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Velomobiel Quest Velomobile Review

Judy's 60th birthday present in 2019 was a Quest velomobile. While I've had my own velomobile since 2011, Judy was skeptical for a long time. While she's ridden a two wheel recumbent bicycle since the 1990s she was not sure that she'd like riding a velomobiel or use it enough to really benefit from it. Eventually we decided to buy a second hand machine on the basis that if Judy found she didn't like it then we could re-sell it with very little loss. It turned out that Judy likes the machine very much so it has become permanent and it's ridden regularly. We both prove that velomobiles are not just for the "young and fit", and they're also not just for men.

This one-part review is based on Judy's experience of the bike1.


The review has the following sections:


A velomobile attracts attention
it's not for the shy.

What is a velomobile like ?

When you first ride a velomobile, perhaps the first impression is that it's a bit tricky to get into. There is then the impression of being closed in. They are also noisy compared with standard bicycles and the extra weight of the body makes them initially accelerate quite slowly. These things are all quite unlike a normal bicycle and in the first few seconds they may well make you wonder why anyone would want such a thing.

After a few seconds the impression changes. While the body is closed there is still airflow through the bike, wind against your face and in your hair. The initial slow acceleration is forgotten when you realise that it remains easy to accelerate to higher speeds due to the aerodynamics. At this point you realise that the main sounds that you hear are now due to the wind, so the velomobile is no longer so noisy relative to other bicycles.

With a little more experience you find that the initial difficulty with getting in and out is forgotten. What's more, there are many conveniences, from the trivial such as not having to put your foot down when you stop to the more important such as staying dry when it rains and warm when there is snow and ice and therefore cycling becomming a hassle free 365 day a year experience.

The weatherproof shell encloses both a great deal of luggage as well as reducing maintenance due to the enclosed drive-chain. It also greatly reduces aerodynamic drag, increasing average speeds even against headwinds.

A velomobile is probably the most efficient vehicle in existance. I did some "back of an envelope" calculations about this a little while ago, which indicate that I've produced 3000 kg less CO2 by travelling by mango than I would have done by car, saving over €2000 in petrol cost.

Finally, a velomobile is not for the shy. The Netherlands has more velomobiles per capita than any other nation, but even here there is only approximately one in every 4000 households. You have to be prepared for questions to be asked.


One of the very oldest Mangos from 2002
after more than 150000 km

About the Quest

The design of the Quest originated in 2000. The first Quests produced had 20 inch rear wheels, and a very similar drive-chain was carried through into the smaller Mango velomobile. From 2005 onward a 26 inch rear wheel is used. This simplified the drive chain (one long chain instead of two shorter chains and a mid-drive) and improved rolling resistance and comfort, though at the same time the larger wheel also slightly reduced the amount of space for luggage. Lots of 20 inch wheel Quests are still in use and they can still be maintained. Velomobiles have a long lifespan.

What's to like about the Sinner Mango ?

The Mango is not the absolute fastest velomobile, but it is still one of the fastest and that means it is still very fast. It is quite easily the fastest bicycle that I've ever owned. It may seem odd to some people that a heavy bike, and mine is heavier than average, should also be fast, but the aerodynamic advantages greatly outweigh the increased rolling resistance due to weight. An online calculator lets you compare the speed of different bikes with the same pedalling effort.


Mango ground clearance is adequate
for everyday use

For a velomobile, the Mango is relatively manoeuverable. The turning radius is quoted as 8 m, and that's about right when it's fitted with narrow tyres. Often I run wider tyres which increase the turning radius, but it's never been a problem in practice. Ground clearance varies depending on the tyres fitted. It's adequate for everyday use.

The Mango's width is such that it fits through a standard door. This is extremely helpful compared with larger velomobiles. It is also one of the shortest velomobiles and these two dimensions make it a lot easier to store.

The Mango has suspension on all three wheels, essential in a velomobile. All three of the wheels are the same 20 inch, ETRTO 406 size. Relative to velomobiles with a different size rear wheel this is an advantage as when touring I can carry one spare folding tyre and a couple of inner tubes which will fit on any wheel. With a different rear wheel size it's necessary to carry more spares (which fill the luggage area and add weight). While good tyres and tubes make a difference to performance, useable spares can be found anywhere because the same wheel size is used on BMX and many childrens' bikes.


I made a basket to fit beside
the seat in my Mango. It's
convenient for camera, wallet etc.

