Video: Pedal-powered monorail draws crowds in New Zealand

Inventor hopes recumbent-powered system could help solve urban congestion

by Simon_MacMichael   March 9, 2010  


New Zealand has gained a bit of a reputation for developing new ways of getting around while getting a thrill in the process, whether that be using a bungee rope to execute a 140-foot vertical drop off the Kawarau Bridge, or tucking yourself inside a Zorb sphere to roll downhill.

Now, a Kiwi cyclist has developed a human-powered monorail system based around a recumbent bicycle, and a 200-metre track in Rotorua, North Island that showcases the concept is reportedly pulling in crowds of visitors eager to try it out for themselves.

Called the Shweeb – the name is derived from the German verb ‘schweben’, which means ‘to float’ or ‘suspend’ – its inventor, Geoffrey Barnett, hopes that the concept may provide a solution for people looking to get around congested cities.

Mr Barnett hit upon the idea when he was living in Tokyo and worked on the concept for four years before opening the track in Rotorua in 2007.

On the Shweeb website, he explains: “When I lived in Tokyo I cycled through the city to work and on the weekends rode up the mountains around the city. Tokyo, with its frequent and punctual trains, capsule hotels, high population densities, and vending machines, opened my mind to new possibilities.”

Mr Barnett continues: “I came up with the idea of a bicycle monorail network while teaching a class in which the topic for discussion was transport solutions. The idea of riding above the traffic jams on multi-level rails seemed to me the only possible way that Tokyo’s millions of residents could move around the city quickly and safely. It had the added advantages of being environmentally friendly and offering an aerobic workout.”

He concludes: “To me this was a project that I could, if I put my mind to it, make happen.”

If the Shweeb video posted on its website is anything to go by, it’s a lot of fun to use and provides a unique perspective on getting around, even if it does perhaps look a little like something out of a 1950s sci-fi movie, or a James Bond villain’s lair.

Mr Barnett told Reuters: "To me as a cyclist, it's just obvious, you should be able to ride over the top of the traffic, so I came up with the idea of a weather-proof capsule that is completely safe."

He continued: “You jump on, you sit on the recumbent seat – it's very comfortable, it's like sitting at home on your sofa.

“It's got seven gears to play with and it's a lot faster than any other bicycle," Mr Barnett added, saying that it could reach speeds of up to 60kph (35mph).

The designer believes that as well as being a fun tourist attraction, the Shweeb could provide an ideal solution to getting around facilities such as parks and university campuses, and for crossing rivers.

That vision may well be on its way to becoming reality, according to the Shweeb website, which states: “The prototype site has attracted widespread media coverage and global interest. Discussions are currently taking place with a view to delivering the our phase I products of Racetracks, Scenic and A-B links in the near future.”

However, one rider highlighted that it wasn’t an effort-free way of getting round, telling Reuters: "It's really amazing, so exciting but my leg is so sore, I'm so tired."

17 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

i *love* that.

jezzzer's picture

posted by jezzzer [339 posts]
9th March 2010 - 12:01

1 Like

"To me as a cyclist, it's just obvious, you should be able to ride over the top of the traffic, so I came up with the idea of a weather-proof capsule that is completely safe."

Yeah, when I think about dealing with traffic congestion in my city, the first thing I think of is a bicycle powered monorail too.

"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

John_the_Monkey's picture

posted by John_the_Monkey [428 posts]
9th March 2010 - 12:14

1 Like

Now that I've seen one though…

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
9th March 2010 - 12:18

1 Like

I WANT ONE! That looks superb, great fun...not sure about the practicalities but the race down Blackboy Hill, Whiteladies Road and Park Street would be immense.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
9th March 2010 - 15:24

1 Like

excellent stuff!..what i would like is, say a 30 mile loop starting from my house for winter time use and then i wouldn't need a turbo trainer or nun of that other stuff like running shoes etc..

almost worth getting a plane to Rotorua for a buzz on one Big Grin

Fringe's picture

posted by Fringe [1094 posts]
9th March 2010 - 16:17

1 Like

that really is fantastic... chapeau sir

posted by james-o [226 posts]
9th March 2010 - 18:01

1 Like

I want one. That's one, as in the number "1". One would be great, but can you imagine the boredom or carnage of multiple pods on the same rail? Imagine having Wiggo come behind granny f'rinstance ? (Figuratively speaking)

Lovely thought, though, and might work around a themepark or some such.

londondailyphoto's picture

posted by londondailyphoto [76 posts]
9th March 2010 - 19:08

1 Like

Excellent off to NZ this summer, going to have to detour to Rotorua.

posted by miffed [169 posts]
9th March 2010 - 19:08

1 Like

I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't 1st of April.

I've had this great idea for getting around a city, it's called a bicycle and you can go in any direction you want at almost any speed (fitness limiting). No need for extra systems to be put in place.

Sanyi's picture

posted by Sanyi [15 posts]
9th March 2010 - 22:44


I'm voting for the extra systems!

Spinning on a wheel

Hammy's picture

posted by Hammy [97 posts]
9th March 2010 - 22:50

1 Like

Nice, an enclosed space full of cyclist, that'd be lovely in summer.

posted by mogrim [47 posts]
10th March 2010 - 8:33

1 Like

luks like sum great racing to be had.

posted by Alankk [131 posts]
10th March 2010 - 9:15

1 Like

What happens if you get stuck behind someone who is REALLY slow? that would be frustrating? and if it really took off you would get queues for it wouldn't you - just thinking of practicalities thats all Confused

Rode the E'Tape Caledonia - first sportiv ever and thoroughly enjoyed it

badbunny's picture

posted by badbunny [71 posts]
10th March 2010 - 9:52

1 Like

badbunny wrote:
What happens if you get stuck behind someone who is REALLY slow? that would be frustrating?

Maybe we should petition for a photon torpedo add-on feature Big Grin

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [9364 posts]
10th March 2010 - 10:36

1 Like

Maybe you lock together and become a tandem? Imagine a whole line of them… like a train Thinking

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
10th March 2010 - 10:46

1 Like

it reminds me of this...

It's not just about the size of your cog.

TRs Blurb n Blog's picture

posted by TRs Blurb n Blog [270 posts]
10th March 2010 - 12:27

1 Like

Great idea - maybe not a practical option for commuting but great fun for training, especially on wet days.


posted by OldRidgeback [2551 posts]
10th March 2010 - 16:10

1 Like