This paper describes the Magnebike robot, a compact robot with two magnetic wheels in a motorbike arrangement, which is intended for inspecting the inner casing of ferromagnetic pipes with complex-shaped structures. The locomotion concept is based on an adapted magnetic wheel unit integrating two lateral lever arms. These arms allow for slight lifting off the wheel in order to locally decrease the magnetic attraction force when passing concave edges, as well as laterally stabilizing the wheel unit. The robot has the main advantage of being compact (180 x 130 x 220 mm) and mechanically simple: it features only five active degrees of freedom (two driven wheels each equipped with an active lifter stabilizer and one steering unit). The paper presents in detail design and implementation issues that are specific to magnetic wheeled robots. Low-level control functionalities are addressed because they are necessary to control the active system. The paper also focuses on characterizing and analyzing the implemented robot. The high mobility is shown through experimental results: the robot not only can climb vertical walls and follow circumferential paths inside pipe structures but it is also able to pass complex combinations of 90-deg convex and concave ferromagnetic obstacles with almost any inclination regarding gravity. It requires only limited space to maneuver because turning on the spot around the rear wheel is possible. This high mobility enables the robot to access any location in the specified environment. Finally the paper analyzes the maximum payload for different types of environment complexities because this is a key feature for climbing robots and provides a security factor about the risk of falling and slipping. (C) 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.