It’s been a little while since I’ve written about Penelope but that is partly because she has been a bit of a ‘work in progress’.
I mentioned in some of my earlier blog posts that she had sustained some damage from two accidents when friends were riding her (they each rolled her onto her side – once each side). I had also been working on improvements to her lighting as the installed lights weren’t bright enough for night riding.
Anyway, these tasks are all pretty much finished so I thought I would write a post to update on what’s been happening. Penelope looks rather different now (but still purple of course!)
Lighting Upgrade Stage 1 – New B&M Lights on 6V
Penelope is nine years old and her LED lighting (running on a 12V system) was a bit of a mystery to me. There was a mysterious black box near my feet (which had a plug which occasionally fell out and plunged me into darkness) and there were three different levels of brightness. These were dim, slightly less dim and very slightly less dimmer.
In other words, riding Penelope in the pitch black with just the installed lights was a very scary experience.
My initial solution was to buy a decent battery-powered light and mount it on Penelope’s upper side, attached to the place where the Versatile Roof fixes on (so I could only use this light when not using the roof). This improved matters enough that I could ride a bit more easily.
However the perennial recumbent three-wheeler problem persisted – when you go round corners the light does not go round the corner fast enough for you to really see what you are doing. So eventually I mounted the light on a bicycle helmet (I don’t usually wear them) and that worked OK. But it meant I had to wear a bike helmet (which I don’t like) and that if I was riding in the day (no helmet) I had to take the helmet with me in Penelope for a return in darkness. I also looked rather bonkers!
It seemed a very sensible plan to upgrade the pre-existing lights to something much brighter. I swear by the lights from Busch & Müller (as do lots of cyclists) and the German online bike shop kurbelix.de had the lights I would need for just a shade over 30 Euros each. Bargain.
I am no electronic engineer. Fortunately I know two of them (my husband and Klaus) and I managed to persuade Klaus to have a look at the lighting for me with the thought that James might do some work on it when he next visited.
Klaus spent some time playing with a test meter and then decided on a first plan of action which would involve wiring the two 6V Busch & Müller lights (Lumotec IQ Cyo Plus 60 Lux) in series for my 12V system. Although series is a bit rubbish it would be a good first step and we could decide how good the lighting was.
He had to buy a few bits and bobs for the job – here they all are!
On a sunny Saturday in October we planned to do the first bit of work on Penelope. It was decided to do it here in my house (as Frank, my landlord, has a very comprehensive tool room).
The first thing was to get Penelope in a position where she is easy to work on – in other words, lying on her side on a table. Frank, Klaus and I lifted her up and chocked her so the lid could be open without putting too much pressure on the hinge.
She looks like a beached whale (orca!) lying on her side
And when you look inside you see this jumble of wiring and the metal frame in which the current lights were fixed.
There were wires going from the battery area to the mystery black box and from there to the lights, so the black box was removed to see what was in there.
Later on James worked out what was going on in the black box:
The penciled circuit diagram sketch is actually the old ‘mystery’ circuit from the black box – configured as twin current regulators.
With the black box out it was time to also remove the existing headlamps.
Here is Penelope with one removed…
A close-up from the outside. You can see how scratched and crazed the perspex is which is also reducing the available light (apparently the perspex for the Orca is a slightly different shape so I can’t buy a replacement)
And here’s the view from inside with no headlamps (the wiring you can see goes to the indicators). And the very solid frame that the lights hung from.
Here is the gubbins removed.
Frank my landlord had looked at the frame and bought a couple of items he thought would work to mount the lights – he explained his suggestions to Klaus who was doing the fitting and it all seemed good.
First of all an extra bracket was fitted to attach the lights to.
And another one for the other light.
The idea was to pass a screw across the bottom of the light (B&M lights are designed for this) and to attach it to the bracket, but the screws that Frank had didn’t have long enough threads. But it turned out Frank had a special thread-lengthening tool which Klaus used to make the thread go the whole way down.
The wiring from the lights to the main power obviously needed to be done so that was the next job for Klaus.
He had spent a lot of time with his test meter working out which cables to use as there were rather a lot jumbled up in Penelope’s nose but he found one that provided 12V so that was used. The second cable was just put aside as it wasn’t needed.
