Chainless Electric-Assist Velomobile Is a Human-Sized Transport Solution

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©. PodBike

The PodBike quadricycle claims to be human-powered, but not directly, as its pedals turn a generator instead of the wheels.

As is often pointed out, electric cars aren't the be-all, end-all solution for urban transport, and while they certainly have their place in a cleaner transportation revolution, a great many car miles can be replaced with bikes, skateboards, scooters, and the like, which are a much more efficient way of moving one or two humans around than a full-sized electric car. Those human-scale solutions, which can also be electrified to increase their reach and utility, take up far less space, cost much less, and require fewer resources to both build and operate, than even the the lightest of 'conventional' electric cars.

One big advantage of a conventional automobile is its creature comforts, and the ability to keep the elements and pollution out (sort of), as well as more room to carry passengers and parcels. However, enclosed velomobiles that feature an electric-assist drivetrain could be a replacement for the car for many local trips. Although some are more traditional in design, such as the Organic Transit ELF, and feature a rather conventional pedal and gear and chain system, others, such as the Hybrid Module Mobility concept, disconnect the pedals from the drivetrain altogether, and instead use the pedaling motion to "drive" the vehicle while generating a little bit of electricity.

Another forthcoming design, from Norway's Elpedal, follows a similar vein of thought, in that its PodBike features an expandable battery pack system to power the electric assist velomobile for a range of up to 37 miles per charge on single pack, while the rider spins the pedals to 'control' the vehicle and add a bit of pedal-generated electricity back to the battery. Additional battery packs can be added to the PodBike for an extended range, although at a cost of additional weight on the vehicle, which is currently "between 40 to 50 kg" with a single battery installed.

The 4-wheeled vehicle will be wrapped in an aerodynamic canopy, and is limited to a top speed of of 25 kph (16 mph) per electric bike regulations in the EU. It is sized appropriately for its use in bike lanes, can carry a single person and 25 kg of cargo, or one person and a child, and it even includes a rear tow hitch for hauling a trailer. The PodBike also features "Protective zones to absorb and distribute impact energy in case of collision."

"The focus is on practicality, safety, low maintenance and high sustainability. The motivation is the ongoing and escalating climate change primarily caused by excessive human consumption of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. Velomobiles are the best in class personal transport based on energy consumption during production and use. It reduce the emissions from transport by a factor of ten or more compared with electric cars on renewable energy and a factor of at least forty compared with modern cars traditional and hybrid ICE cars. They also diminish noise and air pollution, remove traffic jams and require much less parking space. Electric assist velomobiles will also provide exercise." - PodBike

The exact specs on the PodBike haven't been finalized yet, as it's still in the functional prototype and pilot project phase, so there's no indication of how effective the pedal-powered generator will be in actually charging the battery meaningfully. The pedals may only be included on the vehicle to keep it classified as a 'human-powered vehicle' so as to not have to comply with regulations that cover either full-size cars or small electric vehicles, and even if the rider isn't really charging the battery very efficiently while driving it, having 37 miles per charge could be a useful, and cleaner, option all on its own.

According to the website, the PodBike is available for pre-order, with an expected cost of NOK 50,000 (~US$6150) when it launches in Norway in 2018. Unfortunately, because of difference in regulations (electric pedal-assist bikes are limited to three wheels in the US), it's not expected to be available here anytime soon. Find out more at PodBike.

h/t New Atlas