Hybrid velomobile - a formula for success?

What happens when one combines a fast and sporty velomobile like a Waw with the advanced electrical assist/generator like a BionX? Do they reinforce eachothers advantages or their disadvantages? Find out my and others experiences here. If you do not know what a velomobile or an electric assist is, check out the links first. (An electrical assist that helps up to only 25km/h and with power limited to 250W, remains a bicycle by EU law)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Green Lightning

Waw001 is back on the road since a few months in a new colour: green. It got its new name from its new owner, our crash test dummy Peter H. ;-)

Since I last wrote on this blog, prices of electrical assist engines have come down dramatically. Contrary to what some people thing, I am NOT an expert in the market, all I did in this blog was to share my experience with one system. I do not know much about other systems and was not very interested either because the BionX was the only system with regeneration. I write was, because Thorsten in Denmark showed me another system from China that also has this feature and also a light Li-ion battery. And it is cheaper. No experience with it yet though. Sorry, I did forget the name of the thing. Maybe someone else who knows what I am talking about can post the name and perhaps tell about their experiences with it. Then I can also show you a picture of the new Green colour (when the light returns here up north)....

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

So what happened?

Well the Waw001 hasn't been on the road since late May 2006. I had loaned it to a friend who unfortunately came into a collision with an overtaking motorcycle which he somehow missed when making a left turn. No-one got hurt, but the Waw took some pretty serious damage to the nose and the structure on the left side. It took some time to get the insurance settled, and now with some more delay (busy with other stuff) the Waw will be sent to Belgium for repair. So for some time from now into the future there will be not much news to write about. So till it comes back, that's all for now...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Winter riding (not) and some problem with the BionX (now solved!)

I has been a while since the last post. I haven't been riding a lot for many reasons. Nr.1 is that I had my first immobilising velomobile mishap/accident in ten years of riding. Bit tired, in the dark, unfamiliar road, some snow cover and blinded by car lights, I rode the Waw straight onto a 10cm high curb at approx. 30-35km/h. From the tracks in the snow, one could see I had been "flying" about 3m. I was quite shaken but uninjured and feared the worst for the wheels and suspension of the Waw. My worst fear was that the blow would have torn out the suspension mounts in the body. It turned out the wheels and mounts were undamaged, and that the blow was taken by some uncritical bending of the front suspension. Pfew. Soon after I was abroad for 6 weeks and after coming back I was sick a few weeks. And after that, we had the worst snow since a long time…

I have ridden now and then, shorter distances. With a studded MTB rear tire, traction is sufficient to make riding possible in snow and ice, although within limits. The assist is a welcome help to plough through the parts where the roads have not been ploughed from fresh snow. Much depends on the quality of the snow, some snow gives hardly any (rolling) resistance, other types are so mucky that only a few centimetres is enough to seriously hinder progress.

On my latest two rides, I have noticed that sometimes the assist (not generator) tends to switch on and off every few pedal strokes. On, off, on, off. Sometimes it occurs, sometimes it doesn’t. I haven’t had time to look into it in more detail, but I intend to investigate and write about it. I suspect it occurs less when the system is warmed up and that it is a glitch in the control, not the power circuitry. Perhaps the power measurement (which is most sensitive) is a bit off in cold weather? As said I need to investigate more...


The answer to the BionX hick-ups problem is given in the comment section. My interplenation: in cold weather the voltage of the cold battery is lower. So when the assist switches on, the voltage drops even more and the control cuts the power since it thinks the battery is empty. After that voltage raises again and the assist switches on again, only to repeat the cycle. Or something like that.

Solution: one should not leave the battery outside in freezing temperatures, which I do (to see how far one can go? -5C here). It is very easy to take the battery out from the Waw and take it inside, so that is what I will from now on during winter...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A better name: Uphill assist??

Instead of calling the BionX an assist engine or a hybrid assist engine, both of which confuse people who are not familiar with the velomobile concept, perhaps "Climb assist" of "Uphill assist" better describe the function of the bionX in a velomobile? Give me your vote and opinion on the best name in the comments!


...Some explenation on the WHY of this name change...

