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The real deal on owning a velomobile

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September 6, 2010

Hugo Ciro and his Beyss Go-One velomobile

Hugo Ciro and his Beyss Go-One velomobile

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One fateful day back in 1984, I read an article in Popular Science entitled “Pedal-power slingshot.” It was about a vehicle called the Cyclodyne, which was a recumbent human-powered tricycle enclosed in a full polyester-and-epoxy streamlined shell. The writer claimed that he had easily got the thing up to 30 mph (48 km/h), and that it was designed to reach 53 mph (85 km/h) on flat ground. Good Lord, how I wanted one. Its US$3,800 price tag ensured that it would never happen, but that didn’t stop me from obsessing. That article was my introduction to the world of velomobiles, which can pretty much be defined as aerodynamically-shelled recumbent tricycles. The Cyclodyne is now long gone, and has been replaced in my yearnings by what is probably the sexiest velomobile currently available for purchase, the Beyss Go-One. This August, I had my first-ever chance to see a Go-One up close and personal, and talked to its owner about the fantasy versus reality of owning and using such a vehicle. What he had to say was definitely eye-opening.

Hugo Ciro lives in Victoria, British Columbia, where he runs a fair trade coffee importing business. His Go-One is one of about 13 in North America. He visited the Beyss plant in Germany two years ago, where he tried out a Go-One and met Michael Beyss, the company president and vehicle designer. Beyss also designed a little car you may have heard of, called the Smart ForTwo. Ciro decided he quite liked the Go-One, and arranged to purchase one. He also agreed to become an agent for the company, meaning that people in his region who want to try out a Go-One can contact him for a test drive.

Hugo Ciro's Beyss Go-One velomobile

When Ciro’s vehicle arrived in Canada, he discovered that the seat was designed for someone considerably taller than him, and had to replace it with a seat he made himself. He also discovered that while the tricycle was speedy on the flats, it wasn’t so good at going up hills – even with its carbon fiber body, a Go-One weighs in at about 30 kg. (66 lbs.). To remedy this problem, Ciro bought and installed a BionX electric assist motor. He now frequently uses the motor even on flat ground, to maintain an average cruising speed of around 40 km/h (25 mph).

“For me, this is not recreational, this is my commuter,” he stated. “If I’m going to ride my road bike, I want to go out and sweat and push myself and climb a hill. That’s not for [going to] work, because I don’t want to come in here and change from my Spandex into my working clothes and wipe all my sweat off... I arrive here after 20 minutes of riding from home, and I dry up right away, and I’m in my work clothes.”

“I get exercise out of this, but I also get more speed because of the electric assist and the aerodynamics. I feel safer in this, on the road,” he added.

Hugo Ciro and his Beyss Go-One velomobile

Ciro has a place to park his vehicle at work, although he says he has left it unattended in the grocery store parking lot. Another Go-One owner I spoke to in Seattle said he has left his in the long-term parking at the airport. In both cases, the owners explained that they weren’t overly concerned about the possibility of theft, given how the vehicles stick out like sore thumbs. It would be somewhat like stealing the Mona Lisa, in that the thief would risk discovery if they displayed or tried to sell it.

Unfortunately for my fast-as-a-car velomobile fantasies, Ciro informed me that he travels at the side of the road, like a bicycle. Due to the vehicle’s eye-catching looks, he says he gets a lot more room than he would on a bike. Not being able to keep up with the traffic wouldn’t be such a big deal, if Go-Ones and all other velomobiles weren’t so incredibly expensive. The base price of Ciro’s trike was around CDN$10,000, although by the time it was shipped to Canada and the motor was added, it added up to about $15,000 (US$14,092). An electric ZEV7000 scooter with a top speed of 113km/h (70mph), by contrast, costs US$7,237.

Hugo Ciro and his Beyss Go-One velomobile

“It’s definitely overpriced,” Ciro stated. “I’m embarrassed to tell some people what I paid for this... this is clearly a toy that needs a lot more economy of scale, so that the price goes down and it becomes more available to the masses.”

Even though some velomobile-makers have waiting lists of over three years, the vehicles will probably never reach a decent economy of scale unless they somehow become better able to function within urban traffic. While many of them are currently marketed as alternatives to cars, the fact that features such as turn indicators are almost always optional extras suggests that they’re really intended more for use on bike paths and quiet country lanes.

“I don’t want to say anything negative about what the Go-One is, and what Michael Beyss has done, but I think this is designed for something different than what I’m using it, and I’m using it for a commuter,” said Ciro. To that end, he is currently designing his own velomobile, better suited to practical use. “What I’m dreaming about is an alternative form of transportation,” he stated. “Not a car, not a pedal bike, not a Smart car, not a motor bike, but something in between.”

