Saturday, 20 September 2014


An innovative velomobile with a slow start

In 2002, Waw001 was completed by its designer, Frederik Van De Walle. As with most prototypes built by an individual, it was not perfect. But unlike most prototypes built by individuals, this bike had so much to offer compared to already existing velomobiles, that it would be a pity not to bring it to the market, given that certain further development would be taken care of.

Dries and Brecht from understood this. So in 2003 they invested in the Waw with the idea to develop it to maturity. After all, the sexy design of the fairing, incredible stability using ‘fighter plane steering sticks’ and easily removable nose and tail offered enough features to be a worthy competitor for the market leaders at that time. 

The Waw did become a serious player on the market and one of the better known models in Europe. But the development didn’t go as planned. With many details still left without the finish they should have, the Waw started to be considered as a niche-product rather than a velomobile suitable for the whole family.

Flashforward 9 years, 2012. Stephane, an avid cyclist living in Czech Republic reads the thesis of his compatriot Frederik and gets enthusiastic about velomobiles. After taking his time to study the market, he comes to the same conclusion as Dries and Brecht in 2003: the Waw is a beast, a top predator. But it needs some sharpening of the claws, a fresh fur for the new season and the right environment to thrive. So the story continues in Brno. 

Through his company Katanga, Stephane is now starting the further development of the Waw. After only a couple of months, plenty of details have been improved significantly. This time and experience will be essential for Katanga’s longer-term plan: upgrading the Waw from nose to tail, lifting the whole product to a higher level.

In the early summer of 2014, a prototype of the ‘Waw@2014’ was introduced at Spezi. A few months later the first bikes were taken into use. We’ve seen some pictures here, heard some gossips there… but after owning and riding a Waw (built in 2012) myself, I wanted to get the full picture of what the new Waw has to offer. I had a truly interesting talk with Stephane about the Waw@2014, and what follows is for all of you interested in knowing everything about the new Waw!

I’ll be going quite much into the details. For those in a hurry or only interested in a few major upgrades, I recommend this beautiful movieclip from Cycles JV – Fenioux.

A new mold offers perfection in shape and surface finish. 

The Waw was one of the few velomobiles finished with a spray paint rather than with a gel coat. A new mold makes it possible to use a gel coat, making the surface stronger and more tolerant to wear. Smaller or larger imperfections in the surface are now belonging to the past. 

Of course the new mold is not only about improving the surface: in general, the shape has got many subtle upgrades, which we’ll go through one by one. Overall, the symmetry in the Waw@2014 has been improved to perfection. And quickly in between for those who want to know: having the body in two different colors is still possible. For the full carbon version, also a transparent gel coat is possible!

An optimized shape lies in many details

If you see Waw@2014 in pictures, you won’t notice many changes at once. Don’t blame yourself, indeed many upgrades are very subtle. Which doesn’t mean they’re insignificant for the pilot.

Take for example the nose. Its point is now about three centimeters higher than before. It doesn’t affect the visual character of the Waw, but in practice it will improve the ground clearance. Some scratches on the underside of the nose might not really matter, but surely it’s better to avoid them?

Both the nose and the tail now fit much better on the body than before. More esthetic and more aerodynamic.

Newer Waws already came optionally with a cover for the foot holes. That cover has now been made a bit deeper.

Wheel arches
How about the front wheel arches? The suspension travel is now a fraction longer for improved comfort, while also the aerodynamics are better. The wheel arches now look much prettier! The maximum tyre width is 42 mm, allowing for spiked tyres in the colder season in northern Europe.

 The rear wheel arch is structurally a very important part in the Waw. It serves to divide the luggage space from the rear tyre space, gives stiffness to the fairing and protects luggage from the chain. For optimal energy transfer it’s important that the rear wheel dropouts are positioned perfectly. For that reason, this part has been done completely with digital 3D design where the molds were given shape using CNC milling. Tyres of up to 60 mm wide are supported. 

