Velomobiles – The Inside View

Some time ago I showed a distant relative the drawing of the Quest velomobile, the same which give to visitors and is also shown on the front page.  This relative, who has seen the Quest in the wild, expressed surprise to learn that it is essentially a pedal powered trike.    Since he had seen no visible wheels he had been under the impression that  there was just some kind of two wheeler under the smooth body.  This misperception got me thinking and impressed me that, to the uninitiated, it is not obvious what is hidden inside many a velomobile.

Similar to the short and humourous post about how velomobiles are perceived, one can take the view that hiding the contents can be both a good or a bad thing depending on where the external viewer is coming from.  In his video presentation, Steve Mosca asserts, that having the pedaling concealed inside the body has helped the acceptance of the velomobile on the US roads whereas a regular, and exposed, cycle would receive a more hostile response.  On the other hand, for the ignorant, not knowing, may well lead to a more negative view and perhaps prejudice a potential rider from learning more.  I therefore decided it would be a good idea to collect a series of images to illustrate the “inside view.” This collection is presented below.

Perhaps following a similar line of thought, Graeme Obree designed his Beastie speed bike with a transparent fairing expressly so the observer could see the human engine at work underneath.  Seethebeastie-MAIN-520x292However for most velomobiles this is not possible, as the fibres in the Fibre Reinforced Plastic (FRP) body, render the material opaque.  So in the physical world, apart from what can be seen through the canopy, all else is destined to remain a mystery.  Leaving the physical world and turning to the illustrated and virtual worlds there is no such limitation, here artists, photo-manipulators and computer modellers are free to render what ever surface they like transparent.

The Quest shown at the top of the front page was not the first such image.  Prior to designing the Quest the good folks at Velomobiel worked at FlevoBike and were involved in the first FRP velomobile of this type, the Carbon or C-Alleweder later known as the Limit.  A similar artist’s cut-away was produced, as shown below.

C Alleweder Cut-away Drawing

Even earlier, the success of the fledgling HPV movement in the US, and the particular successes of the Vector racing trike, caught the interest of the mainstream media.  As a result the following see-through image of the Vector was produced, which graced the cover of the December 1983 issue of Scientific American.See-through drawing of the Vector

Going back even further it is possible to source drawings of machines from the pre-modern or first velomobile era.  The first of these is the Velo Velocar by Mochet.  The Velocar was the four-wheel HPV produced in France in some numbers during the inter-war years.  The Velo-Velocar was the bicycle produced when Velocar was split in two, and was the precursor to the modern recumbent.  Infamously banned by the UCI in 1934 because of its superior performance, Mochet went on to set unofficial records using a fully faired version as shown below.Velo Velocar cut-away profile view

Independent of the Mochet Velocars, but driven by similar need for practical transport and spurred on by the creative cycle developments of the time, a set of build-it-yourself plans for the Fantom were published in Sweden in the 1940s.  Other Scandinavian countries beside Sweden had many home-builders and a few thousand of these plans were sold, a number of which were built and some survive till today.  The arrangement drawing below gives an idea of the internal layout and proportions.Fantom velomobile general arrangement drawing

Returning to contemporary times, and to the power of photo editing software.  Here we have the Borealis.  Produced by Steve Schleicher in Canada, the Borialis is notable as being perhaps the first velomobile offered as an after-market kit to be fitted to a production trike.  Designed to fit a number of models produced in the UK by ICE.  Merging a couple of suitably aligned shots shows you just what it is like when body and trike are brought together.Borealis velomobile composite cut-away image

A similar composite image has been produced to illustrate the Rotovelo by Trisled.  Although the Rotovelo is sold as a complete velomobile it has a similar structure in that the plastic body does not have enough rigidity to carry load which instead is carried on a trike frame.Composite photo of a yellow Rotovelo velomobile

Returning to graphics and this time to the power of CAD.  Miles Kingsbury put some serious effort into the design, development and production of his four wheel Quatro velomobile which first saw action in the 2011 ROAM event in the US.  The CAD model was not only used for aerodynamic development but also to assess ergonomics and rider fitting.  The following is taken from his Kingcycle page documenting the design.


Finally we come full circle and return to a speed bike and its representation of both bike and rider as the product of the artist’s mind.  The following work of art by C Michel Lewis, an advert for a corporately sponsored HPV event in 2009, appears to depict a Varna speedbike riden by Sam Whittingham.  Mr Whittingham of course held the world HPV speed record for a number of years, a record established in a Varna speedbike at the annual Battle Mountain event, an event for which Mr Lewis regularly provides the poster art.



The above collection serves to illustrate a range of velomobiles, both in terms of design purpose and development in time.  It is not exhaustive.  If any readers are aware of other similar illustrations please make use of the comments below to let us all know.

One Tough Velomobile? No! Two Whole Teams.

