Electric velomobiles: as fast and comfortable as automobiles, but 80 times more efficient

October 25, 2012

RAW 1Both the velomobile and the electric bicycle increase the limited range of the cyclist — the former optimises aerodynamics and ergonomics, while the latter assists muscle power with an electric motor fuelled by a battery.

The electric velomobile combines both approaches, and so maximises the range of the cyclist — so much so that it is able to replace most, if not all, automobile trips.

While electric velomobiles have a speed and range that is comparable to that of electric cars, they are up to 80 times more efficient. About a quarter of the existent wind turbines would suffice to power as many electric velomobiles as there are people.

All pictures: Fietser.be

Few people find the bicycle useful for distances longer than 5 km (3 miles). In the USA, for instance, 85 % of bicycle trips involve a trip of less than 5 km. Even in the Netherlands, the most bicycle-friendly country in the western world, 77 % of bike trips are less than 5 km. Only 1 % of Dutch bicycle trips are more than 15 km (9 miles). In contrast, the average car trip amounts to 15.5 km in the USA and 16.5 km in the Netherlands, with the average trip to work being 19.5 km in the USA and 22 km in the Netherlands. (Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.)

It’s clear that the bicycle is not a viable alternative to the car. Depending on his or her fitness, a cyclist reaches cruising speeds of 10 to 25 km/h, which means that the average trip to work would take at least two to four hours, there and back. A strong headwind would make it even longer, and when the cyclist is in a hurry or has to climb hills, he or she would arrive all sweaty. When it rains, the cyclist arrives soaking wet, and when it’s cold hands and feet would freeze. Longer trips on a bicycle also affect the body: wrists, back, shoulders and crotch all suffer, especially when you choose a faster bike.

An electrically-assisted bicycle solves some of these problems, but not all. The electric motor can be used to reach a destination faster, or with less effort, but the cyclist remains unprotected from the weather. Longer trips would still cause discomfort. Moreover, the range of most electric bicycles (about 25 km or 15.5 miles) is just large enough for the average one-way trip to work, which means that it will not suffice for all commutes.

The Advantages of an Electric assist Velomobile

The velomobile — a recumbent tricycle with aerodynamic bodywork — offers a more interesting alternative to the bicycle for longer trips. The bodywork protects the driver (and luggage) from the weather, while the comfortable recumbent seat eases the strain on the body, making it possible to take longer trips without discomfort. Furthermore, a velomobile (even without electric assistance) is much faster than an electric bicycle.

WAW Salvador Lopez Gallart

At speeds below 10 km/h (6 mph), rolling resistance is the biggest challenge for a cyclist. Air resistance becomes increasingly influential at higher speeds, and becomes the dominant force at speeds above 25 km/h (15.5 mph). This is because rolling resistance increases in proportion to speed, while air drag increases with the square of speed. Because a velomobilist has much better aerodynamics than a bicyclist — the drag coefficient of a velomobilist is up to 30 times lower — he or she can attain higher speeds with the same effort.

On the downside, a velomobile is heavier than a bicycle, which means that it takes more effort to accelerate and to climb hills. The power required for acceleration is inversely proportional to the mass of a vehicle, so a velomobile uses roughly twice as much energy during acceleration than a bicycle, depending on the weight of the driver and vehicle. 

If rigged with an electric auxiliary motor, the weak points of the velomobile — its slower acceleration and climbing speed — are eliminated. At the same time, a motor accentuates its advantages by further improving on the range of a cyclist. Last but not least, a battery will give a much better range in the velomobile, due to its better aerodynamics. 

Test Driving a Ferrari

In August, I test drove an electrical velomobile — the eWAW, a vehicle that is sold by Fietser.be — in and around Ghent, Belgium. Brecht Vandeputte, the driving force behind the Belgian manufacturer, accompanied me in an unassisted WAW during a one and a half hour trip through the city and along the tow path of the river Schelde.

