dinsdag 1 april 2014

A philosophic vacation tour.


This is a rather philosophical posting about past, present and future of personal transportation, fitness, health and road rage. These are the thoughts that cross my mind when I'm pedaling away vast distances through time and space. The space that is the anchor of this posting is the L770 road in Germany. It is a very special road....

Dream Ride

Only rarely did I ride a nicer section then on the L770 road, roughly between the German towns Petershagen and Bramsche in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. Such a road is ideal for long-distance travelers by velomobile. Every main road should have such wide shoulders for long distance/high speed HPV'ers! 
Excellent shoulder for HPV use.

43km/h average for 50km@177Watts. Link to a bigger picture on Dropbox
Yes, it's alongside cars, but the shoulder from the L770 is wide and just as smooth as the rest of the road, without the debris or discontinuity that for instance the ROAM2011 riders experienced in the USA. I wasn't riding for speed on the L770 actually, which can be seen from the "modest" 177Watts average power. It was part of a 650km long weekend round trip Groningen (NL)- Hildesheim (DE) ride, so I was riding my long distance pace. 

The stage-coach era

If navigation and roads for velomobiles were always this good, travelling by velomobile would certainly catch on more widely. I'm dreaming of the times like of the stage coaches (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stagecoach), when you would travel all around Europe and spend the night in hostels where you could have a warm bed, dinner and breakfast. My mode of travelling today is very similar to that: I travel from 150 up to 300km a day with my Mango velomobile, check in at a youth hostel, B&B or Warmshowers and have dinner somewhere in town. Next morning breakfast either at the hostel or at one of the bakeries that have an excellent service. If only my navigation could be easier with all roads complemented with a wide shoulder like I had on the L770 road, my daily travelling distance could easily jump to 400km. 
But to be truthful: my average for the full day was not 42,7km/h. http://ridewithgps.com/trips/2414133 And that is not because I got tired or significantly lowered my pace. It was because the other 160km of this day, my cycle navigation took me on smaller roads with intersections every kilometer, gravel roads, the odd sand road, non-existing roads and dead ends.... In the end my average dropped to 30,9km/h which is of course quick for a bicycle, but still..... not nearly as quick as could be and without any more effort.
Nice, but not so good for travelling long distance.
Stranded in loose sand, had to push for a while.
Alternative: go back and take a long detour with no guarantee for  a better result

How will we transport ourselves safe, comfortable and swift without getting.... you know, fat and angry.

But aren't roads for cars (sic). That is of course only for as long as it makes sense (just like the stage coach era ended when trains took over their role). Later the car made personal transport possible, but at a high cost both in traffic incidents and energy waste. Nowadays it becomes ever more clear that personal transport should not take up as much energy, space, public resources and cause so much pollution like the contemporary car or even it's successor, the hybrids and e-cars. Truly efficient bicycles, like velomobiles, are perfectly suited for personal transportation. After all, isn't it obvious that physical activity is just what we need in an age of stress and obesity? The car hasn't lived up to it's reputation of freedom for a long time. Only in car commercials will you see slowly winding coastal roads without any other cars in sight. The bicycle is much safer as well, despite that some people I talk to when I'm on the road like to point out that "they are clearly not safe". In fact the velomobile has an excellent crash protection with it's body of glass/carbon/kevlar. The main reason it's less safe than a car is... the car. The protection level for the people INSIDE the car is excellent, but as for the other road users? Let's face it, the safety of cyclists is very much dependent on the mood swings of drivers. I believe that it's no coincidence that the nice experience I had on the L770 happened on a bright Sunday. During my daily commutes to work, especially when the weather is bad, the temper of most people can be very bad and road rage lurks just around the corner. Of course cyclists are also prone to mood swings. The difference is that they do not present much danger to other road users.

dinsdag 24 december 2013

Been a while....

