If you read through forum posts, websites, blogs looking for information on velomobiles there is one name you stumble over again and again: Ymte Sijbrandij! Racing god and the velomobile person. BentBlog talked to him.
BentBlog: Ymte, you are not only known for being a very successful champion in velomobile racing, you further worked for Flevobike back in the 1990s when they sold the Alleweder kits. You left the firm in 1999 and together with Allert Jacobs and later Theo van Andel you founded velomobiel.nl. Subsequently you evolved the velomobile-concept to the Quest and you derived the Mango and the Strada from its different evolution stages. What is more fun for you, racing or the velomobile-business?
Ymte: I also raced two wheeled recumbents faired en unfaired and the rowingbike. But in the last years the velomobile became my favourite. Part of the fun is that I can race on the highest level with the same bike as I go to work, make holiday trips and go for shopping. If possible I travel to the race by velomobile, take my children with me, 2 in a trailer and the youngest on my lab. In my former career I did book-keeping and tax-advising for farmers. My knowledge of business administration was useful for Flevobike which was a growing company at that time, beside my enthusiasm for recumbent bikes one of the reasons Flevobike asked me to work for them. That is how I got involved in the velomobile business. I learned at Flevobike the practical things about how to run a business, without this experience Allert and I would never have started our own company when Flevobike decided not to focus on building bikes anymore and we wanted to start building the Quest. It was never a dream to have our own business, we just wanted to build the Quest and spread the idea of velomobiling, to start a company was in our case the obvious way.
BentBlog: What fascinates you about developing velomobiles?
Ymte: I am fascinated riding a velomobile, not so much by the development processes itself. Of course, I have Ideas about what a velomobile should look like and if you actually have to build parts and repair bikes you get ideas about how to make things better and more efficient, but my colleague Allert Jacobs is the real velomobile developer. He has the skills and the patience to work things out; he is the designer of the Quest and kept on working against the scepticism of other people about for instance the limited manoeuvrability with the closed wheel boxes and the long tail. But he knew what he was doing; we first did tests with the Alleweder with artificially limited steering. Commuting and travelling with it we found out what still would be acceptable; after all there was also something to gain: better aerodynamics.
BentBlog: The new Mango Sport from Sinner has disc brakes. Will these be an option for Quest and Strada in the future too?
Ymte: The Mango sport is very new, at this moment it is not in use by customers. To build a velomobile with disk brakes is no “rocket science”, all parts are available, we also have them on the shelf.
Of course we have tested disc brakes; actually we use them on the Duoquest. They perform well with a nice and light touch, but now in winter time they simply need a lot of attention, at least every 500 km they need readjusting, for some customers this would mean servicing every week.
Our customers are mainly commuters. They want a reliable low maintenance velomobile. Drum brakes have low maintenance and work well in flat land, after all the aerodynamic velomobile performs optimal in windy flatland, like the place we live in. This does not mean that we do not have to work on the brakes. Beginning this year we started using new high quality cable housings (jagwire), this is a big improvement. Also bigger drum brakes (90mm instead of 70 mm) are available now. More heat absorbing capacity for downhill. We think improvements like these are better solutions than using disc brakes, disc brakes can also be overheated downhill and with improvements on the drum brakes we come very close to the next limit of brake capacity, the grip of the tyres.
BentBlog: Okay, you don’t really recommend disc brakes, but you say all parts are there. Does that mean that whoever rides a velomobile, which has front wheel struts supplied by you, can order disc brake prepared struts at velomobiel.nl?
Ymte: We have sorted out the disc brakes and the mounting for the Duoquest but we do
not sell struts for disc brakes or sell them as options on our velomobiles.
We are not done testing them yet.
BentBlog: You did never stop developing your products. Among others, you built a 3×26“ Quest for yourself and the mentioned Duoquest. Were these just fun projects or did they show any weaknesses that kept them from the market?
Ymte: We are always curious about concepts. Rolling resistance is at cruising speed 35-40 km/h still half of the total resistance of an aerodynamically optimised velomobile. There were some indications 26″ tyres would have 30% less rolling resistance than 20″. We imagined that we might improve the velomobile for the average customer by trading in air resistance (bigger open wheel box) for lower rolling resistance but there was not a real gain compared to the original Quest. Another thing is that bigger wheels are more comfortable. Building a velomobile without suspension would make it cheaper to build, less maintenance and less weight. We tried the 3*26″ quest with no suspension at all but the results were rather disappointing, a rough ride and also bad road contact at higher speed. After10.000 km’s I had some problems with breaking spokes but maybe this had more to do with my weight and cornering style, the 3×26″ quest still runs and made more than 40.000 km after we sold it with no problems with the 26″front wheels.