The WAW velomobile (without electrical assistance) was originally developed for winning human-powered vehicle races. It was adapted for daily use with the addition of, among other things, a leakproof rear tyre, open wheel arches (which make the vehicle more agile), an adjustable seat, and a more durable body — which consists of a carbon roll bar and safety cage surrounded by aramid crumple zones. The WAW is known worldwide, at least among velomobilists, as one of the fastest velomobiles available on the market — some call it the Ferrari of the velomobiles.

WAW 18

The WAW stands out because of its weight (it is 28 kg, as opposed to 34 kg, the weight of the most popular velomobiles, the Dutch Quest and Alleweder) and its low centre of gravity (it has a ground clearance of only 9 cm and a height of just 90 cm). Along with a wide wheelbase, a hard suspension, and precise steering (it uses two gear sticks instead of one), this results in high speeds and excellent handling, even on sharp corners. Of course, the WAW also has the drawbacks you can expect from a real sports car, like the very basic interior finish and the fact that the vehicle rattles like a box of rocks when you ride it over a cobblestone road. If road conditions are bad, other velomobiles with more comfortable suspension will be a better choice.

The eWAW that I drove has everything that the WAW has, plus an electric motor of 250 watts and a surprisingly small battery of 288 Wh, which takes you 60 to 130 km further (37 to 81 miles). The battery and the motor add only 5 kg, bringing the total weight of the vehicle to 33 kg. This is comparable to the weight of other velomobiles without electric assistance. Hence, this pedal powered Ferrari is more than 10 kg lighter than other velomobiles, with a 250 watt electric assistance, such as the hybrid Alleweder and the e-Sunrider, which weigh 45 kg.

Cycling at 50 km/h

So how fast is the WAW, and how much faster is the eWAW? First of all, the eWAW is a hybrid vehicle, but the biomass powered motor, also known as the driver, is not included in the package. Because the driver always provides the main part of the total power output, the speed of the vehicle will depend on the power that he or she can deliver. There is no better illustration of this than my test drive. Over a period of about an hour and a half, Brecht and I managed to reach an average speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) — I was in the eWAW and had the regular assistance of the electric motor, Brecht was in a WAW without pedal assistance.


Cycling literature makes a distinction between three types of cyclists: people with an average fitness level, people with a good fitness level, and top athletes. Riders with an average fitness can maintain a power output of 100 to 150 watts over a period of one hour. Riding a WAW, this translates to speeds of 35 to 40 km/h in ideal conditions — an unobstructed racetrack, and a completely closed vehicle. Drivers with a good fitness level can deliver 200 watts of power over a period of one hour, which translates to speeds of 45 to 50 km/h under the same circumstances.

With 250 watts of power, the electric motor of the eWAW gives a person with an average fitness level (like me) the power output of an athlete (100 + 250 watts = 350 watts).

Maximizing Range and Efficiency

I am a speed freak, so when I found myself on a nice, open stretch of road, the first thing I did was start the motor at full throttle and pedal like a madman at the same time. If I could have more than 350 watts at my disposal, I calculated, I must be able to reach speeds of at least 70 or 80 km/h (40 to 50 mph). However, my attempt to go any faster than 50 km/h (30 mph) left me frustrated — the vehicle lacks the high gears needed for those speeds.

Why? Because the eWAW is designed for maximum efficiency. The electric motor is intended to be used for acceleration only (and for climbing hills). Once the velomobilist reaches a cruising speed of about 40 to 50 km/h, he or she switches to pedalling alone.

The eWAW does not increase the cruising speed or top speed of the unassisted WAW, although it does increase the average speed because it speeds acceleration. This is a different approach from the electric bicycle, where pedal assistance is continuous at normal cruising speeds. With regards to efficiency, the concept behind the eWAW makes much sense. A bicyclist needs less energy to accelerate than a velomobilist does (because of the bike’s lighter weight) but more energy to keep up speed (because of its weak aerodynamics). In contrast, a velomobilist needs more energy to accelerate than a bicyclist does (because of the vehicle’s heavier weight) butless energy to keep up speed (because of its excellent aerodynamics).

