Velomobile Gets Electric Assist

What do you get when you throw all accepted bicycle designs out the window and start fresh? Well, it might look a bit like [Saukki’s] velomobile.

Most bikes come in a fairly standard, instantly-recognizable shape which has been popular for over a century now. While it’s a vast improvement over its predecessor, the penny-farthing bicycle, there’s no reason that a bike needs to have this two-triangle frame shape other than that a pretentious bicycle racing standards group says they have to. If you want to throw their completely arbitrary rulebook out of the window, though, you can build much more efficient, faster bikes like recumbents or even full-fairing velomobiles. And if you want to go even faster than that, you can always add a standard ebike motor kit to one.

This is a lot harder than putting a motor on a normal bicycle. Bicycles tend to have standardized parts and sizes, and [Saukki]’s velomobile is far from the standard bike. First, he needed custom mounts for the display and also for the battery, which he needed to make extra wide so its weight wouldn’t rip through the carbon fiber body. The emergency brake lever motor cutoff needed to be dismantled to work with his control system too, and finally the mid-drive motor needed a custom mount as well. It’s a TSDZ2 motor that comes with torque-sensing pedal assist.

The changes didn’t stop there. The velomobile max speed is much higher than a standard bike. This called for some gear ratio changes, in the form of a monster 60-tooth chain ring.

This leads to the one major problem with this build which is that the velomobile can achieve such high speeds on its own that the electric assist cuts out for most of the ride. There is a legal requirement over much of Europe that e-bikes only have pedal assist (without a throttle) and that they stop assisting above a specific speed. But if you want to build an e-bike that pushes the boundary of the law instead of strictly adhering to it, take a look at this one which uses a motor from a washing machine.

37 thoughts on “Velomobile Gets Electric Assist

    1. Don’t know about your place, but registering a custom built motorcycle which have not gone through the manufacturer certification process here would probably not be practically possible due to costs and internal resistance from the bureaucrats.

      1. >internal resistance from the bureaucrats

        The trouble is that the law-enforcement has no other practical way of “knowing” that your bike adheres to the law except by approved manufacturer documentation that says where and how everything is supposed to be. If it’s a commercially made product that shows no obvious signs of tampering with, they can trust that it’s working within the regulations.

        Otherwise they’d just have to trust you when you say “this motor is 250 Watts” – like you couldn’t simply overdrive the motor, or lie. They have to make that determination on the side of the road while they’re deciding whether to let you go, ticket you, or impound your vehicle.

        When you are the personal manufacturer of a single unit, the specification and certification obviously becomes very cumbersome and costly.

  1. I’m digging this idea, and have been wondering why it isn’t more common. I guess velomobiles aren’t very common to begin with, which is a shame.

    I’ve been wanting to build a recumbent trike, and if it turns out well, put an e-bike kit on it. Then if that turns out, build something bigger, with an enclosed body shell.

    1. What’s always unnerved me about velomobiles is getting out of the thing in the event of a crash. It’s not like a car where you’re safer inside because the shell is so strong.

      Maybe on well-separated bike lanes where crashes are less of an issue, they make more sense, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with one where I am.

      1. Really going to depend on just how its built and the type of accident – that light carbonfibre structure of the one shown isn’t quite an F1 monocoque but its not that far from it as crash resistant structures go, sufficiently tough I would think for forces it is likely to encounter. So you may well be much much safer in it for many types of accident as the shell is quite strong and the bike doesn’t weigh anything much, so in most collisions its just going to get bounced off or pushed around preventing you from directly mashing your soft squashy body into stuff.

        I do agree getting out could be a problem, but then its so light and not impossibly hard to cut through if it becomes required so in an accident other road users/emergency services should be able to get you out easily enough if you can’t do it on your own.

        From the safety front I’d be more concerned with lack of visibility this design seems to give, it doesn’t look that bad, has mirrors but it doesn’t seem like it will give you the same visibility as turning your head.

          1. Hmm possibly, though in my experience drivers don’t really notice cyclist on normal bikes, somehow they fail to register the cyclist at all so often… But this doesn’t look like a normal bike I suspect it will get the drivers to do a double take, so it might actually be safer on that front…

            Either way on a bicycle I assume every driver hasn’t seen me, despite all the effort to stand out properly until by their actions they prove otherwise – so head on a swivel keep damn good track of the boxes wizzing past that may just try to kill you – I’m more concered about being able to know where all the other road users are and reading their intentions at all times so I can take avoiding action as needed than if they have seen me…

          2. >somehow they fail to register the cyclist at all so often

            It’s because cyclists are quick to appear and disappear out of the spots you’re checking. Pedestrians can’t suddenly appear in front of you when they were 30 ft behind you last time you turned your head. There’s only a short glimpse for you to catch the image of a cyclist (your brain stops processing while you turn your eyes), and if you don’t catch them at the right moment, you won’t know they’re there.