The Duoquest is more like a concept test. We thought it would be very nice to sit side by side and wanted to see if a width of 135 cm is acceptable. It is still possible to ride the cycle paths and roads and it is fun to ride. After all the Velayo is also almost the size of a Duoquest and people seem to have no real problems riding it on the road. Although you pedal both the speed is a bit lower compared to the original quest, mainly because of the less optimal aerodynamics of the width compared to the length and the open wheel boxes. Very nice features are the independent drive trains and the possibility for both riders to control the steering and breaking without changing seat positions. In fact the Duoquest is in daily use by Allert and his girlfriend, our colleague Eva who commute 20 km single fair in it. After 8000 km it still works well. At this moment there are no plans for a series, it is more efficient to build Quests and Stradas, and a double Quest would cost more than two single ones.
BentBlog: In the last two years, some additional models showed up. You developed the Strada, Sinner the aforementioned Mango-Sport and Alligt the Alleweder 6 and 7. In Germany the Milan, Go-One Evolution and the Velayo as well as the Brise X-Stream are signs of more diversity on the market. Do you have to be afraid of so much concurrency?
Ymte: I would never be afraid of new velomobiles; the worst case would be that others were so much better, more efficient, that we cannot sell our velomobiles any more. This would mean one of our goals, spreading of the velomobile, is achieved, mission accomplished. In that case we would stop our own production and continue our business trying to obtain dealerships. If this would not work out I would just look for another job and buy one of these velomobiles, yes sometimes I dream of a quiet 3-4 days a week job with earning enough money to leave the “trouble” of building and servicing my bike to other people
An after all, as a supplier of parts like front wheel struts for Alligt, Go-one, Milan, Mango and WAW we also have benefit of the sales of these velomobiles.
BentBlog: You did have some „subscription-customers“ who ordered a new Quest every year and sold their „old“ one for high prices. Is this still possible with so much competition on the market?
Ymte: It is a much discussed object, high second hand prices. First I would like to say that as far as I know none of our customers buys a velomobile in the first place to earn money, they buy it for riding it! In the beginning we were quite surprised by the high prices for the second hand bikes. Some people suspect us for making cunning plans to manipulate the market by not working on increasing production but believe us, I would like to be able to predict the market so well. We just work in a way that we can handle and feel comfortable with it. It is a big compliment that people are willing to pay so much for your product. It is also a compliment if people buy a second or a third one of your velomobiles, you only do this if you’re happy with the product. Early buyers had as a reward for their trust in us a low depreciation of their velomobile. But in the end the prices will go down to normal.
BentBlog: What is the special feature of Quest and/or Strada?
Ymte: We started building a velomobile because we wanted to ride one. We make it work for at least the way we use it. Our bikes are made by bikers designed by a few strong principles: chain and derailleurs separated from rear wheel by a closed wheel box for long life and low maintenance and all wheels single side mounted for a quick tyre replacement without removing the wheels. Flat tyres are unavoidable and commuting is a big part of the year in the dark and if it rains you also have to go to work so easy tyre change is very important. For a comfortable ride we have suspension with reasonable travel on each wheel. The front wheel suspension has a special design, with 50 mm travel both wheels stay in line and on track while the suspension is working.
We also developed a very nice foam cover. Safe for your head and easy to take off and take with you if the weather is nice. Other small but important things are standard: a from the seat position adjustable head light and for safety a break light. All the workers at velomobiel.nl ride velomobiles. Last but not least we try to make the service as good as possible, we are open 6 days a week and always handle orders by mail the same day. We also have an “open” company. Everyone can take a look in our workshop and how many bikes we sell and build is no secret. I think this works well to make people have faith in our company. It is a big thing to buy a velomobile and you need to thrust the company that they do the best they can to keep your velomobile on the road. Making velomobiles and keep them riding is kind of cooperation of producers and users and we try to keep in touch with our customers and learn from them. On or website (http://www.velomobiel.nl/rijderslijst/) we keep track of all the velomobiles we deliver.
BentBlog: Milan, Mango-Sport and Go-One Evolution are aiming for high speeds and (some in special Carbon-versions) for low weights. Will Quest and Strada also lose weight to gain speed?
Ymte: Low weight is important but not at any cost, for example the floor of your bike should be strong enough to put your groceries in, also tin cans and bottles. We do not make racing bikes but bikes for daily use. Weight has effect on speed but should not be overestimated. Not all velomobiles have the weight that is mentioned by the producers. And a very light velomobile is still very heavy compared to a racing bike, but the biggest weight is oneself. Part of the weight saving is also in for instance tyres and seat cover; you can always save weight on that on every bike. Does not mean we do not look for ways to save weight, we hope to once build a velomobile fully equipped for daily use of less than 30 kg.
BentBlog: Apart from your own models, which of the current Velomobiles would you like to own / is interesting to you? For what reason?
Ymte: I would like to own all commercial velomobiles and put them in a nice museum. Anyone who not only talks about velomobiles but really builds something to test his/her ideas in practice deserves respect, it is a big effort.
BentBlog: What was the most important velomobile-related development in the last 5 years?
Ymte: The development is that we succeed in up scaling and now are able to produce about 10 velomobiles a month. It took us over a year to build the first 10.
BentBlog: Ymte, thank you very much for this interview!