I originally became interested in recumbents because of the comfort factor. Lately, because of a genetic hand problem called Duypetrans contractions that is made worse by riding upright mountain and road bikes, I’ve decided to sell all my regular bikes and go entirely to riding recumbents. Just so you know, I’m not a recumbent fanatic who thinks that anyone who rides a Diamond Frame (DF) bike is crazy. I loved my Rivendell Allrounder and my Velo Orange Randonneur and my Bike Friday Pocket Expedition and my Surly Big Dummy that I used on the Great Divide Route two summers ago and I will miss them all.
I have been a little conflicted with being enclosed in a VM body because I too love the experience of riding an open un-faired bike and trike.
The velomobile for me is an experiment. I started becoming curious about them because I picked up a Easy Racer Tour Easy with a Zzipper fairing. I found mine to be substantially faster than my normal touring bike on most roads. So my thinking was, if just a fairing on a Tour Easy can make this much difference, how much more would a full fairing on a velo body do? The more I read actual accounts from people riding them, the more intrigued I became.
I like to think of myself as being not so goal oriented that high mileage days matter, but when I am on a tour and find that I’m riding into headwinds and only netting 50-60 miles per day, I feel like I’m crawling compared to days when my miles are 80-90. My route this summer will start and finish from my house in central Oregon, 15 miles from the Trans Am route, and will be 3000 miles. I have 3 weeks to do it away from my two businesses. So being able to ride an average of 140 miles a day is a big plus!
I have toured extensively on regular DF touring bikes and many types of recumbent bikes and trikes so I know from personal experience the pros and cons of each. I have only ridden two velomobiles for a short time but I am curious enough to find out for myself how well they work for long distance touring.
Based on my own experience touring and much research about the reality of velomobiles, here’s why I took the leap to try them for myself and sell them in our shop:
Safety: body protection in a crash, more consideration from drivers, more visibility, crashing feet-forward into anything is preferable to smashing headfirst into it or joining the “over-the-bars-club,” a built-in roll bar, an electrical system that powers turn signals, brake light, taillight, headlight, horn & GPS.
Weather (sun and rain) protection: I have Basal cell carcinoma on my face, but I hate wearing sunscreen and so frequently don’t. The Quest will be fitted with a soft roof called a Flevobike roof that can be stowed away below when not used. This provides sun protection as well as rain protection. ( I HATE riding in rain gear, you get wetter from the sweat usually than the rain). Most ROAM riders (Roll Over America Ride with 40-50 riders riding from Portland, OR to Wash. DC) said they were cooler using the roof than without it in hot sunny weather. I find riding in western US arid sunny environs to be really draining day after day.
No panniers: All gear fits beside and behind the seat (about 100 liters capacity).
Speed: Most fit cycle tourists average 11 – 14 MPH; a VM will up that to 17 – 23 MPH (regularly hitting 60-70 on descents) over the same routes and will definitely be more comfortable doing it. I didn’t mind the slow climbing speeds of my un-faired trike but it wasn’t as fast as a velomobile. This will more than make up for the uphills but most of all headwinds don’t exist to a Velonaut. I HATE HEADWINDS! All climbs eventually go down but headwinds can go on and on.
Enclosed drive train: Chains last practically forever and only need lube once every couple thousand miles.
Durable: Some Dutch riders have put over 200,000 KM on them over the last 8 or 9 years.
Really freakin’ Fun!: Like a bobsled with wheels as I’ve said!
Expensive: As pricy as some cars, but a lot cheaper to own, healthier and more fun. Would you rather buy a new car and not have a velomobile, or buy a cheaper used car and spend the difference on a velomobile? Think about it.
Hard to transport: (Actually, no more than dealing with my motorcycle, but a lot lighter!) Tour “green” to and from your own house using no fossil fuels for your trip. Ride clean!
Sidewinds: Velomobiles will actually go faster because of a sail effect in a crosswind but once the wind speed hits 30 or 35 MPH they can blow over from gusts. Probably not a biggy as I don’t like riding in crosswinds that strong anyway.
Fragile: (See expensive) Keep the rubber side down just like a nice custom upright bike.
Can Flip: (See fragile) A new rear shock in development should help with this very infrequent problem.
Cops: They pull you over because they think it is an unregistered motor vehicle. This happens frequently I’ve read.
Noisy: Wear earplugs, an Ipod or get used to it.