WAW 16

Because it takes more energy to accelerate in an eWAW than to drive it at a constant speed, the engineer’s choice to assist the driver only during acceleration is smart; it increases the range of both the cyclist and the battery. The electric motor supports the driver during peak efforts, so that his or her endurance will increase spectacularly. (Peak efforts have a detrimental effect on endurance, while pedalling at a steady pace can be done for hours.) Meanwhile, the driver offers the same service to the battery. Because the electric motor is shut off at cruising speed, the battery range increases considerably.

This said, the driver of the eWAW can choose to use the motor at cruising speed, because it can be operated at his or her will by means of a throttle. This is how I drove the vehicle. As a consequence, the battery lasted ‘only’ 60 km (37 miles), but at least I could keep up with Brecht.

80 times More Efficient than Electric Cars

Mounting an electric engine in a velomobile is controversial among velomobilists, just as an electric bicycle is skewed by many biking aficionados. However, when we compare the eWAW with the electric car, still viewed by many as the future of sustainable transportation, it’s a clear winner. In fact, the electric velomobile is everything what the electric car wants to be, but isn’t: a sustainable alternative to the automobile with combustion engine. It is nearly impossible to design a personal, motorised and practical vehicle that is more efficient than the eWAW.

A simple calculation can illustrate this claim. Imagine that all 300 million Americans replace their car with an electric velomobile and all drive to work on the same day. To charge the 288 Wh battery of each of these 300 million eWAW’s, we need 86,4 GWh of electricity. This is only 25 % of the electricity produced by existing American wind turbines (on average per day during the period July 2011 to June 2012, source). In other words, we could make a switch to private vehicles operating on 100 % renewable energy, using existent energy plants.

WAW 22

Now imagine that all 300 million Americans replaced their cars with an electric version like the Nissan Leaf, and all drive to work on the same day. To charge the 24 kW battery of each of those 300 million vehicles, we need 7,200 Gwh of electricity. This is 20 times more than what American wind turbines produce today, and 80 times more than what electric velomobiles need. In short: scenario one is realistic, scenario two is not.

Even if we all started carpooling, and every electric automobile could carry five people, there remains a large gap in efficiency. Charging 60 million electric cars would still require 16.6 times more electricity than charging 300 million eWAW’s. The electric velomobile also makes it fairly easy for a driver to charge his or her own vehicle. A solar panel of about 60 watts (with a surface area of less than one square metre) produces enough energy to charge the battery, even on a dark winter day.

In Europe, it would take an even smaller share of the existent wind turbines to charge every European’s eWAW. For the sake of thoroughness, it should be mentioned that the bio-motor also requires energy: the driver needs to eat, and this food needs to be produced. But since western people eat too much, and then drive their cars to the gym in order to lose excess fat, this factor can be safely ignored.

Range Anxiety

The large difference in energy efficiency between electric velomobiles and electric cars is remarkable, because both have a similar range. As mentioned, the eWAW takes you a distance of 60 to 130 km, depending on how intensively you use the motor. The Nissan Leaf takes you at best 160 km, when you drive slowly and steadily, and when you don’t make use of the air-conditioning, heating or electronic gadgets on board.

A heating system is not required in a velomobile, not even in winter, because hands and feet are protected from the wind by the bodywork, and because the driver is active (body activity is the most important factor in maintaining thermal comfort). The need for cooling in summer, on the other hand, will decrease the range — the driver will rely more on the electric motor in order to cool down.


Interestingly, it is easier to increase the range of the electric velomobile than of the electric car, if necessary. The eWAW can be equipped with one or two extra batteries, which increases the range up to 180 km (112 miles, with continuous assistance of the motor) or 450 km (280 miles, when the motor is only used to assist acceleration). Adding two batteries to the eWAW increases the weight of the vehicle by only 6 kg, and still leaves ample space for luggage. If we suppose that the rider weighs 70 kg, then adding two batteries increases the total weight of the eWAW from 103 to 109 kg — a weight gain of 6 %. If we apply the same trick to the Nissan Leaf (where three times as many batteries take the place of the rear seat and the trunk), total weight increases from 1,582 kg (the driver of 70 kg included) to 2,022 kg — a weight gain of 30 %.

