Tag Archives: Flevobike

Penelope gets a makeover

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.

P in the dark

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!

P Lighting Stuff 1

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.

P on table

P open

She looks like a beached whale (orca!) lying on her side

Penelope the beached whale

P from underneath

And when you look inside you see this jumble of wiring and the metal frame in which the current lights were fixed.

P wire spaghetti

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.

P Black Box

Mystery electronics.

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.

James's circuit diagram

With the black box out it was time to also remove the existing headlamps.

Here is Penelope with one removed…

P one light missing

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)

P one light missing 2

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.

P inside no lamps

Here is the gubbins removed.

Black box and old lamps

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.

Light mounting bracket

And another one for the other light.

Brackets ready

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.

Threading a screw

The wiring from the lights to the main power obviously needed to be done so that was the next job for Klaus.

Connectors ready

Soldering time

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.

Lights in place

And here you can see the mounting point and the new wiring.

P new lights in place with wiring

So with all that done it was time for celebratory cake (made by Lara)…

cherry cake

And then to wait for darkness to fall to test the lights.

And the conclusion was:

6V lights completed

Brighter.

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.

Twist grip

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…

Twist Grip unglued 1

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.

Twist Grip unglued 2

Fortunately Frank glued this for me and harmony was restored.

Twist Grip reglued

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…

Penelope with testing machine

Testing stuff

Klaus had spent a lot of time testing brightness and temperature at different voltages, as you can see here (testing both lamps together).

Calculations 1

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:

P scratch left side 1

P scratch left side 2

The roll to the right side was at a higher speed so the scratches were more extensive and went forward of the hinged lid.

P scratch right side 1

P scratch right side 2

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).

Vinyl Wrap 1

Vinyl Wrap 2

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.

Regulator

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.

Soldering

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.

Cake

Then it was back to work – two electronic engineers soldering away on my dining table.

Two engineers soldering

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.

Sticking the thingie into the black box

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.

Turck cables

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.

Working on Penelope at Gerd's 1

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.

Working on Penelope at Gerd's 2

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!”

Magic smoke.

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.

Penelope in bus

Before we went we gave Penelope a good clean and discovered a previously-unnoticed crack in her upper plastic.

Penelope crack

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.

P service 1

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.

P service 2

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.

P chain

He then opened up the swing-arm. The loose-ish thing at the top is the Rohloff hub.

P open swing arm

The Rohloff just lifted out.

P swing arm without Rohloff

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.

P chain fiddling

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.

P new Rohloff cables

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.

P suspension check

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.

Inside Tempelman's Shop 1

Inside Tempelman's Shop 2

Inside Tempelman's Shop 3

Inside Tempelman's Shop 4

Including this rather old and battered Versatile that he was servicing for someone.

Inside Tempelman's Shop 5

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.

Scratch Repair 1

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.

Scratch Repair 2

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.

First test 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.

Considering the options

Ready for work on P

James just had to get started.

Interesting lounge decoration

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…

Wrapping complete

He had done an excellent job (Poppy was impressed too).

And here is Penelope outside in the fresh air with her new look:

Penelope's New Look 1

Penelope's New Look 2

Penelope's New Look 3

The crack in her side was still a little bit visible underneath the wrap but all the other scratches had disappeared.

Penelope's New Look 4

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.

Penelope bobble hat

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.

LED lighting 1

LED Lighting 3

Poppy was impressed with them too.

LED Lighting 2

LED Lighting 4

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.

P ready for work

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.

Drilling holes 1

Poppy was doing excellent duty of guard dog in the garden to prevent anyone stealing my cool velomobile.

Poppy as guard dog

And a second hole for the rear light cabling. (Poppy again is carefully observing that everything is being done correctly).

Drilling holes 2

And now feeding the cabling through the hole before soldering it in place.

Feeding wires through

And we decided to turn on the switch to check it works – it does!!!!!

Testing testing

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)

REar light in place

And here is the finished job.

FInished 1

Finished 2

Penelope seems rather happy with it too!

Happy Penelope

Klaus took a photo of me as I was about to set off home – how cool does the velomobile look?

Cool Penelope

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.

Battery meter

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.

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Filed under Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

SPEZI Radmesse – a quick report

For the past nineteen years there has been a Special Bike Show in Germersheim near Mannheim in Germany, called SPEZI Radmesse.

