"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana, 1905
Now cyclists, probably more than any other group of commuters, know the significance of both aerodynamic drag and vehicle weight on efficiency. The efficiency of chemical to mechanical work in muscle is about 25% and mechanical power generated by the human body is fixed at about ½ Hp or less for periods of about an hour. So it is not unreasonable to use top speed as an indicator of vehicle efficiency.
Since the vehicle weight is usually a small component of the system weight (vehicle & rider), and then is only noticeable in acceleration/deceleration and hill climbing, its influence on vehicle velocity is significantly less than air drag. (Yes, weight will affect rolling resistance as well)
The idea of a single-occupant, all-weather, high-efficiency commuter vehicle is by no means new. Pedal-powered velomobiles such as four-wheel Velocars and three-wheel Fantoms were used in Europe during WW2, when conventional cars were not available. Several design surfaced during the bike-boom in the USA during the early seventies. The human-powered-vehicle movement which began in the mid seventies has spawned numerous novel designs. And of course, there is the Sinclair C5 pedal-assisted electric tricycle from the early eighties.
My favorite is Bob Bundschuh’s marvelous Pedicar from 1973. While its use of four wheels and its linear-pedal motion may not have been optimal, it definitely captures the potential utility of such a vehicle. I believe the Pedicar is the template for a future commuter vehicle.
As of yet, these vehicles have not caught on as a serious transportation alternative. The designs may not have been adequate and energy concerns weren’t as important as they are now.
But maybe now the world is finally ready for them.