Mangos can be fitted with a wide range of different gearing options. These include both hub (Shimano Alfine 8 and 11 speed or Rohloff 14 speed), derailleur (MTB or Road bike), or a combination (Dual Drive). In all cases the chain is completely enclosed, leading to a high degree of reliability. I replaced my first chain after 12000 km.

Even in my Classic bodyshell (the same as a Mango Sport) the luggage capacity is huge. I once measured (by pouring in packing pellets) the capacity up to the seam between bottom and top body shell and behind the seat as 70 l. Measured in the same way, a Mango+ has a capacity of 130 l and a 26 inch rear wheel Quest has a capacity of 65 l2. These are all large capacities. Both Mangos and Quests also have considerably more capacity either side of the seat where it can be reached while you ride, and also in the top rear of the bike behind the headrest. I've gone camping with a tent, sleeping bag, camping mat and enough food and drink for several days all packed within the Mango. No panniers or trailer required. A Mango+ has enough room to take along a lot more than I take when camping.

Everything in the Mango runs on one (or optionally two) NiMH battery. This includes front light(s), rear light, indicators, fog/brake light, USB outlets.

My Mango charges its own batteries from a solar panel mounted on the front body. In summer this is usually enough to keep the battery full. In winter when I use lighting more and the available sunlight is weaker, I still need to charge from the mains. I designed circuitry to safely charge, but never overcharge, the battery.

The dynamo option makes it possible to go on long tours without ever having to charge the battery, using circuitry which I designed as a variation of the solar charger. This causes some drag with an empty battery, but once the battery is full there is nearly no drag. However, I also fitted a "race switch" which let one definitely turn off the dynamo if in a competition, or climbing a hill.

2 - The original 20 inch wheel Quest had considerably more luggage space than the original Mango. However, when the Quest design was modified to accommodate a 26 inch rear wheel, this advantage disappeared.

Electric assist

It is possible to have electric assist in the Mango and many other velomobiles, however, personally I think this option is worse than worthless. The law allows a maximum of 25 km/h with electric assist. However, at such a low speed the Mango Sport requires an input on the pedals of just 75 W. That's barely pedalling at all. Much greater speeds are possible in an unassisted velomobile. In fact, with any of the faster velomobiles it's almost impossible not to arrive at your destination with an average speed which is higher than the maximum assisted speed.

Adding electric assist adds costs, reduces reliability, fills some of the luggage space and increases the weight of the bike. This therefore decreases the unassisted and maximum attainable assisted speed as well as reducing the practicality of the bike.

Some people take the law into their own hands and fit electrical assistance set up in such a way that will propel the rider at illegal speeds above 25 km/h. So far as the law is concerned, this means you've transformed a bicycle into an illegal electric car. It has no registration, no seatbelt, bicycle lighting and relies on bicycle brakes to stop. There is no way this would pass the legal standards for a car and it is impossible to insure. If you have a crash and injure someone with such a vehicle then you can expect to be sued. Quite right too. Please don't do this as it can only lead to problems for other people riding unassisted velomobiles.

Why a rear brake is a very bad idea

When I worked for Sinner, potential customers would often ask if they could have a rear brake on their Mango. This request was always turned down.

There is actually a very good reason why you don't want a rear brake on a Mango or indeed on any velomobile or recumbent tricycle which has two wheels in the front and one at the back (some people call this a "tadpole" trike).

One of the most dangerous situations you can ever find yourself in on a tricycle like this is that of losing grip with the rear wheel while you're already moving. The reason why is that the rear end of the tricycle will try to overtake the front. When this happens, the trike spins around. It may slip sideways for a while, but when the tyres have traction again then the trike will roll.

You don't want a rear brake.


Riding the Mango


For riding in snow, a Marathon
Winter tyre
is recommended
on the rear wheel.

While working at Sinner I used my Mango for commuting. It was a 30 km trip in each direction, 60 km per day. At one point I was doing this three times per week, even with snow piled high each side of the cycle-path. Compared with my open recumbent the Mango knocked 10 minutes in each direction off the time for my commute. It generally took between 50 and 55 minutes to cover 30 km. My fastest average was just over 47 minutes, an average speed of 38 km/h.

The Mango was also very much more comfortable than anything else I've ever owned for commuting in winter. I rode it for my commute even when the outside temperature was below -10 C (Still air temperature. Windchill would have made it much colder).