Spezi Radmesse

This year was my chance to attend!

Last July I met a bunch of velomobile riders from Germany, one of whom lives near me in Schwalmtal. Back them he said that I could go to SPEZI with him so all the details were finalised over the last few weeks. I would drive to Rolf’s house in Schwalmtal for 7am and then we would travel together in his car to Germersheim. The original plan was to collect Gabriele (Jedrik) and a friend on the way past Bonn but in the end Gabriele decided to cycle to Germersheim in her Quest Velomobile the day before, which she duly did (all 280km).

The night before I left for SPEZI Lara, the daughter of the house, asked what time I was leaving as she had to be at Kempen railway station by 6:15am for a train to Köln for a University event. As I had planned to leave at 6:15am I was happy to get up fifteen minutes earlier to save her cycling to the station and having to lock her bike up all day.

The battery in my car had seemed a bit weak recently but I was reluctant to start it the day before to check as I’d need to run it for a fair while to recharge it and I didn’t have anywhere to go on the car – I hadn’t used it for a fortnight and apart from this trip to Schwalmtal had no plans to use it for at least a month. So I warned Lara that it was a bit dodgy.

And I was right – the car didn’t start. It almost did, then gave up. Fortunately Lara’s father was awake and I had jump leads ready so we tried to jump start it using their Opel Agila; no dice. So Frank moved the Agila away and brought over their VW Transporter – again, it was almost catching but not quite. Time was ticking away for Lara’s train (she had a specific ticket for the 6:15 train) so I assumed Frank would drive her to the station himself in their car and I’d see what I could do about starting mine later (or get a taxi to Rolf’s or something). Instead Frank handed me the keys to the Agila and said to take that, and that his insurance would cover me.

So I grabbed my stuff, locked up my car and hopped into the Agila with Lara.

For the last twenty years I have driven an automatic car as my bad arm doesn’t get on well with manual gearboxes. Of course in a German car the gear stick is on my ‘good’ side but it was still an interesting start to the morning, driving an entirely unfamiliar car, left hand drive, which was a manual. I wasn’t very good at finding the clutch biting point for the first mile or so but eventually got the hang of it.

Lara made it to Kempen station with five minutes to spare. I dropped her off and then headed on to Schwalmtal.

There doesn’t seem to be that much traffic in this part of the world during the day but at 6:15am on a Saturday morning it was beautifully quiet – I was pretty much on my own for the whole forty minute journey.

I arrived at Rolf’s, parked the car and then we hopped into his Vectra and headed off to the A61 motorway which would take us pretty much the whole way to Germersheim. (333km).

Rolf said that a few years ago he got stuck in a traffic jam and it took him six hours – this year the roads were great and we were there after just three hours.

We parked right opposite the exhibition halls (with free parking – you’d never get free parking at an exhibition in the UK!) and walked past the Parcours to get to the Halls. There were bikes and trikes and other weird vehicles whizzing about everywhere the whole time!

The entrance fee was 9.50€ which I thought was pretty decent and was given a blue wristband to allow me access to the various halls and outside areas. There were also various brochures and maps handed to me.

photo

I went straight into Hall 1 which had a group of exhibitors including ICLETTA who are the German distributors of ICE Trikes (and other bikes/trikes). ICLETTA’s stand was being shared with three chaps from ICE.

Displayed proudly on the stand was Maria Leijerstam‘s White ICE Cycle which she used to ride to the South Pole in December.

And here is Elliot from ICE who seemed to know exactly who I was when I introduced myself. Most of the visitors to SPEZI seemed to be Germans and speaking German so perhaps he was pleased to speak English with someone. Anyway he was extremely helpful, talking to me for over an hour about a lot about the changes and updates that ICE have been doing recently to the range. Here he is standing beside Kurt Seifert (of ICLETTA)’s ICE Sprint with Rohloff and various other changes from the standard ICE Sprint.

