhat offset by the flexibility it also provides, especially during hill climbs and stop-and-go traffic. Due to vastly better aerodynamics of velomobiles the range of a similar electric assist unit and similar battery in a velomobile can be about 50% to 100% higher compared to upright bicycles or unfaired recumbents.
- Alligt (Netherlands) Alleweder A4, Alleweder A6, Alleweder A9 (Sunrider kit), Sunrider Mk2
- Birkenstock Bicycles (Switzerland)
- bluevelo (Canada) Quest, Quest XS, Strada, Cab-Bike, Team, Hornet
- CarBike (Germany) two-seater, under development
- Cab-Bike (Germany, Poland)
- CabrioVelo (Germany, Italy)
- DreamCycle (Italy) Zephyrus
- evovelo (Spain) mö
- Fietser.be WAW (Belgium) beWAW, eWAW
- Flevobike (Netherlands) Orca
- Fortschritt Fahrzeugbau (Germany) Velayo (discontinued)
- Go-One (Germany, USA) Go-One, Go-One2, Go-One3, Go-One Evo R, Go-One Evo K, Go-One Evo Ks
- Greenspeed (Australia) Greenspeed Glyde (discontinued)
- Intercitybike (Netherlands) DF & DF XL
- Katanga (Czech Republic) WAW@2014 (current WAW)
- Leiba (Germany) Classic, X-Stream, X-Stream XXL, Hybrid (S-Pedelec), Record
- Oceancycle (UK) Challenger (based on ICE Trikes)
- Ped-3 (Slovenia)
- Räderwerk (Germany) Milan Mk2, Milan SL, Milan GT, Milan Mk3
- Schöne Linie (Germany)
- Sinner Bikes (Netherlands) Mango
- Steintrikes (Austria) Interceptor, Thunderstorm, Leitra Avancee
- Sunrider Cycles (Netherlands)
- Trisled (Australia) Aquila, Avatar, Kestrel, Rotovelo
- Twike (Switzerland, Germany) two-seater electric-human hybrid
- Velocity Velos (US)
- Veloform (Germany) Velo-Taxi
- Velomobiles.ca Aurora, Borealis (based on ICE Trikes), Milan, Milan SL
- Velomobiles (Germany) Cargo, El Loco
- Velomobiel.nl (Netherlands) Quest, Quest XS, Strada, Quattrovelo
- VelomobileUSA (US) FAW+ (Alleweder A2)
- WeatherVelo (UK, Germany) MODE cabin-cycle (prototype)
DIY (Do it yourself) Velomobiles
With a growing DIY-community and an increasing interest in environmentally friendly "green energy", some hobbyists have endeavored to build their own velomobiles from kits, sourced components, or from scratch. When compared to similar sized commercial velomobiles, the DIY velomobiles tend to be less expensive.
Probably the most built velomobile kits are the various models of the Alleweder made from prefabricated aluminium sheet metal due to its affordable price. Some velomobile manufacturers offer their models as kits for self-assembly (Räderwerk Milan Mk2 + Milan SL, Beyss Go-One Evo K + Go-One Evo Ks, Alleweder A9/Sunrider Mk2 for instance) at reduced price.
The Velocity Velos DIY-Kit velomobile shells can be fit to various models of tadpole trikes.
Velomobile and recumbent Internet Communities
Many velomobile amateur builders are also recumbent bike riders. In the later years many velomobile groups, some of them only local as the Nordic velomobile group, have appeared. While many groups can be found in Facebook, there are many other communities which have their own servers. Engaging actively in those communities is probably the best way to get informed and eventually own a velomobile.
- Bent Rider Online Forums: Velomobiles
- Low Tech Magazine – The Velomobile: High tech bike or low tech car?
- Low Tech Magazine – Electric Velomobiles: as Fast and Comfortable as Automobiles, but 80 times more Efficient
- forum velomobile and bentrider
- Wood Velomobile
- Frederik Van De Walle. The Velomobile as a Vehicle for more Sustainable Transportation ISSN 1651-0194, Retrieved on 23 November 2007.
- International Human Powered Vehicle Association. Retrieved on Dec 31, 2012
- Benjamin Preston (August 5, 2013). "Navigating the Greenway: 1,200-Mile Journey in an Electric Bicycle-Car". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
- The Real History of the Recumbent Bicycle Retrieved on 26 March 2008.
- Research project "RegInnoMobil" about low-cost velomobiles for short daily trips Retrieved on 19 January 2010.
- "Records-Land - World Human Powered Vehicle Association".
- "Records-Land - World Human Powered Vehicle Association".
- "velomobile electric leiba X stream (IUT Aisne)".
- "Ufo med pedalmotor". Retrieved 5 November 2016.
- Building a velomobile DIY, description with usable designs