Ever since I was little, I’ve always owned a bicycle. It’s always seemed miraculous to me that a small construction of wheels, gears and chain could grant a normal person super powers. To fly like the wind and easily travel distances that you wouldn’t even consider walking. The best thing is that it doesn’t require anything extra to work its magic – no gas, no batteries, no special licenses, permission or knowledge. It is total freedom.
I’ve always ridden bicycles and it’s always felt quite natural to ride but there are some drawbacks compared to travelling by car. Weather is a big one. A bit of strong wind can turn a normally pleasant ride into a monster. Add a downpour of rain and it becomes thoroughly miserable. Add some ice and it becomes impossible.
Transporting personal gear on a bicycle can be quite a problem as well. This is usually solved by adding special packs and special racks to the bike to support the special packs. These can work but always seem to be a burden once you reach your destination. Leaving the packs on your bike may get them stolen so you end up carrying these awkward things with you, along with your helmet, pump, and computer, through all of your non-biking activities.
It was because of these two main drawbacks that the idea of a velomobile became so appealing to me. It cuts through the wind as though it were nothing, offers total protection from the weather, has three wheels so it can ride through snow and ice with ease, and has enough space inside to carry everything I might need. A perfect form of all-weather transportation. Now that I own one, I have found many other advantages which aren’t so apparent but add much to the vehicle’s value.
One of the biggest changes and biggest concerns about switching to a velomobile was the reclined riding position. I’d always owned upright bikes before and was a bit worried about how efficient this position was for speed and climbing. And how well would it perform with all of the velomobile’s added weight (63 lbs. compared to my upright racer at 19 lbs.) Well, it certainly doesn’t jump off the pavement for a green light but I’m really very pleased with its performance. I’ve been riding upright bikes for so long that they just felt “natural” to me. When I switched, it was quite a surprise to find out how many upper-body muscles are required to maintain position on an upright bike – the hands gripping, arms pulling, abdomen flexing, and neck straining to keep the head up. In the recumbent, the upper body is completely removed from the equation. This was a huge relief – to be sitting there, comfortable and relaxed, simply letting my legs go round while enjoying the scenery. It all seemed too easy. There must be a terrific energy savings along with that distinct drop in fatigue. How wonderful!
Another thing that has surprised me is the tripod wheel arrangement. I had some concerns about the one rear wheel’s ability to push the heavier bike and rider up slippery, steep hills. So far, there have been no problems. I’ve had the velomobile out in fresh, slick snow on roads and bike paths, up steep arching bridges covered in icy snow, and even some stretches of very steep incline on a loose dirt road. Only the loose dirt caused the wheel to occasionally lose its grip during the torque-y, granny gear thrusts – but we still made it to the top!
The tripod wheel arrangement is wonderfully stable and agile. The super low center of gravity provided by the velomobile’s low stature and the fact that the rider’s butt is only a few inches above the pavement gives the rider a wonderful sense of stability. Now there is no minimal speed required to maintain stability as on an upright bike, no balancing to be concerned about, and no worries about the bike skipping out from under you on sheets of black ice. If you need to come to a stop on a steep uphill, there is no reason to un-clip from the pedals, no reason to have a death-grip on the brakes (put the parking brake on if you’ll be stopped for a while), and none of the “normal” balancing act as you start up again while trying to get up to speed as you get your shoes clipped in (just start pedaling).
Going uphill is indeed slower but I find it much more relaxing in the velomobile. I no longer feel like I’m wrestling the bike with my upper body as I try to get every last bit of energy directed to the pedals – just find the appropriate gear and let the legs do their thing. Any horizontal or downhill sections of smooth road simply feel like one long, exciting bobsled ride. Ya-hoo!