Rainshadow Solar brings electric-assist velomobile to Orcas

Orcasites may have been perplexed and amazed in recent months at the sight of a nine-foot long, banana-like vehicle flying down local roads.

Rainshadow Solar proprietor John Mottl’s bright yellow velomobile should make anyone smile: it can roll over hill and dale, at a cost of five pennies for every 60 miles. But Mottl rides for free, as he’s been off the grid for over 25 years and powers his velomobile, called the Quest, with the excess energy from his solar panels.

“It’s just incredibly fun to ride these things,” Mottl said. “It’s truly amazing what it can do. It defies your imagination. It makes hills so easy, it’s unbelievable. This thing finds downhills you didn’t know existed.”

The Quest is a Dutch-designed velomobile, enclosed in fiberglass and pedal-powered like a bicycle. Mottl has formulated an electric assist option for the Quest and will be offering them for sale on Orcas Island through Rainshadow Solar, the only company in North America currently electrifying a velomobile.

Without the electric assist, the Quest is the fastest commuter or “production,” three-wheeled velomobile in the world, holding every human-powered world speed record at top speeds of 75 mph. Its fully enclosed, aerodynamic design is incredibly efficient, allowing a strong cyclist normally averaging 22 mph to get closer to 40 mph.

“It conserves all of its momentum, doesn’t waste it on wind,” Mottl said, explaining that cyclists spend 90 percent of their energy trying to overcome wind resistance when they hit speeds over 18 mph.

Combine that efficiency with an electric assist, and the Quest is the most efficient electric vehicle in the world, said Mottl. It can be powered by a lone solar panel in the dead of winter and will go over 60 miles between recharges. In comparison, Mottl called his hybrid Honda Insight “radically inefficient,” requiring 94 times as much energy.

Mottl has been commuting with his electrified Quest for six months now and said his trek from Guthrie Cove Rd. to West Sound Marina takes 21 minutes by car – and 25 by Quest. He coasts up some “seriously steep hills” three times as fast as a puffing bicyclist. Fitted with a Flevobike roof and a spray-skirt like collar, it’s an all-weather-mobile too, keeping Mottl warm, dry, and protected from spraying mud while in the bike lane. It also performs well on snowy roads. Mottl said he feels incredibly safe in the Quest, compared to a bike, and called it “remarkably comfortable.” At 2.5 feet wide, he said the velomobile is just as easy to pass as a bicycle, although its unique design often prompts motorists to drive slowly and stare instead.

The Quest hit the market in Holland 10 years ago, where 120 are now built per year, but with 550 on the roads the demand is rising and the current waiting list is two years. Some Dutch Quest owners pay for the vehicles by carrying advertising. Mottl estimates that it will take five to 10 years for the U.S. to become familiar with velomobiles.

Mottl said the Quest, starting at a base price of $8,750, is “ideal for someone who wants to commute, wants to get exercise, and is excited about energy efficiency,” especially if the Quest could replace a car. Quests have been known to go 60,000 miles before requiring any maintenance, although the batteries will eventually need replacing.

And for those wanting to run their Quest off of solar power, Mottl plans to offer a low-cost solarelectric system for about $1,800. He can fill Quest orders, using a Canadian manufacturer, in about three months.

Rainshadow Solar will have a Quest on display in the lobby of the Eastsound Key Bank from April 2 to 15.

For more information, call Mottl at 376-5336 or see www.rainshadowvelo.com