A velomobile, for those who don’t know, is a human powered vehicle. Also known as a bicycle car, these things are based off of the recumbent bikes and tricycles, and have a full, aerodynamic outer shell that protects them from weather and crashes.
Most of these devices are three or four wheeled, though two wheeled versions exist. Bicycle car really is the most accurate name for these things, since they are pedalled and steered like a bicycle.
There are multiple kinds; hybrids that have both pedals and a motor, streamliners made for racing, models both with the head of the rider exposed and with the head covered.
30 iconic velomobile designs
In the past 85 years, we’ve seen velomobiles pop up time and time again. So to celebrate the many different models, we have a big graphic with 30 of the most iconic velomobile designs since the 1930’s.
A closer look at the different designs
Designed by Kjelt Wijma and Bart de Wert, the Aerorider SPORT was released in 2000, and there are dealerships for it in the Netherlands, USA and Germany. It comes equipped with lights and storage compartments for luggage, and is known for its low center of gravity and comfortable seating.
The KV4 is known for its durability; its hard aluminium frame and full suspension make it pretty resilient to just about anything the world throws at it. The KV4 is manufactured by Alligt, which produces all sorts of velomobile models and parts.
The Aquila was designed and built by Trisled, an Australian HPV production company, and sells for $8500 Australian dollars.
It’s hilarious design aside, the Arion 1 is very aerodynamic (stop laughing), and potentially fast enough to exceed the current world speed record of 83.13 MPH.
The Arion 1 was built by the University of Liverpool Velocipede Team (ULV Team), which is made up of 16 students. Along with the ULV Team, there are three professionals who have been riding the Arion 1 (Ok guys, it’s not funny anymore) to attempt to beat the world record.
This two-seater is the perfect couple’s bike. It’s like a tandem bike that’s comfortable. The downside is that the company behind DuoQuest, Velomobiel, has only built one, and has no current intentions of making more. For now, owning your own DuoQuest is just a dream.
This velomobile is produced in a multitude of colours, and they also have a “tactical” model available for police departments to purchase. They aren’t cheap though; they cost between $5500 US Dollars and $6500 USD.
Over the years, many hobbyists have built their own Fantoms, so they crop up from time to time.
Aside from being very handy for casual use, the FAW+ is also lightweight and is often used for racing. The FAW+ can be found for sale in the USA and Europe.
The Orca is known for having better handling and safety and being more comfortable than its predecessor. It comes in a range of different colours, and is praised for being low maintenance. If you’re living outside of Europe and you want one though, you’re out of luck. Currently, the Orca is only sold in the European Union.
It’s made with top quality interior parts, with comfort in mind. The “Carbon version” is made with carbon fiber and weighs about one kilogram more. Richard Dahne won the 2014 HPV World Championships in an Evo-R-.
While on land, it functions like most other velomobiles, but it can seamlessly travel in water. While in water it moves similarly to a kayak. The creator envisions it as the perfect companion to people who frequently travel between islands. A video of the HEPAV entering water can be found here.
The Hornet comes with an electric engine as well to combine the power of electricity and pedaling, and is known for its comfort, handling and its ability to tackle hills. This velocar comes with full suspension, and can be upgraded to have lights, turn signals and even a horn.
The Leiba Classic is comfortable, stylish and practical. The Leiba Classic is also on the cheaper end of the velomobile price range, starting at €5000.
It’s made to practically cover long distances without problems. The frame is built strong and resilient to abrasion; the Leitra was built for use anywhere by anyone.
Like most velomobiles, the LeMans is a tricycle. The design came from Joel Vincent, from France, and the first completed model was released in 2012.
See, SUV in the velomobile world doesn’t stand for Sports Utility Vehicle. It stands for Sustainable Utility Velomobile. This velocar is the flagship product from the US company Liberty Velomobiles. The Liberty SUV comes with many of the comforts of a car; lots of storage, stability, lights and turn signals.
This bike’s body fairing is mostly spandex, however, so while it is extremely lightweight, it’s also lacking in some of the safety features standard in other velomobiles.
However, this velomobile doesn’t just look good, it’s also a fast one, capable of holding its own in a race setting. It has a wide wheel base and low centre of gravity, making it hard to tip over, and it’s known for having excellent handling. Riders have the option of fitting it with an electric assist.
The SKR is built with a large cockpit for riders of all shapes and sizes. The design team, headed by Jon Reinsch, took inspiration from the German and Dutch velomobiles, and it shows in the design and shape.
