Sunday, December 13, 2015

Velomobile riding Tips

Velomobile riding tips
This week I thought I would share some tips for newer riders and some who may want to address some issues they have when riding.

What to expect.  When riding a velomobile, for the first few weeks, you find yourself with no reference.  It is not behaving like a bike, a car or a trike; this leads to conflicting feelings when riding a velomobile.  A velomobile is less nimble than a bike, it requires a larger turning radius, does not accelerate quite as fast, requires that you pay attention to where all three wheels are located to try to skirt potholes and bumps.  A trike is similar but the speed will surprise you.  Because you are enclosed and low to the ground, you will feel a velomobile is slow compare to a car and the ride is a bit rougher.

Speed:  At first when you are riding a velomobile, you may not feel like you are going fast compared to a bike or trike, I think this is because you may feel you are riding in a car, you do not feel the breeze except on your face but look at the speed indicator, you will probably find you are riding from a few to many km/mph faster than you would be on a bike or trike on the same route. 

One of the biggest surprises I had was approaching an intersection with a stoplight.  On my road bike, I would stop pedaling and the speed would gradually decrease as I approach the intersection and maybe I would have to slightly press on the brakes to come to a complete stop.  In a velomobile, you would be wise to reconsider this strategy.  When you stop pedaling, it will take a few seconds for the speed to start going down and it will not go down quickly, you will have to put the brakes like you would in a car to stop in time.

Unlike bikes and trikes, at times a velomobile can travel at the posted speed or even at motorized vehicle speed, even of mostly flat ground.  This changes your relationship with traffic.  You need to ensure you take the lane so you do not get squeezed off the road by other vehicles on the road.  This completely changes your relationship with other users of the road, something you will need to get used to.

Steering:  The steering of most velomobile can be very sensitive, you need to turn only slightly to make the velomobile move sideways.  The steering requires about 30 degrees to go from neutral to full turn.  This is something you need to get used to because at high speed over steering my, at worse, cause you to lose control.  The sensitive steering can also produce movement Guppying – well I invented the term to describe the movement of the velomobile going slightly left and right as you pedal like a fish (guppy).   Some of that movement comes from mashing the pedals so smooth and round pedaling is important but not the only cause.  One of the best recommendations for those who have tiller steering is to rest your tiller on your body when you ride and hold the tiller very gently.  Gripping the steering will accentuate movement.  As a result, someone may instinctively want to counter-steer and this will create more of an issue that can even lead to the loss of control.  A tight grip on the steering is particularly dangerous going at high speed.  You may not feel safe but holding the tiller with white knuckles while descending at high speed is even worse.  If your velomobile tracks well on a flat surface, let it go down the hill, look far ahead and react slowly to turns , try to avoid quick movements of the tiller.

Turning: when you get to a street corner, ensure that you are not going too fast for the turn, reduce speed if you need to.  If you can don’t stay close to the curb, if traffic permits, take the lane; it will make the turn safer and you will be able to ride faster into the turn.  In sharp corners, it is easy to lift the front wheel on the inside of the turn and can be dangerous.  In addition to reducing the speed, you want to shift your weight to the inside of the turn to shift the weight to the inside wheel.  Just push you shoulder against the velomobile shell; it will help. 

If this does not work and you lift the front wheel, in order not to overturn, you will need to ease the tiller and turn it in the opposite direction and quickly apply the brakes.  This maneuver can be tricky and I suggest you try this in an empty parking lot.  You may also end-up in the incoming lane so be very careful you have to decide buy without this maneuver, you may find yourself in the opposing lane on you side.

Making a 180-degree turn in a velomobile can be tricky because most velomobiles have a large turning radius.  Pick a spot where the road is widest and flat, move completely to the side of the road, ensure that there is no vehicle coming in any direction, when the coast is clear, turn the steering to the maximum and quickly make your turn.  Keep in mind that your turning radius may be bigger than the road so you may have to unclip to push the velomobile backwards or use the wheelchair method if you do not have foot holes and you front wheels are open.  If you cannot perform the turn within the roadbed, you will have to stop and quickly back up.  Keep an eye on traffic at all times.  If you know you cannot quickly make the turn, try to make it to an entrance across the street then when there is no traffic you can back-up into the street or get out of the velomobile and manually move your velomobile in position.  Making a 180 turn can be dangerous so think of your strategy before you start the maneuver.

Road hazards: you will encounter many hazards on the road and you need to know what could be dangerous to you and your velomobile.  In a velomobile your position is close to the ground and in some models, visibility near the front of the velomobile may be restricted in addition, the speed and low position mean that some hazards may be more difficult to spot.  Since all three wheels have their own separate track, you have to be careful that all wheels miss hazards.  To do this you always need to scan the road ahead for potholes, bumps, rock and debris.  You should soon be able to estimate the track of the wheels and aim to miss the small ones or go around larger ones.  

One of the sneakiest issues you may encounter on the road is the slanted road.  Roads often have a slant to evacuate water, most of the times the crown is in the middle of the road but sometimes, only the shoulder is slated.  You have to be careful when riding when the road is slated more than about 15 degrees because this can make the velomobile unstable; you need to move to a flatter part of the road even if it means that you take the lane. 

Water and sand can also be an issue on the road, in a corner they can make the road slippery but an accumulation even in a straight line can also be dangerous because getting one wheel in deep sand or water at high speed may make you slide and lose control.  If you encounter an accumulation of sand or water, slow right down or steer clear of the hazard.

