I've been driving velomobiles for a few years now and one of the most asked question is how fast does it go. I never heard this question when riding an upright bicycle, but okay ...
In this article I try to answer this question.
If I take first a windy flat area where I grew up in the polders of the Netherlands ...
If I would drive with an upright race bike, my speed would be 25 km/h, in a velomobile you drive around the 40 km/h on the straight road.
When you have frontal wind of about 5 Bft, with your upright you will drive at 16 km/h, while you drive at 37 km/h with a velomobile. When you get the wind from back, with your upright race bike you would ride at 32 km/h, while under the same conditions, you will drive at about 45 km/h with the velomobile. Side wind is the most funny I would say. With some velomobiles models you get a sailing effect. This means it often happens that when you get a side wind you feel the velomobile accelerating, but on a upright race bike it costs you more energy. Where on a upright race bike side wind is taking your energy to keep the same speed. Of course speed is also influenced by other factors, I will write about them later on.
Right now I live in a more hilly area of the world. My home stays on 350 m above sea level and I make tours where I reach 1000 m above sea level. But most of the times I stay in the valleys with my velomobile. Here we have hardly any time winds and if we have winds there are very temporary and they come from all directions, so I will not take this in consideration. Here we have false flat areas. It often happened that I went out of the velomobile to check my tire pressure and it felt a bit the same.
When you drive with your upright race bike a false flat area, uphill you drive at 22 km/h, while you drive at 35 km/h with your velomobile. When you drive down hill, you will have 50 km/h with your velomobile, while you drive with your upright race bike around 30 km/h.
On real mountain passes a velomobile is not 100% in his elements. If you get climbs of 14% it start to get harder. You bring of course a bit more weight with you and the advance of the velomobile is not there anymore, because of the effect with low speed the aerodynamics plays no role and when you go down hill you go to fast. If you live in a mountain area this is of course no problem because most of the times you drive through the valleys and if you need to cross a mountain it will do the job, only the advantage is not there on the mountain passes. But most of the time this is a small part of the journey. On the end most of the times a velomobile is still faster.
When you are newbie with velomobiles take care of the following points:
- Go slowly in the first 2-3 weeks. You need to learn how to handle the velomobile.
- Always make sure that the weight you bring with you is as much as possible in the triangle of your wheels and as much as possible towards the front axle of the velomobile. This ensures the stability of the velomobile.
- Make sure you have a cadence of about 90 rotation per minute. You need to train new muscles and joints and if you drive with a too low cadence you could get pain in your knees.
Before you go to road check the following things:
- Tire pressure 5-8 bar, depends on the tire type (rolling resistance is a big part of lost energy)
- Lift up one wheel and check if the wheel is running 100% free. You can see if the wheel runs a little backwards after it came to a stop.
- Velomobile drivers have the tendency to carry many items in the velomobile, which is all extra weight. This affects speed and costs you energy.
- Check if the chain is clean and oiled, if you do this once a month is okay for the velomobile.
A last word, SPEED is good but always take care, traffic is not a racetrack. Many people are in the traffic, but their attention is not there. Make sure you make eye contact with the other participants of the traffic. People told me many time that they cannot see me because I am so small. But I saw them and they were often on the phone, even not looking in my direction before crossing the road. When I was the angry young man I often started nice agitated conversations with some power words, now I just tell them that they have no eyes in the side of their head. I have to admit that I still like to drive with high speeds, but I slow down when the situation requires it, so that I am safe and other people are safe. I think I get old :)