Tag Archives: Penelope

1000 Versatile Miles

On 3 June 2014 Penelope crossed the 1000 mile / 1600km mark in my ownership.

Bike Stats 3 June 2014 in miles

Bike Stats 3 June 2014 in kilometres

So what have I learned about my new bike in that time?

Firstly, it’s brilliant fun riding a velomobile! Since I’ve had Penelope I’ve not used Alfie the ICE Sprint very much and, as is clear from the above screenshots of mileage, I certainly used him a lot in the past!

There have been lots of other little things that I’ve noticed during my riding which I’ll list below. Some of these may be specific to the Versatile, others might also be apparent with other types of Velomobile.

On hot days you need to wear gloves

This is something I should have remembered from riding my Trice Q which also has twist-grips. What this means is that to change gear you have to twist the bit of handlebar you are holding on the right hand side. This is normally no problem but if you have very wet hands (from rain on the Trice Q or from sweat in Penelope) it can be difficult to grip firmly enough. This is partly because you are gripping with the opposite side of your hand than you would on an upright bike; on an upright your grip is between the thumb and forefinger, very strong. Because the handlebars are vertical on a recumbent, you are actually gripping with your little finger side of the palm, not as strong and so it can occasionally be difficult. Cycling gloves will solve this as they always provide good grip.

Rohloff hub vs Alfine hub

The Rohloff is generally considered the top option for hub gears on bikes and deservedly so. They tend to be extremely reliable (and Rohloff the company are very good at dealing with any problems) and relatively maintenance-free, just an oil change every year or 5000km. The Alfine that I have on Alfie is slightly pickier as the cable length needs to be occasionally adjusted with a barrel adjuster to keep the cable length correct and the indexing smooth.

The Rohloff costs twice the price of the Alfine and I have to say I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the extra. It has been totally reliable so far for me but it is pretty noisy in the lower 7 gears. The Alfine seems quieter and somehow smoother. I guess time will tell! The Rohloff of course has three more gears than the Alfine which would make a difference in the Velomobile as it does need all 14.

Penelope is due her Rohloff oil change and I am currently investigating how to do this (I have bought the oil change kit as a starting point!)  There will be a blog post when I finally get round to this task – I have some promised help from a couple of German cyclists as it involves completely disassembling the rear swing-arm on the Versatile.

Penelope is not entirely waterproof

You stay pretty much dry whilst riding in her (apart from sweat!) but I was out in a colossal deluge and discovered that some water flicks off the front onto your face and neck (not a problem). But what I also found the next day is that some water had splashed up through the drain holes and made my bag of tools, which is stuffed behind the seat, slightly wet. I now have the tools in a waterproof bag that I already had so that was no real problem. However the amount of water that gets on you is tiny compared to the amount you would be drenched by with a normal bike or unfaired recumbent.

The batteries for the electrics take a bit of looking after

Penelope has a 12v lighting system and she has two battery packs that I can switch between. This works well and in normal usage one battery pack lasts about a week (normal usage just being the daytime rear light, occasional hooter use and indicator use). If the front lights are used that makes quite a difference to the battery capacity, especially as the front lights are rather poor (see below).

Alex gave me four battery packs with Penelope. Two were the originals from when Wilfred installed the 12v system (i.e. about seven years old now) and two others were newer that he had bought about a year before. The old ones are definitely looking old and I haven’t used them; the two newer ones work well except for one of the two tends to discharge very suddenly when it reaches halfway used. I’ve got a sticker on it so I know which is which and make sure that I always have the other battery topped up fully when using this one, in case it suddenly drops. My husband has made me a new battery pack which I will try out when I collect it mid-June and if it lasts longer he’ll make me another one.

When I was out riding along a bumpy cycle path I hit a series of tree roots which jolted the velomobile so much that the left hand battery packed jumped out of its mounting box and fell onto the floor (pulling out the connectors in the process). Although it was easy to put it back and put the connectors back together, I have since found that the cabling can be a bit picky – I think there’s maybe a weak solder join underneath some insulating tape. I’ll get my tame electronic engineer to have a look at it in due course.

Front lights

I have been completely spoilt with the front lighting on Alfie. He has a Schmidt SON Dynohub in his front right wheel which provides electricity for a Busch & Müller IQ Cyo front light, 60 Lux. What all that means is that basically I always have an excellently bright front light which is always enough to see by. It doesn’t need batteries, it just lights the way day and night.

Penelope has two headlights which are notably less bright than Alfie’s one. In fact, if I had to make a guess I’d say that they are combined less than 25 Lux. It makes for a bit of a scary ride in the dark on unfamiliar lanes, so much so that I have bought a Busch & Müller battery torch light (of 40 Lux) as an extra light. I can run Penelope pretty well on just this battery light (without her main lights) but if I have just the main lights and not the battery one it’s not enough to see by.

Clearly some replacement lights are in order (these are 7 years old and LED lighting technology has significantly improved in the intervening years). It’s a job beyond my engineering skills though so James my husband (who is an electronic engineer) will be drafted in to help me next time he visits! A nice pair of 40 Lux Cyos would be wonderful!

Position of parking brake

There’s a parking brake on Penelope roughly between my calves.


When I was at SPEZI I spoke to Andre Vrielink (who designed the Versatile/Orca) and we talked about some of the changes which they brought in for the newer version, the Orca. One of which is the position of the parking brake. Andre said that some people had found their flappy trousers got caught around the brake and put it on whilst going along – not great. I don’t tend to wear flappy trousers when cycling but have been sure, when occasionally wearing jeans, to roll them up when I am riding.

Puncture repairs

I have written about the ride I did early on to Schwalmtal where I ended up with three punctures on the way back. I think this was because I didn’t initially realise I had a puncture and ran on the flat tyre for a kilometre or so, thus ruining the Tryker. However I am happy with the Schwalbe Marathon tyres I subsequently put on Penelope and haven’t had any punctures from them yet.

The little wheel jack that Peter made for me is just brilliant too!

Penelope on chock


The Versatile has wheel covers (the Orca has five-spoke wheels instead). They are a consumable item, really, as it’s quite easy for them to get damaged. With the Sturmey Archer Drum Brakes the axle is wider than the rest of the wheel (unlike in my ICE trike where the axle is flush with the tyre). What this means is that if you misjudge the width of a gap then the wheel cover takes the hit.

When I bought Penelope the rear wheel covers and one of the front ones were looking a bit tired. I subsequently did more damage to the front one when dragging it across a fallen tree. Friend Oliver had to order some new wheel covers for his Mango so he’s got a pair of covers for me too and we’ll meet up somewhere (probably for cake!) for me to collect them from him. They’re pretty cheap, about 20€ a pair I believe, so it’s not a big deal.

People talk to you all the time

I’m used to this with Alfie, of course, but people REALLY talk to you a lot in the Velomobile. The questions tend to be restricted to the following:
• “Does it have an electric motor?”
• “Do you have to pedal?”
• “How much does it cost?”

With Alfie the questions were “How much does it cost?” and “How do you steer?” so a slightly different selection.

I quite enjoy chatting to people (if I’m in a hurry I say so and head off) but I guess for some people it could get a bit irritating. Alex, Penelope’s former owner, says he doesn’t miss that side of things now he rides a more normal bike.

I am faster in Penelope than on Alfie

It’s tricky to compare bike speeds as so often when I’m out riding I may go through a town centre pedestrian precinct (i.e. very slowly) or have a tailwind or something. However, at the beginning of June I did a 50km ride on Alfie which I then repeated the next day on Penelope. The routes weren’t 100% the same (I diverted to photograph a couple of churches on each ride, different churches of course!) but I estimate the diversion time and distance was pretty similar.

The route was one sent to me by recumbent rider Klaus and he rode it on Sunday 1 June.

Here’s the set of statistics, in metric measurements:

ICE Sprint vs Versatile Velomobile

The ride on 2 June is on Alfie the ICE Sprint, the 3 June ride is Penelope.

The most noticeable thing for me, when doing these two rides, is that you feel the wind so much more on Alfie that I had the impression I was going faster overall (which I clearly wasn’t).

The second thing I noticed is that things are much quieter on Alfie (the Versatile makes more noise) but that I am lower down and can’t see as much.

Despite the fact that Alfie is notably lighter than Penelope, over a long journey Penelope’s fairing has more of a beneficial effect than her weight has a negative one, if that makes sense. If I were doing a short ride with lots of stops and starts then the trike would be a better choice (assuming the weather was nice) but for any sort of distance, the enhanced cruising speed on Penelope makes it easier and quicker.

The signwriting was worth it

I wanted the signwriting on the side so that people could find out about velomobiles (I had noticed lots of people photographing the blog address embroidery on Alfie, presumably they then look it up later). I’ve had some people contact me through this blog already having seen me cycle past – it’s fun and a good opportunity to get to know some other cyclists.

Knee issues

Penelope’s former owner had an issue with his knee that the weight of the velomobile exacerbated. When I started riding her I also had painful knees for a few days so was very careful with my riding. That all now seems to be past and she feels fine to ride, especially now I have got the seat how I like it. But a velomobile, like the trike, has the same warning that you can damage your knees by overpushing (in a way that you can’t on an upright bike) so I am always aware of this.

In very hot weather the trike can be more appealing

It’s 32 degrees today in Germany and my plan for my late afternoon ride (to a café) is to go on Alfie rather than in Penelope – it just feels a bit too hot for Penelope. With the trike you get the benefit of wind when cycling so feel a bit cooler.

You stay cleaner in a velomobile

Having ridden the trike on a couple of hot days I noticed that I tend to end up with dust and dirt on my arms when triking – and I remain clean in the velomobile. I think it’s probably that the front wheels on the trike pick up dust and flick it into the air and some lands on you, even if you have mudguards on the trike. I also noticed I had more insects in my face on the trike, probably a result of it being a little bit lower down and perhaps also because with Penelope the airflow pushes insects underneath the velomobile rather than into your face.

Routine maintenance

Apart from the above-mentioned Rohloff service which is due once per year or every 5,000 miles, Penelope hasn’t needed any maintenance apart from topping up her batteries once per week. I’ve wiped her down with a cloth a couple of times (she gets a bit dirty/sandy at times) but that’s about it. I’m not expecting to need to change the chains at all – reports of chain wear suggest they last upwards of 40,000km, so Penelope has 32,000ish to go!


I’m really glad I bought Penelope and have found her quicker to get used to that I expected.

Having now seen many other types of velomobiles it’s pretty clear I wouldn’t have been able to get in and out of them with my disability. I think the choice of the Versatile was definitely right for me (this was also confirmed to me by a cycling friend over here who had also seen lots of other velomobiles – he felt that this was the best option for me).

I wonder about how difficult she would be to ride back in the UK with our hills (she is ideally suited to the flat Niederrhein area), so if I return to England I’d have to weigh that up and decide whether to bring her back or to sell her here.

As summer is approaching I expect to use Alfie more, but the Versatile is a fantastic autumn, winter and spring machine, plus an ideal bike for when it rains, or it very windy. The only real time I expect to pick the trike over the velomobile is when riding in groups with others, taking the train or when it’s a very hot and windless, dry day.


Filed under Penelope the Velomobile, Recumbent Trikes

Penelope does the Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen

The ADFC (German cycle club) in the region Krefeld-Kreis Viersen seem to have quite a lot going on (hurrah), although I suppose this is to be expected as this part of Germany is well known for its cycling.

Having been on the ADFC ride to Xanten and Wesel last Sunday I was interested to see that this Sunday’s ride was rather different in flavour, a much shorter distance.

Tour des Monats info

There was also a very detailed webpage for this tour with a GPX track and more.

I contacted Hartmut Genz to say I’d be coming along and he sent me a very nice email with lots of information about various cycling events that they have done in the past. He said he’d be at an event in Kempen the next day (Saturday, the day before this ride) and if I wanted to say hello then I should come along.

So I cycled over to the Hoffest at Gut Heimendahl (a very interesting farm complex) and enjoyed the stalls selling crafts and more, food, music and having a chat with Hartmut (on the left) and his cycling friend Ulli (on the right).