Then Klaus fitted the new lamps – which was a surprisingly fiddly job. They JUST fitted in the cut-out in Penelope’s eye sockets.
And here you can see the mounting point and the new wiring.
So with all that done it was time for celebratory cake (made by Lara)…
And then to wait for darkness to fall to test the lights.
And the conclusion was:
I then used Penelope a bit for some evening rides and very quickly came to the conclusion that they were still not bright enough for safe usage. So Plan B (which was always in Klaus’s mind) would have to come into play in due course.
As I was riding to my VHS German course one day I turned the grip shifter to change gear and… nothing happened! At the time I was crossing a busy road with the green pedestrian traffic light so I carried on pedalling very fast (I had attempted to change up two gears) and tried to work out what had happened.
It seemed that the Rohloff was stuck in one gear, a fairly low one. Which was inconvenient 10km into a 40km round trip.
I soon realised the problem was not actually with the gears but with the attachment between the grip-shift and the gear system.
The problem with grip-shifts on recumbents is that you have to use the opposite side of your palm from your thumb to grip to change gears (on an upright bike you are using the circle between thumb and forefinger). The heel of your hand is not very good at making a strong grip (which is the problem I often had with the grip shifts on my Trice Q in the rain). So what the makers of the Versatile did, very sensibly, is attached the Rohloff’s grip shift to the entire handlebar column that you hold – so you turn the entire thing.
Here is Poppy demonstrating…
Basically the superglue (yes, that’s what Flevobike used) had failed after nine years. It was possible to change gear by twisting the very bottom section (in this photo I have lifted up the twist grip so you can see the underlying metal) but this resulted in skinned knuckles.
Fortunately Frank glued this for me and harmony was restored.
It did actually fail a second time (Frank hadn’t had the ideal glue) whilst my husband was visiting so we invested in some superglue and it was further repaired and seems to be holding well.
Lighting Upgrade Stage 2 – Why did it go dark?
As mentioned above, I had already realised that the lighting upgrade was not enough for safe cycling in the dark, so had continued to use my helmet-mounted light as well. Which was rather fortunate as one day, 3km from home, the main headlamps went completely dark. No light. I had had occasional flickers from the right-hand side lamp but this was rather more dramatic.
I rode home just on the head torch and sent Klaus a message. He suggested bringing Penelope to his house the following Saturday (when I had my 3 hour choir practice fairly near where he lives) and he would borrow a testing gadget from work and have a look whilst I was singing. This was partly to check different brightnesses if we ran Penelope’s lights at a higher voltage. Apparently these lamps have a LOT more light at up to 7.5V. Friend Kim had given me various advice following testing of a lamp for her partner’s trike but the situation of these lamps is slightly different (behind a perspex screen so no cooling airflow). Klaus wanted to check the temperatures when they were running at higher voltages.
So I cycled Penelope to Klaus’s house and left her there while I went to my choir practice. This is what I found when I got back…
Klaus had spent a lot of time testing brightness and temperature at different voltages, as you can see here (testing both lamps together).
His conclusion was that he was concerned that if we ran the lights in parallel at 7.5V they would get too hot but he thought 7V would be OK. I managed to negotiate him up to 7.2V.
James my husband had done some investigation and decided on a mystery widget that reduces the voltage from 12V to whatever we wanted (I spent a lot of time trying to persuade Klaus that 7.5V would be OK but he wouldn’t budge).
Anyway, we agreed that James would buy the gadget and that when he was here over Christmas or in the New Year we would change the lights from 6V in series to 7.2V in parallel.
Klaus couldn’t find out why the lights went dark though (they were working the next day when I tried again) so that was a remaining mystery.
Repairs to Penelope’s bodywork
As mentioned above, Penelope had some redecoration when being borrowed by some friends of mine.
A low-speed roll onto the left side produced the following new features:
The roll to the right side was at a higher speed so the scratches were more extensive and went forward of the hinged lid.
I got some quotes from car paint places for repairs and they ranged from 400-600 Euros which seemed way too much. James my husband suggested that possibly a vinyl wrap (like people do on cars) might be a reasonable option.