During our conversation we spotted a guy in a red cycling jersey with reflective writing on the front saying ‘Keep calm and ride an ICE Trike’. The chap had a Lonsdale London backpack and jogging bottoms so I assumed he was a Brit but no, he was German. We had a good chat (I translated the salient bits for Elliot) and discovered that this chap prints his own cycling jerseys. He gave me his card – he is Tomas Bernd Wiedemann and his website is www.mobil-mit-muskelkraft.de. And here is his page about jerseys and other cycling gear that he produces: Liegerad T-Shirts, Pullover, Trikots uvm. His comment to Elliot was that ICE didn’t do enough merchandising really!

After having a very enjoyable chat with Elliot I wandered on and had a really good look around. I was amazed at the number of different recumbent bike and trike dealers, as well as lots of upright bikes, Bromptons and other folders, electric bikes, vehicles for people with disabilities and more.

Readers of my blog know that I have recently bought a Flevobike Versatile. The Versatile is now marketed as the Flévelo Orca. Flévelo had two Orcas at the show and it was really interesting to see them – the differences in the nine years since Penelope was built aren’t significant but incremental.

I had a chat with André Vrielink, the original builder of the Versatile/Orca, and got a few bits of advice from him. He was keen to sell me a new Orca of course… maybe in the future with the electric assist…

There are a lot of Steintrikes (from Austria) trikes in Germany it seems. The Wild One, very popular, seemed extremely complicated at the front:

I subsequently saw one whizzing past and it seems to cant over on cornering which probably explains all that faffage at the crosspiece.

I did feel it was rather unfortunate that they used Comic Sans font for the logo though!

There were hundreds of people at the exhibition and it was a beautiful day – 25 degrees and sunny. The second day of the exhibition, the Sunday (today), it’s rather rainier in Germany so I hope those exhibiting outside are still having a good time.

There were some very fast-looking recumbents from Troytec

And hundreds of people whizzing around on recumbents and other weird bikes and I didn’t see a single crash. Rolf, who I travelled with and has visited SPEZI many times, said he had never seen an accident. Amazing! People were riding round the exhibition halls too.

I was also pleased to see loads of disabled people visiting – hopefully they were getting options for bikes that might suit their individual needs.

ICE trikes put a link on Facebook to photographs taken before the exhibition opened so you can get a flavour of what was on display without hundreds of people standing in the way:

Elliptigo were exhibiting – I last saw one of these on the last stretch of LEL. Amazing machines!

In the background here is Sinner, current makers of the Mango velomobile:

The very popular Velomobiel.nl stand!

An unusual vehicle:

More recumbents on display:

Räder-Werk with their world record Milan (I think!)

There were lots of Tandem stands including this one from Santana:

And here is the Hase stand – they had some Pinos on display as well (out of shot)

And the local Germersheim bike shop had their own stand with lots of things including some pretty cool flags (unfortunately 25€ plus so I didn’t succumb)

Three wheels good… four wheels better?

Or how about this, the Veloschmitt:

Modelled on the Messerschmitt Kabinenroller of the 1950s

And more photos (again courtesy of ICE’s Facebook feed)

These are all Greenmachines from Flevobike (who made the Versatile):

A folding electric bike thingy – but 27.5kg so quite a lot to carry

The display bikes were all pretty shiny although there were a lot that you could try out there and then. I had to periodically dodge people cycling within the Halls.

Outside lots of people had their own bikes/trikes/velomobiles that they had brought with them, some were for sale (a great opportunity to advertise your unusual bike to a receptive audience, I suppose). But there were also some fun things to try:

Five HASE trikes linked together like a train.

The SPEZI shuttle. I used this – knackering on the legs for just 200 metres!

A very shiny Ordinary. The chap says it was from the Czech Republic and very new.

And this very weird spinning bike thing – a Health & Safety nightmare if ever I saw one, but the Germans aren’t too fussed about H&S

And below should be a short video of it:

I had a very enjoyable day.

We had a two hour look around and then met for lunch with some others which was long and leisurely at a Vietnamese place, then went back to look at more bikes.

I managed to only spend about 20€ on things at Spezi – a t-shirt from the German HPV association (my friend was manning their stand) and a set of cleats for a tenner.

Rolf and I left at 5:30 after meeting up with some of his friends from the German Velomobilforum. You can tell velomobile riders – they all have very tanned faces but very pale arms and legs. I am purposely using Alfie the trike every few days to attempt to get a bit more of a tan!

Anyway, good fun was had, and I was home by 9:30pm without crashing the landlord’s car. Bonus!

