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 emvelomobiel.be 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 emvelomobiel.be, 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

4 Responses to Pimp my Milan – Millie gets a makeover!

  1. Now it looks as though some old Messerschmitt has shot a bullet right through your British tail…

    But it’s good to see that Millie gets so much love and attention.


    Erwin & Tante Lies

  2. Pingback: Ten Wheels in Germany – April 2018 (Month 49) | Auntie Helen

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