Velomobile Design Review
Getting the best out of a Velomobile.
Just think of a vehicle that is pollution free that needs no gas or batteries to power a motor. All you need is the power of the rider move around. Velomobiles offer this type of alterative to the person looking at modes of getting around. But just how effective are these designs in the real world. I will look at both the pros and cons. Are these machines the next generation of alterative transportation or really specialized type of vehicle for a small minority of the public?
The idea of a streamed bike is not really a new one. It goes back to turn of the century at the start of the first world war when aerodynamic devices where placed on to the up-right bikes to help give a gain in speed. These caused problems and even a death which put a ban of the use of these types of devices on the UCI rule books. In France, a fellow named Charles Mochet designed a four wheeled, two seater vehicle with a body on it. It was called a Velomobile. It was designed and built around the same time as the faired up-right bikes took place. The velomobile was designed for Charles son seeing that he saw the up-right bike dangerous to use.
Over time, the velomobile was modified into a two wheeled machine that would make waves in the bicycling racing world after breaking the hour record (a ride to prove just how fast a cyclist can ride on a track at top speed for one hour) in 1933. In a meeting that took place on Feb. of 1934 at the UCI (Union Cyclist International) banned all recumbents after long debate (more then likely the bicycle builders not willing to get into the recumbent market) placing the recumbent not to be defined as a bicycle.
Since recumbent bikes where not in the mainstream racing, promoting the design became more difficult to the public at large. A small group recumbent racers started illegal recumbent bike races in the late 1930s where the race records where not part of any racing groups like the UCI. From this point until the early 1970s, the recumbent was almost forgotten by the majority of the population. Only a small group of people keep up the recumbent design alive.
In the early 1970s, I was a reader of Popular Mechanics magizine. I liked to read the what’s new section of this pubication. I saw a small 4 wheeled pedal powered vehicle. It was out about the time of the oil shortages of the early 1970s. The whole bicycling industry had growth at this time. People interested in alterative bike design returned the recumbent design concept. That information being presented at this time is what got me on track with the recumbent bike. In a sense, the recumbent was reborn.
Although recumbents/ velomobiles have been know for there speed records, not all are created equal. Depending on how the recumbent is set-up, this may not always be the case. It could set-up in a way that it is slower, not faster then an up-right bike.
This comes to a review of a velomobile I had a chance to test ride in the fall of 2001. The machine was designed by Reg Redaro. It showcased all that I saw in these designs as a child. It was interesting to study and make use of the velomobile in the real world. Also be looked is my recumbent low racer that makes use of another fairing design also made by Reg.
Reg has had a background in boating industry down in Florida and this experience has been brought into the recumbent bike/ velomobile design.
The seat design is a sling cloth seat was a weak point in the design and one of the first things I noted about the design. Once I was in the seat was there was no way of lifting myself out of it to stretch my legs once I was riding. On my low racer, I use this trick to take the pressure off my butt from the seat base on longer rides avoiding having to stop and take breaks. Regs machine lacked this means of relieve.
The one area of note is how thow the machines gearing it set-up. The first thing you note is the use of smaller tires being used. This helps the designer design a package will fit a rider and allow the velomobile to work the way it does. In the case of Regs machine, 20" tires are used. I forgot the sizing used but they range in the 19" measurement size. No mid drive was set-up to help gear up the smaller tires so the gear ratios are on the low side. The front wheel drive set-up was used to help keep the weight down. It is set in fixed front section of the frame but that was changed over to a rear drive set-up in later models to help improve the handling characteristics.
The weight of the machine is about 100 lbs. Considering what is needed to put it together, it is not too bad. Getting the velo started needs a nice low gear ratio. This is when lower gear ratios work in favor of the velomobile. The problem comes into play when higher speeds are needed.
It has been 11 years since I had the machine to test but I think that it used a 48/38/28 chain ring on the crank arms. I am guessing that the free wheel used a 14 to 28 tooth gear set-up. This is a very common item from older recycled bikes. The effective gear ratios on the velo would range from 65.14 gear inches to 19 gear inches. To maintain a speed of 30 kph, the bike would be using a gear combination of 48/14 at a rate of about 95 rpm. I was running the bike at about this speed on flat level ground. I only did one major ride when I had the velomobile that fall. It was from Glencoe to Newbury and back to Glencoe in the fall of 2001. The roads in the area are more or less flat but there are some small up and down grades in the road to deal with. It was a good run to see the strong and weak points come out.