Another way to increase the range of an electric vehicle is swapping batteries or fast-charging them. These options are available for both electric cars and velomobiles, but developing a charging infrastructure for electric cars is a daunting task, while doing so for electric velomobiles is easy. The battery of the eWAW not only needs 80 times less energy than the battery of a Nissan Leaf (which makes fast-charging a real option), it also weighs 73 times less (which makes swapping batteries a very low-tech operation). While we do have faster vehicles for long distances that are equally sustainable (like trains and trolleybusses, the velomobile offers an alternative for those who prefer a personal means of transportation, or for those who prefer an active lifestyle.

When the battery of an electric velomobile drains, the velomobilist can still pedal home — at speeds above those of a bicycle. The driver of the electric car can’t do that, because his contraption is too heavy. One Nissan Leaf weighs as much as 46 eWAW’s. Most of the energy used by an electric car (and by a car with combustion engine), is used to move the vehicle itself, not the driver — the Nissan Leaf is 21 times heavier than its driver. In the case of the eWAW, this relation is reversed: the driver weighs two to three times more than the vehicle.

Fast and Smooth Traffic

The eWAW makes cycling a fast and comfortable option for longer distances. At a cruising speed of 50 km/h (31 mph), the average commute in the USA (19.5 km or 12 miles) would take 23.4 minutes. This compares very favourably with the car, for which the average commute time is 22.8 minutes (source). In the Netherlands, where road traffic is heavy, the electric velomobile is potentially faster than a car. The velomobile could cover the average commute of 22 km (13.7 miles) in 26.4 minutes, while it takes 28 minutes by car (source).

WAW karen feyen

Of course, a cruising speed of 50 km/h does not mean that a velomobilistcan reach an average speed of 50 km/h during the whole trip. If cars could maintain their maximum cruising speed during the commute, they would be much faster than velomobiles. In reality, however, they can’t do that because of speed limits, traffic lights and traffic jams.

Velomobiles could suffer similar delays, but there is an important difference: because a velomobile occupies much less space than a car (one car needs as much space as four velomobiles), free-flowing traffic is a much more realistic option for velomobiles. The capacity of our roads would at least quadruple if we switched from cars to velomobiles. Furthermore, the cruising speed of a velomobile does not exceed most speed limits.

Pimp up your Velomobile

Over and above this, it is easy to equip a velomobile with a more powerful motor and higher gears, allowing for much higher cruising speeds. It would lose efficiency and range, but, since an eWAW is 80 times more efficient than an electric car, there is quite a bit of room for pimping up a velomobile. We’ll discuss these possibilities, as well as the legal obstacles for electric velomobiles, in the second part of this article.

Wind explorer

Picture: the Windexplorer, a fully electric vehicle based on the DuoQuest velomobile.

You would think that a vehicle that is 80 times more efficient than an electric car, and offers a similar speed and range, would be encouraged by governments worldwide. However, the opposite is true.

The biggest obstacle for manufacturers and drivers of electric velomobiles is legislation. Many countries have effectively outlawed electric velomobiles by limiting the speed, power output and use of the electric motor.

The main problem is that the motor can assist the driver only up to a certain speed: 25 km/h (15.5 mph) in most European countries, and 32 km/h (20 mph) in most American and Canadian states. With regards to the electric bicycle, limiting the electric assistance to 25 or 32 km/h presents no difficulties, because few bicyclists reach higher cruising speeds. Therefore, the electric motor can continuously assist the cyclist, increasing speed or reducing effort. However, velomobilists with an average or good fitness reach cruising speeds of 35 to 50 km/h. This means that, at worst, the electric motor can only assist the driver until it reaches to half the cruising speed.