Hartmut, Ulli and meI told Gudula (my landlady) about the ride and she said that she and Frank and daughter Lara would also go so it’d be a rather enjoyable family trip. The weather forecast was for sunshine and 21 degrees so it had all the makings of an excellent day.

Which it was! I gave the dog a good walk and then came back and got ready to head off to Grefrath where the ride starts (13km/8 miles away). Originally Gudula had said they would drive to Grefrath with the bikes in the trailer as she is less used to very long rides but it turned out they decided to ride there and back as well. Lara’s friend Jonathan also decided to come along.

So at 10:15, having caught an escaped Poppy twice (she wanted to come too!) and put her back into the house, our little group of five cyclists headed over to Grefrath. One velomobile and four traditional German city bikes.

Ride to Grefrath TrackThis was 12.71km and it took us 40 minutes – we averaged 19km/h which is a pretty good speed with the German City bikes. As we were heading into Grefrath I spotted a really fast-looking recumbent bike with tailbox whizzing along the other side of the road and waved at him. I mentioned this sighting on the German Velomobile/Recumbent forum and the chap who it was said hello – he lives in Viersen and has an ICE Vortex but this was his TT bike – which I think was a TroyTec. Looked very fast anyway!

There were people marshalling us to the start point as we approached the Grefrath Freilichtmuseum (which is apparently very well worth a visit). And there were a heck of a lot of people there already, milling about and picking up various free gifts and other goodies.

I had read beforehand on the Kreis-Viersen website that there was a 5€ charge which was for lunch. Frank paid for all our entrance tickets (apparently if you have Gazelle bikes then it was free, and Frank and Gudula both ride Gazelles, but I don’t know if they got free entry) and we were each given a little book of four raffle-type tickets, the top one said ‘Essen’ and there were three that said ‘Wertmarke’. Apparently this was one ticket for food and three for drinks at the lunch stop.

WertmarkeAt the registration desk there were lots of free goodies too – a map of the route, free rear blinker lights for your bike, free baseball caps (I didn’t realise they were free else I would have got one – they were advertising Kreis Viersen, our local council) and, very typical for Germany, a free box of matches for those smoking cyclists. Oh, and a free reflective elastic trouser clip.

Kreis Viersen Free GiftsThe bag contained various newsletters, cycling information books (ringbound and laminated so good in the rain) and more. Including a leaflet on the rules about when you must use the cycle path and when you can use the road – I’ve read it all but there’s no mention of special rules for Velomobiles as there are in the Netherlands (in NL you can use the road if you are wider than 75cm which all velomobiles seem to be – probably on purpose to make the most of this ruling).

I met Hartmut, the leader, before we set off and he suggested I started off near to the front. He’s an experienced recumbent rider and knows that it can be difficult to see what’s going on in a big group when you’re on a laid-back bike. There were loads of photographers around and even people filming – there was a chap from Kreis Viersen (a council worker I guess) who had a Go-Pro attached to the back of his bike – I rode behind him for a bit so I expect I’m on film somewhere.

Here we are before the off.

Before the start
Hartmut had told me that he expected about 150 people and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were actually more than that.

I had no idea before the ride how incredibly organised it was (although this was Germany so I should probably have expected it!) I had found the GPX track online beforehand, and the official map, but I didn’t realise that they had booked out the entire lunch café for us (so we could have our food and drink with the tickets) and I didn’t really twig what the role of the police would be.

Here are two of our police escorts.

Two of our police escorts
Notice they carry guns in Germany – I find that very weird as, as an Englishwoman, I’m not at all used to guns and have never seen a pistol in the UK (as I live near Colchester where we have an army base I am used to soldiers carrying machine guns and also living in a farming area I am used to shotguns, but pistols are entirely alien to me). Anyway, there were four policemen all riding what were presumably their own bikes, the usual German city bike.

So we set off, initially riding through some of the residential areas of Grefrath.

Trundling along the back streets in Grefrath

It was quite hard riding in such a large group – people were generally riding two abreast which meant it wasn’t easy to pass, so for the first couple of miles I was pretty much stuck in the same location in the big group.

Here is our track for this ride:

ADFC Tour des Monats im Kreis Viersen May 2014

Click here to see the GPSies.com track where you can zoom in and see the route a bit more clearly.

We were soon out of Grefrath and cycling through some of the farmland that’s a feature of this area. The long line of cyclists stretched back, with people of different ages and abilities trundling along at 14km/h.

A long line of cyclists

Most cyclists wore jeans or shorts and t-shirts, there were just a few of us in lycra. It was a good example of the German attitude towards cycling – it’s an everyday thing which you do in normal clothing with any old bike. Most of the bikes were a bit battered and old and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of racing bikes and even British-style touring bikes. I was a bit surprised at one point, though, to see a chap who appeared to be cycling in his boxer shorts/underpants. I’m not sure if they were meant to be normal shorts but they didn’t look like it and I made sure I didn’t check too closely.

Between Grefrath and Mülhausen we used the Bahnradweg which I use regularly and normally feels like a fast, easy ride. With a group this size it didn’t – it felt too narrow and of course loads of other people were out on a Saturday cycle ride coming in the other direction which meant there were regular shouts of ‘Gegenverkehr!’ to warn us to squeeze across to the right a little more.


After Mülhousen and a brief additional section on the Bahnradweg we headed north towards Klixdorf in open fields.

Cyclists in open farmland

I’d stopped to take some photos and ended up riding behind my little party but one of the ADFC chaps appeared and suggested I followed him up to the front, so off we went, zooming along beside the long string of cyclists until I hit the front of the long trail of riders. I must admit the view is better at the front – you can see more of the landscape and less of other cyclists’ backsides. It was pretty hot in the velomobile at such slow speeds (it requires a bit more speed for the ventilation to work successfully) so I did a brief blast off the front to cool myself down, although I didn’t go past our police escort, of course.

Our police escort

After Klixdorf we headed to Schmalbroich and then up to Ziegelheide, past a couple of the little chapels I have visited recently. Then we crossed one of the main roads (from Kempen to Straelen), where the Police stopped the traffic while we all crossed – which is extremely cool!

Police cyclist stops traffic

We were then riding in Wall which is just a couple of kilometres from our start point but soon turned away again, heading west towards Abtei Mariendonk (the convent where pretty much every ride in this area seems to have to go past).

As we were on quiet country lanes I asked Lara if she fancied a ride in the velomobile and she did, so I hopped on her bike and she took over Penelope for four or five kilometres.

Lara in Penelope

It’s very interesting riding one of the traditional German bikes. For a start, Lara’s bike hasn’t seen any oil in a few decades, by the look of the chain, and it makes weird grinding noises on every pedalstroke, and the basket on the front makes the steering weirdly heavy, and it has a back-pedal brake so no brake lever on the left side, and the grip-shift gears turned the other way than Penelope’s, and… and… but it didn’t matter as I pootled along happily at 15km/h which was the speed of this large group. I was able to take some photos whilst riding as well as a short video.

After we passed Abtei Mariendonk we heded south along Grasheider Straße before turning off into a little wooded area (still with a tarmac road, fortunately) and our café lunch stop. Which had signs up saying it was closed for a special event (private function, as we would say in the UK, although over lunch when we discussed this the Germans would never consider this private as anyone could join at the start. A linguistic difference!)

Lunctime café stop

Bikes were everywhere, but I noticed people were locking them (which surprised me a little). I didn’t bother locking Penelope of course – it would be massively obvious if anyone tried to ride away in her. I always take my valuables out when I leave her though – that’s only sensible.

mass cycle parking

It was here that our special tickets for our lunch came into play. We all settled outside and people came round with trays full of various drinks (beer, fizzy water, Apfelsaftschorle (a very popular German drink), Coke, Fanta) and you just handed over one of your Wertmarke tickets per drink. All drinks appeared to cost the same – one ticket.

Unfortunately I don’t like beer, fizzy water, Apfelsaftschorle, Coke or Fanta. I am very picky and I only like tea, pure orange and still (tap) water. So I asked for tap water and they brought me some after a short delay – I still had to pay with one of my Wertmarke tickets but that was OK.

Lunch was Gulaschsuppe and bread, paid for with the ‘Essen’ ticket.


It was very hot and tasty and much needed after a long ride on a hot day.

The drinks kept coming round and so I had a second drink of water. You just had to put the ticket into a beerglass on the tray which I did but some people found the server had walked away without taking the ticket, thus we ended up with some spares.

I asked whether it was possible to have either an orange juice (pure orange) or, even better, Teewasser (hot water for a cuppa), and the server said he’d have a look. I thought he had forgotten about me as he disappeared for a while, during which time the ADFC leaders offered a short guided walk to something notable in the forest (I didn’t catch what that was). Lara and Jonathan went off on the walk but I just had cycling sandals with SPD clips so I didn’t fancy too much walking and am aware of the slight issue of ticks around here – didn’t fancy a tick on my toes. So I stayed behind with Gudula and Frank and some other people who had sat on our table including a chap who appears to have gone to school with Frank years ago (they were discussing various people that they both knew).

Then the server appeared and said “I managed to get you an orange juice!” and there it was – lovely and cold and refreshing. So I gave up my third drink ticket.

And then about a minute later a woman came along with my Teewasser. I had run out of tickets but the chap we were talking to gave me his – and then the woman refused to take it anyway (so I gave it back to the chap). The cup of tea was very refreshing and of course I was able to demonstrate the marvel that is the Tetley Drawstring Teabag.

The ADFC had set up a stand with various maps and other goodies and I had a look, taking away a leaflet on the Fietskanal route (which goes from Neuss, near Düsseldorf, to the Netherlands, and is 100km in total). Gudula was very interested in this as she’s leading a ride with some friends next month so might use part of this route. When Hartmut wandered past we nobbled him to get more information about the route and it was very helpful.

The excellent organisation of this ride was also shown by the fact that the St John Ambulance were in attendance at the lunch stop (and at various other points on the ride) in a car and there were a couple of cycling St John Ambulance people too. All extremely well thought through and with lots of sections where we were filmed and photographed by chaps from Kreis Viersen council.

After a stop of an hour and a half (after 25km or 15 miles!) it was time to head off again.

This next bit of the ride took us through some more flat field sections before we started heading up the hill to Hinsbeck. I had ridden this entire ride on Friday (two days before) to check that it was Velomobile-friendly (it was), but the long ride up into Glabbach was rather hot in the VM at such slow speeds. In the end I decided to head up the outside of the column of riders to get a bit more speed and airflow which, although involving more energy expenditure, meant I was a lot cooler. So I was veritably whizzing up a long hill, passing lots of people with their electric bikes – a good feeling!

I got near the front of the queue when we all stopped to gather the group together before the downhill back towards Grefrath. The downhill wasn’t as fun as it had been on my own on Friday as I spent the whole time on the brakes – Penelope wants to go much faster than everyone else downhill but on a narrow-ish road this was not possible. Still, at least everyone went a bit faster downhill so there was more cooling air going through Penelope’s cockpit.

We then joined the Bahnradweg again between Lobberich and Grefrath which is my favourite cycling section here in Germany as it’s so fast! Except not when in a group of 150 people going at 15km/h. In the end I decided to have a quick blast off the front of the group so put the pedal to the metal and had a bit of fun for half a mile or so, reaching 43km/h before slowing down as I reached the police escort at the front. It was brilliant fun – Lara and I are going to have a couple of races along this section with my trike and velomobile sometime in the next few weeks to see who is the fastest (she is super-sporty and wins everything but I am an experienced recumbenteer…)

Then it was back along the residential bits of Grefrath, where we passed some light blue paint on the side of the road which apparently denotes the Fietskanal Radweg, useful for Gudula to know when she organises her ride.

Back at the Freilichtmuseum, our start point, was the draw for the raffle. Every person who registered got a chance in this raffle which included some pretty decent prizes in a bike-related theme, the top prize being a cycle holiday for several days (I didn’t quite hear exactly what it was all about). Gudula was very disappointed not to win one of the ten prizes!

Raffle prize at the end

The group section of the ride had been 38.33km (23.82 miles) in total, and our moving time was 2 hours 36 minutes so that makes and average of 14.7 km/h (9.1mph). Which is pretty slow! And amongst this huge group there was not one puncture that I heard about although apparently there was a slight accident somewhere – presumably two bikes coming together. Not that surprising really with so many people.

