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Transportation

Electric Velomobiles: Urban Transportation For the Future, Available Now 201

Posted by timothy
from the let's-go-for-a-spin dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Low-Tech Magazine: "Both 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. A quarter of the existent wind turbines in the U.S. would suffice to power as many electric velomobiles as there are Americans." One thing I wish was included in the article — worth reading for the photos alone! — is a chart with prices and worldwide availability for more of the vehicles mentioned. They do mention, though, that the eWAW ("the Ferrari of the velomobiles") costs 7790 Euro.
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Electric Velomobiles: Urban Transportation For the Future, Available Now

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  • Sorry, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PapayaSF (721268) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @01:05AM (#41870273) Journal

    There's absolutely zero chance that anything like this is going to be more than a rare oddity in the US. This is only suited to young, single, in-shape people, almost all male, who don't mind getting exercise on their way to work or a date, and never need a vehicle that holds more than a bag of groceries, much less another person (or two or three). In fact, is there even room for one bag of groceries? Oh, and they are all daredevilish enough to not be worried about stiff winds tipping them over or all the trucks and SUVs that loom over them. So we're talking about an infinitesimal sliver of the population.

    It also needs to be locked down because any two guys could just carry one away, but it's too big for existing bike racks, and many standard car parking places don't have anything to lock to. I predict these will be as popular as the Sinclair C-5 [wikipedia.org].

  • by tftp (111690) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @03:54AM (#41870853) Homepage

    Mirrors are the old and crappy fix;

    Yes, they are pretty bad. I used to have a bicycle with a mirror, and I rarely could see anything in that mirror because it vibrated too much.

    a wide-angle backup cam under the seat and an LCD on the bars is better.

    You need to use an LCD that works at full sunlight and in pitch black. I think there are a few technologies that are promising, but so far what we have is inadequate. I have an LCD monitor in my car, and it is not fun to look at when it's bright outside - even though it has an excellent backlight. Oh, power-wise it has to be very efficient on a bike.

    Look at a motorcycle -- they can take imperfect roads at rather higher speeds with 6" clearance.

    I used to own a scooter with a pretty low clearance; it was only fit for city streets - and watch for those potholes! Racing motorbikes are designed for racetracks. A dirt bike will take you anywhere.

    to let the poor bloke who can go 20 miles at 10mph do 40 miles at 20mph?

    It remains to be seen if electric assist has any effect in this thing. TFA says that two vehicles were tested, one with electric motor and another without, and they were performing identically.

    Think about it this way also. TFA provides calculations of the efficiency of the vehicle. 100W from the driver + 250W from the motor seem to be a great idea. But it all depends on the weight of the electric powertrain. A skinny rider on an unpowered bike will be far faster than the same skinny rider who carries the fiberglass shell, the battery and the motor in addition to the bike's parts. If the rider's weight is 300 lbs then perhaps the battery's weight is not that critical; but riders with those characteristics prefer Harleys :-)

    Finally, TFA clearly spells it out: "The electric motor is intended to be used for acceleration only (and for climbing hills)." This is counter to the theory that a casual rider can use the motor instead of pedaling. The battery (288Wh) would be good for more than 2 hours, isn't it so? But for some reason this is not the mode that they tested. Perhaps this vehicle lacks the transmission (electric or mechanical) that would be required to handle the full range of torque? But whenever you are NOT using the electric assist you are hauling all that extra weight for naught. That would be a big loss in overall efficiency. Prius, for example, is using battery power whenever it is not charging the battery; Toyota's designers understood well that you must use the battery, otherwise you'd be better off losing it.

  • Re:one problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FishTankX (1539069) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @05:58AM (#41871259)

    Yeah. Many people have different transportation needs in Japan. I live in a compact city where my farthest commute is 7KM each way. So for me, a road bike works perfectly. Paid about 5 man for it, and I can make the commute out there in about 25 minutes. This works for me because i've essentially (with repairs) paid a little over 3 man a year i've had it, over 3 years. So it's been a good investment versus getting a kei car (20 man), driving school (no license, so 30 man), 3 years of insurance (30 man), shaken (10 man), and gas (my odo says i've gone 4k on my bike, so let's just say that would be probably about 6 man) . So i've saved about 10 grand.

    But if I lived in a town where my farthest commute was more like 40km, cycling would be impractical. So i'd have to go that route. Plenty of people live in the burbs and commute in, for them a kei car is economical. That's their living situation.