Because I keep getting questions like "what if it assisted up to 40 km/h ?" Also, people seem to wonder if they should get one if they live in a flat region. Uphill Assist answers both these by pointing to how I see the main function and main reason for acquiring something like a BionX FOR A VELOMOBILE.

In 1999 there was a symposium on assist engines for HPV and velomobiles, and there several papers described how an assist only starts making sense in hilly regions = hence the name Upphill Assist.

When on a classical electric bicycle one tends to ride a lot under 25km/h and thus USES the likes of BionX as an assist engine, with a velomobile most people ride easily above 25km/h even with the assist in place. So there is a shift in function from a more or less constant assist on electric bicycles, to a more temporary function on a velomobile. Also I want to remind the reader that I am a so-called purist that, before, didn't like the idea of any form of constant assist in a "HPV". Well, I still do not like the idea of having assist all the time and a velomobile does not need that either, because it is hugely efficient in a flat region. The uphill assist thing covers its major weakness because it is, relatively seen, a vehicle with a high weight to power ratio (just as trucks slow down seriously on upphill roads).

Of course anyone is free to call it what they want, and perhaps some people might get a light assist as the bionX just for the sake of doing faster redlight getaways (fun too). So as soon as that happens in greater numbers, we will know that this uphill assist naming thing was besides the point.

But as far as I see today, people want these things in a velomobile to "flatten" the hills a bit....

Fourth European Seminar on Velomobiles: Assisted Human Powered Vehicles and Velomobiles. Interlaken Switzerland, August 18, 1999.
Proceedings available through www.futurebike.ch.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I got a comment by "Allewedertje" which is not an uncommon reaction - so I post my answers to clear things up:

>Hmmm, I would not call an additional weight of 8kg "light" !
>Especially since the system does not work with speeds above
>25 km/h, you drag along a lot of weight. Since I live in a
>very flat area, it is certainly not on my wish list !

Allewedertje, 8kg IS light for such a system. Either way, if you live in a flat area, a BionX or any assist are NOT supposed to be on your wish list!!!!

Even worse, you are a youthfull capable cyclist so you cannot have one if you ask me !!!

I hear all the time that people say that 25km/h is too low, but then one misses the whole point - which is NOT about making the velomobile a little CAR!! NEVER!!!! (for me, the purist - I'll buy a real car when I want a car, thank you. A frugal and clean one of course).

It is supposed to help when you need help, uphill, and then 25km/h is just fine because the engine is not so strong that you would go faster than that on a real hill. Other than that, the velomobile is more than fast en nimble enough when I can ride above 25km/h and the difference with extra 8kg is minimal. I had an Allweder for 10 years... just weigh your Alleweder Allwedertje, it probably weighs more than 40kg!! ... I bet that I am faster than you - even in flat country and that despite the engine, not because... (OK - this is not a fair comparison and besides the point, but it had to be said ;-)

Safe riding to all...

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Big Test Report

- 40% more range by using regeneration -


Since the BionX was mounted in the Waw for about six months ago, I wanted to do some kind of test to see how much the most unique feature of the system pays of: the possibility to use the assist engine as a generator charging the battery under braking/slowing down.

A velomobile such as the Waw are practical yet very efficient machines due to the good aerodynamics. However, up a (steep) hill, the aerodynamics help nothing and the higher weight comes into play. If your riding conditions include a fair amount of uphill riding, an electric assist engine becomes a solution.

Convinced by my friend Peter who insisted that I look for a system, I found the BionX on the internet.

It was interesting for a few reasons:

- it could be mounted easily on any bicycle and also in my velomobile

- it was a light system, adding only 8 kg so interfering little when cycling

- possibility to choose the level of assist without the jerkyness of an on-off like behaviour of other systems

- most prominently, the regenerative braking: applying the brakes gently activates the assist engine as a generator, charging the batteries and hopefully increasing range

A BionX is not cheap, but my experience has already showed that a range of approx. 100km is possible in my area, considerably more than the 30km that the system would do on a regular bicycle. This large increase is at least partly because a velomobile it is easy to ride a lot above 25km/h, the speed when the BionX stops assisting (as by law in Europe). So a big part of the increase is on account of the velomobile. But what is also obvious is that one uses the regenerative braking function much more on a velomobile, both because speeds downhill quickly become more than high enough so that one can use that excesive speed to charge the battery, and because cruising speeds are higher and thus slowing down takes longer time. The big question is: how much difference does this regeneration function - for slow down or braking - really make? (It is also possible to load the battery while during constant riding for e.g. training purposes or while riding with a slower companion - I am NOT talking about this function here!).