Above that speed, the electric motor and battery become a disadvantage rather than a help, because the driver has to provide more power during acceleration in order to propel the additional weight to cruising speed. Once at cruising speed, the motor is of no use either. Only during climbing, when the velomobile will have difficulty reaching speeds above 25 km/h, is the electric assistance advantageous within the limits of the law.

Illegal Vehicle

Apart from speed limitation, legislation introduces two additional barriers for electrically-assisted cycles (a legal category that includes velomobiles). Firstly, motor output is limited, to 250 watts in most European countries, to 500 watts in most Canadian states, and to 750 watts in most American states. Secondly, the motor is required to stop working whenever the velomobilist stops pedalling. Completely electric driving is not allowed, even if it is alternated with pedalling.

In some countries and US states, electric velomobiles can be registered as a moped or motorcycle, which makes it possible to drive them legally. However, this introduces different obstacles. The driver needs to be of a minimum age and attain a license, while the vehicle requires insurance and a tag or license plate. It would also be subjected to an annual inspection. Most importantly, electric velomobiles registered as mopeds or motorcycles are regulated as motor vehicles, rather than as consumer products, which introduces additional safety requirements and rigorous testing before they are allowed on the market. Meeting these criteria is a costly affair for the producers of velomobiles, which are often very small companies.

In Belgium, as in most European countries, electric velomobiles cannot be homologated as a moped or motorcycle. Consequently, the eWAW that I tested was not a legal vehicle. It violated two of three regulations: it had the sensor that shuts off the motor at speeds above 25 km/h removed, and it had a motor that can be operated according to the will of the rider, which allows for driving without pedalling.

Legal Limbo

Laws dealing with electrically-assisted cycles can vary extremely, depending on the country, state, province or even municipality. In Germany, cycles with an electric assistance of up to 250 watts and 25 km/h are considered bicycles, while cycles with an electric assistance of up to 500 watts and 45 km/h can be registered as mopeds. In Switzerland, cycles with an electric assistance of up to 250 watts and 25 km/h are considered mopeds, while cycles with an electric assistance of up to 1,000 watts can be registered as a motorcycle, in which case no speed limitation exists at all. In Austria, cycles can have an electric assistance of up to 600 watts and 45 km/h while still being considered as a bicycle.

Windexplorer 5


In the USA, limits for maximum motor power vary from 750 to 5,000 watt, depending on the state. In some states, cycles with an electric assistance of up to speeds of 30, 40 or even 60 mph (48, 64 and 94 km/h) are considered bicycles. In other states, all cycles with electric assistance are regulated as mopeds, regardless of motor power and speed. Some states have no laws and others outlaw electric cycles altogether. To make things more complicated, several countries and states also regulate things like seat height, braking distance, type of transmission, the weight of the vehicle, the diameter of the wheels or the number of wheels (some allow two and three wheels but not four wheels, others allow two or four wheels but not three wheels).

Road regulations are even more confusing, because they are often complicated by provincial and municipal restrictions. Generally, if electric velomobiles are registered as a bicycle, they should use bike lanes and bike paths whenever possible, while velomobiles registered as mopeds or motorcycles are obliged to share the road with cars. However, there are many exceptions, effectively creating a legal limbo.

This is in stark contrast with the laws regulating engine power and speed for cars, which are the same all over the world. In particular, both engine output and maximum speed are left completely free. This leads to the very strange fact that a car, for instance a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S with a weight of 2,355 kg, an engine of 382,000 watts and a top speed of 270 km/h can be driven anywhere on Earth, while an electric velomobile with a weight of 35 kg, a motor of 250 watts and an electric assistance of up to 50 km/h is illegal in most countries. A consequent legislation would either limit the motor output and speed of both cars and velomobiles, or leave motor output and vehicle speed unregulated in both cases, combined with maximum road speeds and speed checks. 

Towards a New Class of Vehicles?