          3. Dude its much more that the culture isn’t to think cyclist at all, so they just assume its a pedestrian, not on the road, not worth any further attention. Plus in almost all cases even with a fast cyclist the traffic is quicker, so they are coming up on the cyclist…

          4. > its much more that the culture isn’t to think cyclist at all

            I find the opposite. Example: when crossing the street, cars have to yield for pedestrians, but not for cyclists. Cyclists are supposed to stop, drop on foot and walk across the street. Otherwise the cyclist yields, except where the crossing is an extension of a bicycle path. It’s all rather complicated.

            If a cyclist tries to stop to yield for the cars, so you don’t have to get off your bike and walk 10 meters, then re-mount, you always get a standoff situation because the drivers see you and assume you have the right of way when you don’t – either because they don’t know the law, or they’re being “polite”. You wave them to go, they wave you to go… and both waste time.

          5. Because of the above problem, I’ve actually taken up to pretend like I’m not going to cross the street in the first place until I see a gap in the traffic. Otherwise, if you ride up to the crossing and stop, you always get that “you go, no you go” situation.

            If you just go first, then people will complain and blare horns at you, but if you stop and try to yield they will always yield as well. Go figure.

        1. I ride one. Visibility is not a problem, you are often around a bunch of people pointing at you.

          I mean, they are lower than the average car, but still as tall as some sports cars (I have stopped side by side with one Corvette). They are also a 2m long bright coloured object. If you aren’t regularly running over children, you should be able to see.

          From the inside, the visibility is actually amazing. You can still turn your head for big turns, but the mirrors give you a large angle of vision very quickly; so I can see what is behind me in my lane or in the ones besides me without removing my eyes from the road.

    2. The biggest problem about velomobiles is that they’re relatively big, so they take up so much space on bicycle paths, they’re not as nimble or quick to start/stop as a regular bicycle, so they’re like this blue whale going down the path that everyone else has to avoid – but then they’re too slow to go on the actual roads as well, so there’s not really anywhere they fit in. It’s kinda the same problem with cargo bikes as well.

      The fairing helps you go fast once you get up to speed, but otherwise it’s just a compromise on everything else.

      1. Looking at this I’d guess its much much quicker stop than I could be on a regular bicycle – being towards the pretty huge human being end of the human height/breadth variations still on much the same tiny contact patch I always had way more inertia than the tyres had grip, see the little guys stopping in much less distance… But this has 4 wheels for extra traction, the big weight of the rider isn’t really really high so robbing the rear wheels of all load under braking and probably doesn’t actually weigh in much more, if more at all than my old bike frame. But I’ve never gone in for the lightweight materials or road bike frames either – the roads are bad and I enjoy off roading too with only the space and money for one bike, so I wanted something tough enough to do it all.

        They also should actually start just fine as recumbent positions are better for cycling performance and the inertia something like this adds over a normal bike isn’t huge – if the rider doesn’t weigh in at way more than 80% of the total weight still I’d be surprised…

        I’ve not ridden one of these but it doesn’t look like much of a compromise to me, I can agree it won’t have the slow speed turning circle especially compared to the smaller/BMX bike frame, but it doesn’t look nearly as bad as you make out in agility, nor is it really that much wider – it just looks really wide because of the fairly large side panels – the widest point is not one tiny spot across the riders torso its a bigger flatish area. But its about that same width as the rider alone – and with the clearance you should be leaving each other it really doesn’t make alot of difference. Be harder to read where the velo thingy is about to go from the rider/bike position, but in terms of space taken up on the move its really not much different to a normal bike.

        1. >and probably doesn’t actually weigh in much more

          You can easily lift a regular bicycle by a single hand – doesn’t need to be a special carbon fiber body. Try that with a velomobile. Even 10 kg extra mass slows you down quite a bit, especially going uphill, and that plus some comes from just the fiberglass shell.

          One reason why it’s not quick to stop is because once you get all that mass up to speed, you don’t want it to stop. You won’t brake or slow down “needlessly”.

          >with the clearance you should be leaving each other

          Such clearances are often only theoretical in the city. People brush right up to your handlebars when you’re stopping for traffic lights. The velomobile just would not fit in at all, because it would take the space of three or four people like that.

          1. nah. My velomobile has 5,000miles just commuting to work.
            Sure, some crazy people are willing to give their first born to shave off 80g… despite them weighing 100,000g…. but +10% more weight isn’t noticeable at all.
            You think velomobiles are slow to stop because riders don’t want to stop….”all that mass”…nah. If the choice is stop or get hurt, people stop. Recumbents easily stop shorter than upright bikes.
            As far as clearance, safe bicyclists “TAKE THE LANE”. i.e. ride in the middle as most laws dictate. When a car passes, you can give yourself more room if they’re getting too close.
            My velomobile is 2″ wider than my shoulder span. Another way to think of it is that it’s 1″ narrower than some gravel bike handlebars.
            The biggest issue is that velomobiles are low to the ground and everyone will pull out in front of you. YOU have to look for them and slow down then plan a path for when they inevitably will pull out. They could be looking right at you when they do.