To find out, I made a test: riding a fixed course while using the function, and once without regenerative braking.

The course

For this test to be realistic and accurate as possible, I needed to find a suitable course. A round course would have been ideal, but I did not know any in my neighbourhood. There is a fairly calm road with the steepest uphills I know just 5 km from my home, so this would be the road.

First I thought of riding up and down a short steep bit, keeping the test length as short as possible - draining the battery as fast as possible. However I decided not to do so because it seemed unrealistic (too many u-turns) and perhaps most important, I would not be able to motivate myself to ride up the same road so often. So I took a longer stretch of 1,5 km, so including another steep piece of road (hard to catch on a photograph, see on the right).

Test conditions

First I rode the course with regenerative braking, the afternoon of 29 september. 8th october in the morning I had time to do it without. In between the Waw rode only 90km, so it should be in the same condition.

The battery was topped-off, i.e. a fully charged battery was charged again the morning of the test for approx another 30 min, assuring that they were really full. Weather was the similar.

I guess that I pedal about 150W (a bit more uphill) and I use assist level 3 always - 100% assist, as I would do when I commute. Doing the course many times should level out small differences in power. Between the days may be more subjective, although I also tried to keep the speeds constant at certain check points, especially the moment when I start using the assist (by dropping under 25km/h) and when I start regenerating.

The map shows the testroad between the black dots. The red lines besides the road show the parts I used the assist function (always level 3 - 100%). The blue show the stretches I used the regeneration braking function. The piece of road is approx. 1470m, a run back and forth is double. On such a run, assist is used approx 850m, regeneration braking approx. 600m. Speed upphill would drop to 13km/h on the steepest part, which is approx half of those 850m. On the downhill, speed was approx 10km/h slower using regenerative braking, which I engaged always at 35km/h. I did not regenerate till standstill, but applied the brakes for the turning points, where I usually made a full stop. So there some simulation for stop and go traffic too. Full topographic data would of course be even more intresting, do not have that though (there are some height lines on the map, don´t know the differential between them).

The results

Average speed without using the regenerative braking was 26,7km/h, with regen 25,6 km/h. So the difference here is small. If you think these averages are low, just remember that mere mortals on a regular bike walk up these slopes, probably averaging under 10km/h if they would do the whole course...

The range with regenerative braking was 63km untill the battery indicator said the battery was empty, 44km without. All distances and speeds come from the BionX screen which I find having very good precision, even if it is not possible to calibrate. Since I use a very high tire on the rear wheel, actual distances and speeds might be a bit higher.

Assuming a precision of 1km for the battery indicator and taking as reference the distance when the battery icon showed empty, the increase in range is 43% +- 5% because of using the regenerative braking function. Continuing cycling after the battery indicator said it was empty, I hoped to meet the point when the system would shut itself down, using that as a second verification point. However this did not happen.

When I set out the first time, in my optimism, I though this test would be done within 40km. After 63 km the battery icon showed empty, which was a nice surprise. Then I thought another 10km would make the system shut off completely. But it did not happen. By this time it was stinking dark if I may say so - didn't plan that - and to my sore legs complaint I could continue another 26km on the "empty" battery before the assist level became much weaker and the system started to jerk. 89km. That was it I said to myself and continued home. The assist would continue to work, just with reduced power. So there is no automatic shut off then.

On the second run without regen braking, the jerky behaviour started at approx 56 km, only 12km after the battery icon showed empty. This could be explained that a depleted battery is much more receptive to the charging because of the higher voltage difference - thus explaining the large difference. Take this distance when jerky behaviour shows up as a reference and the increase in range is almost 60%.

In this test I used 100% assist all the time. Using level 2 of 50% would probably make the increase in range much larger again. But then one wouldn't have much so much help either of course.