The complex legal situation in which the velomobile finds itself, is telling. The velomobile, and especially the velomobile with electric assistance, calls into question the validity of the existing vehicle categories. The velomobile can be described as an extremely fast and comfortable cycle, as well as a particularly efficient automobile. It is difficult to categorize, and this makes the technology so interesting. The mobility debate is characterised by an ideological divide between motorised and non-motorised options: one is either pro-automobile, or pro-bicycle. The electric velomobile shows that there is a middle-ground, offering hope that both camps might one day unite. 

Linear evolutionary organisation of personal transportation

In Bicycles Don’t Evolve: Velomobiles and the Modelling of Transport Technologies, Peter Cox and Frederik Van De Walle (the latter designed the WAW) advocate the velomobile as a new, separate class of vehicles. They argue that the legal uncertainty surrounding the velomobile is a consequence of a pseudo-Darwinist view on the development of vehicle technology (and technology in general). According to this mental model, the bicycle ‘evolved’ during the early 20th century into the faster motorcycle and next into the faster and more comfortable automobile, implying a logically ordered series of improvements which reflects an inevitable progress and an increasing rationality.

Any form of transport ‘further back’ along the evolutionary narrative is rendered lesser, anachronistic and outmoded by its superior, more evolved ‘offspring’. This is why, when we are discussing sustainable transportation options for the future, we invariably start from the automobile — witness the consecutive hypes on hydrogen cars, bio-fuelled cars, compressed-air cars, and electric cars. Cycles, on the other hand, are (in most western countries) considered to be vehicles driven in leisure time, or for people who cannot afford a car.

The (electric) velomobile does not fit in this mental model, and therefore it proves its invalidity. The speed of the electric velomobile approaches the speed of a motorcycle or automobile, while the ergonomic seating position and the protective bodywork can make it almost as comfortable as a car. Because the electric velomobile achieves all this with just a fraction of the energy used by a motorcycle or car, it can hardly be considered an obsolete or old-fashioned alternative. Moreover, the electric velomobile is as expensive to buy as a (very) small car (the eWAW costs 7,790 Euro), while we assume that cycles cost much less than cars.

Non evolinear organisation of personal transport

Cox and Van De Walle propose an alternative conceptual framework, a matrix consisting of four categories of vehicles (see the diagram above): bicycle, motorcycle, velomobile and automobile. The difference between bicycle and motorcycle is also the difference between velomobile and automobile: the addition or omittance of a motor. The difference between motorcycle and automobile is also the difference between bicycle and velomobile: from an open to a closed form, that is, from riding ‘on’ to riding ‘in’. The limits of the four categories are not strict: a partial or removable bodywork blurs the morphological distinction (examples are the Hase Klimax and the BMW C1), while the use of an auxiliary motor for assistance blurs the motorisation distinction (as in electric bicycles and electric velomobiles).

Thus, Cox and Van De Walle present an overview of the different types of individual transport technologies — and their hybrids — without the implicit hierarchy of values in what they call the ‘evolinear model’. In this mental framework, the automobile dominates. By introducing the velomobile as a fourth category, this is no longer the case. However, in the new mental framework, the automobile is not considered an enemy. Electric velomobiles, being a hybrid between a velomobile and an automobile, can be designed in many different ways. The eWAW comes very close to the unassisted velomobile. But electric velomobiles that come closer to automobiles are a possibility, too.

Pimp up your Velomobile

There are roughly five variations in the design of an electric velomobile. In the first, the input of the driver is larger than that of the electric motor. This is the class of vehicles that the eWAW belongs to, if used properly. Such a vehicle would adhere to the legal description of an electrically-assisted cycle in the European Union, with the exception that the speed limit of the electric assistance is twice as high (50 instead of 25 km/h) to reflect the higher cruising speed of a velomobile. In the second configuration, the input of the driver is equal to the input of the motor. The only difference from the first configuration is that the motor also assists the driver at cruising speed, up to a limit of 45 or 50 km/h. This is the class of vehicles that the eWAW belongs to, the way I drove it.

