Velomobiles are certainly a unique form of transportation. They're essentially human-powered recumbent tricycles, with a full-body fairing to increase their aerodynamics and protect against inclement weather. Most of them are made in Europe, which unfortunately adds to their already-steep prices for non-European buyers ... so, when we spied the made-in-the-USA Tripod velomobile in Portland, Oregon earlier this month, we took note. He's a quick look at some of the things that make it special.

The Tripod is manufactured in Portland, by Columbia Cycle Works. It debuted in 2010, but has so far only been made to order. That's set to change, however, as the company is about to ramp up to full-scale production.

Unlike many velomobiles, in which the rider sits low and very reclined, the Tripod's rider is in more of an upright position (not unlike the Cab Bike). While this no doubt decreases its aerodynamics somewhat, it does afford the rider a more commanding view of the road, and makes the Tripod more visible to drivers – a full lighting system, an electric horn and an orange safety flag also help in that regard. A windshield wiper helps the rider see the road during the wet Oregon winters.

Its shell is made from a reinforced polymer material, which is reportedly "tough, durable and lightweight." The lid of that shell opens and closes with the help of two gas-filled struts. Its windows and sunroof can be opened in hot weather, or the lid can be completely removed – a kayak-style skirt can still be used in the cockpit when the lid is off, however, for streamlining. When the vehicle is left unattended, the lid can be locked closed.

While many velomobiles are available with an optional electric assist motor, the Tripod comes standard with a 500-watt hub motor that can push it up to the legal limit (for powered bicycles, in most places) of 20 mph (32 km/h). Given that it weighs about 110 pounds (50 kg) – not counting the battery – that motor should also come in quite handy for quick starts and climbing hills.

Columbia Cycle founder Philip Rush told us that the vehicle is intended to be primarily pedal-driven. That said, with a good enough battery, it can go as far as approximately 30 miles (48 km) by motor alone. Unlike the case with many other electric-assist bikes and trikes, however, the buyer of the Tripod is responsible for supplying their own battery. This allows them to pay for no more power capacity than they need – a rider with a short, flat commute likely isn't going to be using the motor as much as someone with a long, hilly one, for instance. The absence of an included battery also helps keep the velomobile's shipping costs down. Whatever battery is chosen, it can be charged via a retractable power cord.

Rush also stated that the Tripod is intended to be the least expensive velomobile available in North America, and at a price of US$7,450, it's certainly one of the cheapest. The Canadian-made Hornet is presently available for CDN$5,650 (currently US$5,700), with battery and motor included. It lacks the Tripod's hard top lid, however, and its head/tail lights, turn signals and horn are all optional extras.

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