I think this test was very practical and realistic. Of course different people, a different course and a different vehicle can change the results a lot. Nevertheless, it is clear to me the regeneration braking function is not a gimmick but makes a real difference and since the test I have been using it more conciously and expect ranges far over 100km now for my area. The bionX + velomobile combination is truly symbiotic. The velomobile becomes more usefull in a more varied terrain and so widens the areas where it can be used - the assist becomes more applicable because of the efficiency of the velomobile. Especially with the regenerative braking, I think it is more suitable to describe the whole as a human-electric hybrid system where human and electic power live in a symbiotic relation, then to simply speak of an assist.

Perhaps this time is a good time to list my general evaluation of the BionX.


-A light system that adds only approx 8kg, only a minimal reduction in human power performance when assist is not used (or above 25km/h).

- Easy to install, seems reliable (good quality/finish).

- Possibility to choose level of assist, assist is gradual and non intrusive to the cycling experience

- Regenerative braking fuction really pays off in a velomobile and gives an extra dimension in proactive (safe and efficient) driving

- Futher possibility to use the motor as a generator in 4 levels, so charging the battery (e.g. riding in a slow group, for training, choosing speed on long slopes).

- relative quick charging - 3 to 4 hours

- Large range should cover all commuting needs - battery life should last a fair part of most velomobile lives (500 charges x 100km = 50000km)

- Good details: speed and odometer, screen lighting, battery lock and alarm are very usefull functions

- Good investment if used well


- Rather expensive in undiscriminating comparison with other systems

- vibrations in regeneration mode can become disturbing under 25km/h

- Some numbers in the screen are not clear - defective screen

- rear wheel not spoked properly at delivery

- assist shuts off rather abruptly above 25km/h (but inherent to the law requirements)

- not a high torque engine (if you want that)

- Alarm sound is very quiet, keeps one from riding the bionX, not from riding the bike (does not replace a lock).

- 0,1Nm loss because of the brushless engine - some loss but not much

I would like to thank Peter for bringing some food and drink when the test lasted much longer than expected, and for encouraging me that I should try out and experminent with assist systems. Or should I say hybrid system? Answering the original question of this blog, I would answer: it very well could be!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Calle’s impression on test riding a hybrid velomobile

Finally some new stuff on this blog! Also redid the lay-out, hope it is a better read now (I learn!)

Calle contacted me because he was intrested in the BionX. We met, had an interesting talk and he did a test drive. He liked the BionX, but I was just as interested on how this unexpected and unintended meeting with a velomobile was for him. So I asked him to write a short report on how he experienced this for him very new vehicle concept, as it was the first time he saw anything like it.
So here comes his short report (translated from Swedish):

Here is my impression of the approx. 20 minute testride with the velomobile Waw001.

Getting into the vehicle did not give any bigger problems other than the fact that I am a bit unaccustomed. Perhaps I should add that I am a reasonable flexible person. Once inside the velomobile one sits comfortably and well protected from the outside elements and one quickly warms. To ride off with the combination is easier than I had imagined, but it would have been even easier with a few more gears, than the seven gears this Waw is equipped with.

I get the feeling I am sitting in a very well-constructed soapbox racer and it is a wonderful feeling to ‘whoosh’ along so close to the ground. The cycling road where I am test riding is pretty hilly and there is a short but very steep slope. With some speed before the slope it is easy to get onto it, but when I try from a standstill it gets harder, which largely is because I start with a much too high gear. But the only thing I can compare with is my own electric assited “Powabyke” (red.: an electric bicycle with the electric engine in the front hub), which would have started much easier using a heavy gear. But I think this is because the BionX assist, which the Waw is equipped with, works in a completely different way than the “Powabyke” assist. The BionX amplifies the riders own effort while the Powabyke is controlled by a gashandle and gives full power as soon as you put your foot on one of the pedals.

On the straights it is easy to accelerate to 30km/h, despite the fact that I am too short for this Waw and I have to overstretch my legs to reach the pedals. After some more riding we end up riding on a small forest path and here the Waw manages surprisingly well, even if occasionally the ride gets very bumpy.

