Along the Rhine in the Armadillo, a solar and muscle powered quadricycle/cargo bike/velomobile
This is the summing up of five fantastic days along the Rhine, some days more fantastic than others. I, Johan Erlandsson, the CEO of Velove, have ridden an Armadillo two-seater with 250 watt electric assist and a solar panel on the roof to charge the batteries. I started from Nijmegen, Holland where we participated in the International Cargo Bike Festival, and ended in Germersheim, Germany, where we are participating at the Spezi, Special Bikes Show. The distance ridden was around 500 km.
The reasons for going on this mini adventure were many:
- Because I love going on small cycle adventures. The feeling of freedom is huge and you really enjoy both nature, the places and the people you meet. And in the evening, when the target distance of today has been reached, the feeling of contentment is high and you are feeling tired in a good way from the exercise.
- To confirm the qualities of the Armadillo basic platform as a touring cycle
- To test the pre-series body to find improvement areas
- To get some attention for the Armadillo and similar types of vehicles
- To get some exercise for my unfit body
- To inspire others to go on local cycle adventures (and maybe replace a high carbon, long-haul flight trip)
The Armadillo two-seater is today primarily targeted for cities and organisations with a fleet of cars, where a portion of trips are known to be short and there is a cycle infrastructure available. In these cases, some of the cars can be replaced with Armadillos or similar vehicles. Monthly cost would drop and a lot of other benefits would be achieved: getting faster to destinations while not being stuck in traffic, easier parking closer to destination, reduced energy (10x) and resource (15x) use compared to electric cars, reduced use of space, eliminated noise and emissions to air, reduced risk of serious accidents and health benefits for employees usually working at a desk. There are also marketing and inspirational effects of riding a resource and energy efficient vehicle like this.
Ten pre-series Armadillos, half two-seaters, half with cargo container, all with weather protection, are right now being produced to be tested in a project about shared electromobility in Gothenburg, “Elmob”. There are also electric buses, electric carpools, electric bike pools and electric taxis in the project.
Two days out of five have shown exceptionally beautiful scenery. High mountains on the sides of the Rhine packed with balls of trees in different colours, spectacular castles en masse and small, beautiful villages. It is hard to catch it on photo and I really didn’t try to, but I think you get an idea in this video (put it on full screen!):
Koblenz made a great impression on me as I passed through, would really like to go back there and explore for a few days! The Rhine meets the Mosel, dramatic surroundings, nice atmosphere, little traffic in the city center, lots of people out walking, new cable car across the Rhine and lots of old beautiful buildings.
I guess the other days were nice too, but in comparison to the stretch between Cologne and Bingen, they were pretty plain.
People and horses
As always, going on a cycling adventure will mean that you will meet people. Especially when you travel with some special vehicle. Here is some of them. Of course, Hartmut is the winner in all categories here, as seen in the video above.
The day with my friend and solar charging consultant Dan-Eric was a very nice one, here he shows you the beautiful but sneaky elf Lorelei. You will have to imagine because she is on the other side of the Rhine.
A special thanks go to the team that got me and the Armadillo properly prepared just before I left Nijmegen: Jos, Teun, and Daniel!
And my Nijmegen hosts Simone and Bert who made sure I got good sleep and gave me a good start by arranging with a light meal I could bring.
At Spezi, the meeting with 81-year-old Carl-Georg Rasmussen was a big thing for me.
Carl-Georg is a pioneer in velomobiles and the father of the Leitra velomobile. He drew hundreds of people to his presentation on Spezi about practical velomobiles, where the Armadillo with its capability to carry an adult passenger was mentioned.
Turned out he had already ridden the Armadillo, at the Copenhagen Bike Show. And I felt we got approval for the Armadillo as being a practical velomobile, even if we maybe ourselves rather use “cargo quadricycle” to emphasize the cargo capacity.
My bragging right for this 500 km trip on five days, with electric assist, diminished substantially when it turned out that he rode in a Leitra to Germersheim, from Copenhagen. That’s 1000 km without e-assist… He said that he might consider e-assist when he turns 90!
Thank you all members of the “Cykla med lastcykel” facebook group. It felt great with support along the way and nice to communicate along the way!
Communicating with the loved ones at home is emotional when you are away, especially the Skype video chat with the 1,5 year old, kissing the smartphone display…
I have also seen and met a lot of horses, and the two I met just after Rheinberg made a special impression on me. I just wanted to hang out with them, bring them with me on my journey!
“What are we looking at here?”
“Oh, the open road”
“May I follow?”
Of course, you also get to see a lot of other domestic animals and wildlife when riding in the countryside but didn’t take the time to photograph them all.