Actually I wasn't planning of doing two blogs anymore. One in English and one in my native tongue Dutch is a bit much. But since I sometimes do a small post in English on Facebook that gets out of hand and with a bit of work becomes long enough for a blog post, I guess I might as well post it here. 
So here goes....

Two of my three Mangos are riding again. The latest in my stable is called TransforMango. It's a crashed Mango, a total write-off that was rebuilt from scratch with some large-scale tweaks to the body, steering, frame and seat by Delta Hotel (his username on Velomobilforum). It interested me to see what these changes meant and since Delta Hotel moved on to another project, I bought it. I made my own tweaks to it: light weight wheels with wide rims and bladed spokes, Shredda tires, rear axle with ceramic bearings, a customised 10-speed lever shifter from Microshift (on the vertical column, so leaving the steer free for my hands and preventing unwanted steering input), 11-34 cassette (34cogs is definitely the largest that still fits), 150mm cranks, Gingko 14teeth chain idler, custom placement of this idler, KMC X10SL light weight chain. I did not want to wait for an ordered adapter middle chain wheel (Alize K from TA Specialite) to fit three chain rings to a powermeter from power2max. So for now I will go with the two chainrings that were there when I bought it. 
Because both have powermeters, I will be able to compare my trusty Twango with TransforMango.
I have planned some more major changes after I made a "zero" measurement. Because of these ongoing changes, the idea came to me to call it "TransforMango". A Mango to test new ideas...

I rode it home today in Beaufort 6 to 7 and was pleasantly surprised that it handled so good. Gusts were not a major problem. I'm not sure yet why. It may have to do with the lowered body and that my body weight is shifted more to the rear. It felt quick, but with a tail wind of this magnitude it's not surprising to fly home. So I went around, into the wind and could still keep a nice speed. And that was without the aero tweaks that I use on Twango. I'll have to wait until the powermeter is built in before I can say for sure which of my Mangos' is the fastest.

Despite a slow start of the season because of a persistent problem with my achilles, everything has turned around. I have been riding close to 11.000km/6800miles and I'm even racing again.

I feel like next year is going to be a good year! I wish my readers all the best for next year and for now, a very pleasant Christmas and turn of the year.

zondag 19 augustus 2012

EuroTour2013: Testing the Dutch tracks

When I write this, it is Sunday and I am in Arcen, Limburg at the Reception (good wifi-signal) of campsite "Klein Vink". On Thursday I started my trip with a fully loaded Mango with the idea to check the tracks I had mapped out in ridewithgps.com for the EuroTour2013. As usual when I do not have the discipling force of a group ride, I started late, way too late. It was not until 11.30AM before I set out to my destination: campsite de Paasheuvel, but since I skipped the velomobilebuilders in Dronten I could win some time. The track that I mapped looked like this: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/1566205 and I stayed pretty close to it: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/212372761
Not only the tracks were to be tested, but also the campsites. The "Paasheuvel" had looked promising on the Internet and it sure has plenty capacity in a nice setting. The requirements to be met are higher than that though: some 100people in tents and a few vehicles and all will need to charge their batteries, GPS, smartphone and whatever. On top of that it would be very nice to have access to wifi, so blogs can be updated, photos uploaded and maybe even a little movie can be put on YouTube. Upon my arrival at 6PM I had an extensive chat about this with the staff. They had several suggestions that I checked out the next morning.

The next morning.... I woke up late and made a long stroll around the campsite to see the possibilities. I saw only one field that was just perfect: the Ligweide behind the pond. Yes, there is even a pond that we can dip in right after pitching the tents (or before). This field has plenty space, the SAG vehicles can also be there and there are power outlets. (Note: we will need the special three pinned converter for campers and caravans). We maybe can "borrow" some electricity from the standard European outlets in the nearby washroom. Wifi is not free and may not be strong enough at the field itself, but it is available. (I did not take the wifi option, because I could not think of much use for it at the time).