A disadvantage I think of only afterwards is that the body acts as a sound amplifier, which in the long run is experienced as noisy. And then one misses out on one of the big advantages of transporting oneself with (electric-assisted) human power – the complete silence. But this side effect I believe can be diminished considerably with noise damping measures. Finally, I want to point out the great driving pleasure I experienced with the Waw and that it feels like a very smart way to transport oneself. A vehicle that has the future in its favour without a doubt!

Calle Arnberg 10-08-2005

Monday, August 15, 2005

Nothing new

No news since a long time, just to note that some new stuff IS coming.
When the weather is good and you have a holiday, you just don't sit inside behind you PC...

In the mean time I upload a piccie showing that Waw can look very different from 001, here 009

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

First practical experience -- 300 km report

As it turns out, riding into town and back, a 50km roundtrip, is no problem at all. The first roundtrip, the battery indicator showed that about a third capacity was left, so that should result in approximate range of 70-80 km. Second ride was similar. The third charge I managed to empty completely in exactly 80km. And this with the assist level on level 3 (100% assist) and a few times on 4 on the steepest bits. That day I went on an interview so I took it easy not to sweat too much using the assist quite a lot; also I and Peter did the hill up to his place several times. Once empty, the Waw still remains a very capable velomobile, the main difference being that it is about 8kg heavier. I hardly notice the BionX is there on an even course. And so it should be as I want it to behave as before when riding above 25km/h!! Very different to the handicap or almost complete immobilisation with respectively the Aerorider and the Twike when the batteries run out. No, the BionX does not make you ride an electrical vehicle; it is still very much a HPV.

Charge 4 was more energetic riding form my part into town, going to HPV Sweden’s national member meeting. It resulted in 25% charge left after 80km, so a range of 100km is possible (I did ride a bit in regenerator mode during our parade through town, but that was very little and probably offset by red-light sprints on assist - more on such later).

In all above instances, the brake regeneration was used as much as possible. Works very well and makes me ride at more appropriate speeds in some traffic conditions because i feel that I am not completely LOSING my hard-worked-for speed when I slow down precautionary.

Interpolating from our test with the MTB on almost flat surroundings which gave a range of about 35km on level 3, these ranges are very promising. Or should I say, Impressive! At second thought, there are several obvious reasons why the velomobile has a much better range. First, regular riding speed is higher, so much less likely to end up under the 25km/h barrier using the engine every time one slows down a bit (if one rides above 25km/h at all with a bicycle!!). Second, the kinetic energy of a velomobile is usually much higher, so the regenerative braking should be much more effective. In the same conditions as the first test in Belgium, the BionX would probably have a range of, perhaps(?), 300km if I am riding... which brings us to...

To measure is to Know (M5's dada, translated)

All this are the results of practical use. The question is of course, what does it mean? It is not so easy to quantify the conditions of riding here just north of Stockholm. For instance, what are the elevation differences and slopes in the different routes? Not a clue, really. On a ride two new friends, Mikael had a GPS with him which also recorded the total climbing done. Unfortunately, this measurement was related to air pressure and the very unstable weather resulted in a total climbing of 2,7km on our 25km trip. NOT! Should be a few hundred meters I suspect. Subjectively, it is definitely not as flat as Flevoland, nor as flat as the Flemish lowlands. It is more like the surroundings of Brussels. One is never sure if the road is really flat. I have this piece on my route that feels uphill in both directions. Haven't figured out why.... :-D
So the surroundings are hilly, the kind you really notice when cycling, but don't pay special attention to when driving a car...

My speed on the steeper climbs on my route before BionX were about 10-15km/h depending on my mood. With BionX at 100% assist (level3), they are 18-23 km/h. With the option of doing the latter more relaxed by putting it into 200% assist (level 4). So, definitely faster, but we are not talking about 120km/h uphill on a steep highway. We are still talking cycling speeds, not motorised speeds. I weigh about 80kg and pedal somewhere between 100 and 250W on my commutes, I guess. Peter is a whole lot less younger than me (he could almost be my granddad), and probably has less than half the power at his own disposal. He probably needs some wider gearing just to be able to pedal hard enough so that the BionX "unleashes" its full 250W* on 200% assist level... (again, you have to pedal real power to get any help, the engine measures your effort and then "seconds" that). Peter will write on this blog about his experiences later on.