It was time for our little group to head back to Kempen so we set off, enjoying riding at a much faster pace – our return home, 12.7km or 8 miles, took just 37 minutes which is a speed of 20.4km/h or 12.7mph.

Calorie burn for this ride (I was wearing my heart rate monitor) was 368 calories for the journey to Grefrath and 310 for the return (I think the HRM wasn’t recording properly on the return) and 901 for the actual group ride section (because it was so slow – my average heart rate for that section as 119 but it’s normally 140 or above!)

All in all it was a very enjoyable day with 63.75km/40 miles ridden in total, and we all went out for an Italian meal in Kempen in the evening (also by bike, another 11km or 6.87 miles). Sunshine all day on the bike and a meal outside at 8pm in the warm makes for a pretty good day!

Thanks to the ADFC for organising such a great ride and to Kreis Viersen for providing free gifts and policemen!

And here’s the official report of the ride on the Kreis Viersen website: http://www.presse-service.de/data.cfm/static/881229.html?CFID=14938995&CFTOKEN=77810165


Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to Venlo

Today Penelope returned to her home country of the Netherlands.

Today is 1st May and in Germany it’s a public holiday – thus most of the shops are shut. So it seemed like a good day to visit the Netherlands (I had already checked and that was still open).

Yesterday I happened to pass the chocolate factory in Kempen and so wandered in to get a few things…

Choc Factory Visit 1

That lot cost me about £8 (9,70€)

I had to fit it all into the velomobile which already had lots of tools, a spare tyre, a large casserole dish, some maps, a water bottle, a heavy lock, some Gü Chocolate Cheesecake dessert Pots, a couple of bread rolls, an Apfeltasche pastry, a loaf of sliced bread and some other stuff too.

Choc Factory Visit 2

You can fit a lot of stuff in a Velomobile although I found the large free blue bucket that I was given by Self (a DIY shop) didn’t fit very well and I had to put it under my chin.

Anyway, 1st May seemed like a good day to take Penelope to Venlo, except I had to do some repairs first. Last night, when cycling back from choir in the dark, I realised that the lights weren’t working properly. A previous owner, Wilfred, had arranged it so I have two front light settings – Bright and Brighter. There’s also the option of flashing the front lights using a button on the handlebars. Last night it became clear that the Bright setting wasn’t working, nor was the flashing, although if I switched on the second front light switch (for Brighter) then there was some light, although not enough to cycle fast on unlit lanes.

Not only that, my car had been off the road for the last six days – the flat battery before I went to SPEZI was still not sorted. Frank (the landlord) had charged up my battery but it wasn’t working so he had brought a replacement from work today.

First things first, a dog walk.

As I stepped out of the house I noticed that the tree outside was decorated with streamers.

Decorated tree

It turns out that this is a May 1 tradition. As friend Olaf explained to me:

It’s a “Maibaum”, erected by young men courting a girl. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maibaum Have a look at “Liebesmaien”.

“In einigen Teilen Deutschlands, zum Beispiel im Rheinland, …. ist es üblich, dass männliche Jugendliche und junge Männer am Haus der Freundin oder Angebeteten einen Baum anbringen. Üblich sind vor allem mit buntem Krepp-Papier geschmückte Birken, wobei die Farbe der Bänder ursprünglich eine Bedeutung hatte. Am Baum wird ein sogenanntes Maiherz aus Holz oder festem Karton angebracht, in das der Name der Angebeteten eingraviert und in der Regel auch ein Spruch als Zuneigungsbekundung geschrieben wird.”

Clearly it was for Lara (or possibly for Penelope?) but Lara is, as yet, none the wiser as to the secret admirer. Rather fun!

Anyway, Pops and I went out for a good walk in the early morning sunshine. She took her stick with her.

Morning dogwalk

This is a view of Escheln, the hamlet where I live. Idyllic!

Morning view of Escheln

And here is the asparagus growing in the local Spargelhof (where I also get fresh strawberries most days).

Spargel growing

So back to the electric repairs on velomobile and car… with my electronic engineer husband in another country.

Last night Alex, Penelope’s former owner, had told me that it was probably just a plug that had come out through vibration and it’s a pretty easy fix. So I stuck my head in to look – sure enough, the black box which should have had two plugs in it only had one – and the other one was dangling in mid air.

Here’s a photo so you can see what I mean – a photo that was taken on 22 April, so over a week ago. Shows how observant I am that the light wasn’t working!

Penelope unplugged

This is all right in the footwell beyond the pedals so I had to go head-first into the velomobile in a rather inelegant fashion but I plugged the plug in and lo and behold the lights now worked!!


Buoyed by this, it was time to tackle the car (with Frank’s help).

Dead car

Frank put the new battery in and turned the key.

The engine seemed to turn over OK but it didn’t start.

Oh dear.

Frank then disappeared into the garage and returned with a selection of tools. He proceeded to remove the spark plugs from the car and had a good look at them. With them out he then tried to turn the car on again for a bit – it was all a bit smelly but of course it didn’t start. He then put the spark plugs back in again (he told me the German for them – something Kerzen (candles)), turned the key and lo and behold the car started!

Frank’s diagnosis – because the car had been sitting for a couple of weeks, some unburnt fuel which had been there had settled and got a bit mucky. He suggested I take the car for a 10 minute drive to clear out the pipes and that I would need to use it once a week to keep this from happening again. He said he would also recharge the original battery, put it back in and see if it’s OK.

So I drove my car up towards Stenden and then back again. It was good to have had a successful morning of mechanical repair (although Frank gets all the credit for the car fix). Whilst we were doing the car Gudula took Poppy for a walk. As my Dad said to me earlier, I’ve really fallen on my feet in this household with dog walkers, car menders and more. I’m going to take the family out for a meal in due course to say thankyou for the car fixing.

By the time I was ready to head out in Penelope it was 11:30. Gudula was in the front garden doing some pruning with Poppy helping so I asked her to hold on to Poppy as I headed off else Poppy would try to come with me. So Gudula picked Poppy up and talked to her while I headed off, following my Garmin’s route, towards the Netherlands.

After about half a mile I heard a weird noise – weird, but familiar. The sound of running paws. Sure enough Poppy had just caught up with me. I stopped, opened the lid of Penelope and Poppy jumped onto my lap. I turned round and headed back to Escheln, seeing Gudula coming round the corner in hot pursuit. She said Poppy had gone first one way, then the correct one, trying to catch up with me, the little rotter! Poppy was panting after all her running and probably glad to be carried back to the house.

I carried on another 200 metres or so and then stopped and waited for five minutes to check that Poppy didn’t reappear (she didn’t). Then it was full steam ahead to Venlo.

I had plotted different routes there and back, the route to Venlo would be the most direct one and the route back a scenic option, if I felt energetic enough to do it.

Today's TrackThe northernmost track is my outward journey, through Wachtendonk, Wankum and Herongen.

This is the elevation profile for the day as well – when the Garmin was switched off in Venlo for lunch it got its elevation a bit confused but it gives a general idea.

Elevation ProfileI headed on the familiar route to Wachtendonk which goes under the A61 motorway on some farm tracks. However, today being 1 May there were more unusual things to see – not just the decorated tree. You can just see ahead in this photograph a tractor towing a sort of caravan thing decorated with tree boughs. This caravan thing was full of young Germans shouting and being generally noisy (probably with beer in their hands) and every time it passed a house the tractor sounded its horn at length. People then came out to see what was going on.

Wachtendonk tractorA closer view – various arms were hanging out of the back window just before the branches at some points.

Wachtendonk tractor 2Eventually the tractor pulled over and a mini queue of cars (two, and of course me) went past. I was rather surprised to note that the tractor driver was a young girl – she can’t have been older than 20! It was all good fun and good natured.

After Wachtendonk I ignored all the cycle route signs (I’ve done this trip enough times now) and took the main road to Wankum. Couldn’t resist photographing this bus stop sign.

Bus stop near WachtendonkFrom Wankum (which was up a bit of a hill – was quite hard work) I headed to Herongen. Some young lady in Herongen also had an admirer!

Decorated tree in HerongenHerongen is right on the border with the Netherlands and I soon arrived at this sign, 1km to go to the border. There were two ladies taking photographs of themselves by the sign so I offered to take some photos of them together (which they were pleased about) and they then took this pic of me in return.

Almost in NLHere are the ladies who were out on a random ride from Krefeld just to see where they got to. They said they do quite a lot of inline skating in the general area of Krefeld so I might see them about now and again.

My new friends from KrefeldWhilst talking to this lady I noticed my Union Jack jersey was fantastically reflected in her glasses – unfortunately it hasn’t come out very well on the photo.

Lady with glassesAfter a ten minute chat we headed off towards Venlo. Here is Penelope being welcomed back into her country of birth.

Welcome to VenloIt was an easy ride along some reasonably main roads to the centre of Venlo. I was impressed by these bins for bicycle riders though – you could just chuck your litter into them.

Waste bin for cyclists 1

Waste Bin for cyclists 2Less impressive were the buttons for the traffic light crossings – they tended to be difficult for me to reach from the velomobile (the ones in Germany seem to be in a slightly easier position).

My original plan was to find some poffertjes (the little mini Dutch pancakes which I love) but I had failed to find them in Venlo twice before. However, this time I was a bit more successful in finding the pedestrian centre of Venlo, through which I cycled at least twice. No obvious poffertjes cafés. There was one café that said it did pannenkoeken but I asked the lady if they did pofferjes and she said no.

At one point two policemen were walking past so I stopped them and asked if they knew of anywhere that served poffertjes. They said no but looked at me as if I was bonkers – clearly you don’t ask policemen for directions in NL like you can in the UK.

In the end I gave up on the poffertjes quest (again!) and decided to just pick a random café to have lunch. As it happened I moved from the first one as the prices were really steep. I have noticed that in NL the cafés and restaurants don’t seem to have to display their menus outside so you don’t know what’s available until they bring you a menu. In Germany by law they have to display the menu outside the door of the building so you can check what’s what before you go in or sit down outside.

The second place I stopped at seemed nice and I had a good view of Penelope – she had already garnered huge attention as I rode very slowly through the pedestrian area, now she was parked up people constantly peered in or photographed her.

Busy Venlo pedestrian area

Checking out Penelope 1

Checking out Penelope 2I ordered onion soup and hot water for my tea as the other meals were quite expensive (relative to German prices). The onion soup came with a side dish of extra onions 🙂

Onion soupService was a bit slow but I wasn’t in a hurry particularly.

I was interested to note that almost everyone around me was German. I barely heard any Dutch spoken. I suppose it was a normal working day for Dutch people whereas it was a day off for Germans but it was amusing. I did all my ordering and talking with the waitress in German – seemed easier.

Another thing I noticed is that there seemed to be more fat people than I normally see in Germany (although they were probably Germans so perhaps they just don’t hang out in the Niederrhein area generally). It was also very noticeable, whilst sitting outside, that there are lots more smokers than in the UK. I kept getting smoke wafting past me – I don’t like it very much.

After an hour of lazing around with my food and generally people-watching it was time to head back.

I set my Garmin for my alternative route back (the longer, more scenic version) as my legs still felt reasonable.

I found myself passing an unexpected dinosaur.

Unexpected dinosaurAnd shortly after I was at Venlo station – I waved goodbye to James here three weeks ago.

Venlo stationThe route out of Venlo when heading for the Hinsbeck area (rather than Herongen) is quite a steep climb. I’ve done it several times before (I visited Venlo a few times when holidaying in Nettetal a couple of years ago) and I got it wrong most times. This time I had what I thought was a good route plotted but lo and behold a cut-through between two roads (which cuts out a longer stretch of road) was clearly not velomobile-friendly.

Cycle route goes off-roadSo I stuck to the main road and probably had an extra kilometre or so to ride – not a problem.

I was slow up the hill out of Venlo but not appallingly so. I think I’m getting slightly more accustomed to the weight of the Versatile – I am certainly spinning the pedals more (which is good). Wilfred, who owned Penelope before Alex, reckons I could gear her down a bit more with changing the sprocket on the rear wheel, maybe to increase it by two teeth, and still be within the allowed range of the Rohloff. It’s not necessary for this bit of Germany but if I take Penelope back to England then I will probably have to do this, or something similar, otherwise I’ll conk out on some of our impressive hills.