The steering and controls on the Quest are loved and well-received. Like other casual velomobiles, the Quest is designed to limit the possibility of tipping over and reduce the damage sustained in accidents.
Built in the USA by self-proclaimed tinker Dave Langkamp, the Radius TT was made to help Dave get around town. This “show stopper”, as he put it, was Dave’s personal project that got a lot of attention from the velomobile community for the excellent craftsmanship and design.
Designed by Ben Goodall, the Rotovelo is a good companion for casual riders, with good amounts of luggage space and lights/mirrors on it. You can get versions with a top and without.
Do not expect a bumpy ride when you get in a Strada. This velomobile was made for comfort. It also has a good resistance to the weather and elements, and is a safe ride.
It’s got style, it’s comfortable, its speed is impressive and it can handle whatever you plan to do with it. Fans of the original Sunrider can be nothing but thrilled to see this incredible successor.
The Type H was highly sought after especially during Nazi occupation, as fuel was a scarce commodity and riding a Type H was free (getting one, on the other hand, cost a pretty penny).
The Basic comes as a part of Velocity Velos’ new initiative to make velomobiles more affordable, and thus expand the market for them. While most Velomobiles cost from $5000 USD to $10,000 and beyond, the Basic has a relatively small price tag: $3399.00 USD.
You see, it’s called the Velotilt because the wheels actually tilt while turning. Designed for maximized maneuverability at high speeds, the Velotilt is an attempt at revolutionizing velomobiles. Velotilt comes from the mind of Will Schermer and the blood sweat and tears of his team.
It is now produced by the Czech Republic company Katanga, but it was originally made by Belgium’s own Frederik Van De Walle. Its specs are some of the best on the market.
Why choose a velomobile
There are three good reasons for choosing a velomobile instead of a normal bike:
- First of all, velomobiles are more comfortable than normal bikes. No matter how far you go, you can’t get uncomfortable since your weight is carried by a long seat instead of a small saddle. You also don’t experience any pressure on your wrists and arms, which means that there is less change of stress related injuries.
Most velomobilists also think it’s very nice that the outer shell protects them from rain and bad wheather (I definitely thought so when I tried a Leitra while it was raining a lot. It was very enjoyable to sit protected from the rain – and the feeling didn’t decrease when I looked out and saw all the normal cyclists get more and more wet).
- Velomobiles are also safer than normal bikes. In a velomobile, you sit protected by the shell and the frame of the bike, which means that they will get hit before you if a car clown drives into you.
- Finally, velomobiles are faster than normal bikes. Almost all the fastest bike records are set using velomobiles.
If you thread with a 100 watt, you will go around 13 mph (21 km/h) on a normal bike. Are you threading the same 100 watt in a velomobile, you will go around 21 mph (34 km/h).
Why there aren’t more velomobiles
Considering the advantages, it might seem strange that there aren’t more velomobiles. In most places they are a very rare sight.
The reasons velomobiles are so rare are:
- Velomobiles are rather big and take up a lot of space on the bike lanes. They are therefore rather unpractical in the cities and best used if you are going long distances outside cities with lots of traffic and narrow bike lanes.
- Velomobiles are heavier than other bikes, so they can be difficult to get started when the light turns green. They can also be difficult to bike uphill. These difficulties are the main reason that some velomobiles are equipped with an engine.
- Another problem is the price. Velomobiles are rare and there aren’t any companies that mass-produce lots of these bikes. Even the cheapest models cost around $5,000 USD – or around 6 times as much as a nice normal bike.
Velomobiles vs. electric bikes
As much as I like velomobiles, I don’t think they will ever become mainstream. Instead, I think we will see more and more electric bikes since they offer some of the same advantages:
- First of all, electric bikes also allows you to go faster than on a normal bike. And because you use less energy, you can also go longer distances on an electric bike than on a normal bike (just like you can in a velomobile).
- Electric bikes aren’t as heavy as most velomobiles and they always have an engine, so they are easier to get started when the light turns green and they are also easier to bike uphill with (actually it is easier to do both things on an electric bike than on a normal bike).
- Most electric bikes are also cheaper than the average velomobile. Because there are several companies mass-producing electric bikes, you can find several good models for around $2,000 USD.
For most people it makes more sense to invest in an electric bike than a velomobile, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like velomobiles. I really do like them a lot and if we didn’t live in the middle of Copenhagen, I would definitely consider buying one.