Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cabin cruiser: The Pereaves Ecomobile

By Eric Tegler Via autoweek

"Say you live in an ecologically correct country cabin and need a ride. What would be apropos? A cabin motorcycle of course. Swiss builder Peraves has just the thing, the aptly named EcoMobile. The name might sound a little weedy, but enthusiasts need not fret—it was originally called the Rocket.

Cabin motorcycles, your basic motorcycle enclosed in a hull of sorts, have been around since the 1920s. Though never a major vehicular segment, they drew interest in postwar Eastern Europe where pioneers like Czech aeronautical engineer Jan Anderle sought to develop frugal all-weather transportation from meager resources.
The concept caught on with East German manufacturer NSU, which produced a series of such vehicles nicknamed “flying hammocks” in the 1950s. BMW and Honda have revisited the idea in the modern era with their own semi-enclosed cabin motorcycles (the C1 and Gyro Canopy). A new example (the Acabion) was on the floor at this year’s Geneva show, but no company has as thoroughly developed the cabin motorcycle as Switzerland’s Peraves.

Peraves was originally a glider manufacturer, a venture launched by former Swissair pilot and engineer Arnold Wagner. Bored with his commute from Winterthur, Switzerland, up to Bavaria, Wagner noticed a motorcyclist passing by on the ’bahn and realized the rider was having fun—at least in good weather. “The motorcycle,” he says, “is a very agreeable toy. But, I thought, wouldn’t it be possible to design one that would have the practical usefulness of a car?”

Wagner changed course with Peraves and built his first cabin cycle prototype in 1982. The single-seater’s performance inspired him to dub it the Rocket, a name he reconsidered when applying for Swiss road registration. “I thought, if I tell them I have a Rocket in my garage, they might not like the idea,” he remembers. “So I thought of its efficiency, and called it the Eco Mobile.” It worked. Peraves has sold nearly 100 examples in 18 years.

Two have made it to the States, including the two-seat Super Eco owned by Greensboro, North Carolina’s Dan Whitfield. Super Eco weighs 1015 pounds, sits on a 9.5-foot wheelbase and is powered by a 1200-cc BMW K1200RS motorcycle engine making 130 hp. The package is good for a 5.5-second 0-to-60-mph sprint and 160-mph top end. Before you recoil in horror, my green friend, understand it achieves 50 mpg at 80 mph, 57 mpg at a steady 55 mph. Other versions offer more performance or more frugality, depending on your priority.

The Eco is registered as a motorcycle, but its light, crash-tested structure (Kevlar/carbon fiber/ Araldite monocoque with encapsulated chromoly steel roll cage and engine mount) and three-point seatbelts obviate the need for a helmet. Instead of a visor you look out through a plexiglass canopy, from a limate-controlled interior equipped with stereo and GPS. Driving the Eco has been compared to flying on terra firma, and—like flying—it requires some training.

Driver controls are a mix of car and cycle elements with floor-mounted clutch and brake pedals complementing handlebar-mounted gearshift, starter and stabilizer rocker switches and throttle. The Eco’s retractable, driver-controlled stabilizer wheels, looking much like the training wheels on your child’s bike, deploy at speeds below 15 mph for stability."

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