As I’m driving to my Dad’s house the butterflies begin to flutter in my stomach. I can’t wait to slip into the cockpit of his Quest velomobile, a shiny yellow human-powered masterpiece built for the single purpose of going very fast. I’ve ridden it a few times before but never with the kind of conditioning required to realize even a hint of its’ potential. Today’s ride will be different though, at least in my mind having two good hard jogs and a couple road rides under my belt, surely I’m good to go this time. I arrive at my parents house and enter the garage code. The door slowly opens to reveal not one, but two magnificent machines, my dad’s Quest and a gorgeous carbon fiber Strada velomobile on loan for testing from my brother at Bluevelo. I’m torn for a moment about jumping in the Strada. Being lighter than the Quest it’s slightly quicker on uphill climbs, and my planned route does have some hills. I decide to go with my gut, today is about going really fast and even if the difference between the top speeds on a straight flat road is only about 1-3 km per hour, the Quest it is.
I stand at the end of the driveway, velo by my side. The main road there has a 50 km speed limit and tons of traffic. I can’t help but smile as people in cars glance over in awe, surprise, or confusion as they notice the Quest and try to process what it is. Okay, focus, I bend down to tighten up my new Louis Garneau cycling shoes, extremely excited about the extra power they will be sure to provide me in their first real ride since I bought them over a year ago. Here we go. I place my hands on each side of the cockpit, step in and slide smoothly down the back of the recumbent seat. The feeling as I lower the steering and control column into my lap and clip into the pedals is magical. The fit and feel is snug and tight, but comfortable though as I’m now part of the velomobile. As I mentioned before, today is all about speed so I pull the Kayak style skirt over the cockpit of the Quest and secure it in place so only my eyes and helmet are exposed through the smallest of openings. The Quest now resembles a long smooth drop of rain falling from the sky, nature’s ultimate design of aerodynamics. Everything is perfect. Time to go.
I roll out onto the bike lane beside the busy road, wait for a clearing and make a quick left onto a road that will take me out of town and into the country. Coming at me is a road cyclist. We exchange a token wave and nod as we pass. The road I’m on is straight with a gentle incline. As I begin to pick up speed, I quickly realize that I’m starting to get that familiar feeling I get each time I hop in the Quest. I know that seasoned velo riders are capable of maintaining speeds in excess of 40 km per hour for very long rides but as I approach 30 km per hour I am already starting to feel the burn about 3 minutes into my ride. Reality kicks in. I’m not only terribly out of shape but the muscles I’m using in this recumbent position are rebelling against being awakened from a deep slumber. Indeed I am a working part of this velomobile, however, the unfortunate realization hits me that I’m the engine of this beast. The sad truth is this Ferrari of velomobiles is equipped with a small 4 cylinder, not the screaming v12 is deserves. My expectations for this ride need to be seriously reconsidered.
Momentarily defeated and hovering around 30 km per hour I reach the bottom of a mild but long ascent that I know will at least bring me some relief when I finally reach the top and begin to descend. Only by chance do I catch a glance of something in my rear view mirror. It would seem the road bike I so briefly and thoughtlessly exchanged pleasantries with earlier has turned around and is about 50 meters back. The perfect storm has rolled in. This of course is not a race, but at the same time the moment I hopped in the Quest I took on a responsibility of sorts to not be passed by road cyclists, no disrespect. I know the relatively heavy Quest compared to a road bike will put me at a disadvantage on the climb but I gear down and dig in none the less. I’m actually surprised at how easily and smoothly the velo transfers my efforts to the pavement and up I go much faster than expected. As I approach the top of the climb I’m more than surprised that my pursuer, is still at my six. Coming over the top I glance in my rear view to see the road cyclist but 5 meters behind me. I keep my burning legs cranking as finally I start my descent and quickly work my way up through the gears. In no time the Quest has become a silent yellow missile flying down the road. At very high speeds the Quest handles beautifully, but in the hands of a relatively inexperienced rider like me, to say the velomobile is extremely responsive would be an understatement. I’m still pedaling hard and by now with a really fast cadence, the steering column in my lap is causing the Quest to twitch sharply left and right like a formula car in traffic. I can hear the wise words of my brother and dad saying “relax, calm your breathing and look far down the road”. The advice is wise indeed and the Quest stops fighting me as I settle in to a comfort zone and we rocket smoothly down the road. Only then do I dare glance down at the speedometer which reads 63kph. The road cyclist only a minute or so later was now at least 200 meters back. I continue for about another 1.5 kms never getting below 50 kph until I reach my turnaround point. As I head back home I can see my road riding friend about half a kilometer away. As we pass, our mutual nod is accompanied by a thumbs up as he acknowledges the awesome speed of this technological marvel. My ride home resembles the ride out as a slow but steady climb is rewarded once again with an incredible high speed descent.
I pull back into my parents driveway both exhausted and exhilarated. What is to be made of these velomobiles? Will they magically propel an out of shape average rider such as myself to record speeds, no. Are they faster than road bikes? With the exception of a mountain stage that starts at the bottom and ends at the top, absolutely. I feel like I should make it clear that I am a big fan of road riding. It is an incredible sport that literally changes the lives of those brave enough to indulge. Most importantly what should be taken from this story is the age of human powered transportation has arrived. These things are fast, comfortable and with the addition of electric assist, practical vehicles for any level of rider. One thing is guaranteed; when you climb out of a velomobile, it will be with a huge smile on your face.