On flat level ground, the bike came into its own. I could get up to the highest gear range with no problems. One of the things I had to watch out for was the rear steer design. At faster speeds, you had to still watch for it but once you got the hang of it works well. At lower speeds I had to look out for rear swing. That is when the back end of the moves rather then the front. You really did to be keeping an eye the steering at all times. The bike could get out of shape fast. This is why the design was converted to a front steering design shortly after I the time my test vehicle was used.
Since the weight of the vehicle is 3 to 4 times that of open, upright bike, one weakness is on hills. The weight of the velomobile causes it to slow down much faster then a lighter open bike. This proved itself on the ride I did in 2001. On slight up-hill grades on CR 14, I noted I had much more of a challenge when compared to either my road or mountain bike. A good time to ride this distance of 9.5 km is about 25 to 30 minute range. The Reg Redardo velomobile was a bit slower when compared to a road bike. A big difference was that the body took a lot of the wind feel away that is felt on an open bike. The feel in the pedaling is more like being on an indoor bike rather then being on the open ride. You feel the streamlined body doing its job. It is only on the slight up grades that you begin to feel the weight of the velo come into the effect.
The design is more like a light aircraft minus the wings then a car. Entry into the machine is not as easy as I wished it could be. The body work is designed to be light weight so there is no place to step into velomobile directly. I am fairly fit so I could work around but others could find this a problem. One has to walk backwards into the seat then lift your legs over into the machine. It is a lot like getting into a sports car. The door is basically a one design and is hinged at the front top of the fairing body. Plexiglas is used for the window material. Forward visibility is good. The rear section of the body lacks windows so visibility not so great at this point of the design. Two vent holes are placed in the rear section and lack any form of window material. This works along with a front window section that is mounted on a hinge. When it is opened, the two open spaces allow airflow into the rider’s cockpit. A nice sized rear storage compartment placed behind seat allows one to carry items that could not be carried on an up-right bike with standard carrier mounted bags. For full weather protection the velomobile uses cloth curtains on the lower section of the doorway. The cut-out allows easier entry into the machine and the curtains zip into place fairly quickly when needed.
One should not confuse the velo design used as a commuter with its full out racing cousins. The racers use far higher gearing to gain the speeds they reach. Commuter machines use far lower gearing. Designs can vary from designer to designer. Some will use slightly higher then others. While the makers of the velomobiles designs claim an increase in speed when using them, There are many factors to go into factoring speed on any bikes so the claims that a recumbent velo bike is faster can be questioned at times. What they do offer is a weather protected cockpit that an open up-right bike can never provide.
Whether or not the velomobile is faster then an open designed recumbent or up-right bike is not important. It provides a mode of transport that allows one to use human power in all weather conditions like a car but without use of the bulk or use of a motor. One item missing from Regs velomobiles was a windshield wiper. There was no way to power it since no battery was in place provide power something like that. In saying this, power assist can be added to help support movement on locations like hills where the weight of the vehicle can prove to be too much for many riders.
One area that has to be looked at is the effect that fully faired bike in some riding conditions. Motorcycle riders that ride on faired sports bikes run into cross winds. This can affect the handing of the bike. At times, it can be very dangerous to the rider. The same effects happen on a human powered vehicle. Since it is lighter and slower then a motor powered sports bike, the affects of cross winds can be very dangerous to a rider in traffic. I ran into this on my faired low racer on the Niagara Park Way road way in Niagara Falls, Ont., Canada. The river by the falls can be unpredictable at times. One time a strong gust wind blow the bike into the middle of the road. No cars where coming so I was lucky I was not hit. On the 22 km ride with the velomobile I ran into a slower but steady cross winds. The rear steering along with the winds created a lot of time focusing keeping the velo straight.
How did the velo fair against other types of bikes? Given the weight of it, it was hard to use at times. It lacked a reverse gear on it. There where a few times that it could have been used. The low gearing works well for starting it off but once at speed, it works against to design of the velomobile. To gain higher speeds, one has to use a very high spin to maintain these high speeds.
I have low racer design that uses on of Regs other fairing designs. It works great. The bike also uses about the same gear ratio other then the fact that mine is only a 6 speed transmission and uses a 52 tooth chain ring to gain a little in gear inches. I can maintain about the same speed as I can on my road bike but with a lot less wind effect. Gaining speed above 35 kph was more difficult on the low racer due to lack of higher gear ratios. I managed to beat a road bike riding time shortly after finishing a ride from Glencoe, ON to Chatham, ON Canada by 4 minutes on a 60 km ride on HWY 2 (Long Woods Road) even thought the low racer lacked the higher gear ratios of the road bike.