Anyway, I made it up the hill out of Venlo, riding on quiet residential roads so I wasn’t annoying any vehicular traffic.

I was soon going past the glider airfield – very familiar territory for me. And then it was time to take the traditional photo of the Grenzgänger bicycle…

I took this picture a couple of years ago of Alfie with a foot in both countries:

And here is Penelope in the same location:

Penelope on the border

And from the other side (better lighting).

Penelope as GrenzgängerHer front wheels are in Germany, the rear wheel is in the Netherlands.

This route is really familiar to me and I whizzed onward through the crowds of cyclists (they were everywhere – to be expected on a bank holiday I suppose!) It’s all asphalted track with no cars so is a great route for cycling.

I saw this lady with a sausage dog in a basket on the back and asked if I could take a photo (she said yes). Photo was taken whilst I was cycling at about 25kph…

Dog in large basketNow the route that I took was a bit weird – you may have noticed that if you looked at the map at the top of this blog post. Here it is again as a reminder:

Today's Track

You can see that once I cross into Germany I do a bit of a detour to the south when there looks like a much shorter route through Hinsbeck. The reason for this is highlighted below:

HillYes, my big detour was to avoid a hill. aren’t I lazy! I probably added about 5km to the distance to avoid going up and over Hinsbeck but I enjoyed the quiet cycle lanes and joined the Bahnradweg pretty much at its start and followed it right through to Kempen.

Not without stopping at Secretis, a restaurant/Eiscafé near Sassenfeld which I have visited before. It was a really warm day so time for an ice cream and, miracle of miracles, they provided me with real milk for my tea!

Ice Cream at SecretisAs I was heading off to leave after enjoying my ice cream the waitress and another customer came to talk to me about Penelope for ages. I have had lots of people asking me about her today, the most frequent question being whether she has electric assist. “Nur Muskelkraft” I reply.

I still tend to ride faster than everyone else around (despite being a pretty slow recumbenteer/velomobiler). I think that Germans tend to use their bikes for utility cycling and they often have big, heavy, slow bikes that just keep going. Well, half of them are also dealing with the weight of electric assist too. There were a few racers out today I noticed but they tended to be on the roads not cycle paths and didn’t acknowledge me, even if I grinned at them (I can’t wave as my hands aren’t visible).

The stretch from Lobberich back home is one I’ve done five or six times since I’ve been here so it’s becoming very familiar, and familiarity makes it seem a lot shorter. I whizzed back, although with so many people on the Bahnradweg I had to keep the speed down (only had a short stretch at 40kph). I used my useless hooter a fair bit and people didn’t hear it or realise what it was so I was reduced to shouting ‘Achtung!’ or ‘Vorsicht!’ instead which was marginally more successful.

Rather than doing the little ring road around Kempen I went through the centre so that I could stop at a bakery which always seems to be open. And it was! I bought myself a cake and provided some entertainment to all the people sitting at cafés in Kempen as I sailed past.

Healthy cakeWhen I got back Poppy was safely in the apartment (and hadn’t run halfway to Venlo) and I was pleased to see that my lights on Penelope were still working well. All in all a very enjoyable day’s ride but I still didn’t get any poffertjes!!

The figures for today’s ride as as follows:

Distance: 35.51 miles/57.14km
Time taken: 3 hours 15 minutes
Average heart rate: 133
Maximum heart rate: 186
Maximum speed: 25.6mph/41.2kph
Calories burned: 1,677
Moving average: 10.9mph/17.5kph


Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to Hinsbeck

My ride today was actually one of the rides where I am visiting different churches in Kreis Viersen (I am trying to bag all 112 churches this year), but it turned out to be such an enjoyable ride I thought I’d do a short write-up now rather than adding lots of extra info to the page on the churches (which is still under construction).

Today is Easter Monday and, being Germany, shops are shut – but cafés aren’t. The weather was reasonable – about 18 degrees and hazy cloud but no sign of rain. The wind wasn’t too strong either.

So after walking the dog and doing some work this morning I decided, at 11:30, to head out on Penelope and just follow my nose.

For a change my nose took me due west towards the Netherlands. However I decided to try to bag a few churches on my list and so set my Garmin GPS to take me to Abtei Mariendonk, a monastery/cloister that I have visited several times before but not since I’ve moved to Kempen.

Here’s my track for the day:

Monday 21 April Track

I had a very enjoyable fast (downwind!) cycle to Mariendonk which is just four miles away or so.

A few days ago a German chap contacted me through my blog as he lives locally (in Viersen) and rides a recumbent trike and realised that we will probably cross paths. I had a look at his blog (http://3-rad.blogspot.de/) and noticed that he cycled to Straelen just a few days before I went there – and on his way he visited Mariendonk.

This is what he said about it:

Hinter Grefrath liegt das Kloster Mariendonk. Von Ferne sieht das Gebäude sehr schön aus, es entpuppt sich aber dann als ein von funktionalen Gebäuden umgebenen Klosterbau… naja doch nicht so der Hingucker. Eindrücke und Informationen gibt es hier www.mariendonk.de.

In other words… it looks nice from a long way away but is surrounded by rather functional buildings as part of the monastery.

Here are my photos:

Abtei Mariendonk 1

And here are the functional buildings where I parked.

Abtei Mariendonk 2

It all seemed very quiet and closed (although on a previous visit I spotted several nuns cycling out of one of the buildings) so I carried on.

The initial plan was to head for another Church Waypoint on my Garmin at Vinkrath but I saw some signs to Hinsbeck, which I had visited previously and was a bit further away, and I thought that would be a nicer trip today.

Hinsbeck is on a hill which is gentle one side and steep the other. Fortunately I was cycling up the gentle side so my speed didn’t drop much below 13kph.

As I got almost to the top of the hill I looked across at Hinsbeck. It has two church spires – the Catholic Church is clearly winning the Tallest Spire race though!

Approaching Hinsbeck

The spire of the Protestant church is just about visible in the trees on the left.

And here is the elevation profile so you can see the hill:

Monday 21 April Elevation Profile

The two churches in Hinsbeck are just a stone’s throw away from each other but it looked as though the route was easiest to go to the protestant church first so I headed that way.

Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirchegemeinde

It was yet another modern building and yet another that I didn’t find particularly pleasing to the eye (not that it matters when you’re inside, of course). My (limited so far) experience of visiting churches in Niederrhein is that the catholics have good all the attractive tall buildings and the Protestants have concrete buildings that look mostly less than fifty years old and are generally tucked away in residential streets rather than being in the centre of town. I shall obviously research this a bit more as part of my Churches Challenge.

Here is Penelope outside the church.

Penelope at Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

This is the church noticeboard which gives an idea about what’s going on in Hinsbeck

Noticeboard for Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

And here am I with Penelope.

Helen and Penelope outside Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

Clearly I didn’t take that photo myself – I accosted a passing couple and asked them to take the picture. Which they did. And then we ended up having a great chat for about three quarters of an hour. I was telling them about my Churches Challenge and about living in Germany and cycling Penelope, they were talking a lot about some of the beautiful churches to visit around here, a little bit about the history and more. It was really good to talk to Herr und Frau Herrmann, and they let me take a picture of them at the end.

Herr und Frau Herrmann

Time was marching on now and I was rather hungry, it being 13:30. I quickly popped to the Catholic Church a few hundred metres away which was also shut/locked.

Hinsbeck Catholic Church

There didn’t seem to be any cafés or similar open in the centre of Hinsbeck so I decided to start heading back and to get something in Grefrath.

There is a quick route to Grefrath along a main road from Hinsbeck but I decided to take the Bahnradweg (disused railway line cycle path) instead which starts in Lobberich, at the bottom of the hill from Hinsbeck. So I whizzed down the hill, rode into Lobberich on a fast road, and found the beginning of the Bahnradweg.

I spent ten days staying a mile from the centre of Lobberich (Nettetal) so am pretty familiar with this bit of the route – it was good to visit again!

I joined the Bahnradweg which is generally a lovely smooth tarmac which allows a velomobile to go nice and fast!

This is looking back at Hinsbeck with the Catholic church spire very visible again.

Looking back at Hinsbeck hill

So I now started zooming along the Bahnradweg. I could get up a pretty good speed between the road crossings – at one point I was cruising at 45kph (that’s 30mph-ish). It felt good! I was also pleased to note that the fallen tree that had caused me an issue had been cleared away.

One thing I did discover is that my hooter/horn thing, which is a very high-pitched squeal, is useless for warning people that I am coming. Most people don’t seem to notice it. I like to make some noise so they know I am passing and don’t get too surprised when the Purple Peril passes them. I need to investigate an alternative hooter – it looks like various things are available on Ebay for not too much. Perhaps I will find something at SPEZI Radmesse on Saturday (a bike exhibition for weird bikes and their various accessories).

Anyway, I was getting hungry now and wondering if I would find anywhere open in Grefrath when, rather fortuitously, I passed a sign for a café which was open on Easter Monday, right beside the cycle path. So I turned off and parked Penelope and went for some food.

Here’s the café.

Cafe on the Bahnradweg

Here’s the food.

Easter Monday cake

I actually fancied some soup or something but it was just a cake café so I forced myself…

Then it was back on the Bahnradweg, past this piece of Easter Artwork which was on a television.

Happy Easter Artwork

After Grefrath the Bahnradweg isn’t as good – the route is more twisty (presumably the railway was rather more dismantled) and there are some ruts in the tarmac because of tree roots, but it was still a very enjoyable ride despite being into wind.

I arrived in Kempen and decided to ride straight through the middle again – on the cobbles, of course. I stopped for a bit to chat to several people who all asked me about the velomobile – they all seem to assume I must have an electric motor in there. I have to show them it’s just my legs and they are all amazed. The next question is ‘how fast do you go’ and when I said I went at 45kph today (and that was on the flat) they are very surprised. When I say my average is 18kph (as it was today) they still seem to think that’s fast. In the UK that would not be considered fast at all!

I decided to do a slightly different route out from Kempen rather than just running along the cycle path on the main road so I took a cross-country path. Which, it turned out, had a railway crossing. The barriers are always down – you have to press a button to request it to be raised. But, of course, the button was too high for me.

Railway Crossing Call Box

So I got out, pressed the button and a real man answered and said something unintelligible and then the barrier raised and I cycled through. I went into St Hubert in the hopes of finding Café Poeth open so I could buy some bread but it was shut so I went home empty handed (but had some emergency french stick in the freezer, fortunately).

Today’s ride was 2 hours six minutes for 24.14 miles at an average of 11.5mph. Calories burned were 1,072 so the reduction in calorie burning of the velomobile (compared to Alfie the trike) continues. With a velomobile you’re always nice and warm, don’t get rained on, go faster… what’s not to like? The burning fewer calories seems to be the only downside so far!

I have decided that I’ll only bag a maximum of three churches per ride so I don’t get to them all before the end of the year. It’s a great excuse to visit all the different parts of Kreis Viersen and hopefully I’ll find a few that are open that I can visit soon.


Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Recumbent Trikes, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to the Rhine at Orsoy/Walsum

Today Penelope went for a trip to the River Rhine, a river that I’ve cycled along on my Trice Q and on Alfie many times but this was Penelope’s first visit (as far as I am aware).

Today is Easter Saturday. However, yesterday Penelope also got to stretch her legs (metaphorically!) as we went to Willich to a Good Friday (Karfreitag) concert.

Willich is 12.5 miles away and I chose routes there and back (which different slightly) which were pretty much entirely Landstraßen – these are the long, fast roads with cycle paths alongside. This is the ideal sort of route for Penelope – she’s not at her best doing lots of stopping and starting but when she gets up to speed she keeps on going.

I arrived at the Auferstehungskirche in Willich rather early – 40 minutes early, in fact. This is because I’d cycled at an average of 13mph to get there, much faster than I would go in Alfie. I had a slight tailwind to assist as well.

Auferstehungskirche Willich

I locked Penelope up in the bike racks and then sat outside for a while, listening to the choir practising. Lots of people were arriving so I decided to go inside and get a good seat – which I did. This is the choir practising.