    However, where the Velo really comes in handy is when you're commute is like 20km, because a Velo can easily maintain 50kph with a fit cyclist, doesn't mind rain, and etc. If you're commuting 40km round trip, your kei would be eating 3/4 of gas a day. 5 days a week 45 weeks a year that's 8 man a year just for gas. You tack on supplemental insurance (10 man a year) and you're shaken (10 man every 2 years, so let's just say 5 man). So you're looking at a yearly running cost of of 23 man. At those prices, that 8000 euro velo will pay for itself in 4 years. And if you're spending say, half an hour in the gym per day to stay fit, you can shift that half an hour in the gym to your hour of cycling. Considering that, the times would equalize.

    So there are many different angles you can work on this. Some people might pick the Velo. I know I would, for fitness. The same reason why I haven't bought a car, only having a bicycle forces me to cycle everywhere and has helped me loose 50 pounds.

  • Re:one problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by siddesu (698447) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @07:35AM (#41871513)

    Unlike a bicycle, you'll need a parking spot for this in Japan. Also, I am not quite sure what kind of treatment you will get in terms of license requirements from the government. I'm afraid this thing will be treated more like a scooter than like a bicycle on the account of speed and size. As for "doesn't mind rain", well, my tricycle disagrees, it does mind rain a bit. You can't get in and out the same way you do form a car.

    So, yeah, for a niche market it probably makes sense, but for most people that need transportation and not a toy it doesn't look like a good choice.

    But maybe we'll see some interesting development as the genre matures.

  • Re:Cycle tracks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @09:17AM (#41871795)

    With the type of bike talked about in the article, you can rule out rain and sweat as a show stopper, and then you're only facing blood when you have serious accidents.

    It's not a panacea, amongst other reasons due to some of the issues raised in the article, but all too many people seem to think it is impossible to ride a bike to and from work on a daily basis (I'm not saying you're one of them).

    This is in stark contrast with what you see in large European cities like Copenhagen, where 35% of all workers and students [www.kk.dk] use a bicycle for their commute. That's a city where the municipality alone has half a million people, and what most people would consider the urban area has another 700,000 inhabitants.

    Is it a panacea? No. But I wouldn't mind seeing what'd happen in Copenhagen, if the eWAW and similar bicycles were legal to use and affordable in Denmark. I'm pretty sure we would see a lot more bike riders.

    It obviously won't replace everything - goods still need to be transported, not everyone wants to ride a bike (even if they don't have to provide any power themselves) etc.

    It's a relatively small area, and since the eWAW seems to be capable of about 60 km unassisted at 30 km/h with a small battery (I'm guessing 500 Wh), this would rival make a lot of car commutes once you take rush hour into consideration, and with commutes about 30 km or less, we're not looking at close to two million inhabitants.

    With a 500 Wh battery, you'd need 1,000 MWh to charge the batteries needed for two million bikes. Let's call it 1200 MWh by including some inefficiencies in transmission and charging. And let's assume that on average they need to be charged in 4 hours.

    That requires 300 MW in production capacity, or to put it into perspective, roughly the same energy as put out by 8,000 cars using 50 HP. 300 MW is less than 8% of the wind power capacity in Denmark as of 2011 [windpower.org]. And as someone pointed out, charging a 500 Wh battery can be done with a relatively small solar panel. And while it'd obviously increase the weight and cost, I wouldn't be surprised, if you could get most of the 250 W, that the motor peaks at, from panels installed on the bike itself.

    Incidentally the cost of charging a 350 Wh battery is less than one Euro (DKK 4.22/kWh or roughly 57 cent/kWh [dongenergy.dk]) at the most expensive prices I can find. It's pretty difficult to find a cheaper way to travel 60 km.

    Sadly these bikes aren't cheap. Not even close to cheap. They seem to cost in the neighbourhood of 5,000 to 10,000 Euros, which puts them fairly close to the cost of a small car, and thus makes them much less viable as a replacement for the car for commuting.

    It's a shame, because it'd make for a serious decrease in local air and noise pollution.

  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @09:23AM (#41871821)

    even some runners can keep up with traffic speed for a while.

    While the Top Gear marathon challenge [youtube.com] was probably staged to a certain extent (the congestion charge fare bit in particular), it does give you a rather realistic view of just how slow cars actually move in city traffic.

    Their Cross London Airport Race [youtube.com] seemed somewhat staged as well (with James May getting lost as usual), but there considering that Richard Hammond beat the others while on a bicycle, that too tells you a lot about traffic speeds in city traffic.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Sunday November 04, 2012 @10:37AM (#41872157)

    Oh my goodness, it's clear from context that he means most people will be living in urban environments. So many pedants....

    Forget runners and bikers, I've beat cross-town traffic in NYC just walking. Conversely, I've taken the cross-town bus and seen the same nanny pushing the same stroller for almost the entire trip.

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