Recumbent riding is one of my greatest joys, and for me velomobiles are the icing on the cycling cake. Nothing compares with riding the rollers, cresting some hilltops at 20 to 30 mph using pedal power as your only engine.
I have been enjoying cycling since my grade school days. I bought my first bike with money from my paper route. There has never been a time since then in my life that I have not owned a pedal-powered vehicle.
I am 74 years old, and I do not commute to a job in a velomobile like many of the Bülk owners do. At an earlier stage in my adult life, I was living exclusively on bikes for five years in eastern Iowa, here in the USA. Looking back fondly on those years, I wonder what it would have been like if I had owned a velomobile back then? Perhaps a Leitra was available in that decade? Hmmm…
In the early half of the 1980’s my wife sold her VW Beetle and I sold my VW Rabbit. We lived with only our 10-speed diamond frame bikes for transportation. Panniers were mounted on front and back wheel racks. In addition, we were pulling our two youngest children behind us in a Cannondale Bugger and a Burley trailer. Our grade school-aged older daughter rode her bike between us.
By 1986, our oldest child entered middle school and she was becoming more and more involved in extracurricular activities. We felt it was time to go back to owning a car. Of course we found ourselves riding our bikes less and less.
In the late 1990’s bone-on-bone osteoarthritis in my right hip was severe enough that I could no longer pedal any kind of bike without bumping my heel against the crank arm. I tried diamond frame, crank-forward, and recumbent bikes, thinking that perhaps the different riding posture when riding reclined might gain me additional room in my pedaling stroke, but that did not work either. Only after a complete right hip replacement surgery was I able to return to cycling.
When I was experimenting with them, I found that I truly liked the recumbent bikes better than my old reliable upright bike that I had owned since my college days in the early 1970’s. I decided to donate my 10 speed bike to the World of Bikes charity, and treat myself to a brand new recumbent two-wheeler to celebrate my return to cycling that was now made possible by the new hip.
While at the recumbent bike dealership waiting for my turn to test ride my two favorite picks for a two-wheeler, the salesperson talked me into test riding a recumbent trike. That was all it took! Ever since then I have pursued my new-found hobby of owning and riding a series of recumbents. Over the past two decades, I have purchased more than 15 trikes, plus a few ‘bent bikes.
I typically buy them, ride them a few thousand miles, and then sell them to make room in my budget as well as in my garage to purchase the next one that comes along and piques my interest.
As I became aware of velomobiles, they seemed to me to be a logical next step in my life-long passion for cycling. I held off buying my first velomobile for a while because I was concerned that the osteoarthritis in my left shoulder had left me too weak in the upper body to be able to wriggle up and out of a typical velomobile’s small cockpit opening.
In November of 2017 that left shoulder was replaced, and gradually I have regained much better upper body strength and range of motion than I had even thought possible. That shoulder surgery was followed by a left knee replacement in March of 2018. If you want to see the x-ray scanners light up like a Christmas tree, just follow me through airport security!
So one thing I have to offer to the Bülk ambassador program is that I might be uniquely positioned to answer questions people might have about whether their various joint replacements disqualify them from enjoying velomobile use.
Over the past five years or so, I have owned a variety of velos, including a Rotovelo, a Mulsanne, a Quatrevelo Plus, a WAW, a Hilgo, and then the same WAW again! I truly enjoyed all of them, including the Rotovelo and the Hilgo that I could never quite fit into comfortably with my long torso, long legs, and big feet.
I was unable to find a Rotovelo in my region of the country to test it out to see if I could fit it comfortably before I ordered one sight unseen. I sold the Rotovelo and moved on, but I was determined to try one on for size before I bought a second velomobile. I traveled to neighboring Wisconsin, and then as far away as British Columbia to test sit in, or to test ride a few velomobiles.
In the process, I learned just how crucial it is for most of us to have opportunities to climb in and try a velomobile on for size! Happily, as a Bülk ambassador, I will soon be able to offer that experience to lots of curious prospective velomobile buyers.
I decided to place an order for a Mulsanne, even though a test fit was not possible, because at that time, no one had ever imported one into North America. I did know that the Mulsanne had one of the largest cockpit openings of all the velomobiles on the market. The entry and exit from the Mulsanne was wonderfully easy, but pedaling room for my big feet inside the Mulsanne’s narrow front end was a ‘puzzle’ that I enjoyed solving with the advice from Cycles JV-Fenioux!
As a Bülk ambassador, I am happy to tell prospective buyers that the velomobile manufacturers will be very helpful if you have problems fitting into one of their models. They will offer you suggestions of possible modifications of crank arm length, crank arm shape, crankset q-factor, cycle shoe style, seat height, seat movement fore and aft, etc. All of that adjustability might just combine to get you situated right where you need to be, even in a velomobile that seems a little too cramped to fit your body.
When the prospect of an even more stable four-wheeled velomobile with a child passenger seat came along with the Quatrevelo and Q+, my curiosity got the best of me. I traded in the Mulsanne for the Q+. The Q+ was a joy to ride, but it was a bit too difficult for an old guy like me to work within the dark crowded confines of its rear derailleur and rear disc brakes rear axle assembly location, so……
I traded in the Q+ for a WAW that was equipped with a Rohloff rear hub gearing and a single front chain ring. What could be simpler! I enjoyed riding the WAW for a year, and its removeable front and rear shell sections, lack of a front derailleur, and Rohloff internal gearing truly made maintenance a breeze!
I remained on the lookout for new developments in the velomobiles being offered. When I read about the Hilgo’s unique rear drawer-slide derailleur and mid-drive, as well as its fully removeable top shell, it aroused my curiosity, so once again I watched the ads until I found one for sale. I sold my WAW to a fellow ‘Bentrider from Wisconsin, and I bought the used Hilgo.
I could tell when I bought it that my x-seam didn’t match up well with the Hilgo’s seat mounts, but I felt pretty certain I could modify them to make it work just fine. I actually enjoyed tinkering around inside the Hilgo with its entire top completely removeable with ten wingnuts. In a matter of only a few minutes, the entire drivetrain was easily accessible. Initially, I couldn’t fit its seat in a position where it worked optimally with my long legs. I even made a couple of extended seat mounting brackets and tried those, but eventually I sold the Hilgo.
Next I started watching the ads on ‘Bentrider looking for a used Q+ with a Rohloff internal gearing rear hub. I wanted to order a new Q+ with Rohloff, but import costs by then had sky-rocketed, and COVID had drastically lengthened velomobile build times, so I eventually dropped that idea.
At about that same time, I was offered the chance to buy back the WAW I had preciously sold. I bought it and soon modified it by adding a dual chainring crankset in place of the single that it was originally equipped with. That gave it a wonderfully broad gearing range, and I enjoyed riding it for yet another season.
Then last year, in the autumn of 2022, I sold my WAW to make room for a brand new Bülk. I still own a couple of recumbent trikes, but soon I will be riding them less and experiencing velomobile fun, riding the rollers once again, only this time in a marvelous Bülk velomobile.