Hugo Ciro's Beyss Go-One velomobile

Personally, if I had $15,000 to throw around, I would gladly spend it on a velomobile if it could easily do the urban speed limit via human power on the flats, and via an electric motor on average-sized hills. As far as I know, however, such a vehicle doesn’t exist – not to call anyone a liar, but I have my doubts regarding what was written about the Cyclodyne all those years ago.

There’s also the small fact that not everyone wants what I want.

“People look at it and they say ‘Wow, cool,’ but they don’t say ‘Wow, cool, I want one,’” Ciro said of his Go-One. “There’s something missing there that, maybe just a handful of us crazies have an attraction to these vehicles... I’m a little concerned that if I pursue my dream of actually building one, that only 12 people a year will buy it... does oil need to go to $200 a barrel before people say ‘I really need to consider this, because my car is really not sustainable’?”

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
14 Comments

The human powered speed record is over 80 mph, so matching the speed limit is at least possible, if not easy. With a tall enough gearset and a car to draft behind, there shouldn't be much of a problem riding with traffic. Though I think human powered transportation is practically a necessity for the health benefits, it should be noted that electric kits like the Bionx are made to not exceed 20 mph, so that they qualify as a moped and do not require registration. But 20 mph is an artificial barrier, and an electric kit can easily be made to exceed those regulations; a velomobile with an electric assist that exceeds 60 mph is perfectly doable, just a bit more tenuous legally.

dreamer.redeemer
7th September, 2010 @ 04:40 am PDT

The Go-One is NOT that aerodynamic. Open rear section, front wheel wells, uncovered front wheels.

There are other commercially available velomobiles, for example the Milan, that have set human speed records (1219 km in 24 hours).

William Volk
7th September, 2010 @ 07:39 am PDT

Too bad they're so pricey. I'd consider one at about $3.5-4k, or about 25% of the current cost, with pedal-electric hybrid drive installed.

I spent about $2,300 adding an E electric drive kit to my existing bicycle, and it's great for commuting (and getting a little exercise without breaking too much of a sweat) when the weather cooperates. For rain or extreme heat/cold, a climate-controlled enclosed cabin would be nice.

Suman M Subramanian
7th September, 2010 @ 11:00 am PDT

I wanted a Go-one as well. but now I wonder what the Drymer (drymer.nl) will do...

Easier acces, usable when i waear a suit and better visibility in traffic. Better price too.

But it's true: the infrastructure, the whole transport system is build for huge cars. Not these smart vehicles. Yet.

Facebook User
7th September, 2010 @ 11:08 am PDT

Quote: "Personally, if I had $15,000 to throw around, I would gladly spend it on a velomobile if it could easily do the urban speed limit via human power on the flats, and via an electric motor on average-sized hills. As far as I know, however, such a vehicle doesn't exist..." Unquote

Actually, such a vehicle has existed already for nearly 20 years, it has a top speed of 90 KM/H (55 MPH), it climbs gradients up to 21%, it is a two-seater side-by-side recumbent bike with pedals, a joystick and auxiliary Li-Ion batteries. It is more of an EV than an HPV but hey, pure HPVs simply can't do what you are asking for.

The name is TWIKE (nearly 1,000 sold worldwide - 20 in the US).

I've been driving one for 12 years now, at a cost of 50 cents of renewably-produced electricity per 100 Km.

Its prototype successor TW4XP (no official name yet) is presently competing in the Automotive X Prize, consuming 156 MPGe for a cruising speed op 80 MPH.

http://www.twike.com

http://www.tw4xp.com

http://www.progressiveautoxprize.org

Fouture
8th September, 2010 @ 01:51 am PDT

@ Fouture:

Yep, I'm well aware of the Twike/TW4XP, and wrote an article about them not that long ago: http://www.gizmag.com/automotive-x-prize-tw4xp-three-wheel/15822/

As you yourself pointed out, though, the Twike is more of an electric car with pedals than a human-powered vehicle with a motor, which is why I didn't mention it in this article.

Ben C.
8th September, 2010 @ 09:47 am PDT

"Personally, if I had $15,000 to throw around, I would gladly spend it on a velomobile if it could easily do the urban speed limit via human power on the flats, and via an electric motor on average-sized hills."

An electric motor giving you that kind of speed would be illegal. Federal law limits electric assist on bicycles and tricycles to 20mph, unless you're going downhill, of course.

