Monthly Archives: April 2018

Pimp my Milan – Millie gets a makeover!

Once the realisation dawned that Humphrey the Quattrovelo would not be a suitable velomobile for me for all purposes, because it was too painful for me to get out of him regularly because of my arm disability, I decided I needed to make Millie more user-friendly as I would keep her.

When you just have one car/bike/boat/plane you have nothing to compare it with. When you get a second you suddenly notice all the things that aren’t so good in your current one. Thus with Millie, after Humphrey appeared on the scene, particularly with regard to her gearing. Something had to be done!

The problems were as follows:

1. The Mountain Drive doesn’t work at all well

2. The gear packet at the back, a 13-30 cassette, is very close together which means in order to have a suitable high gear my low gear is not low enough and hurts my knees if I have to do lots of stop/starts

3. A brake light is a very good safety item and when you don’t have one it can be a bit scary when riding with other cyclists or on the road

4. Moving Millie around involves gripping her flanks with my hand to lift her. Some kind of lift handle would make life much easier.

5. I always end up with an oily leg as the chain going to the pedals is uncovered.

6. I often end up with oily luggage as the chain under the seat is uncovered, as is the idler, so anything that slides across her floor gets oily.

So Klaus and I took her to in Belgium, an hour’s drive away, and left her there for Etienne to do his best.

After we discovered the damage to Celeste I contacted Etienne straight away to ask to collect Millie as we now needed her if we were to each ride a velomobile. Fortunately she was ready!

And here is what Etienne had done.

Mountain drive changed to double chainrings, and rear cassette changed

When I first bought Millie she had two chainrings at the front, a 53 and a 38. The 53 was much too small for my cruising speeds, and I couldn’t turn the twist grip to get to the 38 because of my weak left side arm/hand.

Below is a graphic that shows the theoretical gear ranges and speeds that I can manage with my 65 cadence (but please note with the small chainring only the first couple of gears were actually possible as the chain ends up too long for gear 3 and upward)

The yellow ones are overlapping gears, but I would use the large chainring in preference to the small one so really the yellow ones should be 5-9 in the small chainring.

From this you can see that my lowest gear was 2.57 metres and highest 8.28 metres, and I maxed out pedalling at 32.3 km/h.

I had this changed to the second-hand mountain drive with a 65 tooth chainring (a big increase to the 53).

This meant that my actual gear ranges were as follows:

(Please note that the original graphic here was wrong when I first published my post, I had used Humphrey’s 75t chainring, not Millie’s 65t. This is now corrected. Thanks to reader David Sharp for pointing this out!)

Notice no overlapping gears in this arrangement, but the lowest gear without Schlumpfing was 4.4 metres. My highest was now a whopping 10.15 metres, which meant I could pedal comfortably at 40 km/h.

Using the Schlumpf was something I avoided as firstly the button kept falling off when I used it, and secondly when I used the Schlumpf gear it was so low (2 metres) that I could only comfortably pedal to 8 km/h. I then had to Schlumpf up again, suddenly to the massive gear of 5.08 metres. You see the problem!

Etienne put my old 38 chainring back on, as well as a new 57 for the front (as the 53 was too small). He reused the old short cranks as I had kept everything, so this undoubtedly saved some money. He had to buy a new 57 tooth chainring for me, and also a sprocket packet for the back. This packet was a 12-36; I don’t know the individual sprocket sizes in between so the website has automatically calculated them, and we end up with this:

My lowest gear in the big chainring is now nice and low at 3 metres so I can use this for pretty much all my riding. I might only need to change down to the 38 tooth chainring on a mega hill. Again, I can only use the first 2 gears in the small sprocket because of the chain length, but that is fine. My second gear in the big chainring is lower than the first gear used to be, which is good to know.

My top gear is a better 37.6 km/h which is obviously not as fast as the 40 km/h but is pretty close! I only got the other speeds on downhill runs.

Etienne had obviously oiled or greased the grip shifter so I was able to manage it to change gears (although not very easily, it must be said!) so I will be able to work with that as I will hardly ever use it. He did buy a trigger shifter that he could fit if necessary, so we will see how I do over time.

