Pedal-power hybrid driving change

North Vancouver co-creator aims for sustainability

It’s more than a bike – but it’s definitely not a car.

The North Vancouver developer of the Veemo is hoping the pedal-powered vehicle he’s co-created will be the missing link and the next big thing in the way we get around our cities with sustainability in mind.

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“We see this as modal shift – getting people out of cars and into active transportation like cycling,” said Kody Baker, chief technology officer for VeloMetro. “We wanted to take that concept of a three-wheeled, stable, electric-assist, enclosed vehicle and make it more approachable, more user-friendly.”

Inside the enclosed cabin, the rider straddles a transmission hump with pedals on either side. The Veemo has handlebars with front and rear brakes, as well as turning signals and a touch-screen display for navigation.  Its top speed is 32 kilometres per hour.

Baker, who hails from Central Lonsdale, co-founded the company with an aim to woo the demographic of people who want the functionality of a car without the greenhouse gasses.

“We’re all very passionate about electric vehicles and see an electric vehicle future as one of the solutions to climate change,” he said. “We wanted to tackle the challenge of how do we provide an electric vehicle for the masses?”

Within the next couple months, the City of Vancouver’s staff will be getting a fleet of 10 through a city program which allows clean tech startups to test their products and services in real-world conditions.

With its automatic transmission and torque sensor, the 120-kilogram Veemo’s electric-assist motor will give the rider an extra boost when heading up a steep hill. It’s designed to tackle hills with a grade of 20 per cent.  “It makes it really easy. You’re putting barely any effort and energy in at all,” Baker said. “We’d be able to get up Lonsdale very easily.”

The Veemo got some sunny praise from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at last week’s GLOBE 2016 sustainability conference.

“He loved it,” Baker said, although Trudeau’s security detail doesn’t let him get in any vehicle they haven’t approved. “As a concept, he was really supportive and really interested to hear about our plan and our vehicle.”

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau with Kody Baker and John Stonier, cofounders of VeloMetro, checking out the Veemo at the GLOBE 2016 sustainability conference. photo supplied

The ultimate business model is to have a Veemo sharing program, similar to what we’ve seen with car2go or Modo. VeloMetro is planning to launch a pilot Veemo sharing program at UBC in time for the fall semester. A number of Vancouver companies have also shown interest in getting their own private fleets.

With a small cab behind the seat, there’s room enough for your books, groceries, growler and briefcase, although people checking it out at the GLOBE conference had other plans, Baker said.

“There’s no regulations against doubling on a bike with your dog right now. We had people at the Globe conference last week actually having a second person sitting in the back,” he said.

The Velo does run the risk of getting ensnared in the politics of who the roads belong to – of being told it’s too big for bike lanes and too slow for regular streets, Baker acknowledged, but so far, the response has mostly been good.

“We’ve been kind of anticipating some backlash because of the size, but because of the speed we’re travelling at and because of the visibility of the vehicle, we’re getting a lot of thumbs up.”

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