Gadgeteer
9th September, 2010 @ 09:25 pm PDT

Another sector of the market that needs pedal-electric power is the mobility scooter. These are bought mostly by elderly people who can no longer carry their shopping or walk the whole distance local trips; the trouble is that once they have one they stop walking and cease to get regular exercise. A mobility scooter could be designed to enable use of any or all of their limbs to maximise their ability to exercise whilst doing local trips. Is anyone thinking along these lines yet?

jmaclaren
13th December, 2010 @ 01:36 pm PST

As a velomobile owner I found lots of reality disconnects with this article. Ciro states that it is his commuter, but then is quoted as calling it his toy. He wants a vehicle that will do powered speeds and yet he tested the Go-One in Germany so he knew what HP could do before he bought it. My Versatile (Flevobike) was designed with turn signals, lights, horn and great rear-view mirrors integrated, and I started riding them in 2005. As a transportation cyclist for ten years previous to becoming a velonaut I knew that I would not need the added expense and weight of electric power (which doesn't vanish when the battery is depleted) and how to ride it safely in traffic (commuting in Orange County, California, USA). Sure scale is missing from the pricing, but those who purchase velomobiles without the crucial sanity check of being transportation cyclists previously are a more critical link to critical mass as they will FAIL and set human powered transport back in the process. For instance, there is no logical link between the performance of the Varna racing streamliners (fast but unpractical and uncomfortable) and velomobiles which are comfortable, safe and practical at the expense of speed. But I have always maintained, and this is the biggest reality disconnect, that speed should not be a yardstick by which human powered transport is measured.

John W. Stephens III
1st January, 2011 @ 10:28 am PST

"...if I had $15,000 to throw around, I would gladly spend it on a velomobile if it could easily do the urban speed limit via human power on the flats, and via an electric motor on average-sized hills. As far as I know, however, such a vehicle doesn’t exist – not to call anyone a liar, but I have my doubts regarding what was written about the Cyclodyne all those years ago..."

How about around $7500 (not including shipping, and not including motor - but the later can be set up cheaper closer to home) and you have the Mango: http://www.sinnerbikes.com/

Jimm Pratt
20th April, 2012 @ 08:14 am PDT

When Ciro said, “What I’m dreaming about is an alternative form of transportation,” he stated. “Not a car, not a pedal bike, not a Smart car, not a motor bike, but something in between.” The something in between he was referring to would probably be a moped. Unlike electric assisted bicycles, they do not have a 20 mph assisted speed limit and 1HP assist limit. So they should be able to keep up with traffic in town.

I agree with Ciro on that. The big question, though, is, is it legally possible to drive a moped in most places that has an enclosed body shell and has 3 wheels. For that matter, is it legal to have an enclosed motorcycle?

Shishkabugs
22nd August, 2012 @ 08:30 pm PDT

The main problem for the velomobile in today's traffic situation is, I guess, that most roads built the last 30-40 years or so were made for cars and that, as a consequence, lately, mostly cars drive there. Since most VM riders won't quite be able to follow the traffic rhythm of the cars, in car-centric environments the VM may become a nuisance. This is nothing new to cyclists, though. We get this nuisance thing all the time, and as has been said, velonauts seem to get more respect than the average cyclist, not less.

In 10 or 20 years things may be very different. Perhaps one lane out of three in three-lane highways is a dedicated cycle highway lane, with it's own separated entries and exits. After all, if people can't afford to drive fossil fuelled, public demand for such changes will surely come.

In such a society, the velomobile will fit in just as well as the car - no matter if the speed on flats is 40 or 80 km/h.

I don't want to wait 20 years, not even 10, so I'll go with the nuisance thingy...

Mats Pedro Leidö
4th September, 2012 @ 02:26 pm PDT

On the safety:

The velomobile itself looks safe but have look of the helmet that rider is wearing!

Those helmets which have lost the protective plastic cover ARE DANGEROUS!

The bare polystyrene shell sticks into tarmac instead of sliding along with the rider!

This kind of helmet can cause the unfortunate wearer to break their neck!

If you do not believe me, try sliding that helmet against concrete or tarmac!

Haykey
28th May, 2013 @ 04:33 pm PDT

I have a Sinner Mango with electric assist of just 170 W. I commute twice a week the distance of 38 km but even with assist it takes me 1:04 hours. I really need to shower at work. My employer installed a shower after I did a survey in the building how many more people would consider cycling if there was a shower, saving car parking places.

Top speed on flat without assist is ~32 km/h, with assist ~42 km/h.

As I bought mine partly for exercise I don't mind the sweat, but I would certainly opt for the (dutch) maximum of 250 W electrical assist. It would raise my speed, and bring my driving time to match that of my car in morning traffic (~50 minutes).

Biggest advantage is the lack of traffic jams, although I have to overtake a lot of slower cyclists on the bike paths. Some of which are exactly the width of my velomobile...

Cas Tuyn
14th August, 2013 @ 12:27 am PDT
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