We both looked into it a bit and it seemed like it was worth a go as if we did it ourselves the wrap would be pretty cheap and if it didn’t work well we could go for the professional paint job option.
James suggested the carbon fibre-effect wrap so there was a slight pattern (and any imperfections underneath would be less obvious). The issue was what colour – the pink/purple of Penelope did not seem to be available. In the end I decided on silver as I thought that would go OK with purple and would also perhaps be easier to see in the dusk (I think that Penelope is not always that visible).
However the actual wrapping needed to wait for James’s arrival in mid-January for a visit.
Lighting Upgrade Stage 3 – Regulator to run the lights at 7.2V
So James and Klaus had discussed everything between them and James had purchased the regulator widget thing that would be necessary to run the lights at 7.2V.
He tested it with a 12V battery at home and it seemed to light up nicely.
The regulator was delivered to me in December when my friends from Colchester visited (James gave them a small care parcel for me). But with the busyness of Christmas we didn’t have a chance to do anything about the lighting upgrade until James’s visit in January.
Because we needed a Saturday (we might need to buy some parts during the job) it was decided that the day of James’s arrival we would work on Penelope, and in fact Klaus arrived before James got here. He’s a hard worker and settled down to work straight away.
James arrived shortly afterwards directly from the Hook of Holland and settled down to a quarter slice of this rather fantastic cake I bought from the local bakery.
Then it was back to work – two electronic engineers soldering away on my dining table.
The plan was to reuse the mystery black box to put the regulator in. So first of all the contents were removed and then it was necessary to fix the regulator in with a hot glue gun.
Rather than using the existing connectors Klaus had liberated one of his work’s special connector thingies to use which would be a lot more secure.
The black box had a small window which now showed a red glow from the voltage readout. Because it would be beyond my feet in Penelope it would not be visible but would be a useful hint that the gadget is working.
The weather was really awful (blowing a gale, pouring with rain – James’s overnight ferry crossing had been with force 9 winds) so we weren’t entirely sure where we would do the actual work on Penelope. We had decided we would probably need to use the garage (but remove as much as we could from it) but that would probably mean lying on the floor as there wasn’t a large enough table in there. Fortunately my landlord Frank came to the rescue again and asked our next-door neighbour Gerd, who has a workshop for his historic tractor, if we could use his space. He said yes so Penelope was soon installed in an excellent workshop, protected from the wind and the elements.
Klaus’s job was to wire the regulator (in the black box) to the lights. James did a few odd jobs around other parts of Penelope, including cleaning up the mess of oil that had come out of the Rohloff.
Once the wiring was in place it was time to test the regulator. James and Klaus were looking at the box, I was asked to turn on the power. And, almost instantly, “TURN IT OFF!”
Something was clearly wrong and we had a rather bad feeling that perhaps the regulator was now dead (it was £3.50 from Ebay direct from China so not exactly a major investment, fortunately). Some further investigation showed that the wiring within Penelope wasn’t corresponding to the usual colour scheme so things were swapped around and we had another go, fully expecting the regulator to be dead. But no! Light! It appeared there was a sacrificial diode or something to deal with the wrong polarity (or whatever the problem was – I am a bit hazy on electronics).
We assume that this issue is why Penelope’s lights failed and occasionally flickered as the wiring was a bit weird.
Anyway, when it was all plugged in again wired the correct way round the lights were working! We dialled the voltage up and down and watched them get brighter and dimmer. We had agreed 7.2 Volts so that’s what the regulator ended up on. The black box was then sealed and the wires tidied away inside Penelope so that all was neat.
She had lights! They were clearly brighter than before! The proof was in the testing over the next few days… and the result is excellent. They are bright enough to ride by without any additional lighting and the 12V battery seems to last a lot longer than it used to. A real success! Once again thanks to Klaus and James for all their hard work with Penelope’s electrics.
A visit to the Netherlands for a service
Penelope’s Rohloff is supposed to be serviced every year but it had been almost two years since it was last done and it had been leaking oil for quite a long time (apparently this is normal). I had struggled to find good instructions on how to do the oil change – the rear swing-arm has to be disassembled – so in the end decided it would be much more sensible to take it to Ligfietsshop Tempelman in Dronten, to Gerrit Tempelman who is a Versatile Velomobile service chap. I had spoken with Gerrit on the phone a couple of times and he seemed very helpful.