Brake light and lift handle

Etienne also had the great fun of fitting a brake light. To reach inside the back of the Milan you need an arm about 2 metres long, so he said he managed to do it with a metal pole. Fortunately I have ventilation holes right at the back so he was able to poke the wiring through there.

For the lift handle, there was no way to fix anything inside as you cannot reach so I recommended what I had seen in other Milans, a hole drilled through and lined. He did this too, although said it was incredibly tricky to glue and is not sure whether the glue will hold. Lets hope so, if not we may need to think more laterally.

Obviously my next job is to redo the flag – this time I will get a professional to do it!

Chain covering

To avoid Oily Leg Syndrome Etienne fitted a very simple chain tube over the chain that goes up to the pedals.

For the chain cover inside the body of the Milan he was able to cut down a spare one from a Quest to fit.

He had to raise the seat up slightly to do this, and ended up mounting it on rubber blocks that are about 8mm high, and this had the unexpected side benefit of providing a little more suspension and removing the previous creak-creak-creak noise of the seat base grinding against the bottom of the velomobile with every pedal stroke. This is a real benefit!

It was a wonderful feeling to get into Millie again because I feel so much more comfortable in her cockpit rather than Humphrey’s. She’s more agricultural, the weave of her carbon fibre is less pretty, she’s got muck and gunk built up over the years so she never looks really clean inside and out, and she makes some rattling noises from time to time, but overall she is much quieter than the Quattrovelo because there isn’t that awful noise from the gears behind the seat, and she goes like the wind. She’s faster than the Quattrovelo with me riding at least, and I find her comfortable and reliable too.

She has her remaining downsides – complicated rear wheel axle which means a puncture is a pain, ludicrously wide turning circle, low-slung foot cover which means you scrape on the slightest of speed bumps/kerbs and of course a distinct lack of waterproofing which means when it rains you get wet – over your whole body. But despite this, if I could only keep one velomobile out of my two, it would be Millie. I am simply more comfortable riding her, it is more of an enjoyable experience because it is quieter and feels more alive. And I am in the very lucky position not to have to make that choice, I can keep both velomobiles so I can ride Humphrey in the rain and if I have a lot of grocery shopping to do, and Millie the rest of the time.

Oh, and important to mention here – I was very pleasantly surprised by Etienne’s bill for the work he did. It was about half what I was expecting, and I even thought it might cost three times as much and that would have been OK. So great service from, although he’s not the quickest worker (due to only being part time with the velomobile work), but I shall definitely take Millie back to him next time she needs work that I don’t feel able to do, assuming he can face it!

This summer we will be riding around the Netherlands on a two week bike tour and it will be Milan and Quattrovelo which gives us both a chance to swap bikes if we need it, and of course Millie’s inconvenient luggage stowage is fixed by Humphrey (powered by Klaus) taking all the luggage with him. Hurrah!


Filed under Millie the Milan GT Carbon, Velomobiles

Ten Wheels in Germany – March 2018 (Month 48)

So this month marks the end of my fourth full year living in Germany, and also the one year mark until Brexit, at which point my residence in Germany becomes more complicated, and my tax liability higher. Thanks, Brexiteers!

But away from politics, what happened in March?

Not a lot really, apart from work and of course cycling. So this report is all about cycling!

Cycling this month

This month ended up a much more successful cycling month, despite some fairly bad weather!

888km isn’t bad, although this did also include six days cycle touring that you can read about here: Rhein-Waal-Maas Tour 2018.

And here was where I actually rode to.

This month was also a busy month with the Velomobiles. I have a new velomobile, Humphrey the Quattrovelo, but as you can read in the tour report above, my first rides with him were not too successful.

Some DIY work on Millie

Klaus and I needed to repair the indicators on Millie and so we took a Saturday morning early in March to do this.

Friend Ralf had been storing Millie for us in his workshop and offered that we could use it to do the indicator repair because it was warm. March was freezing cold in Germany and we would have had to work outside if we did this at home – no fun at all!

So we had a nice heated workshop and Millie was laid on her side on a table so we could access her innards easily.