I certainly recommend SPEZI as an event to visit – there was loads going on and plenty of food on offer which didn’t have ridiculous price hikes like you might see in the UK at exhibitions. There was some kind of racing event going on that I didn’t watch and a whole hall of E-bikes which I only had a cursory look around. All in all well worth the entrance fee and a great way to experience some of the weirder bike options that are out there!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Trikes & Velomobiles

The Versatile Velomobile – and V006 in particular

A week or so ago I bought myself a Flevobike Versatile Velomobile, having ridden it for five miles. Obviously I had done a little bit of research on these beforehand, which included getting in contact with several owners of Versatiles, so I thought I’d write a bit about what I have learned as there doesn’t seem to be much out there in English.

My search for a suitable velomobile

The first thing I want to mention is that in my search for a velomobile I found myself constantly amazed at how helpful people were. I had lots of advice on which velomobile to choose from the German velomobilforum.de, as well as several other people who had owned/ridden different machines.

The main options offered by various velomobile riders were:

Alleweder A4

Cab-bike

Go-One Evo-R

Leitra

Leiba Classic

Mango

Milan

Quest

Strada

Sunrider

Versatile

WAW

Although with further testing (various people attempting to get in and out of their velomobiles one-handed) I had to discount Mango, Milan, Quest, Strada and WAW as too difficult to get in-or-out one-handed. Sunrider was way too heavy at 50kg. WAW was also outside my price range, etc etc.

I did more research and made a shortlist which was headed by the Versatile. The Germans on the forum felt that I should really put the Leitra first but I just couldn’t get over its looks which definitely do not work for me.

Plus the Leitra doesn’t have an enclosed chainline and it usually has derailleur gears. However it is 10kg lighter than the Versatile. In the end the Versatile’s selection of features won out in my shortlisting!

The Versatile/Orca

This velomobile was designed by Johan Vrielink and built at Flevobike in the Netherlands. Eventually production shifted to Flévelo in Lübeck, Germany, and the velomobile was given a new name, Orca. The Orca is visually very similar to the Versatile but I think there are quite a lot of small changes to the innards, one of which is that you can now have electric assist.

Here’s Flévelo’s website: http://www.flevelo.de/Velomobil_Orca_Flevobike.html

They give technical information on the Orca which is pretty similar to the Versatile.

Size, Weight, Construction
Length – 243 cm
Width – 78 cm
Height – 94 cm
Track width – 74 cm
Wheelbase – 125 cm
Weight – 39 kg
Load capacity – about 150 kg
Turning circle – 6 metres
Seat height – about 20 cm
Entrance sill/threshhold – 40 cm
Seat angle – 35 to 50 degrees
Rear suspension – single arm
Front suspension – McPherson struts
Steering – control levers
Upper bodywork – Epoxy-GFK or carbon (Versatiles were made of other materials, see below)
Chassis – Twintex (GFK / Polypropylen) (again, Versatiles may be made of other materials)

Technical Details
Gearing – Rohloff 14-speed hub gear
Chains – two. Front is 90 link (113cm), rear for someone of my size is 249 link (316cm)
Brakes – two front drum brakes
Parking brake – On rear wheel

The Versatile was originally released in 2003, priced at 6000€ (pretty steep for a velomobile, the faster/leaner Mango was two-thirds of that price and the much faster Quest a little lower). However the Versatile seems to have been aiming at a different market – not speed but comfort, reliability and sound construction.

Some of its features, which were original/uncommon, include:

• The gear is a special modificated Rohloff hub gear that is placed between bracket and rear hub. It acts as an intermediate axle and rear fork hinge. In the place of the spokeholes there is another chainring so gear shifting is possible while stationary.

• The drivetrain is completely enclosed, so that no maintenance is needed.

• special care has been made to diminish interior noise. All vibrating parts are suspended in rubber.

Those who’ve read my blog for a while know that I have an Alfine-11 hub gear in Alfie the Trike (an ICE Sprint). The Alfine-11 is £500 which is expensive for a gear system but I like it. The Rohloff is a whole extra level and costs around £1000 in the UK.

Rohloff Hub

Here’s an explanation of the Rohloff from the Dutch Flevobike website (translated by Google and by me):

The Rohloff hub is a high quality piece of art that offers a trouble-free system, a wide gear range, gearchanging when stationary, high efficiency, light, easy operation, long life and low maintenance.