After a few more rides, I intend to write on how the BionX influences my riding style and the "cycling feeling". 100% subjective impressions.... More ideas after that too, so there is more to come! Circumstances permitting...

*My kitchenmixer has similar power...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Second opinion: Per-Eric wrote a short impression of testriding a (hybrid) velomobile for the first time

Per-Eric catches some attention on his test ride

Just that you know, I've never really ridden a velomobile before.
However, I ride other 'bents, so I'm propably am a bit easier to teach velomobiling than the average bike och car user.

First impressive thing was the sturdiness of WAW. I've been warned that entering some velomobiles can be a bit acrobatic, because of the limited amount of places that you can step on. Not here. Then, riding was quite a blast. It's steering is stable (and I've only very limited USS
experience) and has an OK turning circle (about as large as my tandem). I took the cornering a bit on the safe side, but after some hours you can probably do sharper and faster. Well, just push a little on the pedals and away we go ... Rolling thunder is noticeable, but not that loud. The little display on the left shows "40" now. hmm. can it be my speed?
Nice. Later, with the BionX on, it is even a little faster starting, but probably needs hills for really feeling the difference.

I think this is a very good vehicle concept, and could certainly recommend it to friends, especially that they can take hills and luggage with ease and still combine cycling + weatherproof. Only adoption would be a longer chain tube, to protect forgotten trouser legs ... (and probably brake/turning light, I preferred it to hand signals). If it just could be made in larger series to lessen cost, it would be the vehicle of the future.

/Per Eric

Friday, May 13, 2005

Installment in the Waw + Test II


Installing the BionX in the Waw took a lot longer than 30 minutes. More like the better part of a whole day. Partly because Peter and I took some time to fix some other things. First issue to work out was if the BionX would fit with the standard-length electric wiring. Preferably I would have had the battery somewhere between the front wheels to have a lower centre of gravity and so improved stability, but that was not possible with the standard-length wires. The battery ended up under the seat, where it sits quite nicely between the rear wheel well and the seat. Because the battery holder usually sits on the bottle cage holder on a regular bicycle, the same mounting conditions were simulated using threaded rivets on the floor sandwich. Peter had to run of to the shop to get suitable longer bolts. Knowing the balance of the Waw when on two wheels, I noticed that the sideways stability was similar as before.

The console got a nice place on the top of the left wheel well, where it is very visible for the rider, yet out of direct sight for bystanders. Wire length was a perfect fit. Drilling the hole in the rear wall of the body to draw the power cable to the engine was the only scarring the Waw-body had to endure.

What had to be changed also was the gearing. The Waw001 originally had a 52/11-34 9-speed gearing. Now it is a 52/14-28 7-speed. That was a bit of a bummer to loose that much gearing range and to have to change the shifter from a high quality Rocket to a cheapo something gripshift. However, apparently a 7-speed 11-34 screw-on cassette exists too, so it is on order.

Test ride

The very first thing I noticed was that I could hear the hub engine, contrary to an instalment on the first test bicycle. And the sound seems to come from the front… so the light vibration makes the nosecone a loudspeaker – it actually sounds as the noise of a knobbly mountainbike tire at speed on a smooth asphalt road. There is also the slightest hint of a whining sound that is so typical for electrical motors – but that is very very weak. A little more riding showed that this vibration noise is only apparent on full 200% assist level. That is a relief. Pfew. It is nice to not notice the hub engine. Other than that, it works more or less like on the first bicycle test. I look forward to more extensive testing, very curious if it will get me into and back from Stockholm (a 50 km trip on rather hilly terrain) and how it influences my riding style.

For Peter however today is the first try-out and he is exited to see if it works for him. He takes the first steep ascent we know and… yep… he can manage it! And that with an awful gearing of 52/28 on a 26inch wheel. He has serious problems to manage the same on his 25kg lighter touring racer bicycle. Yep, the Waw is up to at least 40kg. What happens to be the weight of my old painted Alleweder and some other velomobiles without an assist engine….

