Velomobiles And Their Invigorating History

As the bicycle evolution continues to take interesting turns, Velomobiles are some of the latest models in this century. Also known as bicycle cars, velomobiles mainly refer to enclosed human-powered vehicles to protect the rider from extreme weather and collisions.

Yup! You can think of them as enclosed recumbent bikes. Unlike the other purpose-built automobiles like streamliners, Velomobiles have not documented any significant records in terms of speed yet.

Some argue that the velomobile enclosure, together with the additional wheels, creates a dragging effect that generally affects the speed of such multi-track machines.  However, reasonable attempts reveal that their performance is almost closing in on that of the regular two-wheeler.

Currently, there are very few people making Velomobiles. With no standard outfit, some versions are fully enclosed, while others leave the head exposed. Many are still made from home garages, but different companies are gradually picking up the pace.

Like any other type of bike, Velomobiles commonly feature a typical drive train that consists of a rear derailleur, front bottom bracket, idler pulleys, multiple chainrings, and chain tubes. The only difference is that these driving components are enclosed and protected from extreme elements and conditions.

Now that you know what Velomobiles are let us now dive deep into their background history.

History of Velomobiles

The earliest version of Velomobiles existed as a small pedal-powered bike car that Charles Mochet built for his son before 1939. Mochet’s four-wheeled velocars were later fitted with engines, reinforced with steel frames, and enclosed by low-technology materials such as plywood bodies.

The main drawback with this velomobile design was that the overall build was not streamlined, meaning that they caused significant aerodynamic setbacks to the first models.

The oil crisis experienced in 1970 somewhat inspired the production and rise of people-powered vehicles (PPVs). Unlike today’s Velomobiles, this pedal-powered model was a sociable tandem that required two people to work effectively. Unfortunately, its several execution problems rendered it inefficient.

Non-commercial production of Velomobiles continued over the years until 1983 when Carl-Georg Rasmussen started selling a rediscovered version of Fantomen called Leitra. Despite the overall preference for automobiles, the Leitra velomobiles persisted and continued to evolve until now.

The Velomobile Design

There are several ways for you to make your velomobile, and here are some of the most popular designs you can choose from:

  • The body-on-frame design is a flexible bike fairing configuration that features special fittings for standard and custom cycles but has intrinsic strength and weight issues.
  • The Alleweder design – considered the cheapest yet the most labour-intensive velomobile constructions that primarily involve riveted units of aluminium sheets.
  • The monocoque shell design – lauded as the most familiar velomobile configuration, features fibre-reinforced plastic with extra aerodynamic advantages over the other two formats.
  • The three-wheel design – away from the fair construction, most velomobiles today are three-wheeled, and for a good reason. For starters, this design practically adds stability and provides the bicycle car with better aerodynamic drag compared to their two-wheeled cousins. Unlike having four wheels like in the earliest velocar, the three-wheel design has the practical advantage of speed and weight.

So, how do Velomobiles compare to other types of bikes?

How do They Compare to Other Bike Types?

The fairing construction generally makes Velomobiles heavier than the normal upright bike or the unenclosed recumbent bike. This extra weight essentially requires lower gearing, meaning that this type of bikes are comparatively slower when climbing steep terrain.

From the other end, faring enclosures are primarily used on bike cars to protect the cyclist from harsh weather conditions and possible collision impacts. Modern-day Velomobiles commonly come with streamlined fairings that vastly boost aerodynamics and velomobile speeds. This way, most models today are substantially faster than the other types of bikes on flat trails and when riding downhill.

This is enough to counter the somewhat slower climbing speed, mainly due to weight implications.

Unlike many people think, Velomobiles are lighter at the centre than most other bike types. This aspect virtually ensures that Velomobiles remain stable while negotiating corners, just like when riding an unfaired bike.

In terms of appearance, Velomobiles are widely different from conventional bike types. Besides giving it a unique look and keeping the rider weather protected, the velomobile body similarly protects the drive train and other sub-components from exposure and tear agents.

This inclusion mainly cuts down bike maintenance costs for Velomobiles. This is to means that owning a velomobile substantially reduces maintenance expenses than owning a regular bike.

Conclusion

Velomobiles are an exciting type of bike that is specifically meant to spice up your riding experience. These bike models have undergone a long evolution spell and are now considerably catching up to their upright and recumbent cousins. The good thing is that you can easily choose a design and make yours at home since there are still very few commercial manufacturers. As much as the fairing is to protect you from harsh external elements, it must be aerodynamic enough to gain speed and cruise through trails with ease.

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