Remember the old steering mechanism being visible in the Waw? Nothing wrong with that technically, but a thorn in the eye for those inclined to appreciate more esthetic solutions. Now it’s all hidden under a strong carbon bridge. Which is not only about esthetics. This new structure is one of a few which increase stiffness to the fairing. This puts less demand on the stiffness of the bottom. The previous Waw XL (where the seat was put 2 cm lower) will therefore become the new standard. The chain rolls fully protected in a narrow ridge under the seat. 

One other structure adding added stiffness are so-called omega-reinforcements on the edges of the front of the bike (only visible from inside or with the nose off). 

As you see it’s hard to talk about shape without involving a handful of other functions. The ‘smurf hat’ (behind the driver’s head), for example, got an optical upgrade. It’s now placed some 8 cm more backwards, which is more comfortable for taller riders and minimizes turbulence behind the head of the rider.

As a last point from this list I’d like to mention that the straight tail, an option mainly for racing purposes, also got some restyling. From below it ends up about 5 cm higher than before, and on the upper side it goes down with about 10 cm. An aerodynamic improvement, as well as a practical and esthetical upgrade.

Time for the main dish: the hood.

Many velomobiles come standard without hood. Making a hood that works for most people in most conditions is a challenge which obviously many manufacturers solve by simply skipping it. The Waw has always had a hood included, consisting of a small rooftop with a polycarbonate visor, attached to a larger cover. This cover was hinged with stretchy hook & loop strips. The small rooftop could be attached to the cover in different positions to allow more or less air inflow. It could also be removed and folded to fit inside the luggage compartment. A nice option, as you can drive somewhere ‘cabrio’, but just re-attach the rooftop when parking the bike outside. This last feature has been preserved in the Waw@2014.'

The most visible upgrade is probably the hinge of the cover. No hook & look strips anymore; Katanga has developed a CNC milled alu hinge structure which fits around the mirror attachments. The hood can be removed easily, but only at an angle of around 45 degrees. Which in practice means there’s no risk the hood could fly off when riding. The hood firmly stays on the body with the help of invisibly built-in neodymium magnets. The new cover fits the body tightly, offering not only esthetical but also aerodynamic advantages. Rather important but invisible upgrades have been done in the fight against incoming rain. The new dashboard (much nicer finished than earlier), the rim of the step-in hole and the cover cooperate harmoniously to make seeping in of rain impossible. Or to say it more prosaic: no longer a wet groin with the Waw@2014!

The hood in the hinge and new dashboard
The small rooftop has also undergone some upgrades. From the rear it is now attached to the cover with a hinge. The ventilation opening behind can be quickly adjusted. In front one can easily set the rooftop higher or lower using only two screw buttons. 

The cover and rooftop of the Waw@2014 standard come with a felt finish on the inside. This minimizes vibrations and damage to the paint of the body. JV Cycles spontaneously reported that the driving has become significantly more silent with the new hood.

And there's more...

In the cockpit. All electronics within reach
of the thumb. Notice also the neat carbon re-
inforcement at the left.
The carbon reinforcements on the inside of the body are now made in the mold and built in later. Standardization allows more reliable results, and also the finish looks better now.

Front light + LED blinkers

The electronics have been updated to what we can expect from a modern velomobile. The Waw now comes with the option of blinkers front and rear, a rear brake light, LED beam of Philips Saferide and an electric horn. All are operated simply at the left steering handle. The added cost involves a bit of financial suffering though:  some 620 euro for the whole system is not exactly cheap.

The speedometer is now mounted right on the dashboard. Significantly safer for those compulsed to check their speed once in a while, especially when going fast and between less respectable four-wheeled traffic elements.

With no bolts or locking nuts sticking out from below, the underside of the bike is significantly smoother now. 

The dropouts offer two positions for the rear wheel, one 18 mm higher than the other. When switching from a 50 mm to a narrow tyre, you can simply use the lower position and keep almost the same ground clearance! 