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

First test - May 6 & 9, 2005

Extensive lobbying of my friend Peter H. succeeded in making me enthusiastic in testing an electrical assist. After searching the internet and visiting a few cycle shops, it became clear that the system having the best chance to make a convincing case for the concept was the BionX. (I have testridden quite some bikeelecs before too). Even I - previously totally uninterested in the subject - found the specifications of the bionX system appealing - especially the regeneration possibilities.

Now, Peter his motivation is shortly as follows: his health is not completely 100% (alas a heavy smoker) and hills are a obstacle for basic mobility - getting from A to B. For him it truly could make the difference between being mobile and have no choice but to wait for the bus. Peter does not want a car. If there would be no bus, he would have been forced to use a car, a situation many people around the world are in. A phenomena called car dependence - severely resticted choice of alternatives in the era of so-called freedom of choice...


I have become designated sceptical tester - in service of both Peter H. and Fietser.be - the latter a possible future distributor of BionX if the test goes well.

Testing, testing

First quick test is on a regular bicycle, in case my mom's pseudo (leisure use only) MTB during my visit in Belgium. Installing the BionX is very easy, it is no more complicated than the equivalent of changing a rear wheel, changing the bottle holder and installing a speedometer. With the right tools at hand, it takes barely a half hour. Could have been much worse. Things to keep in mind is that one needs the holes from the bottle cage and that the BionX has a threaded axle - only screw-on casettes fit onto it. It is unclear to me if those exist in more than 7 speed versions. So you might have to change the shifter too - not in this case - but a limitation anyway. Reportedly the producers should at some time make it 9-speed compatible - the standard for quality bicycles today.
Another slight dissapointment is that the axle is not quick release. Good for preventing theft, bad for weight and changing a flat. But reasonably, one does not really expect differently, all hub engines are probably all are like this. And I can manage to fix a flat with the wheel in anyway.

BionX installed on Moms bike - worst case test mule

The console is very nice. It includes a speedometer, trip and odemeter. It is easy to understand and has a pin code protection+ alarm and back-light for nightriding. One can choose 4 levels of assist mode or generator mode (for e.g. training purposes). Battery charge level and amount of assistance/generation are shown in real time. (more info: see the specifications of BionX)

Time is restricted, so I go for the most battery exhaustive test: assist level on 200% (nr.4) and go riding, without too much effort trying to stay above 25km/h. Not a hilly test course (It's more or less flat with some bridges - I am cycling into the city of Ghent and back), but the hub motor gets to work most of the time since I barely bother to go above 25km/h. The bicycle itself is about as slow as it gets, not too high quality, thick low pressure tires, very upright riding position. In effect, worst case. With the motor assisting all the time, riding becomes a breeze. Obviously. The engine is completely silent -I can't hear it. During braking, the hub engine switches to generator mode full power and this does make some sound. It is not really a (electric) noise, more like a vibration one would get from a slightly maladjusted brakes. My dad for instance did not notice the generation mode when I didn't tell him about it. This regeneration mode is actually quite a suitable brake by itself, it slows you down noticably. If one squeezes the rear brake lever gently (with the magnetic sensor stuck on it), one only activates the regeneration mode and not the actual rear brake. Works nicely once used to it and one can see on the real time indicator one generates quite some juice using this method of slowing down. Reminds me of the Toyota Prius hybrid car which also informs one of the state of affairs (under the hood).

With assist level on 200% (level 4) all the time, on the two test rides I twice get a range of 25km. Exactly as predicted in the manual (and just getting me home from the trips into the city of Ghent), which predicts that 100% assist should then get you approx. 35km far, 50% 45 km and 25% 75km. Seems very reasonable to me considering that you have less than 4kg of battery with you. When one runs out of battery, one can just continues riding, the only difference being that one now has a bicycle that is approx. 8kg heavier then if one would have been without... well, at least it doesn't immobilise you, it remains in first place a bicycle.

