A velomobile is the ultimate evolution of the bicycle.
A velomobile, sometimes called a velo or bicycle car, is a human-powered vehicle (HPV) enclosed in a streamlined aerodynamic shell for speed, efficiency, and protection from weather and collisions.
Similar to a recumbent bicycle, most velomobiles are a monocoque design, using the streamlined shell as part of the structure. Most velomobiles have three wheels, but some four.
A velomobile is a unique cycling experience that falls somewhere between riding a bike and driving a car. For this reason, velomobile cyclists often refer to themselves as Velonauts.
You lie back, look at the road ahead, pedal in a reclined/recumbent position at a much faster speed and much lower effort than a traditional bicycle will ever achieve. Given similar rider fitness levels, Even a hideously expensive and wildly uncomfortable time trial bike can’t keep up
What makes a velomobile so fast?
Aerodynamics. As your speed approaches and exceeds 20 MPH, you are no longer pedaling against rolling resistance or weight, you are pedaling against the air.
Most bicycles punch through the air with brute force, leaving aerodynamic chaos in their wake.
Velomobiles glide through the air like an eagle on the wind, leaving lighter bicycles in their rear-view mirrors.
Rainer Pivit in 1990 did a very scientific analysis on this subject. The graph from his work shows that above a very small speed aerodynamic drag plays more or a role than any other function of bicycle operation. The full translated paper can be found here : here and the original german here: Velomobiles take advantage of this, the original Gold Rush was a simple faired recumbent. A velomobile has a significantly lowered aero profile, typically with a CdA below 1%
Are Velomobiles Safe?
Yes. Velomobiles are quite possibly the safest form of cycling that exists (outside of indoors, and thats debatable)
Velomobiles can hold greater speeds with less energy than conventional bicycles. They are highly visible, and most are equipped with a full complement of headlamps, brake lamps, and turn signals.
Moreover they don’t look like a bicycle .. They are the size of a refrigerator, brightly colored. They “feel” like a car to other drivers. Velomobiles get noticed in traffic, can keep up with traffic, and can communicate with traffic. More importantly velomobiles are typically a monocoque closed shell machine – which is like wearing a bicycle helmet that covers your entire body. Skin to ground contact is limited – if at all during an accident .. and the Carbon Fiber shell protects the rider like a modern day cocoon. Can you get hurt? yes, of course. There’s no magic here, but the amount of physical injury should something terrible happen could be greatly reduced.