Wind explorer 2


In the third configuration, the input of the electric motor is larger than the input of the driver. A more powerful motor would result in a faster acceleration and a higher climbing speed (and thus in a higher average speed), but not in a higher top speed because the electric assistance is shut off at 45 to 50 km/h. It would further reduce the effort needed to maintain cruising speed (if the driver is fit), or make it even easier for people with an average fitness level to reach higher cruising speeds.

This type of velomobile exists in Germany, where more powerful motors and higher speeds are allowed if the vehicle is registered as a moped. Examples are the 500 watt Alleweder 4 and the 600 watt Alleweder 6, the 750 watt Aerorider Sport, and the 500 watt Hase Klimax 5K (not a real velomobile but a recumbent with a foldable bodywork, which can "zip off from the stoplight faster than some roadsters"). The Aerorider puts the additional motor power to use in another way:  it has a more luxurious interior design, resembling that of a car, which adds comfort but also weight (the vehicle weighs 55 kg).

The fourth possibility is to do away with the speed limitation altogether. This can be applied to all configurations described above. The motor would assist the driver automatically to whatever possible speed. The top speed will depend on the output of both the motor and the driver. These vehicles are not on the market, but it is possible to adapt one of the above described velomobiles by removing the sensor that shuts off the motor at whatever maximum speed lawmakers have decided, and by mounting higher gears. There is no mechanical limit to the speeds that this type of velomobile could achieve. There is no reason why a velomobile can’t go as fast as 120 km/h (75 mph). In fact, the speed record for an unassisted velomobile stands at more than 130 km/h (80 mph).

Trading efficiency and range for speed or comfort

In the fifth and last configuration we do away with the automatic activation of the motor, which is now standard in all electric cycles. In this case, the driver decides when the motor operates. This can be applied to all configurations, and the effect is always the same: the motor can also be operated when the driver is not pedalling at all. The adapted eWAW that I drove could be driven in this way for about 60 km at a speed of about 30 km/h — still fast enough to overtake all but the speediest cyclists. This is not a particularly exciting but nevertheless very pleasant way of travelling — and the bodywork makes sure that nobody knows you’re not pedalling.

Wind explorer 3


The possible configurations for electric velomobiles include electrically-assisted cycles, driver-assisted motorcycles, and fully motorised vehicles. With every step, efficiency and range is traded for speed or comfort. A more powerful motor will demand more of the battery. More batteries can be added to make up for the decreased range, but this will increase weight and thus decrease efficiency. However, because the eWAW is 80 times more efficient than an electric car, there is quite some room for pimping up a velomobile. The Alleweders with more powerful motors can be bought in Germany with batteries of 1,664 Wh — that’s still 14 times more efficient than the Nissan Leaf, for a similar range.

Even a fully electric velomobile speeding at 100 km/h and packed with batteries would still be more efficient than a Nissan Leaf. We have argued repeatedly that automobiles should become lighter and slower in order to become more efficient, but of course the same results could be obtained by making cycles faster and heavier.

Kris De Decker (edited by Deva Lee)

Kris De Decker

  • Kris De Decker is the creator and author of "Low-tech Magazine", a blog that is published in English, Dutch and Spanish. Low-tech Magazine refuses to assume that every problem has a high-tech solution. (Since 2007).
  • Creator and author of "No Tech Magazine". Short posts related to the same topics. In English. (Since 2009).
  • Articles and columns for "Energy Bulletin" (English) (now Resilience.org), "The Oil Drum" (English), "Scilogs" (Dutch), "nrc.next" (Dutch), "EOS" (Dutch), "Scientific American" (Dutch), "De Koevoet" (Dutch) and "Down To Earth" (Dutch). (Since 2009).
  • Co-author of the book "Energie in 2030" ("Energy in 2030"), a project of the "Rathenau Instituut", an organisation that advises the Dutch government on challenges related to science and technology. (2009 - 2011).
  • Freelance journalist for (among others) "Knack", "De Tijd" and "De Standaard", all newspapers and magazines in Belgium. In-depth articles on science, technology, energy and environment. Dutch language. (1996 - 2007). 

Tags: sustainable transport, Transport