The beauty of the Rohloff is that the gears are all even steps. One gear higher means 13.6% more displacement which gives a range of 526%. These 14 gears compare with 27 derailleur gears (which offer no more than 14 or 15 effective gears because of overlaps and the skewed run of the chain).

The Rohloff hub has a high price but pays for itself quickly because it can be used with minimal maintenance or replacement parts, which is not the case for a derailleur system used for many years.

I subsequently found a webpage written when the Versatile was new which explains what the main body is made of:

The materials used for the body are thermoplasts, a first for velomobiles. The black lower half is the structural part and is made from Twintex, a continuous glassfibre reinforced polypropylene weave. This weave is vacuum bagged and heated in an oven for a short time, so that the PP weave melts and impregnates the glass fibres. This method allows for cycle times that are much shorter than the traditional hand lay-up method. Mechanical properties of Twintex are similar to a polyester-glassfibre body, except for a much higher impact resistance and higher durability. Moreover, thermoplast are much more environmentally friendly and can be recycled, contrary to thermoharders. The upper, non-structural part of the Versatile is also a thermoplast, a vacuum moulded PET (future ABS) which is painted from the inside. Most of the remaining parts are made from aluminium.

The Versatile as a suitable velomobile for Auntie Helen

Having done lots of research on what I wanted from a velomobile and my riding style/needs, the Versatile topped my list.

I read a few of the blogs on them (mostly in Dutch, which I can partially read and which Google Translate helps with anyway) and contacted one blogger, a chap called Peter van der Heul (his blog is at http://versatile072.wordpress.com/). He had owned two Versatiles and done a lot of miles in them (over 62,000km to date) so his advice would be very useful!

Peter was incredibly helpful. I sent him a list of questions about Versatiles and he wrote me a lengthy reply and took some photographs and a video.

Other people reading this blog to find out about the Versatile might have similar questions so I have included our discussion here.

How easy is it to get in and out of the Versatile for someone with a weak arm?

The Versatile has a very strong beam in the floor on which you can easily stand.

Versatile beam floor

I have made a film of me getting in and out of the Versatile using one arm.

The Versatile is heavier than many other velomobiles. In a relatively flat part of the world how much of an issue is this?

The Versatile is a bit heavier than other VMs mainly because of the Rohloff Speed hub. However I have never considered this to be a problem. The weight is only one of several reasons why the Versatile is slower than other VMs (the length, open wheel arches, the hood). I consider the Rohloff Speedhub to be one of the best features on the Versatile mainly because you can change gears when the bike is standing still. Of course it takes longer for the Versatile (or any other VM for that matter) to reach a certain speed, but it has never bothered me. I have to stop quite regularly when cycling to work every day to cross roads.

How easy is it to maintain?

As I mentioned earlier I am very pleased with the Rohloff Speedhub. I have never had any problems with the hub. The only thing I do is have the oil changed every 15.000km. Rohloff in Germany claim that the hub can reach 100.000kms without any problems. I believe them. I cycled 40.000km with my old Versatile without any problems.

The Versatile is quite easy to maintain. This is a list of the things I do myself:

  • Replacing the inside and outside (front) brake cables (every year). The cables tend to rust a bit on the inside and the parts that adjust the brakes also rust (mainly because of the salt on the roads in the winter). This is very easy to do yourself.
  • Greasing the back chain. I have drilled a small hole in the back of the cover of the rear chain (see the picture). This makes it easy to grease the chain every now and then without removing the cover (if you want to remove the cover you have to disconnect the Rohloff Speedhub). I usually stick a bit of tape on the hole to prevent dirt from getting in.
  • Greasing the front chain. This means removing the cover on the bottom of the Versatile. This is also a very easy job.

Versatile rear swing arm

There is some aluminium metalwork at the bottom. There are 2 aluminium plates which merely serve as protection for the front chain. I have never had any problems with the plates and if I did they would be easy to replace. There are also a few rods connected to the steering and they can get a bit rusty because of the salt in the winter. It is not possible for the rods to touch the ground. This has never been a problem with either Versatile. Besides if need be, they can be replaced.