A new configuration concept

Perhaps you remember the Waw, the e-Waw and the Raw, which were respectively the standard, the electrically assisted and the ultralight version of the Waw? The new configurator is more straightforward: one Waw, many options. The most notable change is probably the choice between three laminate materials. The glass fibre version weighs about 29,5 kg. The aramid (Kevlar) version shaves off about 1 kg to an added cost of € 300. With the full carbon version, to the added cost of € 650 compared to the glass fibre version, the scale stops at 27,5 kg! Using ultralight components and tyres, that weight could probably be brought to under 27 kg. Keeping in mind that we have a complete hood included here, I would call this a truly competitive achievement!

The double rear fork offers all flexibility
of a normal bike: here a DualDrive,
but for example also electromotor wheels
are possible.


The Waw is still the Waw. With the ergonomic and fun steering system rarely found in other velomobiles, offering a stable ride even in the fastest downhill. With a shape sexy enough to win the hearts of sports car drivers. With the versatile (not Versatile) hood always included with the bike. With the double-sided rear fork allowing for quick change to any standard hubs with any kind of gearing system. And with the electromotor which can be built in easily and (re-)mounted in a matter of minutes for those who only need it in the colder season.

The same Waw, now finished to perfection and ready to be a new people’s favourite. 

Stephane Boving (left) and his mechanic
have reasons to be proud

Pictures used in this post are from, where you can find more pictures.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Heating your car or biking 500 km?


It’s been freezing in Tammisaari for a couple of weeks now. That hardly (or actually not) affects my use of the bike, but it does make use of the car more complicated.

Many middle-European readers might not be aware of this, but most Scandinavians plug their car to the grid when it’s cold. Motors don’t like a cold start (a fact that middle-Europeans do know rather well) and therefore it’s a smart idea to preheat the motor block before starting. And drivers don’t like scratching snow and ice from their windows, so therefore it’s a smart idea to at once get an electric heater going which heats the inside of the car just enough to ‘melt the windows’. Now let’s first make this clear: when in need for a car at -15 degrees C, I don't say that using those two devices would not be the best thing to do. That's not the point of this story.
A motor block heater consumes about 500 W. A ‘cockpit’ heater about 1000 W (with a good deal of variation). When the temperature is a humble -10 degrees, heating for about 1 hour is the absolute minimum required, while 90 minutes is better. 

Summary: just preparing your car for a ride by -10 degrees easily takes over 2 kWh.

The random question that came up in my head was: with this amount of energy, how far would I get with a bike?

Materials & methods

(if you're not a fan of technical details, you can easily skip this paragraph)

To find the answer, I used one of my favourite apps, the bike speed calculator from Kreuzotter.
As a bike I chose an energy-efficient velomobile, in this case the Quest. I set the temperature at -10 degrees, chose off-road tyres because spiked tyres aren’t possible to choose in the app. For power input I select 150 W. By multiplying the predicted speed with the time it takes to spend 2 kWh, I find the distance which can be biked with the same energy as it takes to heat the car.

I want to compare this result with a more average bike (let’s say a MTB), so I repeat the same procedure for this bicycle type.


(Here follow some boring calculations for the skeptics. If you prefer to just believe instead me you can skip to the next paragraph). 

When riding Quest at 150 W, my speed with off-road tyres and at -10 degrees would be about 37,2 km/h. 2000 Wh / 150 W = 13,3 hours. 37,2 km/h * 13,3 h = 500 km. With a mountain bike, the result is about 330 km.

Or, simply put: With the energy it takes to just heat my car in Finland to be able to start using it at -10 degrees, I could bike almost 500 km with a good velomobile! With a mountain bike, that would be ‘only’ 330 km.
Notice, if I would drive using less than 150 W, the distances would only get longer (and the difference between velomobile and MTB would also increase).  


This advanced study was nothing more than just another way of looking at energy and using it wisely.
It shows that using the car for short distances has never been more stupid than during a Finnish winter. (Did I mention some of my neighbours are taking the car to go to work, which is about 1 km away? If only they knew that for the same amount of energy they spend on heating there car in one week, they could have biked to the south of France!) But who cares about the real price of energy when it’s paid by the next generations/people on other continents anyway?