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, 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...


At 2/2/09 11:17, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you ask me, the Velomobil is THE NEXT BIG THING when someone talks about transportation!I would put a 125 cc scooter engine , complet with that CVT transmission , and there you have it: A GREAT WAY TO GET AROUND! And leave that big car home "for ever" :-)
I have read on the net that a WAW velomobil only needs 1000 WATT of power to reach 80 km/h (50 mph)and maybe even less to maintain that speed!Imagine what could be achieved with a 125 cc scooter engine and 10 HP! Not only speed but speed when climbing a hill! Good aerodynamics is a real HELP in fuel efficiency!
I just love the velo's!


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