Well, let me explain…
What a Drag
When a bicyclist goes through the air, all of their separate body parts and bike parts are each creating a chaotic mass of turbulence behind the rider. This is called drag and it becomes dramatically worse with each increase in speed. The faster the biker goes, more and more of their energy is going toward pulling away from this drag.
The innovative, low and compact design of the recumbent bike helped to reduce this drag. In fact it was so effective that recumbents were banned from traditional bike races because they consistently won over their upright competitors. Talk about your sore losers! Now the upright bikers have only themselves to beat.
The velomobile simply takes that low, compact design of the recumbent and wraps it in an aerodynamic cocoon. This lets the air slip smoothly around the vehicle and, most importantly, join together smoothly once the vehicle has passed. The loss of drag allows the velomobile to go faster, with less effort. And on the downhills, truly frightening speeds can build up quickly.
There is a lot of pain associated with riding upright bicycles. If you’re an avid rider, you’re probably well acquainted with them. And the older you get, the more you feel them! There is neck pain from holding the head up, sore hands and wrists from taking all of that road shock through the handlebars, and the dreaded butt pain from those skinny seats!
In the velomobile, you sit as you would in your living-room, reclined with your feet resting on the ottoman. The upper body is relaxed, the head balances naturally, and you can easily steer using only one hand if you wish. The same hand has control of the brakes which are always right at the fingertips. Your other hand is free to grab that water or coffee container at your side or take pictures of the passing scenery. Ah!
Give me shelter
I received my velomobile just after Christmas. The weather was cold – hovering between 15 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d heard that you didn’t need much clothing in the velomobile to keep you warm so I put on what I thought was a “reasonable” amount. OK, I looked like a fleecy arctic explorer. Anyway, fifteen minutes into the ride, I noticed that my shirt felt damp, my head felt hot, and that my hands were starting to sweat inside my winter bike gloves. The layers started coming off until I wore only a pair of stretchy winter sports pants, a thin t-shirt, a thin athletic jacket, and a fleece cap. That’s it. No gloves. No coat.
I was quite toasty and comfortable. What a strange feeling it was to be out on my “bike”, slipping through the windy, wide open spaces of the Illinois countryside with snow and ice under the wheels, while being cozy and relaxed inside my cocoon! There was also the peace of mind that, if something unforeseen happened and I actually needed to be “out” in the weather, my winter coat, a fleece jacket, another hat, and mittens were tucked right behind my seat. Just in case…
Speaking of storing stuff, the velomobile is absolutely great for taking stuff with you when you ride. Its body is a smooth, beautiful, aerodynamic shape. Whatever you cram into it won’t change that beautiful shape or alter its ability to slip through the air with ease. The body is almost completely enclosed so there’s no need to strap everything down – just place your stuff strategically to keep things from rolling around.
I have a couple of small duffle bags on either side of my seat, under my elbows. In these I store an assortment of glasses and goggles (so I can be fashionable in any weather), gloves, mittens, hats, tools, pump, spare tubes, tissues, phone, camera, reading glasses, maps, and anything else I may need to get to while I ride. Behind me, under the seat and on either side of the rear wheel enclosure, there is a lot of space to be had! Its winter here and I haven’t been able to fill all that space with all of my warm emergency clothes. I’ve read that you can actually pack enough to go on a self-sufficient cross-country tour and now I believe it.
When you look at an upright bike, you see a lot of thin lines with a lot of air space between them. The most imposing mass on a bike is the biker himself, and we have an interesting habit of adorning him with fashionably black spandex so that bike and rider virtually disappear into the background.
Now if you take a bike and put a big bubble around it and paint that bubble neon yellow, now you can see it!!! Add some headlights, tail-lights, turn signals, and running lights, and you really can’t miss it – day or night.
The only real problem with a velomobile is its low stature. It can be obscured from view by low hedges, fences or other vehicles. This can be dealt with by mounting flags or light poles on the velomobile when you want to go play with the autos. But remember, drivers can be inattentive and run into each other all the time, so when it comes to the height factor, I believe it’s mostly about learning to constantly search for the dangerous situations and taking care of yourself.