Emmaus Kantorei Willich

And this was the selection of music and readings for the concert – some wonderful choices!

Karfreitagsmusik Seite 1

Karfreitagsmusik Seite 2

The choir is effectively the church choir for a group of three churches in Willich/Neersen/Schiefbahn and they sang fairly well. The organist was good too.

Afterwards I bumped into Anja and her husband Lars (Anja is the lady who introduced me to the Willich choir) and we had a little chat about the music. She said that the choir has really improved over the last few years – certainly there were some pretty good young soloists, two young girls in particular sang beautifully.

I cycled back the slightly alternative route which worked out at about four tenths of a mile longer but slightly faffier, particularly as it went through Tönisvorst which involved a fair few traffic light crossings.

I deviated on the route back into St Hubert, choosing to go a rather longer route in so I could cycle along the high street and see what was open for food (being a bank holiday I wasn’t sure if any take-aways would be open).

The town of St Hubert wished me a very friendly Happy Easter.

Happy Easter from St Hubert

I was able to find the local kebab shop which was open and I ordered myself a Schnitzel and Pommes (chips). I bumped into Frank the landlord there so it was clearly going to be kebab night in our house.

When I got in, after my 24.66 mile ride (at an average of 12.4mph) I also treated myself to an Easter Hare doughnut thingie.

Easter Hare Doughnut

So that was yesterday, an enjoyable Karfreitagskonzert and a good leg-stretching run on Penelope, my fastest trip yet.

On Thursday I had a message from my German friend Olaf who lives in London. He said that he was cycling from the Hook of Holland to near Dortmund and would be passing 20 miles or so from Kempen – would I like us to meet up. Of course I jumped at the opportunity, it’s always good to see Olaf (I first met him when cycling overnight from London to Southend – he was on a German recumbent bike but has now gone native and has several Brompton folding bikes and a Moulton). Olaf works for Reuters as an economics journalist – if you’d like to read his English language blog the link is here: Economics Intelligence (there is also a link to a German language option as well).

Anyway, Olaf said he would be crossing the Rhine at a place called Orsoy and perhaps we should meet there. My maps seemed not to have Orsoy but eventually Olaf sent me a link to where it was and we agreed to meet at about 1pm on Saturday (today).

This would be my longest ride in Penelope in a day, and I was aware that I had done another longish ride on her the day before, so this would be a test of my knees.

Olaf sent me a message this morning to say he was making good time and could we meet at 12:30 so I headed off pretty smartly, knowing it was a warm day so wearing just a sleeveless top and shorts in the velomobile.

My outward and return routes were virtually the same – this is the outward route to Orsoy.

Outward journey track

This was 18.12 miles and took me 1 hour 43 minutes, an average of 10.5mph. I had a pretty strong headwind a lot of the way, plus I also had a bit of an issue right at the beginning of the ride. The route took me through Stenden but they were digging up the road that passes through it; I wasn’t sure of a decent alternative so I made my way past the barriers and cycled very slowly over a lot of loose chippings and sandy stuff. I was a bit worried I’d get bogged down but I went steadily for about 300 metres, squeezed my way past a barrier and then got back on a normal road again. I decided I would do an alternative route on the way back, the obvious one being via Tönisberg. It was a bit hilly for my liking going in this direction but I thought it might be easier coming back (it was!)

This is the elevation profile of my outward journey – as you can see, I wasn’t able to miss the moraine/hill that Tönisberg sits on entirely – this time I had to go over the bump at Saelhuysen. It was quite steep but I survived it!

Outward journey elevation

From Saelhuysen I rode on reasonable cycle paths uphill to Schaephuysen and then skirted north of Neukirchen-Vluyn before hopping briefly onto the L476 northwards. This road was one of those without a cycle path but with a hard shoulder instead – these are pretty good in a velomobile!

I did a slightly pointless detour to get onto a quiet track – I could see that there was a much more direct route continuing on the L476 so I decided to use that option on the way back (and I did).

I was now heading towards Kamp-Lintfort but turned off and had to go up high to pass some lakes and then descended again before crossing under the A42/A57 motorway junction. I would have enjoyed the downhill more if the road had been a bit smoother but it was somewhat bumpy so I took it carefully.

After this I cycled through Repelen before crossing under the A42 again and then having a quick scramble to cross a fairly main road, the L137 Rheinberger Straße.

I then had a very enjoyable ride through quiet roads past several large lakes which were called Baggersee (this is the name for a gravel pit lake). I had to stop to photograph this road name as I used to cycle a lot in the UK with a friend whose nickname is Wowbagger. He has a road named after him!


The kilometres to Orsoy were counting down rapidly and I was slightly ahead of schedule which was good. I rode through Lohnmühle and then arrived in Orsoy, following my Garmin’s track to the river Rhine.

Olaf and I had agreed to meet at the ferry across the river and get something to eat on the other side. I have to say, the view directly across wasn’t the most attractive Rhine view I’ve seen this year. This is the Walsum Power Plant.

Large chimney

I was ten minutes early and parked Penelope in the waiting area for the ferry (which was on the other side of the river). Just three minutes later I saw someone cycling my way on a Brompton – it could only be Olaf!

Olaf arrives

We said a quick hello and then hopped onto the ferry to cross Vaterrhein.

Penelope and the Brompton on the Rhine ferry

The other side had a VERY steep slope and I wasn’t sure if I would make it but fortunately I did – I was just about able to winch myself up.

The plan was to head for the Walsumer Hof fish restaurant which was just 200 metres or so from the ferry but when we got there it was closed. Our Garmins suggested we tried the Walsumer Brauhaus 1.5km away so we headed off there.

This is the track from the ferry waiting area to the Walsumer Brauhaus and then my return track back across the Rhine.

Rhine crossing track

We arrived at the Walsumer Brauhaus which fortunately was open.

It turned out to be an excellently typical example of this kind of German beer/food establishment (I guess not entirely unlike a Harvester in the UK). Olaf had leaned his Brompton against the wall beside our seats – and a staff member came out and asked him to move it to the bicycle parking area. He commented that he didn’t have a lock so wanted to keep it in view. She harrumphed but let him get away with it. We were the only two people sitting outside in a very large area at that time so the Brommie was doing nobody any harm.

Then it came to ordering drinks and food. I ordered an orange juice but Olaf wanted to order a 300ml bottle of beer (beer comes in 0,3l or 0,5l in Germany). However the lady said he could only have a 0,5 litre bottle as he was sitting outside – this is some kind of rule (Olaf explained) that some places do so that people don’t keep ordering small bottles and take a lot of waitress service outside. But, as mentioned before, there appeared to be only 8-10 groups of people in the whole place. Olaf told me they’d probably be picky later about giving him a cup of coffee and would require him to have a pot – part of the same rule. The rule is “draussen nur Kännchen – und keine kleinen Biere…”

Olaf and beer

And then Olaf rummaged around in his pannier for a moment and then presented me with… a potato peeler!

Potato peeler hurrah

This is not as random as it seems. I had discovered, since arriving here, that there are no end of Spargel Schäler (asparagus peelers) – indeed, there are three in my cutlery drawer here – but that I find them hopeless for potato peeling. They seem to have the blades on the other way round or something. I had very limited success spending ages peeling a potato with a Spargelschäler and then looked in several supermarkets/kitchen shops for a proper swivel potato peeler – without success. Lara, who lives downstairs, is currently in England and had offered to see if she could find one for me but my joking comment to Olaf (to bring one with him from London) unexpectedly bore fruit.

He said he was short of time and wasn’t planning to get one but the way I had phrased my request to him (“not having a potato peeler is doing my head in”) worked on him suitably so he popped into John Lewis and got me one. I then texted Lara to say no need for her to get one, Olaf had sorted it. He commented on Facebook: “Helen’s potato peeling crisis has been sorted once and for all!” He was right, too.

Soon our traditional German lunches arrived – I had a chicken thing with mushrooms and healthy German roast potatoes (with lots of salt and bacon), Olaf had a Schnitzel.

Traditional German lunch

After lunch it was time for our hot drinks. I had a cup of tea (with my own teabag of course) and Olaf had to order a full Kännchen of coffee (because we were sitting outside). This irked him enough that he decided that rather than waiting till we left the café before he shared the cake his wife had made, we would surreptitiously eat it whilst drinking our tea and coffee. So he handed me a slice and I held it under the table when the waitress arrived.

Cake from London

I was interested that Olaf has ‘gone native’ a bit in England and had learned to park his bike where it shouldn’t be parked and import cake to a restaurant. He probably crosses on the red man now as well.

After food it was time for our bikes to properly meet each other. Here is Olaf’s Brompton getting up close and personal with Penelope.

Brompton in a Versatile

We had hoped to be able to shut the lid of Penelope to make a Russian Doll-type bicycle arrangement but my Garmin mount (over which I have long laboured to get it fixed) was in the way – I wasn’t removing that!

It was then Olaf’s turn to have a go in Penelope. He headed off down the road…

Olaf in Penelope 1

And then reappeared, fortunately!

Olaf in Penelope 2

Olaf had another 50km to ride, I had 30km back to Kempen, so at 2:30pm it was time to set off on our respective journeys.

We got another of the diners to take a photo of us together.

Helen and Olaf

I waved goodbye to Olaf on his Brompton, which has carried him safely from the Hook of Holland yesterday across the entirety of the Netherlands and a goodly chunk of Nordrhein-Westfalen too, and I headed back to the ferry.

Here’s the view as I waited for the ferry again.

Waiting to cross the Rhein

I had bought a return ticket (saved myself 50 cents on two singles).

Ferry ticket

This is the track of my return journey – it’s mostly the same as the outward journey except I went through Tönisberg rather than Stenden.

Return journey track

And here is the return journey elevation.

Return journey elevation

I rode more of the journey home on the roads (rather than cycle paths) as there was so little traffic about today. The tailwind also helped a lot and my return leg was ridden at an average of 13.2mph.

I did a slight route variation in Repeln (I was daydreaming and not paying attention to my Garmin and so overshot a turning) which involved taking a shortcut through a cycle route – which turned out to be yet another route with double gates. These were too narrow for me to ride around so I thought I’d try underneath. The front half of Penelope fitted but it was clear the rear was too high!

Velomobile slightly too high

Alfie fits under that sort of gate OK – he is a fair bit lower!

I routed via Tönisberg on the way home, as mentioned before, and popped into Netto for some supplies for tomorrow and Monday (Easter Day and bank holiday Monday). I spotted these baked beans and thought I’d give ’em a go!

British Baked Beans

I also thought that, despite two pieces of Olaf’s wife Katharina’s marble cake, I really needed something in addition to help recover the 1,675 calories I had expended on today’s 39.68 mile expedition. So I bought one of these:

Meringue cream cake

The great thing about a Velomobile is that you can buy a squishy cream/meringue cake, transport it five miles by bike and it gets home none the worse for the journey!

The hill down from Tönisberg was great fun – I was on the road again and knew the layout of the road this time so zoomed down. At one point I noticed I was doing 52 kilometres per hour and the speed limit was 50! At the bottom is a crossroads but fortunately as I approached the traffic lights went green so I sailed across, still doing 40kph. This was fun! Rather than going onto the cycle path I thought I’d stick to the road as I had so much speed but I had a quick look in my mirrors and noticed a police car behind me. Oops! I indicated right, popped straight onto the cycle path (there was an access ramp at this point) and the police car sailed on, ignoring me. Best not to bait them though.

I rolled into the driveway of my house at 4:30pm so the dog had had a fairly long day at home on her own but probably spent the entirety of it asleep. It was certainly good for me to stretch my legs and ride in a different direction for a change – I tend to avoid the north east as it’s a bit hillier. There were some interesting sights, though, so I’ll have to visit that part of the world again soon!

Happy Easter!


Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Recumbent Trikes, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to Straelen

It’s mid April and the weather is being pretty variable – two days ago it was extremely windy, yesterday it was pretty cold but today dawned with a clear blue sky. I took the dog out for a walk and decided it was definitely cycling weather.

