Monday, July 23, 2007

Versatile velomobile review


This weekend, I had the pleasure of zipping around in a Versatile velomobile, courtesy of bluevelo.com. I drove this human-powered machine all over town and found it truly addictive.

On Saturday, I went for a long ride along the waterfront and then stopped by my sister and brother-in-law's place in the Annex. It was surprisingly easy to manoeuvre the trike through city traffic. I quickly became accustomed to the shifting and steering, but going uphill was slow and labour-intensive. It was a hot, sunny day and the compartment got stuffy when I stopped at a light, but the ventilation was fine when I was moving.

The ride itself was very smooth. The mesh seat was luxurious - like pedalling in a lounge chair. The steering mechanism consists of two hand levers on either side – a comfortable and fun way to make turns, reminiscent of those Green Machines we drove around as kids (only this trike costs about $13,000 more).

The grip shifter on this one was a bit stiff, but Ray from bluevelo tells me these actually loosen up over time. The Rohloff internal hub is brilliant. Not only are all the gears on one shifter, but you can change gears at a standstill, which is particularly useful for shifting down into an easier gear to get the velo moving again after getting cut off by moronic cab drivers in city traffic.

I took the Versatile out again on Sunday. This time I rode all the way up into the north end at Avenue Road and York Mills, where I was going out for a family dinner. I stupidly took the Bayview Extension, which is probably the longest, steepest hill in Toronto, and was sweating like a pig as I crawled up in the granny gear, moving at about 7 km/h. I was smart enough to bring a towel and a change of clothes for the restaurant.

The ride home was exhilarating. I hit somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70 km'h on the Bayview downhill ... and I was braking.

Today, I took the velo to work and the looks I got from people in downtown Toronto were priceless. I locked it up on King Street in the heart of downtown and people immediately swarmed around me as I was locking it up. I walked past it a couple of times during the day and got a kick out of watching the passersby ogling this strange and wonderful machine.

And now, sadly, I have to return it to bluevelo. I'll definitely miss the Versatile, and I'm more convinced than ever that this is the ultimate rolling billboard for the right advertiser.