Velomobile

For car nuts, a walk through the downtown of most major cities is the next best thing to an auto show: it's not unusual to see a twin turbo Supra or a Ferrari, maybe even the odd Lamborghini driving past. But rarely do you see something that looks like an oversized Twinkie pass by silently.

Luckily Michal Kapral, the owner of this Twinkie (also known by its proper name, Velomobile), stopped riding for a few minutes to talk with MSN Autos about his new ride.

What is it? Is it a car, a bike, a hybrid? How is it powered?

Velomobile

Most people think my Velomobile is some sort of small car with a small electric engine or a solar-powered vehicle, but it's not. The Velomobile that I own is an enclosed recumbent bicycle; it has full suspension which gives you a comfortable ride much like your everyday vehicle.

This Velomobile is entirely driver-powered; you can get a small electric motor to assist you on heavy hills, but you need to plug that in every night to recharge the battery. Thankfully I'm in pretty good shape so I don't need one [Laugh].

Gallery: Click to see the complete Velomobile gallery

How did you get into driving the Velomobile?

Well, I was heavily into cycling and the environment, but at the same time I didn't want to lose the comforts of a vehicle. I saw the Velomobile as a perfect option.

Where can you ride it? Can you ride it in the winter?

You can ride it in the winter, but it's always smart to change the tires to knobby ones for extra traction. Then you just need to make sure that the clearance underneath the Velomobile is decent enough to ensure snow doesn't build up underneath it, slowing it down, or stopping it altogether. Unlike a normal bicycle, you are not going to slip or wipe out on ice or slippery turns.

So if you can ride it in the summer and in the winter, does this mean you can you wear a suit while driving it?

Velomobile

Right now [the fall] is the perfect time to ride; although the Velomobile is well ventilated by the "Fred Flintstones," it can still get warm when it is hot outside; similar to your car in the summer, things don't start to cool off until you begin driving.

I do wear normal business pants while driving, because you don't have to worry about chain grease or things that you would normally need to watch out for when riding a bicycle -- like rain, mud ... but you are still exerting energy while powering the Velomobile, so I keep an extra shirt at the office to change into when I arrive, keeping things fresh.

What are the “Fred Flintstones”?

The Velomobile doesn't have a reverse, so when you want to back up, there are two holes cut in the bottom part of the outer shell, allowing you to back up using your feet.

Is it as fast as it looks?

The other day I had it up to 55 km/h, but I really had to work at that. I can easily run at 45 km/h, traffic and space permitting.

A lot of people are probably wondering how it compares to riding public transit or driving your car.

Velomobile

I live 10 kilometres away from work; driving takes me 47 minutes [parking included]. The streetcar takes me 47 minutes, but the streetcars are normally late or delayed in some manner. When I was in really good shape I could run home in 35 minutes, but I would need to shower and change afterwards. Now the Velomobile takes me 20 minutes, plus another 10 minutes answering a mob of questions from people on the street while I lock it up. But still, I get to work in less the time then it would take me to drive in half the effort of running, and I get my exercise for the day, all while enjoying the comforts of a car without the need to pay for gasoline or insurance.

If I already have a bicycle, why would I want a Velomobile?

Besides the obvious weather protection and comfort, one of the best things about the Velomobile was when I stopped for the first time to pick up beer and wine on a Friday evening, I just came out of the LCBO and placed everything behind my seat, I had no worries of having to strapping it down or carrying it on my back with a knapsack.

What are your plans for the Velomobile?

Actually my next purchase will be a full enclosed hood with windshield wipers for when it rains, plus a radio for music when I ride home. This way I will have all creature comforts of a car.

So we know it’s fast, its eco-friendly. How safe is it?

The beauty of the recumbent bicycle is the stance and lower center of gravity. The three wheels keeps you firmly planted on the ground. The shell is just as it sounds, a shell, but it does offer more protection over a bicycle. Being yellow, with working lights and turn signals, you are more visible. The only issue you must watch out for is, when driving in the bicycle lane, not to be driving beside a large SUV; if they decide to turn, I highly doubt that they'd look down and see you.

I’ve noticed that these Velomobile’s can get pretty pricey. Why is that?

Velomobile

Well, first you must look at where the technology is coming from. Most speed-bikes and recumbent bicycles can be very expensive. They use precision parts, special low-weight super-strong alloys. Just to give you an example, my three tires are made from a special carbon fibre rubber blend; this allows for higher speeds, higher pressure, and superior strength. This also means I don't have to worry about getting a flat if I hit a streetcar track or pothole too hard.

Secondly, these Velomobiles are hand-built in small quantities by two guys in the Netherlands; as you may already know, the Netherlands has a huge bike culture. Fortunately they have allowed other businesses to begin manufacturing certain parts for the Velomobile, opening the market for bigger and better things, making way for a new, less expensive, more competitive future.

If you use your the Velomobile as your main means of transportation to and from work, do you own a second vehicle?

My wife and I do own an older Honda Civic if we need to go shopping at Home Depot ... on the weekends, but living in the city, we rarely use it.

So does this mean that you are the only one who drives the Velomobile?

I am the primary driver on the Velomobile, but my wife can also drive it. We just do a quick adjustment to the pedals and she uses a pillow behind her back. I can imagine some people do this little adjustment with their cars anyways, so I really don't see it as being any different.

Since buying the Velomobile, what has to be your funniest story driving it?

Oh, that is an easy one. When I first purchased my Velomobile I was driving to work and I was quickly stopped by the police. The officer runs out of his police car and yells at me, telling me that I cannot drive this vehicle on the road. I got out and explained to him that this was self-powered. I actually showed him what I was talking about. He went back to his squad car and got on to his radio to talk with headquarters. A few minutes passed and he comes out of his vehicle, realizing his mistake, and allowed me leave. The best part was watching people's faces as they passed in their cars, and imagining what they must have been thinking, because there I was pulled over by the cops in what looks like a little yellow bullet.

Link to the Velomobile distributor’s website