          2. You can almost certainly ‘easily lift’ a velo with a single hand, if it had such a convenient handhold as the bicycle frame. They are not supremely heavy, especially the modern thin wall carbon fibre jobs, they are just a much more awkward shape to lift…

          3. Also anybody daft enough to bump into my handlebars for not leaving enough space is destined to end up on their arse, if you can’t ride well enough to give the others space and come up against somebody who both can ride well and likely masses 2x what you do that bump is only going one way… A bump against the shoulder/handlebar protrusions is much much worse in terms of impactful harm potential than a sliding scrape against the smooth surface too – the velo may trade a little paint but the collision doesn’t snag for that high impulse transfer that throws the lighter or less skilled rider so easily.

            The clearances are really no more theoretical in a city than anywhere else, you ride at a speed suitable for the conditions, follow the rules of the road and there will be more than enough space to give. You don’t need to leave miles.

        2. It’s astonishing how huge a turning radius even my short wheel base recumbent has compared to an upright bicycle, in part because the under seat steering limits the wheel turn angle. Bents are great on long open roads, but they are such a pain doing things like maneuvering around the bike rack at the grocery store.
          Around here many bike paths have big bollards to keep idiots from driving on the bike paths to avoid near-gridlock car traffic, and my ‘bent handlebars are wider than the bollard spacing, so that’s kinda exciting. Not something I’d ever even notice on the upright race bike or even the big mountain bike because they’re narrower, as the path designers intended.

    3. Having tried and helped build a few of these: if you put a bit of fairing on the front you get a lot of the aero advantage without some of its disadvantages.
      Those include: getting in/out, getting in/out after a crash, and at least locally, sidewinds are just horrendous with something like this. Like, even time trial bikes with full disc wheels are very scary in a gusty crosswind when riding 50km/h. Something with this kinda cross sectional area would be eeek.
      I saw a bike once that had a single less than half meter wide plexiglass strip that curved from just in front of the crank (short wheel base recumbent) in a graceful arc over the rider to terminate behind the rider’s head at the head of a luggage rack. It wasn’t aerodynamic (lots of wake/pressure drag) but it was quite good for keeping rain/junk away from the rider.

      Aside: recumbents really frustrate me. They’re so comfortable. But for me, at any longer distance I’ve tried, from 20km out to 200km, I’m consistently faster on my upright timetrial bike than I am on my recumbent. I can average about 42km/h on the upright bike for an hour or two, and somehow the recumbent is harder to do that with. Guess I need more aerodynamics on the ‘bent, as it’s a big ol’ HPVelotechnic with no attempt at aero at all.

  2. After watching a fully faired recumbent tip over going around a corner at an intersection, then slide like it was on ice on said fairing directly into the oncoming traffic lane, my interest ended abruptly. Fast, legal two wheeled vehicles exist already they are called motorcycles. However you feel about their safety, you can get a used one for a couple/few hundred bucks.

    1. Velos have usually 3 wheels (typically in the 2 front 1 rear formation), although the one in this video has 4 wheels.

      Falling over isn’t so much an issue, getting run over might be especially in places where large vehicles are common (USA).

    1. Which is why so so many motorbikes are all about the streamlining… Faster, more fuel efficient, runs better on the lighter/simpler/smaller engine soo many gains to being more aerodynamic. It may not be required to get up to the top end of road legal speeds, but its still useful.

        1. Which is very much my point, streamlining is a good thing that motorbikes use, some of them to great effect. That you still need room to pedal a streamliner bicycle changes nothing there, its still a sleek and easier form to push through the air…

          1. Which is still of no relevance to the original posts assertion that streamlining is pointless if you have a motor!!!

            Streamlining is still beneficial to a bicycle motor assisted or not, that you can’t turn a bicycle into a really tiny rocket sled of almost no drag aero changes nothing there its still a pretty substantial improvement on the upright standard bicycle!

      1. Aero is absolutely useful even on a electric boosted recumbent or trike.The drag on a typical fat tire upright ebike at 20 MPH /30kph can easily be triple that of a streamlined velomobile, or more . That means that a bigger , heavier, more expensive battery pack is needed in order to get the same useful range on the upright. A good velo can cruise on pedal power alone (on flat ground) at speeds few cyclist can maintain on an upright, leaving the battery pack to be used strictly for climbing and acceleration away from stops. A lighter battery means that braking is better, less structure is needed, and offers the the option of using yard tool batteries (readily available, cheap, reliable, easily removed for charging or safekeeping)

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