For cold weather, the foam cover (supplied as standard) is essential. It reduces airflow and makes it possible to ride in just a T-shirt even when it is -10 C in winter. You do, however, need a warm hat, a good scarf as well as glasses. The foam cover also keeps the seat dry when the Mango is parked. See photos and video.

However, I have also ridden the Mango at temperatures over 30 C. The foam cover is then not needed and airflow through the bike is restored. Most of your body is in shadow so the temperature does not get too high.


Mango camping with tent

I also have gone on many touring rides. For instance, I rode the 235 km Fietselfstedentocht touring event with the Mango

I've climbed inclines up to a 1 in 10 with a fully loaded Mango. Sometimes people wonder whether this is possible due to the weight of the bike compared with other bikes. However it's the overall weight of bike + rider + luggage which is important, not the weight of the bike itself. The total difference in weight for a "heavy" velomobile vs. a "light" touring bike, includind the rider and his luggage can easily be under 10%. Most of the time you're not climbing hills, and then there is a much greater advantage for the velomobile.

For touring with a Mango Classic or Mango Sport I recommend Schwalbe Marathon 40-406 tyres on the front and Schwalbe Marathon Plus 47-406 on the rear. The Mango+ has more clearance for the front wheels and can use the Marathon Plus 47-406 on all wheels.

See videos of the Mango in action in rain, snow and sunshine, riding to the German border and on a New Year social ride.

How my Mango is equipped

Brakes:


Mango skid with 70 mm drums

My Mango has 70 mm Sturmey Archer drum brakes. Initially these didn't provide particularly spectacular braking performance. However, after doing some work on the brakes, using teflon coated inner and lower compression outer cables I could now freeze the wheels and skid should I want to. A blog post described what the problem was and how to do this work and you can buy a kit of parts from our shop.

The front wheels on a bicycle are far more important for stopping than the rear wheels. On the Mango you have two front wheels, so potentially double the stopping power of a conventional bike. Now that they work correctly, I find the drums to be adequate. 70 mm drums potentially can suffer from "fade" if they become too hot on very long descents, but this has not affected me.

Transmission:

I have a Tiagra double compact chainset (50 and 39 teeth), and a 9 speed 105 cassette ( 11-28 ). This is combined with a 26 tooth sprocket on the left side of the mid-drive driving the second chain and the standard 18 tooth sprocket on the rear wheel. Fitted with a 47 mm rear tyre, the wheel diameter is not far at all from 20 inches.

Using the traditional British / American "gear inches" system, this combination gives a range of gearing from a low of 39 / 28 * 26 / 18 * 20 = 40 inches to a high of 130 inches. Converting to the European metres of development figure, this is a range of approximately 3.2 m to 10.5 m. Either way of looking at it, I find this to be an adequate range of gears. Riding up a 1:10 slope with a touring load the low gear is just adequate, while I never spin-out in the high gear unless I'm going downhill at speed. By then it is in any case time to stop pedalling. By fitting different gearing components it is possible to change these ratios quite a lot.

I wrote before about how to check for wear and replace drive-chain components.

Racing with the Mango

I'm not the fastest rider, and don't win races. However, I take part and enjoy it a lot. My best ever racing results have been with the Mango. My fastest result yet was in Groningen in 2011 when I had an average speed of nearly 47 km/h in a race of 43 minutes. For this race I had borrowed a racing hood from one of my ex colleagues at Sinner. It improved my speed by 10% over a race on the same track the previous year.

A year earlier I raced without the racing hood for six hours at an average of nearly 40 km/h.

Other youtube videos show several other racing events.

Working with the Mango

I've also used the Mango to collect stock and to do deliveries for our online bicycle accessories business.

For outsize items I pull a trailer with my Mango. This works very well. Instructions for fitting a trailer hook can be found here. One thing I noticed is that the Mango loses proportionately more of its speed from a trailer than does an open bike. This makes sense as the trailer really ruins the aerodynamos of the bike. However, all the advantages of having everything to hand and protection from the weather remain.

Where to buy parts and accessories

Our webshop, DutchBikeBits.com, has a special section with some of our favourite parts for recumbents and velomobiles, including tyres and lights.


This is Part One. Go forwards to Part Two or Part Three


details of our other bikes, tour stories etc. return to my bicycles index.



Netherlands Cycling Holiday