We are already selling the Armadillo platform as a logistics vehicle, so it has been thoroughly tested and verified earlier, but not as a touring cycle. But also here it worked flawlessly. The seat is as comfy as can be, the suspension works as it should, and the stability is high enough to allow for high speed, last-second path choices when following GPS. The Bafang Max 250 watt electric assist is high torque (80 Nm) which meant good pulling strength when accelerating from a standstill, and also made it really easy to maintain a cruising speed of 25 km/h, which means that you are overtaking 95 % of other cyclists.
Also, the solar panel that we started testing (thank you Göteborg Energi!) on this trip worked better than we could hope for. On the best day, it provided for about 60 km of full assist riding. With some more optimisation I think it will be possible to reach 80 km on sunny days, and 40 km och cloudy.
A small improvement area was also found: The battery is mounted in a low center of gravity, out of the way position. That is good, but it also makes it a bit difficult to reach, which becomes a little nuisance when changing the battery.
The body of the Armadillo is at pre-series stage, which means that it can be used, but there are still things that need development before it is ready for serial production:
- A hard windscreen instead of a soft is probably needed in the end, for visibility reasons both in good weather and in rain, so a proper wiper can be used.
- The fabric body is a little sloppy at some places. We are going to try a few simple things to get it better stretched.
- The hood is moving around a bit and needs to be secured when riding.
- The noise levels increase a lot when you sit enclosed. It is mostly the transmission that makes noise, we will have to see what can be done to reduce it.
- The front hood on this particular Armadillo came out wrong on the very little time we had to build it before we left for Nijmegen. It is pointing upwards instead of following the lines of the rest of the body. This we will need to check and correct the coming days. This also lead to that the boom to the pedals needed to be extended, making it longer, harder to reach the pedals for short persons and increasing the risk of hitting the ground with the front boom at speed bumps.
Even if the Armadillo is not as aerodynamic as a hard shell, compact velomobile, it still has a tapered body which seems to help. One day I was doing 25 km/h as usual when I discovered by watching flags that I had headwind! If the aerodynamics would have been really bad, the speed would have dropped, even with an electric assist.
I didn’t have a real plan for where to stay, and I brought a tent. But with a booking app (booking.com in this case) it was so easy to find a good place to stay that I stayed at hotels the whole trip. All hotels had safe parking facilities, which was really nice with a vehicle like this.
Prices ranged from 40 to 90 Euro a night.
I was intending to follow the official cycle route Eurovelo 15. The website should, however, be seen as marketing rather than offering so e practical help. There is very little help on navigation for example. No detailed maps and no information about which signs to expect. So I relied on Google maps instead. It meant that I didn’t always follow the Eurovelo 15, but the most suitable/fastest way. It worked really good. Somehow Google knows the best ways and recalculates quickly if I missed an exit or decided to go on another road than Google suggested. Of course, this uses a lot of battery in the phone, so I used a 10 000 mAh backup battery. We can also install a USB outlet powered by the e-assist battery, but there was not time enough to do it before I left. The last days I rode with the phone mounted on the same mount the e-asssist control is mounted on.
I got good exercise on the trip. It is a 250 watt motor with a force sensor and assist cutoff between 25 and 27,5 km/h. So what happens is that you end up somewhere on that cutoff curve. My guess is that on average, I was doing 25,5 km/h, putting in 50 watts and the motor 200 watts. I don't sound much with 50 watts, but when you do it for many hours it is still good exercise. Would be nice to be able to track this in some way next time! I was afraid I would get knee pains, but I felt very little of that, only after the day with Dan-Eric when he was pushing for more speed, is used to going faster than 25 km/h as the very strong cyclist he is. On stretches on more than two hours I did feel some numbness in the butt, so maybe some extra seat padding would be nice when going long distance touring. Apart from that, there were no pains and numbnesses, just some leg muscle soreness the first day, but that is definitely expected and also positive.
Inspiration along the way
During the trip I have been following two inspiring, related projects:
- The enormous medial impact of the PodRide crowdsourcing campaign
- The final stage of the SolarImpulse round the world flight on solar power only
Detailed day to day reports
Final summing up
This was a successful and rewarding trip! If I would go here again, I would concentrate on the most beautiful parts of the stretch. But the next adventure will be somewhere else… Probably both starting and stopping in Gothenburg, as this Armadillo now will be available there for me to use. Maybe Jonsered (20 km) for a cup of coffee and a kanelbulle? Or Alingsås (60 km), the “Fika capital of Sweden”? Or Kungsbacka (25 km), where my friend Ola lives? I am not a car owner, and these distances are (for me at least) too long to travel comfortably on a bicycle, and public transit is not always that fast with the changes you need to. So looking forward to the point-to-point freedom of mobility I will get with the Armadillo two-seater!