Performance:  You want to take advantage of the performance of your velomobile, you need to understand that you need to adapt.  To help you improve your performance there are a few tools you should consider getting.  The first is a cycling computer with cadence, it will help you better manage your

Cadence: in a velomobile, to get a good performance, you need to learn to spin the cranks.  You should have a cycling computer that measures and displays your cadence.  My cadence is significantly higher in the velomobile than it was on a traditional road bike; I average over 100rpm during my rides.  This high cadence will help with several aspects of your riding. 

In order to be able to spin the cranks safely at high speed you should have clipless pedals where you insert a cleat attached to your shoe into the pedal.  This prevents your foot from slipping on the pedal and hitting the shell and/or injuring yourself.  In addition, you can maintain proper position and enable you to pull on the pedal on the return stroke.  This makes it easier to climb steep hills and generally apply more power on the crank throughout the whole pedal revolution.

Climbing: when you approach a hill you have to determine if you will require to switch to a lower ring to get to the top.  Switch to the lower ring early, changing ring when you are climbing my lead you to drop the chain, You need to maintain a good tempo, at slow speed lets say when starting from a stoplight, you need to determine the right gear to climb.  The gear should be high enough to maximize you speed up the hill but low enough to also reach your ideal cadence for climbing.  When climbing, you should pedal constantly and try to maintain the same tempo; when you feel that it gets too hard to maintain the same cadence, shift down one gear at a time to keep the tempo.  At some point you could reach the lowest gear and you will need to reduce your tempo but you should try to maintain tempo until then.  When the slope gets less pronounced, you should try to keep the same tempo and the same level of effort to start accelerating so you need to shift the gears up one at a time until you get to the top.  If you need to, after you reach the top, you can coast for a few seconds and let your leg rest then continue accelerating until you reach your cruising speed. 

On rolling hills, after you reach the top, continue to shift the gears up all the way to you highest gear, accelerating to maximum speed, until you spin out.  You may be able to climb the next hill without losing much speed.  Do not stop pedaling, just shift down one gear at a time when needed trying to keep the tempo up.  Unless you feel uncomfortable at the speed you are traveling down the hill, you should not brake to reduce your momentum or use the minimum required to get down safely.

Accelerating: a velomobile is heavier than a bike or a trike but it does not mean that you cannot overtake them.  First, just like a on bike, you should be in a gear you will have no trouble pushing; make sure you have selected that gear before you stop. When you start from an intersection, start pedaling and keep up the tempo.  When you approach your maximum cadence, shift up one gear at a time, continue accelerating to maximum cadence then shift up again until you reach your cruising speed.   Bikes and trikes will reach their cruising speed while you will continue accelerating.  During acceleration, you can accelerate in stages. If your legs get tired or otherwise need a little rest, stop pedaling for a few seconds give yourself a rest, velomobiles will coast for a long time then give another push until you reach a higher speed and you need another rest, repeat the process until you reach your cruising speed.  

Equipment: To extract the most performance of your velomobile, some equipment will help the engine develop and work at peak power.  As indicated above, you should have a cycling computer that measures your cadence.  In addition, I recommend that you also have a heart rate monitor to ensure you can gauge your effort.  If you have a bit more funds, a power meter would help you better measure your performance.  To best use this equipment, you should seek information on how to use them best.

I hope these tips will help you ride safely and extract the most performance your velomobile has to offer.  I may provide more tips at a later date.

This week I have no velomobile industry news items to report… industry people must be thinking of the holidays.


  1. The term is tadpoling - wagging the tail like a "baby frog". Hence tadpole and 'frog'(delta) trikes.

    1. Interesting because the term tadpoling may get confused with the type of trike, (tadpole with two front wheels and one at the back) that are the basis of most velomobiles.

    2. Exactly the point - that is WHY they're tadpoles... The name matches shape AND behaviour.

  2. Good advices and good content as usual Luc! For climbing and generally in VM, I try to keep in mind to spin more instead of putting more power on the pedal. Even if we go much faster thant a bike, climbing can be deadly for the knees, so better always try to keep it cool. While climbing, always go cool and take your time, there is no hurry ;)
    As a beginner, it is needed to go soft on the pedal, else the knee will suffer. Anyway, at first we don't have the muscle build up to handle speeds above 50Km/h (I have a fiber glass SL).
    So TL;DR: protect your knees and give yourself the time to build your muscles!

    1. Thank you for the comments Romain, I agree that I should have emphasized the need to protect the knees because velomobiles are relatively heavy, one has to be careful. Another point is that velomobile riders riding with others on bikes should also not feel discouraged of their climbing performance or obliged to push beyond their limits; you will pass them on the way down the hill.

      It takes a while, probably more than 1500 km before you can really start to extract the potential of your velomobile.

    2. Or you decide it scares you and you want to try a different one! ;-)

  3. Any thoughts on parking?
    I always prefer eating places where I can see my velo, I don't like leaving her along for 'interested fingers' or out-of-control children to play with her.
    Any thoughts? The lockable entrance-hole-cover I've heard rumour of sounds an interesting option but I've not seen one in the fleah...

    1. Not exactly riding tips but for parking, I have found that a motorcycle cover over my velomobile makes it virtually disappear. I would not leave it in front of an office building all day but if you park it on the side cover it up and put a lock on the back wheel it provides you some security to go for lunch or to do the groceries unless you live in a high crime rate area. However, I would recommend you remove items of value like a GPS or your smart phone. I even left it like this in the parking lot of several hotels overnight and observed people passing right next to the covered velomobile without even a second look. Is there a possibility someone would observe you parking the velomobile and jump in it after you have gone inside, probably but the probability is relatively low. With the tiller up, the pedals hidden under the shell, most people would not know how to ride it and since it is kind of hidden under a cover, it is also much less probable that someone would try to sit in it.