The main issue was how to get Penelope to Dronten (near Lelystadt) in the Netherlands. The answer was, once again, to impose upon the helpfulness of Frank my landlord and borrow his VW Bus.
Before we went we gave Penelope a good clean and discovered a previously-unnoticed crack in her upper plastic.
We suspect this was actually caused when she was lying on the table in Gerd’s garage when we were finishing the lighting. James effected a repair from the inside with a piece of plastic. this is not a structural element but it was a bit of a shame.
Anyway, we headed off in the VW to Dronten on another rainy, windy day. Not a day to be cycling, much better to be in a warm car. We had made an appointment with Gerrit so he had time to do the service and he had agreed we could watch it all so we knew what to do next time ourselves.
So Penelope was duly installed on a blanket on the floor of Gerrit’s workshop.
One thing about Gerrit – he works really fast! Within just a minute or two the rear wheel was removed so the swing-arm was free.
He then undid the panel underneath Penelope to check the chain – it was fine. It is the first time I have seen Penelope’s chain in 5000km of riding.
He then opened up the swing-arm. The loose-ish thing at the top is the Rohloff hub.
The Rohloff just lifted out.
It was pretty much empty of oil so he put some more in and that was that. Normally you’re supposed to run the thing with a cleaning solution and change gear but as that involves completely rebuilding the swing arm, and then undoing it all again, he just adds the oil.
He put it all back together again fairly quickly (the whole thing was less than 15 minutes) and checked the idlers for the chain.
Because of the problems mentioned above with the twist-grip shifter I thought it worth having new Rohloff gear cables so he did those too.
And then the final major check was the suspension. These suspension arms can be rather pricey if they need replacing (I think he said 150 Euros each). Both had some cracks/tears in the gaiters so he changed them both and then tightened up the suspension. Some play had developed between the two steering handles and this was also improved a bit.
I wondered about lowering the seat (it was on the highest spacers) which he thought was a good idea as I am quite tall but he didn’t have the right size spacers. But he is clearly a resourceful chap and put together some spacers from washers and lowered the seat.
This was not just to keep my face a bit more out of the airflow but also because it marginally lowered the centre of gravity. I always feel safe in Penelope but the fact that two friends have rolled her means it is wise to be careful. Gerrit said that Versatiles can roll when ridden by people not used to recumbent trikes and probably the reason I have been fine is that I’ve ridden 75,000km in recumbent trikes so am used to them.
Gerrit’s shop was a real treasure-trove of recumbents and various parts.
Including this rather old and battered Versatile that he was servicing for someone.
Overall we were there for an hour and three quarters and I was expecting a bill of about 300 Euro for that time (including parts) but was amazed that the cost was only 97 Euro. James and I were really pleased with that and we will definitely take Penelope to Gerrit again if she needs any more attention – excellent, efficient service and a good price.
Repairing Penelope’s scratches
So now James was back in Germany it was time to do the repairs to Penelope’s bodywork both sides.
The first job was to remove the signwriting of my blog name. This involved a hairdryer and some patience.
The next job was to fill some of the worst dents/cracks/scratches with some flexible filler. James had bought some boat stuff with him and it worked well.
After all this had dried James did a test section of wrap which was mediumly successful but it didn’t stick terribly well. The instructions had said that the wrap worked best when applied with an ambient temperature of 15 degrees or more – but it was less than 5 degrees in the garage.
Fortunately Klaus came to the rescue again. He and his wife offered for James to use their lounge to do the work (whilst the rest of us were out at the Karneval event mentioned in my recent blog post). There would be enough space for James to work and also some peace and quiet.
So I just needed to ride Penelope to Klaus’s house which I did – he came along too, and had a quick go in Penelope. Here you can see the filler on the side panel and the first section of vinyl wrap.
So I rode to Klaus’s house in Viersen with him and James came along by car with the wrap and tools and whatever else was needed.
Here is Penelope safely installed in a nice, warm living room.
James just had to get started.