In typical Ozzy style Trisled performed the following good humoured stunt to effectively demonstrate the durability of their robust and practical Rotovelo velomobile.  Perhaps the beginnings of a new sport – Velomobile Ice Hockey.

The video clip was produced and edited by Lochlan Gay, a Year 11 student from Mt Eliza Secondary College. Working with six cameramen across 26 cameras, Lochie was then charged with poring over 20 hours of footage to produce the final five minute cut.

The players are evidently enjoying themselves immensely, and the resilience of the roto-moulded shell to the repeated impacts is clear.  As one commentator has remarked, “don’t try this in your Quest.”  Perhaps not so obvious is the clear stability of the trike compared to a bike in icy conditions.  Another feather in the velomobiles all-weather cap.

The opposite extreme to Trisled’s practical velomobile are the high end racing machines that they produce for Australia’s flourishing sport of HPV racing (See the Australian HPV Super Series Pedal Prix and RACV Energy Breakthrough pages).  Trisled took these machines a step further in 2012, when they entered one bike and one trike, in the World Human Powered Speed Challenge at Battle Mountain.  The Trisled machines performed well with the trike, with Gareth Hanks in Completely Overzealous, setting a new world record in the three wheel category and stimulating interest in further trike development.

The following video gives a mostly cockpit eye view of the record setting run.

Trisled are expected back at Battle Mountain this year with an all new trike, All Overzealous, no doubt with expectation to push the trike record further still.  The results should be available by the end of next week.


Carbon Rotovelo

rotovelo-carbon-sideTrisled have brought out a new variant of the Rotovelo, their robust budget priced velomobile.  The Rotovelo Carbon is, as it’s name suggests, is made in the same shape as the original Rotovelo but with a body of carbon fibre instead of the original roto-molded HDPE.  We briefly mentioned the body material advantage of the original design in a post regarding the sale of the machine reviewed by Velovision Magazine (Issue 41 Jun 2011).

What was not mentioned was the bare-bones spec, which includes no installed suspension system and simple cruciform frame, since the body is not sufficiently capable of carrying load.  The specification is justified as part of a design whose objective is robust simplicity and low cost.  That this bare-bones spec has been translated directly to a machine with a costly and relatively fragile body has raised a lot of comment and questions along the lines of, “what are they thinking!?”

The following short video by Trisled illustrates the Rotovelo Carbon in action.

A typical velomobile can be expected to weight upward of 30 kg with the sporty machines weighing in the mid 20s.  Perhaps the lightest of these is the Go-one Evo-Ks at 21.5 kg for the bare model.  What Trisled have achieved with the Rotovelo Carbon is a low weight – obviously depending on component choice, as low as 19.5 kg (the same weight as my Claude Butler run-about bike!)  Given the attractive weight there are some saying, if the Rotovelo Carbon came with suspension they would have one, and it is claimed to be the most asked for feature for the original Rotovelo, so what gives?

Firstly there is a weight saving by excluding active suspension, so the record low would not be possible otherwise.  Secondly there is a helpful and fairly extensive rider report on the Rotovelo on the Bentrider Online forum by mikeatlbch which gives a more balanced perspective and argues that for most practical cases active suspension is not needed.  One thing he highlights from his own experience is the passive suspension provided by the Rotovelo frame.  While he still prefers the HDPE body for its ability to take the knocks he appreciates the value low weight would offer in a stop-and-go urban environment where ease of acceleration and therefore low weight is important.

So while the armchair velonaut, accustomed to ever increasing technical complexity, may be puzzled: what Trisled have produced is, from their perspective, a logical compromise; satisfied with the ride performance of the original Rotovelo, they have traded a robust body for easier acceleration.  It remains to be seen whether there are buyers who agree with them.

Velomobile for sale in the UK

Ben Cooper of Kinetics in Glasgow is advertising the sale of a velomobile, a green Rotovelo.  Those who were at SPEZI in 2011 will recognise this as the velomobile Trisled brought over which subsequently went with Peter Eland to York for a review in Velovision Magazine. I saw the machine myself at the 2011 York CTC Cycle Show before it was then sold on to a purchaser in Scotland.

The Rotovelo received a lot of attention at it’s launch in 2011, both because of the novel (at least in velomobile terms) construction method, and the realistic potential of this construction method to significantly reduce the cost of a velomobile.  Rather than using the time-consuming method of laying up a glass or carbon fibre body, the Rotovelo uses the same rotating moulding method used to form a kayak.  This is both cheaper, quicker and more easily scaled to support large production volumes.  Unfortunately, as Peter in the Velovision Review (Issue 41 Jun 2011) highlighted, while the production cost in Australia is low, once you added shipping and European import duties the cost was comparable to a much better equipped European built machine.

Photo of a Rotovelo outside Kinetics in Glasgow

Seen here outside Kinetics in Glasgow, upgraded with a Rolhof hub, and asking for offers around £3,500 it certainly looks like a good deal.