Where should I start?
What are they? They are vehicles that use pedal power to move, yeah like a bicycle but with three or four wheels, so, tricycles and quadracycles. That sounds good, it sounds even better than Ferdinand Piëch’s VW XL 1 car, by using 1 litre less petrol per 100km.
A Velocar by Charles Mochet
It all began with Charles Mochet, of France, building a four wheel bicycle car for his son, which he and his wife further developed into a series of Velocars. Their company built them between the 30s and 50s. By some versions, small motors were added, making them into Microcars. The Mochet velomobiles held several world cycling records, until the bi-wheeled upright fixated Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) of the time banned this type of cycling from being considered eligible for speed records.
The Strada from Velomobiel.nl
Today most new velomobiles look similar to Messerschmitt Kabinenrollers from the 1950s. They usually are built around recumbent tadpole tricycles (and quadracycles) adding an aerodynamic, weather protecting chassis out of wood, canvas, carbon, metal or fibreglass, retaining the backbone tube chassis of their tricycles or quadracycles.
The Ply car by Kai
Custom built two or four seat velomobiles builders typically opt for ladder frames (see Kai and his PlyCar). I have yet to see anybody dare to build a self-supporting unitized body for a custom built velomobile. Some chassis styles are fully enclosed with windows and a windshield, by others, the driver’s head is out.
I find that the Messerchmitt looks cool, just like BMW Isetta 300 looks fascinating, especially if Steve Urkel is falling out of it, but honestly I would rather have something like a Bugatti Type-51 or a Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow.
Blitzen Benz 1909
How about a generation earlier, the Blitzen Benz, formerly the fastest car in the world, built 1909. It was the first car to reach over 200 km per hour, at the time the fastest vehicle on land, rail, sea or air. Today, it seems a relatively simple and featuring a ladder frame and (for 1909) aerodynamic steel chassis. It had 200 hp petrol motor and held the speed record of 228,1 km/h until 1919.
So this weekend I sat down and fiddled with the idea of a Blitzen Benz Velomobile. This concept is about 58% the size of the original and would be built with a wood frame verses a steel frame. The advantages of building a replica of the Blitzen compared to a Silver Arrow is that the frame is still visible and the body work on the chassis is still quite straightforward without any splines or all too complicated curves. The chassis could be built separately, comparable to building a kayak, with birch layered plywood ribs and birch laths, which are covered with 0,5mm sheet metal. The frame is a classic ladder frame made out of durable hardwood (my proposal Robinieae). The frame concept could serve as a platform for other replicas. I put little thought into suspension, transmission and steering. I can save that for later. Whiles drawing this I did wonder about the weight balance. The original Blitzen has two hundred horsepower motor in the front; a velomobile replica has just two legs there. Most of the weight rests on the rear wheels. I changed some of the geometry by moving the seat forward and the front wheels a bit back. One could also place a battery in the front for the lights and an eventual electrical support unit.
List of velomobile manufactures and their models