SHWEEBS: personal pedal-powered pods
TRAFFIC jams. Being stuck in traffic has got to be in the top five on the list of peoples’ most hated things in the world – right after Bob Mugabe, taxes, Telkom and getting toffee stuck on the roof of your mouth.
I have seen murder develop in the eyes of the calmest looking drivers when caught between throngs of cars. It’s hard not to get slightly ticked off and lose it – suddenly finding yourself bashing your way through the metallic queue, foot flat on the pedal, with a criminal reputation mounting up, and laughing hysterically.
No. We need to restrain ourselves from doing that. I find that the best self-therapy is to turn up the air-con (or heater), wind up the windows thus blocking out the sounds of hooting and swearing, and listen to Bob Marley.
However, our traffic nightmares may soon come to an end thanks to an invention known as the Shweeb. And this is not just some fancy new swearword, but the world’s first human-powered monorail.
“Shweeb” means “to float” in German, and is a self-enclosed, pedal-powered pod which is already in use at an amusement park in New Zealand. The team of designers who developed the Shweeb not only see the pod as a vehicle of amusement, but as an environmentally-friendly replacement for personal motor vehicles in traffic congested cities.
The idea was conceived by designer Geoffrey Barnett while on holiday in Tokyo – one of the world’s most heavily conjested cities. Barnett implemented the idea in his adventure park – Agroventures – in New Zealand, which is partially a proof-of-concept for an ingenious, high efficiency, no emission urban transport system.
How it works
The Shweeb uses a monorail system to guide users along a pre-determined path, with each pod being powered by the rider. According to the official Shweeb website, to travel in a Shweeb takes only half the energy required to ride a regular bicycle, and only 1/3 the energy of a mountain bike to pedal (since it is enclosed and there isn’t the rolling resistance of the tyres to compensate for). For even greater efficiency, Shweebs can be linked together for less air resistance and more pedal power.
The pods are far more aerodynamically efficient than a bicycle too. Most riders see speeds of around 45 km/h, but on a longer circuit with a much longer straight, the Shweeb can reach up to 70 km/h.
Such speeds are rather impressive when considering that the average speed of a car in London these days is a mere 13km/h (due to traffic). This is the same speed that cars could reach 100 years ago – before the demonic birth of rush-hour.
What’s more, when taking tight corners the pods can swing out as much as 60 degrees; but unlike a bike or motorcycle, there is no danger of losing traction and crashing.
Barnett has spent six years developing how to efficiently transfer pedal power to drive wheels enclosed within a monorail track while allowing the vehicle to swing freely underneath. The hard wheels on the steel rail mean that there is very little rolling resistance, and riders have shown that you do not have to be an Olympic athlete to power the pedals.
Barnett foresees the future use of his high efficiency, no emission urban transport system: “Here’s how it works. You get up in the morning; descend to the second level of your apartment building where there’s a Shweeb port and empty Shweebs waiting for you. You cruise over the top of the traffic jams. You don’t pay parking. You’ve produced no pollution. You arrive at work fit, healthy and ready to go!” says Barnett.
An exciting aspect of the Shweeb is how it could address problems of health and fitness relating to lack of exercise in certain nations. Of course you will always get lazy Shweebers who don’t pedal, hold up the traffic and simply get taken for a ride; but any ticked off, speeding Shweebers won’t be able to knock others off the rails.
“Shock absorbers between the vehicles ensure that vehicles come together smoothly. When a fit rider comes up behind a slower rider, the impact is cushioned and they act as a single unit. The rider at the rear is sitting in the slipstream of the leading rider and is able to put all their power into pushing the lead vehicle,” says Barnett.
So it appears that road rage would no longer be an issue in a Shweeb world. In fact, two Shweebs acting together will always travel faster than either rider separately. Even if the lead rider were to stop pedaling, the energy required to maintain a vehicle’s momentum on a flat track is minimal.
Make way for Shweebways
The logistics of getting Shweeb systems up and running in countries around the world is not as difficult as one might think. “The urban Shweebrail network is inexpensive, has a tiny footprint, and each Shweebway requires only a square meter of airspace,” says Barnett. “It’s safe, silent and sustainable.”
Not only are Shweebways inexpensive to build, but the pods come cheap too. In fact, you would never even need to buy one. “You don’t own the Shweeb,” says Barnett, “you use it like a shopping cart. Empty vehicles are restocked to wherever they are needed.”
Imagine it now: climbing into a slick Shweeb after a day’s work, laying back and sailing above congested traffic during rush hour, getting a daily workout with gentle pedaling, enjoying a great view of the city, all while listening to Bob Marley… Sign me up!