I find the bottom of the Versatile to be exceptionally strong and you need not worry about any damage. I sometimes scrape the bottom over the road and this only leaves the Versatile with some scratches on the bottom plates. There are two cables at the bottom which lead to the Rohloff hub. I have damaged the outer layer of these cables when scraping the bottom of the Versatile so you have to check them every now and then or protect them with an extra layer (with my old Versatile I used an old bicycle tyre to protect the cables).

(This photo has the aluminium plates covering the steering mechanism removed – the track rods would not normally be visible).
Versatile underside

Is it very noisy inside?

All VMs make more noise than a normal bike. This takes some getting used to. But it doesn’t interfere with me hearing approaching cars or all other noises around me. The Versatile is very comfortable inside. You have a lot of room around the shoulders and the seat is adjustable. Steering with the joysticks feels natural.

Has it got a reasonable luggage capacity? Could I get my small dog in there?

Taking a dog will be a bit of a problem I think, but then again: I came across this lady with her dog some time ago:

Velomobile with dog

There is quite a bit of space at the back. I sometimes have 2 (small) bags with me. You can also place items beside the seat.

Versatile cubby

Versatile under seat

Can I ride it in all weathers?

I always cycle in the winter. I find this to be the most challenging season for the Versatile. The bike is warm inside (I always cycle in a T-shirt with long sleeves), the only problem I have is that my toes tend to get cold when it is very cold outside. Cycling through snow can be difficult and tiring, that depends on how thick the layer of snow is. If it is very thick you won’t be able to cycle because the Versatile will keep scooping snow through the holes at the front (see the picture below). I have a thicker tyre at the back which help with traction. The snow cannot reach the chains so you won’t have any problems with that.

Snowy feet

You can stay (relatively) dry in the Versatile. The small black roof that comes with the Versatile will keep the rain from dripping down the side of your head into you neck. Some rain that bounces off the front will reach your face. During long trips in the rain and with heavy showers my t-shirt will get wet around the neck and shoulders eventually.

After this extremely helpful document Peter obviously had a bit more of a think as he then sent me a follow-up email.

In you last e-mail you mentioned you will probably buy a second hand Versatile. If you do I would like to point out a few differences between the first and second generation Versatile.

The first Versatile I had (number 17) had brake handles which were attached to the top of the joystick.

brakes - old levers

There were some problems in the beginning with the brake cables. Because of the chafing of the cables in the hinges at the top the cables wore faster and could eventually break. This is not a problem if you check the cables regularly.

In the next generation the hinges are at the bottom of the joystick

brakes - new levers

The second thing I would like to point out (this is more important than the first) is the connection of the rod between the centre of the wheel to the wheel arch. In my first Versatile this rod came loose I had to make special plates to fix the rod to the wheel arch.

Track rod linkage - old

Track rod linkage - broken

I did manage to fix this http://versatile072.wordpress.com/2011/07/02/gerepareerd/ but I was not sure how long the new plates I made would hold. I never got to find out because not long after that I had the accident.

Flevobike changed this later and Versatile 72 has a better connection

Track rod linkage - new

I know that some Versatile owners changed the connection of the rod to the wheel arch but there are still Versatiles out there which haven’t been converted.

Here are some pictures of the underside of the Versatile. This is with the protecting plate in place.

Versatile Underside 1

This is with the plate removed, showing the steering linkage.

Versatile Underside 2

At this point I’d been in contact with Alex who was selling Versatile 006 and we’d had a bit of a discussion about me possibly buying it. Alex said that he had done less than 1000km in the Versatile in the year that he’d had it.

As if Peter hadn’t been helpful enough, he managed to come up with the email address of the previous owner of Versatile 006 (the person who owned it before Alex). It was owned by the wife of Wilfred and she had a blog as well but there wasn’t that much on it. I had a look at http://velomobielfan.blogspot.nl/ but couldn’t find an easy way to contact Wilfred or his wife through the blog but Peter was able to pass on his email address.

