Now that we’re all comfortable these days using newer classifications of vehicles such as e-bikes, e-scooters, EVs, etc., I believe we need to properly expand our vocabulary to include more things like velomobiles, quadracycles, micro EVs and the like, because we’re probably going to see a lot more of them in the near future. Obviously there’s a fair bit of overlap, as an e-bike is also an EV and a micro EV, albeit a small one with pedals, and a velomobile with 4 wheels is also a quadracycle, but having more specific names — and ones easily understood by more people — for these types of vehicles will help to move the movement along.
About 3 years ago, CleanTechnica’s Jesper Berggreen wrote about Norway’s Podbike under the title, “A Bike Or A Car? Meet Podbike!,” and since we’re working to obsessively cover micromobility and micro EV solutions in the same way we do larger electric vehicles, it seems high time to revisit this unique little vehicle. The Podbike Frikar “e-bike” looks like the love child of a go-kart and a pedal-powered sports car — with an electric twist — and at first glance it appears to be a helluva lot of fun.
In the comments for that last article about Podbike, there were a number of fair criticisms of this little electric velomobile, including its poor visibility to automobile drivers, its relatively high cost (at least when compared to a standard vanilla bicycle), and the fact that its four wheels would probably take it from being classified as a bike to being classified as a car (in the US, at least). However, I think the addition of a tall safety flag on the rear would easily increase visibility, the cost isn’t as high as it might seem when compared to what people are paying for new cars these days (especially in light of the fact that it could replace a car for some people), and perhaps as we continue to move in the direction of smaller, lighter, and more efficient mobility solutions, with any luck we may see some newer and more progressive regulations in the US for e-bikes, electric mopeds, and 4-wheeled electric velomobiles.
If you’re interested in learning more about how velomobiles can be an effective part of low carbon transport solutions, founder Per Hassel Sørensen has a 200+ page master’s thesis from 2014 available as a free download: Velomobile: Redefined (PDF)
“Cars cause problems. They cost a fortune to run with their diesel and petrol engines. They produce poisonous emissions and greenhouse gases and consume massive amounts of limited resources. And they make you fat. Compared with cars are bicycles much better, both for you and the environment. Unfortunately, few use them for personal transport. The challenge is how to get more people to use cycles instead of cars. This thesis describes how to construct a human powered vehicle with electric assist that seek to mate comfort and practicality from cars with the low environmental impact and healthy lifestyle from cycling.” – Per Hassel Sørensen
Here’s a quick overview of the history behind the Podbike, as told by its CTO and product developer:
Now that we’ve gotten that part out of the way, let’s get back to the sexy stuff and talk about the latest design for the Stavanger, Norway-based Podbike…
According to the company website, the current specs for the Frikar are:
- Length: 2.3 meters (7.5 feet), width: 84 centimeters (2.75 feet)
- Weight: 90 kilograms (198 lb) empty, maximum weight 200 kilograms (440 lb)
- Room for one adult and optional child seat (up to 6 years/22 kg (48.5 lb))
- 160 liters of storage space behind the seat
- Electric motors in both rear wheels
- No chain and no direct pedal-to-wheel locomotion
- Range: 60-90 kilometers (37-56 miles) per charge, with the option to install multiple battery packs
- Includes front and rear lights and turn signal indicators
- Price: €5000 plus VAT, shipping, and any optional equipment (~$6025)
- Options available: Window wiper, blower, child seat, towbar for a bike trailer, winter tires, and more
- Expected delivery date: 2022
And for those who want to go topless, the canopy is removable (convertible velomobile, anybody?).
“You feel like you are sitting inside a sports car with large windows. Fun fact: It is 50 mm higher than a Lamborghini Miura and 50 mm lower than a Volkswagen XL1.”
Another concern that commenters have brought up about the Podbike Frikar electric velomobile is the potential risk when in an accident, but according to the company, the Podbike is designed with “energy absorbing crush zones, roll-over protection,” and an optional seat belt.
Considering the recent push for autonomous vehicles of all stripes (cars, buses, shuttles, drones, package delivery “bots”), one thing I found interesting on the Podbike website was the mention of how its design is “future-proof” with a driver-less mode:
“In driverless mode, the lightweight Frikar ebike will travel at 6 km/hour, about the same speed as a person walking. Design for an autonomous future and will be part of a new transportation ecosystem.“
Although the vehicle looks like it ought to be capable of breaking speed limits, it’s EU-compliant as an e-bike, so the Podbike is limited in its top electric-assist speed to 25 km/h (15.5 mph), but when it comes to its gravity-assisted runs (going down hills), the company claims its top speed is 60 km/h (37 mph). However, I’d be willing to bet there are some speed freaks out there with monster hills nearby that would be willing to challenge those numbers (also, can we get some adult-level soap box derby-style competitions started for electric velomobiles already?).
According to Podbike, there is no direct drivetrain connection from the rider to the wheels (i.e. a pedal-driven chain driving the vehicle), but instead it uses “a compact generator propelled by pedals provide human power input.” We know that designing in a pedal-based direct drivetrain, à la a conventional velomobile, requires quite a few more components (and space in the vehicle), so it makes sense to not include one, but it does make me wonder what happens when you’re far from home with a flat battery and can’t just pedal home (maybe plan to be out of “fuel” at the top of a really big hill, eh?).
The company has also developed a concept garage for securely parking these e-velomobiles, in which several Podbikes can stand up on end to take up a much smaller physical footprint during the times they aren’t being ridden (driven?), and it includes integrated solar panels for charging them:
Now, the obvious elephant in the room is the severe lack of safe infrastructure and sensible policies for these types of transport solutions, but in places with car-free zones and emissions-free city centers, it seems like a no-brainer to include designated lanes and realistic regulations that include small micro EVs like this. Imagine a whole downtown area blocked off for bikes, e-bikes, and velomobiles, etc. (bicycle highways!), with a full system of traffic rules and lanes, even traffic lights and some sort of enforcement, and designated parking and charging areas, and perhaps a true “sustainable city of the future” can be envisioned.
Learn more about this vehicle at Podbike.com, where you can also reserve your own Frikar e-velomobile with a deposit of €300.