Morning dogwalkI had no specific plans for the day except to go out in Penelope for a morning ride to give me plenty of time to deal with any punctures etc in daylight. Those who have read my previous blog post (Penelope goes to Schwalmtal) will have read about an evening ride that had rather a lot of tyre deflations.

Fortunately I took some time yesterday to sort out the mess of my three punctured tubes and one rather sorry-looking tyre after I’d run on it flat a considerable distance.

This was the task that awaited me yesterday:

Penelope and tubes to repair
That’s three tubes to be repaired and two (front) tyres to change.

First I repaired the tubes (or so I thought!) Here they all are inflated to check the patches are holding.

Three repaired tubes

Then it was time to change the tyres.

I was very lucky that Peter (who delivered Penelope) had made me a little chock to help lift the wheel off the ground. It’s an ingenious design and has already proved extremely useful!

Here is the chock (I think the green matches his velomobile):
Peter's Chock 1

Peter's Chock 2

And here it is doing what it’s supposed to do – holding up my bike whilst I change the tyre:

Penelope on chockI took off the old Tryker tyre and it looked pretty mashed up after my experiences on Monday so this one went in the bin.

Tryer tyre

The other Tryker looked in rather better shape so I have kept it as an emergency spare tyre and it will now live in Penelope behind her seat. It’s a slightly different size than the standard Marathons that I’ve put on but I expect it’d be OK to get me home if I had some tyre-exploding disaster.

However I had a bit of a surprise when trying to change the second tyre on the side that hadn’t had punctures – the valve was one I wasn’t familiar with:

Woods Valve 2

Woods Valve 1
I am told it’s a Woods valve. The landlord had a pump that would inflate it but my little travel pump and my track pump wouldn’t so I swapped it out and put a normal Schraeder valve tube in.

So the job was now completed. Phew!

Rather than take Penelope out after my 60km ride the day before I chose to take Alfie for a run to Kempen. I also thought this would help my knees to recover a bit from their exertions of going up the hill on the way to Schwalmtal.

All was fine with Alfie except I had my first accident with a vehicle in 45,000 miles/72,500 km since I took up cycling six years ago. I was riding back from Kempen and had stopped at a t-junction. An HGV pulled up behind me, stopped, and then proceeded to bump me. Fortunately I didn’t have the brakes on so I just moved forward a metre or two (which was rather surprising) and, doubly-fortunately, there wasn’t any traffic on the side of the carriageway that I was pushed into.

I shouted a bit of Anglo-Saxon at the driver and he got out. I expected the usual British driver nonsense (“You don’t pay road tax!”, “You shouldn’t be on the road”, “you should be in a car”) but instead got “I’m very sorry, I thought you were moving off then.” To which I replied that I wouldn’t pull out when there was a car coming. “I’m sorry,” he said again, and as I checked Alfie over and he looked OK I just made some comment like “be a bit more careful” and let him head off.

The only damage was a scratch of his paintwork on my pannier:

Scratched PannierIt was clear that he had hit the pannier with a reasonable amount of force as the clip for the handle had been pushed along a fair way and it was done up quite tightly:

Pannier HandleWhat I didn’t realise, until I unpacked the panniers, was that the plastic handle on my new salad spinner had cracked (although it still works OK) and my bananas were bruised. Not too bad really for what could have been a pretty serious bump on a two-wheeled bike.

It is rather ironic, though, that having cycled for 40+ thousand miles in the UK, with our maniacal motorists and fairly rubbish cycle paths, I had my first actual coming-together with a vehicle in cycling-friendly Germany. Never mind, no harm done. I did award myself a biscuity-slice-thing as a consolation.

So that was yesterday. Today I decided that Alfie could have a rest and it was time for a ride on Penelope, as mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. But where to go?

I had the following message sent to me via my blog a few days ago:

as far as i know, in2014 you will move to Kempen.Not far away lies a small village named Straelen.The go one is build there. If you have Problems to enter a velomobil,perhaps the people there can help you. The address is:
Beyss Leichtfahrzeuge
Zeppelinstr 16
47638 Straelen

Those who have read my blog posts about choosing a velomobile might remember that i mentioned the Go-One but had no idea it was so local. So I thought I really ought to go and have a look (even though I already had a velomobile).

So Penelope and I set off on a lovely warm day with shorts and sandals (without socks, even though I am in Germany and over 40 years old!!!)

Within a couple of miles I stopped to try to get my phone camera out from behind me without scaring off the huge hare that was beside the road. Unfortunately it started running after I had faffed about trying to reach the phone so by the time i took the picture it was just a dot in the distance:
Hare running across field

I followed the same route I had taken previously to Wachtendonk but once I got to Wachtendonk I had a choice of two main roads to get to Straelen. I took the western option which goes through Wankum first, then turns more north to Straelen.

This is my track for the whole day – the wiggly route is the return route following the signposted cycle route between Straelen and Wachtendonk.

Penelope goes to Straelen track

Oh, and this is the Elevation profile of the ride:
Penelope goes to Straelen elevation

I felt things were going well with Penelope although a couple of times when I found myself slowing down I had to stop to check my tyres were OK – they were.

Once through Wankum I joined the main road the L39 that unfortunately didn’t have a cycle path beside it. However it did have a hard shoulder both sides and I rode on that – I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to, or not. If anyone knows, do tell me!

My Garmin had Beyss Leichtfahrzeuge as a waypoint and I was very quickly outside the building. I could see a large warehouse with an open shutter and some velomobiles inside. This is their website, for those interested in these gadgets: http://www.go-one.de/?lang=en I cycled up, got out and saw a chap just leaving to go to the house next door – he turned out to be Michael Beyss, the joint owner, and he was just on his way to lunch. However he said he’d show me round quickly – and he did.

Go-One Velomobile WorkshopShells of Evo velomobiles in various states of completion. To the right, out of shot, was a prototype he asked me not to photograph.

We had a bit of a chat about the weight of these things – they are super-light, everything is from carbon fibre, he could pick these frames up one-handed (although I tried two-handed and couldn’t so he’s clearly pretty strong).

At one point I asked him if he had the wheel covers as there is a hole in one of mine on Penelope (although I’m expecting to buy a replacement when I got to the SPEZI Radmesse (weird bike cycle show) next week). He showed me that he did have some but they were carbon fibre and 150€ for two. Right. That’s a bit expensive.

Here’s the shell of one of their models.

Evo K Shell

This is its inside.

Inside Evo

Michael told me that if I came back after 1:30 I could maybe have a go in one (although I am pretty convinced I wouldn’t be able to get in and out). It was time for me to have some lunch so I said I’d return, he headed off for his lunch and I aimed for the centre of Straelen 2 miles away.

Straelen has a lovely pedestrianised centre and I arrived at a café at about a quarter to one. I parked Penelope and sat in a comfy chair outside enjoying the sunshine.

Straelen Centre 1

Straelen Centre 2

I ordered some food and sat and enjoyed watching the world go by.

I then began to actually get a little cold. This is a slight issue with a velomobile – you are always warm in it as you are protected from the wind and you generate heat through exercise but when you get out you really need to put on another layer. I hadn’t brought a fleece or anything with me – I need to remember to keep one in Penelope for just such a situation.

My lunch arrived – as I was in Germany during Spargelzeit (the asparagus season) it was time to have some Spargelcremesuppe.


And very tasty it was!

As I was finishing the soup I noticed a chap with two sons having a good peer at Penelope.

Family checking out Penelope

I went over and had quite a long chat to them about her and let the older lad sit inside and press some buttons (indicators and light flashers). He is learning English so his father made him speak to me a bit in English too. We had a good chat and then after I’d paid for my meal and was ready to go a gaggle of German chaps of pensionable age had a chat to me as well, asking me where the electric motor was and asking if I wanted to swap Penelope for one of their E-Bikes. I politely declined the bike swap offer.

I headed back to Beyss and this time saw Michael’s brother in the workshop – he was doing some welding so I had to wait for him to stop before I approached. He had a quick chat but was clearly in the middle of his welding so I left them to it and headed off back towards Wachtendonk.

Rather than taking the road without the cycle path beside it I thought I’d use the other road, the L361, but as I headed out that way I saw some cycle path signs for Wachtendonk so decided to follow them. What followed was a rather wiggly route on some farm tracks and past fields – quite a nice route but with lots of sharp corners which can be exciting in the Versatile.

I was chased by a dog for a bit so I stopped to chat to its owners who were really interested in the bike (as was the dog – he put his paws up and peered at me over the side, very cute). Although there was no traffic on these roads the surface was a bit bumpy with mud and gravel and I probably would have been faster on the main road, even though it would have been a longer journey.

I was soon back at Wachtendonk and took a similar route back to Escheln.

Total distance today was 23.59 miles which I did in 1 hour 57 minutes. This means the average was 12.1 which is definitely faster than I would have done the same ride on Alfie. It looks as though I am getting the hang of the velomobile and starting to benefit from its speed advantage. Doubly good news was that my knees were fine – they seem to have recovered from whatever was causing them to be slightly painful. Maybe I’ve got the seat position right on Penelope now.

My calorie burn was a fairly paltry 836, however, as my heart rate didn’t get above 165 and its average was 125. Probably the figures would have been higher in Alfie as I would have been struggling more against the wind.

You may think this is the end of the report for the day but it’s not… quite.

I started to write this blog and then decided I wanted a photo of the new arrangement I’ve got to mount my Garmin satnav. Frank, the landlord, helped me to fit a bike light mount widget that I bought in James’s favourite shop, Self, as it looked as though it might do the trick. Indeed it did (although I can’t use the more traditional cycle computer at the same time as there isn’t room). This was hard to photograph so this is about as good as it gets…

Red line points to the location of the mount:

Garmin mount 2A close-up of the mount – it gets in the way of the Topeak Panoram computer whose mount you can see behind it (the square one). This photo is taken with the lid up so there’s a decent amount of light.

Garmin Mount 3However, when I went down to take a photo and wheeled Penelope out of the garage to get these photos… I noticed one of the tyres was definitely soft. The front right one, so not the wheel that had had all the punctures yesterday.

As I said to the landlady, fixing a puncture at home on a sunny day with a cup of tea available is no real hardship. So I took out the tube, found the problem (which I think was partly caused by there being some leaf debris in the tyre which I must have introduced when changing the tyre for the new Marathon yesterday). I put in one of yesterday’s repaired tubes, started pumping it up… and I could tell air was escaping. Out came that tube – there was a pinprick hole in it. Perhaps this was a second hole that I hadn’t spotted when repairing them yesterday, but I thought I’d pumped them up and they’d held OK. Oh well, another repair.

I checked the tyre thoroughly – it was unmarked and everything inside was fine.

Fortunately I’d had a delivery today of new tyres and two new tubes so I grabbed an entirely fresh tube and put it in.

I thought I’d check what PSI I should inflate the tyre to, assuming it was the usual maximum 100psi. And I was surprise to discover that it said maximum 70psi. The older Marathons had this but the newer ones ran at a higher pressure. Never mind, I pumped it up to 60.

Then I realised I ought to let down the other side a bit as I had pumped it up to 80 yesterday. I went round, looked at the tyre and saw it said Maximum 100psi. Yes, I had not-quite-matching tyres. It was actually fairly obvious as the wording of Schwalbe Marathon was different – the 70psi ones are older. I wanted them to be the same so opened my exciting box of new tyres (which contained four of the 100psi ones):

Box of bike tyres

And then changed the front right tyre yet again. That wheel now has a brand new tyre and tube so it ought to stay inflated (and I checked it four hours later and it was still OK, fortunately).

I plan to take Penelope out again tomorrow, probably just around local roads, but in the morning so I have plenty of time for tyre repairs. I’m not expecting anything more (except the possiblity of a failed patch in the front left wheel as I ran through all my spare tubes on that on Monday and tend to use the best ones first) but here’s hoping all is well. I’m planning to take Penelope to Willich for the Karfreitag (Good Friday) concert at the church there and it should be a brilliantly fast run on all the Landstrassen (lovely long, straight roads) – maybe I will beat my speed record on Penelope.

Although I had not done my 50km which allows me to have a cake, Lara the landlady’s daughter took pity on me with all my tyre changing and gave me a slice of a pineapple cake she had made.