We had discovered some time ago that the quality of the cabling inside Millie is very poor and if you try to strip the sheath from the cable the entire cable breaks, so we had bought plenty of new cable to entirely replace the old.

The two indicators at the front had both failed, so we decided to replace all four so we only had to do this job once!

Pulling out the old indicators was easy enough – they were fixed in with silicon sealant though and it was almost impossible to remove this from the inside of Millie. I managed to excavate large enough spaces for the new indicators to sit (I hoped!) but there was still loads of silicon around. Perhaps warming it up with a heat gun would have helped but we were worried it would damage the paintwork on the outside.

Anyway, we soldered the first indicator onto the new wire to check it worked. It did!

Once the indicator was in place we then had to add silicon sealant to fix it. This was very tricky, especially as for the two front indicators we had to either work through the single foot hole or stretch our arms right to the front.

But we managed it! The rear indicator was easy, but we ran out of enthusiasm to do the final rear indicator so left it in place.

All four indicators worked and the new three seemed brighter. This was good news as this is a real safety issue!

Jochen has changed indicators on the back of his Strada and this turned out to be a really evil job; the job in the Milan wasn’t as bad although having a second foothole would help rather.

Ralf’s DF has shared its workshop with Millie for nearly a month, but she would soon be gone and the DF would have more space for itself!

After this we left Millie at Ralf’s for another couple of weeks before I fetched her for the second stage of our Rhein-Waal-Maas tour.

Getting to grips with Humphrey the Quattrovelo

During the tour I had a tough time with Humphrey. After the tour Klaus resolved to ride him and see if he could ‘run him in’ a little.

As the weather warmed up and Humphrey’s bits bedded in, he definitely improved in speed. Klaus found that he was faster now than the Strada and the noise levels inside reduced over time.

Another issue was my comfort inside the cockpit. We had bought a pair of armrests from Ralf (who had bought them with his DF but never needed to use them) and Klaus requested that we fitted them in Humphrey to aid comfort. I wasn’t sure that there would be room inside the cockpit but said he could try and in fact it made a real difference. The armrests meant that the tiller could more comfortably be supported and I felt more comfortable on longer trips.

For me, one of the issues with Humphrey will always be that he is harder to get in and out of. However, as long as I reduce the need to get out during rides this isn’t a complete hopeless issue. Losing more weight will help (I have shed 12.6 kg in the last three months).

However, we both have also noticed that Humphrey’s back end is very loose and liable to lose grip when going over small piles of mud, slight curbs, wet cobbles etc. When visiting (more later) we spoke to another QV owner who has different shock absorbers at the back and this is something we are going to speak with when we visit them in early April for Humphrey to be checked over (we requested this as we felt Humphrey was underperforming, plus the seat may be cracked).

Klaus is enjoying riding Humphrey and I hope that his speed improvements continue. We will experiment with different tyres as Klaus feels that the Durano Plus are particularly bad in cold weather, although the forecast for April is looking much better anyway.

Humphrey is still a work in progress but at the moment it seems he will be staying…

Liegeradgruppe Ride

Each year the Liegeradgruppe Ruhr-Lippe do a Good Friday tour and this is very well attended. This year they decided to ride in our part of the world so the organiser, Günni, asked Klaus for some advice on a route. Klaus prepared a route leaving from Uerdingen on the banks of the Rhein which was 63km and we arranged to meet at 10:30 in Uerdingen.

Ralf, Jochen, Klaus and I all cycled together to Uerdingen on a rather chilly Good Friday morning. We warmed ourselves with a cup of tea and half a slice of cake in the Marktcafé whilst participants arrived. In the end there were about 30 people.

There were lots of different bikes on this tour, included 2-wheeled recumbents and lots of trikes too. We set off at an average speed of 15 km/h which is pretty tricky for velomobiles, especially for me in Millie as her gearing is so high.

We went along the dyke beside the Rhein. Here is a good photo by AndreasE from the Velomobilforum which shows the industrial bit of Uerdingen behind us.

before turning inland and riding along quiet roads with fields either side, with occasional stops for everyone to catch up (photo by AndreasE)

AndreasE got this pic of Humphrey and Millie together.

