Half car, half bike: Do velomobiles make our cities better?

They want nothing less than to revolutionize urban transportation. For their vision, three manufacturers are leaving the conventional paths and rethinking mobility. Will they be successful? Photo: Canyon

They want nothing less than to revolutionize urban transportation. For their vision, three manufacturers are leaving the conventional paths and rethinking mobility. Will they be successful? Photo: Canyon

Velomobiles represent the perfect combination of car and bicycle: With their weather-resistant bodywork and their environmentally-friendly powertrain, they bring the benefits of both worlds together. In the city traffic of the future, they could ensure more space and clean air.

Four wheels, a roof and a small trunk – at first sight, velomobiles look like cars, but under their bodywork there is a bicycle with an electric motor. The idea behind it is that the weather protection and the pedal assist should allow these body-on-frame designs to offer greater comfort, safety and stability to riders, along with a higher cruising speed and additional storage, compared with a regular bicycle. Velomobiles are therefore particularly suitable for commuting, and are advertised by their manufacturers as a sustainable mobility solution for the urban environment and the future of city transport. Can the velomobile combat the shortage of parking space and climate change? The following three models have made precisely that their aim.

The bio-hybrid: A new category of bicycle

“Four wheels, a roof, electrically-assisted”, and equally “stylish, trendy and digitally connected” – that is how Schaeffler describes its velomobile, referred to as a “bio-hybrid”. A near-series ready prototype of this modern daily assistant was unveiled for inspection as early as 2019, at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Since December 2020, the vehicles – licensed as pedelecs – can now also be ordered online. Costing from € 9,490, purchasers can choose between two models: A compact two-seater and a pick-up with a load space. Gerald Vollnhals, MD at Schaeffler Bio‑Hybrid GmbH, has big plans for both models: “It is a key aim to prevent the threatened traffic meltdown in our cities, and to make them more pedestrian-oriented and better places to live in.” To that end, the head of this fully-owned Schaeffler subsidiary is looking to ease traffic volumes through new, intelligent vehicle concepts. “What’s needed are vehicles that achieve high flexibility and a low requirement for space, in a connected and systematic co-existence with other road users. That’s precisely what the bio‑hybrid offers“, says Vollnhals. In order to live up to the challenge as the urban cycle of the future when it comes to digital too, the velomobile can be connected with an app which allows the routes travelled or the battery status to be called up. The portable 1.2 kWh, 48 volt battery can be charged up using a conventional domestic socket, and provides rider assistance at speeds up to 25 km/h.

The Podbike: Streamlined and functional

The Norwegian manufacturer Podbike is pursuing a similar approach to Schaeffler; however, its velomobile, called FRIKAR, is a blend of car and recumbent bicycle. Accordingly, the capsule of this streamlined e-bike capsule has suitably sleek and futuristic looks. Its design is somewhat reminiscent of Volkswagen’s “1-liter car“, popular in the naughties. But unlike that design with its combustion engine, the FRIKAR – which is licensed as a pedelec – is powered by an electric motor which assists the driver while pedaling, up to a speed of 25km/h. That way, these wind- and rain-protected recumbent e-bikes are able to cover distances of between 60-90 kilometers on a single charge. It is a considerable range, one that the velomobile owes primarily to its low air resistance and to the lightweight construction used throughout; for that same reason, this makes it an ideal vehicle for commuting. After several years of development and extensive field tests, the Podbike 2022 has entered series production and is scheduled for delivery to the first customers in Norway and the EU during 2023. The electric recumbents with glass dome can be pre-ordered in various versions from a price of 7,436 euros on the manufacturer's site against a deposit.

The Future Mobility Concept from Canyon

Canyon is a German bike manufacturer which has recently made a name for itself in the mountain bike and road bike scene. The reason? Canyon bikes stand out for their high quality and their exceptionally purist design, and are used by numbers of professional riders. That said, the company owes its double-digit growth to sales of ‘commuter bikes’, in other words bikes for everyday use that are particularly well-suited to commuting. So the idea of developing a premium velomobile sat very comfortably with the Koblenz-based bikesmiths – as did the challenge of achieving a design that was as timeless as possible for the capsule-enclosed bike. And with the Future Mobility Concept, they have succeeded. In profile, the futuristic vehicle looks like a particularly stylish, urban supermini. It’s only when you see the slim, 83-centimeter front end that you might realize this vehicle is an electric bike.

But Canyon’s concept bike sets itself apart through more than just its high-quality design. The vehicle’s drivetrain differs from other velomobiles and offers a lot more electric power than its siblings, which are licensed as pedelecs. This bike is not designed to stop delivering pedal assist at 25 km/h, but to enable speeds of up to 60 km/h. To that end, it comes with two 1,000-watt e-motors, and a battery with around 2 kWh of power, for a range of around 150 kilometers. As yet, it is not clear when the futuristic vehicle will launch on the market. “At this time, it is something in prospect, a vision, encompassing the opportunity to create a decisive contribution towards a responsible, sustainable and healthy lifestyle,” states the manufacturer on its website. But anyone already wanting to run an eye over the concept design can do so, at Canyon’s showroom in Koblenz.

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