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WAW: The bike hybrid that makes people go 'wow'

Sunday - 12/4/2011, 7:25am  ET

wawbike1.jpg
A WAW outside of the bicycle shop in Ghent, Belgium. (WTOP Photo/Kate Ryan)
  • Gallery: (2 images)

Kate Ryan, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - It looks like a cross between a bike and a car — and a rocket. It's called the WAW (say it like "wow") and it's made in a small shop in Ghent, Belgium.

They roll on three wheels and are fitted with a shell — made with Kevlar or in some cases, aluminum - that protects the rider from rain, snow, and wind. They even have a removable windshield — not unlike what you'd see over the cockpit of a jet.

Koen Meynckens, with Fietser.be, is one of the craftsmen who builds the recumbent bikes from scratch.

The vehicles, which can be fitted with an electronic power-assist mechanism, are a novelty, even in bike-centric Belgium.

Meynckens says it's not uncommon for him to stop traffic in his own WAW. He's seen passing drivers whip out cell phones and with one hand on the wheel, snap photos. Others will literally pull over to ask about the WAW.

"The reaction is like ‘Wow! What is this?!'" he says.

The bikes are custom-made. They weigh in the neighborhood of 50 lbs and cost around $8,500 depending on the customization. At that price, who's buying them?

"People, who instead of doing things by car, want to bike," says Meynckens. "Mostly people who want to bike all year-round."

One blogger, who owns a WAW, brags that in 20-degree weather in winter, he can stay toasty in a tee-shirt.

Meynckens says the WAW isn't just a head-turning novelty. In rain and snow, the rider is protected, and there's plenty of cargo space behind the seat and in the nose of the shell. He says the bikes are popular among those who have long commutes.

The aerodynamic design allows riders to hit speeds of up to 25 mph fairly comfortably.

So do you ride these things on the street or on a bike path? Meynckens says that while it's classified as a bike in Belgium, it's also allowed on streets.

Finding parking in WAW is easy. It's smaller than a Smart car and can slide into spots that cars would have to pass by.

Meynckens says part of the fun of building the WAW is that each one is done to exact specifications, and it's possible to make it completely your own.

Has he ever made one he hated to part with? He smiles broadly, "Of course. My own"

I ask him if it's there in the shop where we are standing.

"Nooo," he says, "It's at home! I supervised every part of the production — and I had my son, who was 7 at the time, make the design for the shell."

It's a fanciful landscape, with a day-to-night design: the sun on the nose and the moon on the tail.

Want to see how they roll? Fietser.be has made this video:

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)