At the end of the test, I do some "high speed" and low speed testing. It reveals that the vibration of the generation mode dissappears above approx. 30km/h. The other way around, if one gives the engine a lot of resistance at low speed and full assist (very steep hill), it makes the same vibration noise under 10-15km/h.
Also, at the end of the test, all spokes were very loose. Basically the wheel was badly spoked and I needed to lubricate the threads and retention all the spokes in the wheel. Not very good of course, but also very easily fixed - producer take note!

Keeping in mind that the bicycle was particularly unexiting, the test went very well and the bionX lives up to the advertised expectations. Now I'm off to Sweden, where it shall be tested in the Waw001...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Introducing velomobiles + bionX

Welcome to this little blog.

It is meant to report about my experiences with the electrical assist system BionX in combination with my velomobile, the Waw001. I'll start with posting a short introduction to the subject.

A velomobile is an advanced HPV - a "human powered vehicle". If a bicycle is a human powered motorcycle, then a velomobile is roughly a human powered automobile. Different from automobiles is that most velomobiles have three wheels and are meant to transport one person - they are narrow track vehicles and thus also fit on the cycling track. For me, what for me makes a velomobile preferrable for daily transportation relative to a bicycle for daily riding is their speed: the very good aerodynamics of a closed body can make velomobiles very efficient and fast. The ease of riding and increased weather/road protection come as a bonus. E.g. on a flat road I can hold 40 km/h with little problem, on a regular commuting bicycle that figure would be closer to 25 km/h. Mind you, this is commuting speed, racing speeds are in both cases a lot higher. There is one catch: a velomobile is heavier than a bicycle; my velomobile, prototype Waw weighs 32kg at its best (but usually more with some dirt and luggage on the out and inside). This makes daily riding in hilly terrain even more tedious than with a bicycle, and any speed advantage usually dissapears uphill (if one cannot use the superior downhill speed to get up the next hill that is).

Waw 001, Peter riding

Electrical bicycles already exist quite extensively on the world bicycle market. Not an overwhelming succes perhaps, but they have a following and certainly provide an option for increased mobility especially in hilly terrain. Usually, electrical assisted bicycles (they are regarded non motorised by EU law if the engine only works when one pedals at the same time and this up to a max. of 25km/h - engine power max. 250W) come as complete bicycles. Once chooses a system together with the bicycle. Now there is this system called BionX (Photo2). It comes as a kit which one can convert any HPV with a standard rear axle and derailleur gears into an "electrically assisted" HPV. Another point of intrest is that it is one of the most advanced systems on the market, with full electronic control of the engine. What makes it particularly interesting to ME is the possibility to recuperate kinetic energy back into battery power. Meaning that there is a sensor on the brake handle that senses when one wants to slow down - transforming the hub engine instantly into a generator charging the NiMh battery. A recipy for efficiency.... HPV folk usually find efficiency very appealing - hence velomobiles.

The BionX out of the Box (7-speed sprocket & gripshift not included in kit)

Velomobile + bionX = ??
Adding an electrical assist, "an ENGINE!" to a bicycle is .... difficult, for cycling purists. Doing so to a velomobile is even worse, it complicates the simple world where bicycles are bicycles and cars are cars.

Assisted velomobiles exist already. Several have modified their velomobiles themselves. Basically, they did not appeal to me. For the purpoe of acceleration, I never missed an assist, acceleration capabilities are ample with good gearing in a velomobile. However, now that I moved from flat Belgian lowlands to the hilly surroundings of rocky Stockholm, I became obvious that hills do annoy me. Subjectively, riding up a fill feels like coming to a complete standstill - even when I do some extra effort and usually still overtake the majority of other cyclists. The other thing that bugs me is that extra effort - it makes it impossible to take it easy, one has to sweat to get up the hills. When I commute, I don't necessarily ask for a full sports training. Especially when one is tired after a long days work and with a velomobile full of shopping, that last hill before home really is a bummer.

Also especially the generator functions seems very promising, finally a system that can recuperate some of the high speed kinetic energy one can generate with the help of great aerodynamics...

At least I have the possibility to give some extra effort to get uphill. I realise that for many potential users of a velomobile - or simply a bicycle for that matter - uphill riding is a major deterrent... still, this blog would not exist if it were up to me, more on that in the next post...