Hoping to discover a green, safe and comfortable way for year round commute along the streets of Toronto, an avid cyclist found a life-changing solution.
“I came across some velomobile models that were being produced in Europe, so I put my order in,” Mickevicius said.
So completely hooked from riding in his first velomobile, Mickevicius established bluevelo inc. in January 2006, with the objective of improving access to velomobiles for Canadians and ultimately contributing to the development of a Canadian velomobile market.
Velomobiles are human powered, handcrafted vehicles that come in several different models. Their three-wheel base gives them a huge stability advantage over their bicycle (both upright and recumbent) counterparts, especially in winter conditions. Some models are built with full cockpits, enclosing the driver from Canada’s brutal weather conditions. They can cost as much or more than some cars, but are powered by one’s legs, not gasoline.
In his first winter, Mickevicius recalls only a handful of days where the weather prevented him from driving around in his new ride. However, because the vehicle’s ground clearance maxes out around 10 centimetres, one still has to hope for some cooperation from the sky.
“Last year, because Toronto got slammed with those (snow) conditions … there was at least a couple week periods where it just wasn’t worth it,” Mickevicius said. “There are obviously some limits to (velomobiles), but there’s not many days when I can’t ride (it).”
For over a century, some form of velomobiles or pedal cars have been designed and built. Mickevicius says they didn’t really come into their own until about 10 to 15 years ago, when advances in technology led to superior frame aerodynamics and light weight materials such as aluminum and carbon fibre.
“That really turns it into a different vehicle because it’s not a wooden structure that you’re pushing around,” Mickevicius said. “So it’s a lot more enjoyable and it’s been getting a resurgence as a result of that.”
Depending on the model and experience of the rider, velomobiles can cruise comfortably at 40 kilometres per hour, although Mickevicius says he has gotten his current model, the Quest, up to 60 km/h.
When riding around the Toronto harbour, Mickevicius inevitably finds himself along the same route as cyclists training for triathlons or time trials, but because of the technological upgrades, he doesn’t get left in their dust.
“These guys are a lot stronger than me, but the aerodynamics just level the playing field,” he said.
In North America, the Human Powered Race America series holds events throughout the year where velomobiles, recumbent and other types of bikes face off in several different competitions, such as one-hour races on a giant eight-km oval or a flat out 200-metre sprint.
Overall, Mickevicius says the feedback on his velomobiles has been positive, although he admits nobody really knows what to make of them as they are still a rare sight for most. In one instance, he recalls a police cruiser with two curious officers stalking him along his route.
“I think they were just trying to figure out how I go,” Mickevicius laughed. “One of my customers in Toronto did get stopped (by police) because they thought he had a motor…”
In another example of just how quickly velomobiles can move, he cites a 2,500-km race that took place in the Netherlands last June, where eight of the top 10 finishers clocked at an average speed just under 50 km/h, finishing in about six hours.
Next year Mickevicius says he will take part in a few races himself, but reiterates that velomobiles are more of a commuting vehicle that help him do his part in protecting the environment.
“That’s one of the reasons why I cycle, aside from the exercise … so that was one of the strong factors for me as well,” Mickevicius said.