Pineapple Cake

I think I may have decided to give up with the “No cake unless you’ve cycled 50km or it’s a weekend” challenge. After all, life’s too short, and what’s the point of being in Germany if you don’t enjoy cake even after a 30km bike ride? What do you think?


Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Recumbent Trikes, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to Schwalmtal

I’ve now had Penelope the Versatile Velomobile with me for a week and have done a reasonable amount of riding in her to slowly get the hang of riding a velomobile rather than my recumbent trike. She and I had done 73 fairly easy miles and apart from a slight bit of pain in my knees (which isn’t uncommon but meant that I didn’t do much riding over the weekend to give them a rest) I was enjoying my new mode of transport.

One thing I did need to get for her was a decent lock – the curly Abus lock I have for Alfie is a bit inconvenient for a velomobile. Alex, who sold me Penelope, had an excellent chain system which worked really well so I decided to buy a lock like that myself. It was an extra bargain when I discovered that German ebay sells pink chains!

Penelope's lock

The way that this is used (that Alex showed me) works really well – the lock is fixed around the structural metal T-piece that attaches the seat to the velomobile.



And then you shut the lid, pull the chain through and attach it to a handy lamp post or railing.


This is very secure and has the additional bonus that people can’t open the lid of the velomobile and get in.

Anyway, today was to be a longer ride. Friends Gabriele and Rolf, who I’d met in England last year on LEL, agreed for us all to meet at Rolf’s house in Schwalmtal. I would cycle over from Kempen, Gabriele had a rather longer ride from Bonn (but she’s a very fast audaxer). The plan was to meet at 3:30 and as it was 20 miles there I thought it best to give myself two hours as it would be my first long ride with the velomobile.

Rolf had plotted me a recommended route (well, he had supplied two, so I decide to use both, one each way) and this is my outward journey:

Outward route

I stopped off at the Griesson de Beukelaer factory in Kempen to buy some easter choccies for Rolf and Gabriele.

I then made the mistake of trying to take the cycle route ring that goes around Kempen slightly outside the main centre. It’s a great route on a normal bike or on Alfie but it had rather too many gates to stop cars which were very tricky in Penelope. In the end I gave up and used the main roads.

On the way out of Kempen I found myself waiting for ages at a traffic light, only to realise that this one did require you to press the button (the ones in Kempen itself tend to have a lights phase for bikes anyway). This can be tricky in a velomobile but fortunately I have long arms!


Whilst I was waiting for the lights I had a message from Lara, who lives downstairs, to say that Poppy was helping her with the lawn mowing.


I thought I might be out for rather a long time so asked Lara if she would take Poppy out to the garden late in the afternoon – Poppy was clearly getting a much more interesting expedition. Lara also took her for a walk later which was great, and then Gudula (the landlady) took her out for another walk!

My ride went through Oedt and then on very quiet roads to Hagenbroich. So far the ride was fine and I was extremely glad I had the velomobile because of the weather. Today was a super-windy day with forecasted gusts of up to 40mph/60kmh. It was certainly a very strong wind which also brought with it occasional rain showers but the velomobile is just the right sort of vehicle for this –  you stay warm and mostly dry and the wind doesn’t have that much of an effect.

I had debated whether to put the roof on the Versatile for this trip but thought that as the wind was so strong it might be best not to (Peter told me his roof had once blown off). Besides, the sun was shining most of the time. During the sharp showers that rained on me a couple of times I just zipped up the cover around my neck, put a hat on and I stayed comfy and dry and warm. Much, much better than on exposed Alfie!

After Hagenbroich I started to climb – and climb, and climb. I thought Niederrhein was flat! But no, there was a quite significant hill, and I found that the Versatile’s lowest gear wasn’t as low as I’d like. I wished for one or two lower gears but had to make do with what I had, winching myself up slowly.

You can see the elevation profile for the entire ride (there and back) here:

Elevation profile

The green lines are my speed and the red lines my heart rate. But you can clearly see that first significant hill!

I felt pretty knackered after climbing that but then had the delight of the accompanying downhill which was tempered by the gusty wind which blew Penelope around a bit. It was a slightly white-knuckled descent but I managed it. I notice my maximum speed today was 24.1mph so that’s not actually that fast – on a straight, smooth road on a non windy day I would have done much better!

The last bit of the journey through the Schwalmtal area had rather bumpier roads which were mostly quiet tracks (I was following Rolf’s route) and the blowing dust off the fields made it quite hard work. I realised I wouldn’t be there at 3:30pm but ended up only being ten minutes late. Gabriele was already there and drinking tea with Rolf – when I arrived the cakes made an appearance:


Very yummy! Rolf had also made a cheese and bacon quiche for us!

I selected this chocolate cream cake slice to have with my Tetley Tea.


We had a really good chat, organised our plan to go to Spezi (the German weird bike exhibition) in a fortnight’s time, discussed the things I have been unable to find here (decent potato peeler, non-expensive towelling bathrobe, cutlery drainer) and where I might find these elusive items.

After our chat we had worked up an appetite again so it was time for Cake Slice 2. This time we went for half slices and I went for the healthy fruit option – some apple cake. Yum! (There was a pear in my previous chocolate/cream cake so that was pretty healthy too, really).


It was approaching 6:30 so time for us to get back – Gabriele had a four hour ride back to Bonn (100km away) and I had my 30km ride that would take me two hours (or so I thought!)

Gabriele first showed me that she had learned to get in and out of her Quest XS velomobile without using her hands. Rolf and I agreed that neither of us were gymnastic enough to do this!


Gabriele has Busch & Müller IQ lights in the front of her Quest – this is a tempting upgrade as the lights on Penelope are a bit of a disappointment compared to Alfie’s B&M IQ light.


Here’s Rolf peering at Penelope as Gabriele is about to set off.


We left together but Gabriele turned right where I turned left after just 100 metres so I was on my own, hoping to get back before dark (8:30pm).

This was my route back, slightly different and including the old railway line from Nettetal-Lobberich to Grefrath.

Return route

So I headed off, hoping that the return route would be less hilly. And it was – the railway route smooths it all out nicely!

But I am getting ahead of myself – here I am at the top of a short gradient (which seemed extremely hard work) to get onto a bridge over the motorway, the A51, looking at what should be a nice speedy downhill.


Except it wasn’t. Bump Bump Bump went my left tyre – a familiar sound. Oh dear.


A puncture. I’d probably had it for a while but had been riding so slowly that it didn’t really notice but it did explain why the incline had felt so hard!

So I did my first puncture repair on Penelope. Peter had made me this fantastic little wooden chock thingie to lift the wheel off the ground and it worked excellently. I popped the disc cover off the wheel (it’s just fabric stretched over a hoop) and took the tyre off. The tyre was a Schwalbe Tryker and didn’t look in that good condition really – there were threads showing at the edges. I found a massive flint that had pierced the tyre and also cleaned out a few other minor stones. Trykers have RaceGuard rather than GreenGuard puncture protection and it was easy to see that it is less robust than the GreenGuard on the normal Marathons.

Still, it only took me ten minutes and the rain held off until I’d finished and was back in the warm Velomobile.

Here is a rainbow over the hill I was about to climb.


…except that this version of Rolf’s route took a very long, winding approach to the hill so that it wasn’t really that noticeable. I was soon on the disused railway bike path and with the wind now nearer my tail I whizzed along briefly, enjoying (for a two mile stretch) an average of 14mph, much faster than my normal 10.5-11.5mph speed.

Until I had to stop for this.


This was actually quite a significant problem. With Alfie I could lift him over, Penelope is too heavy. I had a go at dragging the branch but it wasn’t going to work – it was still largely attached to the tree.

In the end I had to drag Penelope backwards past the top end of the branches (the right hand side of this photo) but it was all a bit nasty and there were some unpleasant graunching sounds against her paintwork (which appeared, fortunately, to be unmarked).

Still, I had overcome that obstacle and I rode on through Grefrath, heading out then on a main road (not the rest of the railway route this time) to the western side of Kempen.

The going seemed to be pretty tough again, especially as the wind was at my eight o’clock so should be helping. I stopped to check the front left tyre again.


Another one.

So I changed the tube again, pumped it up, then faffed about a bit with my phone (which was running out of battery and getting its knickers in a twist). I texted my landlady to say I was delayed and I hoped Poppy was OK – she said Poppy was sitting on her lap watching TV so was clearly OK! She said she could come and rescue me if I wanted but I replied that I was fine – punctures aren’t that big a deal. I plugged my phone into my battery charger, then before I got in I checked the tyre again – it had partially deflated! Oh no!

I couldn’t face changing it AGAIN, without having moved an inch, so I pumped it up again and headed off. After about 400 metres I had to stop to put some more air in. I carried on again, this time I had to put more air in at 300 metres and the valve had gone rather wonky. I managed to ride to the pedestrian bit of Kempen (another 200 metres) before I had to stop. At least now there were shops with lights on (as it was now dusk) so I wheeled Penelope to a particularly bright shop (which was closed but had lights on) and put her up on Peter’s excellent chock and changed the tube again to my third and final one.

I found the puncture – it was in an entirely different place to the first one and the second one. Weird!

I had four miles to go and wasn’t at all sure if I’d get there with an inflated tyre – experience suggested not. The Tryker tyre had not appreciated being run flat and I’d need to change it when I got home (I had two replacement Marathons in the garage so that wouldn’t be a problem).

So I put the tube in more in hope than expectation, pumped it up and zoomed off as quickly as possible, on the most direct route, often in the road rather than on the cycle path. I had all my lights on now as it was dark.

When I stopped at some traffic lights there were a few  youths on bikes beside me. I asked one of them if he could see if I had a puncture (you can’t see the wheels from inside Penelope) and he said no. Phew!

I pedalled on, lifting the lid so I could lean out to check the tyre at the next traffic lights (still up!) I rode on, getting nearer and nearer home.

When I turned into Escheln for the final mile I was very relieved – it looked like I would be OK on my third and final replacement tube. And indeed I was, I made it to the garage with three inflated tyres. I was feeling pretty knackered by now, as you can imagine.

Here are the various readings every two miles for this trip – including heart rate and calories burned. You can see that 33-34 miles I burned loads of calories – I think that was partly through riding on a flat tyre and then having to pump it up a lot!

Here it is in imperial:

HR data etc in Imperial

And here’s the metric version for you continental types!

HR data etc in MetricI put Penelope in the garage, leaving all the holey tubes stuffed behind her seat. That’s the great thing about a velomobile – there’s loads of space for stuff!

Although I’d had a rather hard work journey home, I’m not sure I would have attempted the journey at all on Alfie with the weather forecast. The wind would have been really evil in an open recumbent and the rain wouldn’t have been much fun either. Gabriele commented to me that with a velomobile you don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing as you’re always warm enough and you don’t get wet. I tend to get quite smelly when I ride Alfie in the winter because of the waterproof jacket which is rather boil-in-the-bag, even though it’s a good quality breathable one. I did all my riding today in just a cycling t-shirt and light cycling trousers and was always warm enough. However I do need to carry a waterproof jacket in case I get a puncture in the rain!

When I got back Poppy was still in with Gudula. She seemed pleased to see me and came up to my apartment with me and promptly fell asleep. She’s totally shattered and hasn’t moved for two hours, she has just been cuddled up to the imaginitively-named Bear.


It was great to see Rolf and Gabriele and do a bit of a longer journey in Penelope. My knees held up OK too, although they might complain a bit tomorrow. Total distance travelled: 37.72 miles in 3 hours 44 minutes. The Garmin switched off for about half a mile so those figures are a slight under-read but that’s OK. Average speed 10.1 mph, lots of which is me riding on a flat tyre. And the best news of all – 2,490 calories burned. That’s more calories than were in the cakes I consumed!

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Recumbent Trikes, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to Wachtendonk

I had my first slightly longer trip on the Velomobile today. It wasn’t going to be very long as I have slightly painful knees, probably as a result of switching to the heavy Versatile, so I wanted to take it easy.

I left the dog feeling very patriotic.

Then it was off out in Penelope the Versatile.

I’ve mostly been heading south since I’ve got here (to Kempen, the nearest town) but decided it would be good to explore the other way, the other side of the motorway that runs a mile or so north of where I now live. Wachtendonk seemed like a good destination – I’d been there several times and there wasn’t much to see but who cares about that!