Of course, once again I feel shockingly British as I have to contact people in English (which isn’t their language) in the hope that they will understand it. Which, being Dutch, of course they do. I sent Wilfred an email asking for any information and got the following:

About the number of kilometres it’s driven, it’s a guess ofcourse.
The First owner was a recumbent salesman from Belgium. He used the Versatile just for promotion, not for driving. He claimed to have driven about 500 (five hundred, so no mistakes in the ammount of zeros) kilometres.
My Wife? Wild guess: 5000 but it’s rather less than more. After our ownership I don’t know of course. But I don’t think it’s much. So its a rather ‘young’ Versatile even though it’s one of the First.

Good thing to know:
The First Versatiles had different hinges. Versatile 006 is upgraded to a more reliable version. The original upper body was made of PET (plastic soda bottles are made of PET). But PET didn’t seem a good material. So this was also upgraded to another material: ABS, the same material car bumpers are made of (nowadays it’s made from glass fiber and expoxy but not on V006)

Electrics are not original. I did this upgrade myself. Tail light broke down each time with the original light. My home made version lasted at least the time we owned the Versatile. Front lights were also replaced. Originally there were halogen lights. I replaced them with 3W Luxeon LEDs. This had a few good things: 1) lower power consumption (3W vs 5 or 6W). I made them dimmable. I like to drive with lights on to be seen primairy. Less light is often enough AND saves even more power. Then both lights turn on at the same time (consumes more power but because of the previous mentioned things, in Total the power consumption is still less). This looks nicer. But in the Netherlands a tricycle with 2 front wheels must have 2 front lights burning at night.
Because of the setting, you have the option to drive with ‘low’ light but have the option to use them also to signal (push button and they light up brighter), this is the ‘maximum’ ammount of light which can also be turned on at night but then the signal function doesn’t work.

Originally the Versatile has 4 amber lights for signalling left/right. They were 5W light bulbs. They didn’t give enough light in the sun (a police man made me stop once because he didn’t see the lights so he said I didn’t show which way I was going). So another upgrade: 3W Luxeons instead of 5W light bulbs. More light, less power consumption. However: I made it 6 lights instead of 4 so the power consumption stayed about the same.

Originally the Versatile had a bigger sprocket/chainwheel which I changed to a smaller on my own Versatile021 but I think I also did it with the V006 to make it easier to drive (less power from your legs) at low speed.

Alex (the current owner) had said he’d done less than 1000km on this Versatile so overall it’s probably done less than 6,500km (4000 miles).

With all this information about V006 I felt pretty confident in what I would find when I finally visited the velomobile. Sure enough, all was as I expected – well-maintained (Alex had had it fully serviced before he bought it a year ago), well kept since in an underground garage, all the electronics worked as Wilfred explained. Within a few minutes of riding the Versatile I had decided to buy it.

How to get Penelope the Versatile from Rotterdam to Kempen

One problem with a velomobile is their size. I have a large estate car but the boot space isn’t large enough to fit a velomobile in (I can only get my trike in if I remove the seat).

Although I was living in England when I bought Penelope I had no plans to return her to England for the two months before I moved to Germany. Alex had already agreed to look after her for me until I move to Germany at the beginning of April.

It would be an easy trip by train from Kempen to Rotterdam and then I could cycle back, but it would be a 120 mile trip and it would take a couple of days – and I would have the dog with me in Kempen so couldn’t leave her for that time and she couldn’t come with me on the trip either.

Plan B was to hire a van when I am in Kempen to collect Penelope. Vince kindly offered to hire the van in the Netherlands, collect Penelope and deliver her to me (I think he was looking forward to having another go in the Velomobile!) Van hire isn’t cheap but this was a good option.

…and then Peter, owner of Versatile 72, stepped in again. It just so happens that he has made a trailer for his Versatile (you can read all about it here in Dutch). This is what it looks like:

Peter’s Versatile 072 on his trailer

Anyway, Peter kindly offered to collect V006/Penelope from Alex, to give her a check over and do the brake conversion I was planning to do (dual-pull brakes to single-pull), and then when I arrive in Germany to deliver her to me. It was an incredibly generous offer and would save me lots of hassle and expense and would also mean that someone very used to these velomobiles would be able to check it out for me so I was happy to say yes!

So it looks as though Penelope will arrive in Kempen once I am installed there and Peter is looking forward to having a go of Alfie the trike when he visits. I shall also have to introduce him to the marvellous cakes in Café Poeth in Sankt Hubert

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Filed under Penelope the Velomobile, Trikes & Velomobiles