We all disappeared off to Karneval (for another three hour session of shouting, watching people stomping around in strange clothing and attempting to catch flying food and small gifts) whilst James (and Poppy) peacefully worked on Penelope.
And when we returned…
He had done an excellent job (Poppy was impressed too).
And here is Penelope outside in the fresh air with her new look:
The crack in her side was still a little bit visible underneath the wrap but all the other scratches had disappeared.
This was an excellent job by James as you can see. I think the silver helps with visibility too. I am vaguely toying with the idea of getting James to wrap the rest of her on his next visit but there would be some extremely tricky areas round her rear-view mirrors and lights so it’s probably just best to leave her like this – two-tone trike.
I sent pictures of the new look to my mother in law who then stumbled across the perfect hat for Penelope at a church bazaar and bought it for me.
Lighting Upgrade Stage 4 – LED strip lights
On the German Velomobilforum I spotted a photo of an Orca (newer version of the Versatile) with LED striplights along the side. Of course I HAD to have these.
I contacted the owner of the Orca and asked what he used and he sent me the information so a few days later I had ordered some white and red 12V LED striplights and once again twisted Klaus’s arm to fit them for me.
The package arrived – tiny, tiny lights, 60 per metre.
Poppy was impressed with them too.
I had 3 metres of white and 2 metres of red. The guy with the Orca had said that I would need 2.5 metres of red and 1.5 of white (but they only came in full metre lengths) so we had a bit of spare as well which might be useful.
Klaus developed a man-cold so didn’t want to do the work in the garage so once again his lounge became a velomobile workshop.
He nursed the hope that the other mystery cable that went into the original black box would also have a 12V feed and would work on the second light switch that Penelope has (there are two switches, red and green, which were for the different brightnesses of lights in the original installation. At the moment only the ‘green’ button did anything). If that wasn’t the case then he’d have to invent some kind of switch as I would not always want these lights on (they would use a lot more power than the headlamps so would drain my batteries more quickly).
Klaus wielded his test meter and lo and behold the second cable did indeed have 12V. Hurrah! This meant it ought to be a very easy job to fit.
It involved drilling holes in the very solid plastic of Penelope’s bottom half. This hole is for the wiring for the front light strip.
Poppy was doing excellent duty of guard dog in the garden to prevent anyone stealing my cool velomobile.
And a second hole for the rear light cabling. (Poppy again is carefully observing that everything is being done correctly).
And now feeding the cabling through the hole before soldering it in place.
And we decided to turn on the switch to check it works – it does!!!!!
Now we knew it worked the final solders were put in place and then it was time to stick the lights to the body of Penelope (it had a self-adhesive backing strip)
And here is the finished job.
Penelope seems rather happy with it too!
Klaus took a photo of me as I was about to set off home – how cool does the velomobile look?
On my 20km ride home I got so many astonished looks – even more than normal!
I kept the lights on the whole way home (they actually illuminate the near field rather well and that’s quite useful on some of the Radwege with bumps and tree roots) but as expected they did take quite a toll on the battery. I was using the left-hand battery (which I had used for about three hours previously with the headlamps and rear light on) but it reduced from three yellow blobs and three reds to just two reds in the 55 minute journey.
Obviously battery usage is something I will need to be aware of but for my usual ride lengths this is no problem at all.
I definitely think the extra visibility from the side is a safety bonus (as Penelope isn’t that obvious due to her lighting arrangement when viewed directly from the side) but of course the real reason for having the striplights is for the coolness factor.
I also put together the new wheel covers (the old ones had been damaged in the crashes) and fitted them to the wheels so she now has the solid wheel look. Velomobile friend Oliver had delivered me these new wheel covers almost eight months ago and I hadn’t yet got round to fitting them (the old ones were tatty) but I am glad I hadn’t as there was too much damage after the crashes to reuse them. So Penelope now looks very new and shiny.
So anyway, here is Penelope’s new look, which has cost about £110 in total (for the headlamps, strip lights and vinyl wrap) so great value. This is of course not factoring in any costs of labour from my two helpful engineers. Thanks again to James and Klaus for all the work on Penelope – my only payment to them is occasional cakes.