The weight of the low racer was lighter then the velomobile by 40 pounds as well. Although the velomobile tested is heavier, it still uses standard centre pull bike brakes. While these work well on flat ground, I have doubts about how well it would work on stopped the vehicle on downhill grades.
Overall the design of the enclosed human powered vehicle is a good one. People like Reg Redaro keep the idea of the velomobile alive in a market place where most people do not know it even exists at all. For the few that make use of them, they are helping keep the planet just a little cleaner and greener. The whole idea of the green movement should in the actions taken by people to help clean the planet, not lining rich people with more money in their pockets.
It took about a century design to get the motorized vehicle into mass production. It was due to surprisingly to environment problem. The overuse of the horse lead to the rise of health related issues creating a market for the car. At the time, the car was considered being cleaner and less polluting. Over time, the overuse of car proved problems of it's own.
There are going to have a large shift in the social and cultural base before the use of any type of human powered vehicles will be seen as a practical alterative to the motorized mode we use now. We need jobs that are far closer to are homes so that someone will even think about getting around under their own power as a form of transportation on a larger scale.
Energy costs for automobiles will have to rise to the point where it is only something for the rich but in the end this will impact many other areas that we would not normally think of due the disconnects that are in place due to marketing of products. Items like plastics, chemicals in spray and other related products, and the roads we use depend on oil. Gas is just of the byproducts of the oil.
The Reg Redaro velomobile represents a well thought out design. He is always looking at small details to improve this design. I like the look and overall design feel of the velo. Compared other designs I have seen, this one has good height to it so it can be seen in traffic. It still needs some a few details to make it a real standout but the base for this is in place already. Hopefully, Reg has made some of these in the last ten years since I used this road test model from 2001. Others have bought and modified the base body shell to create their own version of a velomobile to fit their needs.
I was impressed by this design. It a lot like testing one of Henry Ford’s early experimental car designs. Too bad these models can not see wide spread use even after all these years he has been working on them. Having one of his fairings on a bike I designed shows just how well they can be adjusted to suitable bike designs. They really work well in the real world riding conditions.
If anyone is interested in seeing these machines in action or even test riding one, there is an event coming up on the weekend of Sept. 15th to 16th, 2012. It takes place in the Niagara on the Lake area. The designer of the machine being reviewed is hosting the weekend long event. It has been running since 2005.
Design Revisions 2008
The following information was passed on to me and I am posting with it Regs permission.
REVISED STORMY WEATHER 2008 Design Specs
The Stormy molds have been changed to produce
UPS sized pieces for practical reasons.The shape is unchanged.
The fiberglass now consists of 5 body parts.
The nose, windshield, roof and tail box are now 4 separate light weight pieces which bolt together.
The lower tub piece is made of multiple layers of glass and Carbon Fiberand acts as a structural member to which the body anddrive train components are attached.
The front Carbon fiber housing supports the cranks, steering tube and steering controls. It is bolted directly to the tub.
The mid drive is bolted to the left side of the tub and transfers the power out of the body to the left side rear wheel.
The rear axle and suspension housing is bolted just under the seat across the bottom of the tub. It is supported by two rubber blocks which provide the rear suspension.
The light rear seat is Carbon fiber and is supported by two inch hard foam members cut to fit the rider leg length. The seat hinges forward for access to the trunk.
The wheels are now all 20 inch .An effort has been made to simplify the assemble . The vehicle can be transported without the body as all the necessary parts to operate the vehicle are attached to the tub.
All of the body panels have a bolted 7/8 flange which allow the panels to be removed for service and make assembly easier.
With this new format the hard points for the steering, front suspension,rear suspension
mid drive and cranks are glassed into the body and facilitate installation of the drive components.
2013 Velo Happening Info
The date of this year's Velomobile gathering is going to be 14 -
15th of Sept 2013. The link has been up-dated. See the links section view the details. Enjoy!
- Niagara Velo Happening 2013
Up-dated 2013 Velo Happening Link.
- Stormy Weather Velo Design
A look a added design features on the Stormy Weather Velo design.
- Reg Rodaro Velomobiles for sale
Lawrence Rhodes on May 15, 2017:
The 2001 Velomobile Test Vehicle would be (with a few modifications) a good platform for a solar vehicle. However this is for a reverse trike. The wind screen would be in the blunt end and the shape would have a flatter top for as much solar area as possible. Aerodynamics are very important. Visibility as well.