I didn’t bother plotting a route on my Garmin, I just decided to follow the frequent bicycle path signs.

This was the route I ended up taking:

As you can see, I went the wrong way right at the very start – I did the morning dog walk route heading east before realising that Wachtendonk was to the west  :facepalm:

I turned round and headed off in the correct direction, going along the long road Escheln (also the name of the hamlet where I live) until I reached the main road, Kerkener Strasse

I remembered why it’s not always a good idea to follow cycle path signs, even in cycle-friendly Germany or the Netherlands.

So I got out, wheeled the velomobile between the posts (getting a nettle sting on my sandaled ankle at the same time) and then headed across Kerkener Strasse and through the fields, under the A40 motorway and eventually to Wachtendonk.

Wachtendonk, like lots of places round here, has a cobbled old centre. In the Versatile, with its front suspension, cobbles aren’t as jarring as on Alfie but it all makes a heck of a noise. Wachtendonk seemed rather quiet with no-one around and not many shops open so I rode on, following the cycle route signage as I had half a thought of going to Wankum. I changed my mind about that and decided to do the main road back to Kempen instead, to preserve my knees.

I found myself on a cycle path that wasn’t on my Garmin at all. I had been on it before and remembered it had a narrow bridge but I had managed it with Alfie and Penelope is marginally narrower.

Here is the bridge

It was pretty tight going across but I managed not to scratch my paintwork!

After about a mile of this gravelly track which was OK on the Versatile (would have been mucky on Alfie with no mudguards) I was back at Kempener Strasse, the main road to Kempen, so headed south east on the cycle path beside the road.

I saw a sign to Sankt Hubert which went cross country to the east so decided to do that as a short cut.

I went past a very attractive old building, the lodge for Haus Velde I assume:

And I found some German onion roadkill!

I still have some left over (I brought them with me) from my onion collecting last September so didn’t grab the two whole ones.

I did a bit of a diversion as I approached St Hubert but then decided I might as well pop to Aldi and get something fresh for this evening. I hadn’t brought any plastic bags with me but this doesn’t matter with a velomobile:

Note the mounting for my Garmin. Not ideal but it works OK as long as the sun isn’t too bright. I originally fitted it in place of the Topeak Panoram trip computer directly in front of my face on the VM lid but it wobbled too much as it was heavy and on the end of a metal spar. I’ve put the Topeak Panoram back in place for the time being. I may revisit mounting the Garmin in its place but would need a few more tools to do it (well, I have the tools, but I need one of those mystery boxes of assorted light mounts/fittings/corner widgets and more).

It was then just a short ride home of a mile, by which point my knees were protesting slightly. I think it’s the stop/start riding rather than the distance which makes the knees less happy – I have a long ride on Saturday to the choir practice in Neersen, 13 miles away, but it’s mostly on Landstrassen which are the long, straight roads with cycle paths alongside, so hopefully the 26 miles will be fine. We will see!

Today’s ride was 14.55 miles at an average of 11.2mph which isn’t bad considering the very slow riding through Wachtendonk over all the cobbles, plus several stops to look at things/travel slowly over bridges.


Filed under Cycling in Germany, Recumbent Trikes, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope the Versatile moves to Germany

Today was the day, long awaited, when Penelope the Versatile Velomobile came to live with me in Germany.

As mentioned on previous blog posts, I bought Penelope from Alex who lives in Rotterdam but realised it wasn’t a good idea to bring her back to the UK as she doesn’t fit in my car. Alex agreed to look after her in his garage so I could collect her when I arrived in Germany and was only 120 miles away and not across the North Sea.

I then started thinking of various ways to get her here including the train (probably not allowed), cycling (wouldn’t have anywhere to keep the dog whilst doing it), hiring a van etc. At that point Peter, who also has a Versatile and who had been giving me lots of helpful information and advice, offered to collect Penelope from Alex a week before I came to Germany, to check her over and then to bring her to me in Germany on his trailer. I accepted his super-kind offer, and so today was the day that Peter was venturing from Woerden in the Netherlands to Kempen in Germany.

I had a phone call from Peter to say he’d got slightly lost as it turned out his Satnav only had maps for the Netherlands and Belgium and not Germany so it gave up at the border. He actually went past the apartment as he was trying to find it but the numbering of the road is very odd around here and he didn’t realise that a side road was still the same name, Escheln. Anyway, I was soon able to find him and he followed me back to my Ferienwohnung.

We had a cup of tea first – this was the view out of my lounge window.


After the tea and a little chat it was time to go and see Penelope.


She was well secured on the trailer.



We were very impressed with Peter’s adaptation of his small boat trailer to carry a velomobile. James took lots of measurements of the wooden frame as he thinks he might be able to build a similar frame to go on our car roof rack for when Penelope moves to England.


And a close-up of the trailer woodwork.


James hadn’t seen Penelope before. Once she was on the ground with her roof fitted James had a go. Note the track pump – Alex kindly left this for us. There’s loads of room in the Versatile so it can be stored just behind the seat.


We had promised Peter two things as a reward for delivering Penelope – a go on my ICE Sprint and some German cake. So he changed his shoes for SPD ones and cycled on Alfie to Café Poeth in Sankt Hubert for some cake. I rode Penelope, James rode Gudula the landlady’s bike again.

The cakes were rather nice!


Peter was a mine of useful  information about Versatiles – he’s had two, done about 75,000km in them and written one off. It was great to hear his opinion of Penelope – he thought she was in excellent shape and he didn’t believe I could have found another one in that good condition. Even though she’s an old one (number 6, Peter has number 76) she has only done about 4000 miles so is pretty much pristine. Plus a previous owner, Wilfred, did lots of upgrades on the lighting. I think Peter was a bit envious of the lighting that I have on Penelope!

At about 2:30pm it was time for Peter to go. It had been brilliant to finally meet him and the time spent with him was really useful for advice about maintenance on Penelope, etc. I handed him a bag of choccies from the chocolate factory down the road and some petrol money and we waved goodbye to him as he headed off back to the Netherlands and the maps on his TomTom!

I thought I ought to have another quick ride on Penelope so it was a trip to the other local supermarket, Edeka. I parked in the bike parking area.


When we got back it was time to fix on the signwriting that I had made up in the UK in the week before I left. It was very useful to have James here to do this as he’s done a similar procedure on his boat so knew what to d.

First we positioned the signwriting with some tape.


Then James peeled the backing paper off and started to smooth the vinyl onto the paintwork, using a handy Co-op Loyalty Card.


Ready to start peeling the front paper off now!


The web address appears…


At this point my phone ran out of charge so wouldn’t take any more photographs. However, this was Penelope the following morning after we had also fitted the Union Jack stickers that I brought with me.


Today, the first full day of Penelope living in Germany, we decided to go and ride up the local hill (there’s only one really), Tönisberg (well, there’s also Hülser Berg but I think that’s the same general thing, just a bit more south-east).

First of all I popped out to the local strawberry place. You will see from the photo I have also fitted the little windscreen to see how it works (I think it works OK for me – Alex said it wasn’t a good option for him).


Back again – here is Penelope outside the apartment. Alfie is the other side of the garage door, probably feeling a bit miffed at all the attention now going elsewhere.


View from the front with the windscreen. I have also removed the additional rear view mirror that Alex used when riding with the trailer.


We walked the dog and then had a visit from Anja, a local lady who has invited me to join the choir she attends. She came round with lots of pressies including choccies (yum!), a chew for Poppy and some magazines including the German ADFC magazines (the ADFC is the German equivalent of the CTC, i.e. the national cycling organisation). Plenty of reading material! We had a good chat with Anja – it was good to meet her again (I’d seen her at the choir practice a year ago).

We got ourselves organised then for our trip to Tönisberg. I’ve visited it before but that was on Alfie – he ‘only’ weighs 18kg, Penelope is over 40kg, so it would be an interesting test of my stamina. I wore my heart rate monitor to see how much effort it was. This is a link to my previous visit: https://www.auntiehelen.co.uk/kempen-15-march/

Of course the beginning of the journey, on local roads, is wonderful and flat with good tarmac and almost no traffic. Here’s the view from the cockpit.


Yep, this is fun!



This is a video that James took whilst cycling along behind me.

And another

We were approaching the hill which has this old headframe over a mining shaft – Förderturm Tönisberg Schacht 4. Sadly you can’t get that close to visit it – James was hoping to get a good look.


The hill began and it really wasn’t that awful. The hilliness was comparable to some of the hills around where I live in Essex (like New Road in Manningtree or Hythe Hill in Colchester) so not as steep as some. It helped that the cycle track beside the road was decent, smooth tarmac.

At the very top is a lovely old windmill. I knew the drive up to it was steep but it was a trifle steeper than I remembered! I got almost to the top before stopping to ask James for a bit of a push as I didn’t want to overdo it. He took this pic first – see how steep it is!


The pic below gives the real steepness – still pretty nasty!


By the time I got to the level area at the top I was really warm so was pleased to open Penelope’s lid and stretch my legs a bit in the fairly chilly air up on the hill.


The windmill.


James climbed up to see the view. It was rather hazy so he couldn’t see some of the wind turbines we know are there, nor was Krefeld visible although it wasn’t that far away.


We liked these different tractor tracks on the field adjacent to the windmill – rather interesting designs!



We decided to return via a different route, checking out the location of an Italian restaurant that we’ll be going to for dinner tomorrow evening (with Anja and her husband). This involved a short descent, another ascent and then a long and fast descent. I enjoyed speeding back down again but wasn’t sure where the road junction was and didn’t want to overcook my brakes so kept off the gas. I did 44kph so that wasn’t too bad.

James also had a go on Penelope!



The view from above (sort of!)


It was an enjoyable ride and we stopped off at Sankt Hubert’s Aldi to buy some vegetables for our evening meal. Tomorrow is Sunday so most shops are closed so we needed to ensure we wouldn’t starve before our evening meal!

When we got back it was time to do a couple of little jobs on Penelope that Peter or we had identified.

The first was to stop the Rohloff gear changing cables from hanging so near to the ground. You can see the problem here in this photo:

Penelope dangling cables

This was an easy fix, recommended by Peter, which involves cable-tying them together (there are two Rohloff cables) and then attaching them to one or two of the screws holding the underplate onto the velomobile.

We needed to roll Penelope on her side so lifted her into the front garden so she had soft grass to lie on rather than the driveway.

Here she is on her side – not looking very elegant! You can see the Rohloff cables moving from the right hand control to the left hand side of the swing-arm in front of the rear wheel.


And this shows again the issue. Note the holes for my feet to push the velomobile backwards if I need to!


James added two cable ties and the screws holding down the bottom plate gripped them.


Job done!


The second job is one I’d been wondering about for a while – how to mount my Garmin GPS.

Penelope had the original Topeak Panoram cycle computer which has lots of information. Unfortunately its pickup from the wheel was very erratic and although we fiddled with it a bit while Peter was here we couldn’t get it to work reliably. I decided that I would prefer to have the Garmin there.

But how to mount it? The Garmin mounts onto a stem, the Panoram mounting was screwed onto a flat metal plate.

We took the Panoram unit off its mount, so the plastic mount frame was still there, and realised it would probably hold the Garmin mount in place. Which it did! (Sorry for the fuzzy photo, the camera focused on the parking brake rather than the Garmin mount)


Frank the landlord donated us two decent black cable ties – the ones I had were a bit thin.

Here is the Garmin in situ.


With everything done and tidied up we put Penelope to bed beside Alfie who is probably doubly fed up now that his Garmin mount has been stolen. I shall have to buy another one to put on him for when I use him – probably in the heights of summer when a velomobile is just too hot.

Tomorrow we take Penelope to church in the morning (well, I suspect she will stay outside) and then for an evening ride to the Italian restaurant which will include a ride back in the dark. I have charged up all four battery packs that Alex provided and so it’ll be interesting so see how much power a five mile ride in the dark uses. Penelope holds two battery packs at once which is plenty of power.


Filed under Recumbent Trikes

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


Go-One Evo-R


Leiba Classic








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


Filed under Penelope the Velomobile, Recumbent Trikes