We headed towards Willich, where we stopped for a break at Café Streithöfe.

Humphey (who was being ridden by Klaus) hung out with fellow Quattrovelo belonging to Düssel.

Düssel has this laminated notice attached to his Schaumdeckel for when he leaves the velomobile.

We went inside and enjoyed a cuppa and I had a piece of Bienenstich.

After a break of just over an hour we headed off towards Hüls (near Krefeld), this time a bit slower as some of the riders were finding the pace a little fast. For the Velomobile riders it was very tricky so we stayed at the back, although Klaus was leading from the front.

Because Poppy was alone at home I headed directly home as we approached Hüls but Klaus carried on leading the group and they stopped in Hüls for an ice cream.

He then led them back to Uerdingen and then came home again.

Klaus’s ride was 107km, mine was 52km. This is the map of Klaus’s ride.

Pimp my Milan

Klaus and I have spent all March discussing Humphrey and what we do with him.

At first I thought I should probably sell him (and had already received two speculative offers for him) as I couldn’t get on with him, but wanted to give him more time to see if some of the issues could be ironed out, especially as we had our appointment in Dronten.

Klaus decided to use Humphrey himself to get another opinion and he started to get on pretty well with the Quattrovelo.

But one thing was clear, I would definitely be keeping the Milan for the near future, and would possibly use it for our two week summer tour.

This meant that I thought it was worth making some improvements to Millie.

Having used Humphrey’s Mountain Drive it is clear that Millie’s is really not up to much, and I made the decision to have it removed. I didn’t want to buy a new one (which is very expensive), I thought it made more sense to put back the old 2 chainrings and maybe change the gear ratios a bit. I didn’t want to do this myself so decided to contact EMVelomobiel in Belgium, who were very highly recommended by friend Oliver, to see if they were interested in doing some work on Millie. The chap Etienne said yes, so we arranged to deliver Millie to him on Easter Saturday and talk through what we would like.

We borrowed Ralf’s Sprinter again and as we were looking after Poppy that day she also had a trip to Belgium.

We talked to Etienne about the gears and it seems likely that he will change both the cassette on the back and also add a different chainring at the front. This is because my rear cassette is a very narrow range (13-30) which means I can have low gears or high gears but not both, and the front is currently 65. I will have a 38/56 on the front and on the back 11-36 which should give me much more range and should be more comfortable on hills.

We discussed some other items that I wanted for Millie:

  • a brake light
  • a handle for lifting her at the back
  • covering for the chain and the idler under the seat
  • raising the seat slightly
  • a chain tube for the chain going to the front chainring (I always get an oily right trouser leg)
  • servicing of the brakes

So it’s quite a lot of work but should make a huge difference, and Millie is worth the investment!

Etienne had a DF and Klaus decided to have a go… this one was very much set up for speed not comfort and had been rolled so wasn’t looking 100% tip top but Klaus enjoyed his ride, although his feet brushed the inside of the shell with each pedal stroke. He won’t be ordering a DF anytime soon though (fortunately!)

You can see a few more Velomobiles in this shot than just Millie. Some of our cycling friends from the Dutch Grensrijder group popped in during a tour so we had a good chat with them.

Poppy the dog really enjoyed the attention.

There were two more Quattrovelos there, belonging to Chris and Jean, and we had a very interesting conversation with Jean about Quattrovelo suspension and he has given us some tips for Humphrey.

They headed off on their ride and we stayed just a few more minutes speaking to Etienne about what we wanted for Millie. Then the gate opened again and chum Rolf from Germany appeared. He had come to buy some inner tubes and to book in his velomobile for a service; he was out of luck as I had just blocked off the next spot! It was lovely to see Rolf again, and was a reminder how small the Velomobile world is as we met two separate groups of people we knew whilst in Belgium and none of us come from Belgium!

Now Millie is being pimped and Humprey will also be looked at next week I hope I can get my velomobiles ready for a spring/summer of lots of fun kilometres. I have felt quite unfit this winter and have struggled over the first few months of this year but things are looking up and I hope to enjoy many more kilometres, alongside Klaus, in our great stable of velomobiles.

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Six Wheels In Germany