As to be expected I got away late again 10:30AM The mapped track: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/1563685  The distance was about the same, but.... today was hot, burning sun all day and I had to climb. "What?", you might say, "you're still in the Netherlands, what climbing of significance can that be?".  It's true that we do not have mountains and most of the Netherlands is flat, but there are some "glacial tills" or "moraines" that were pushed up during several Ice Ages. The first one "de Veluwe" was unavoidable and besides, it is simply nice riding through moors and forests. The second one between Nijmegen and Germany along the river "Waal" (part of the Rhine) we could go around and maybe we will when somebody comes up with a better route. I chose to again take a route that was the nicest in my view along the "Zeven Heuvelen Weg" (seven hills road) and the river Maas. I would have enjoyed it even more when it hadn't been so blazingly hot. I stopped several times for a place in the shade or at an ice cream parlor to give my body time to cool down. I could sometimes feel a heat stroke closing in, but the pauzes, together with a lot of drinking and spraying myself wet with water from the spray bottle prevented that from happening. My average was disgracefully low, but anyway, I simply did not go to Beyss in Straelen at the same day and stopped at te campsite near Arcen (Klein Vink) that I had picked beforehand. So instead of 160km I did around 130km and arrived at about 6PM. This big campsite is quite ok and it has many facilities, like supermarket, restaurant, Spa and swimming inside and outside, (and you can even have a dialysis for your kidney) but it's also quite expensive while the place for tents on a hilltop (a steep challenge) between trees is nice, but has no power. The price for wifi is extraordinary high :-( Signal strength is excellent throughout the site it seems.

After I installed myself, I learned from others campers that the next day would be even hotter, so here I am at 3:15PM, sitting with my laptop below two blowers at the Reception instead of pushing on and landing at a hospital ;-) Next will be a place in the shade at the waterfront and sit this day out. Phew, it's hot!

donderdag 5 juli 2012

MUV, Mango Urban Vehicle

I always used to think of a velomobile mainly suitable for long distance touring and commuting. So when I came to live in a big city, I didn't think I would often take the Mango into the town centre. Meanwhile however, my other bikes do nothing but gather dust. All rides are done by the Mango: short and long.  To show how useful a Mango can be in urban area and city centre, I made a new playlist on my YouTube channel to show that especially an agile and light velomobile like the Mango is very much at home there.

My first problem is: how to film myself while cruising through the city. The solution is obvious, one simply asks a friend to come along and be filmed. The result is below and more of such vids are likely to follow in the "MUV" playlist of the HuneliggersChannel

BTW: the footage is made by my new camera: Vio POV.HD Please set the quality to 1080pHD, but when the video looks choppy on your screen it might be better to choose a lower setting.

dinsdag 3 juli 2012

"Hindsight" addition

I realized that the photos in my previous post were not giving a very good image of what you see in the mirrors on the body and in da Hood. So.....

mirror in da Hood: one can just see
the lantern post but not what is directly behind 

mirror on the normal position, the body:
Watch the lantern post in the mirror. I can see
what is going on straight behind the Mango

At first sight the field of view does not seem to different. In both cases I can conveniently look in the mirror without turning my head. The mirror in da Hood is at a slight disadvantage however, because it's impossible to see what goes on straight behind. More importantly: I have to pinch an eye to see clearly. I have noticed that in low light conditions I CAN see with both eyes open. Could it be that it's something that I can train?

CONCLUSION, after riding with mirrors inside for a week: for me this is only for racing. The disadvantages are too great for everyday use. What disturbs me the most is the fact that my glasses sometimes hit the mirrors. That is distracting and annoying.

maandag 2 juli 2012


One of the things that keep coming back in my thoughts is the subject of looking backwards. Even with da Hood on I can still see a lot to the side and back through the side windows, but it is more practical when I can keep my head still and move my eyes to look in a mirror. When I started riding with da Hood, I added a second mirror to the right side of the body. But maybe there are other ways with minimal impact on aerodynamics? As usual such things are most beneficial in racing, so Cycle Vison is a good incentive to do some work in this direction.

In previous posts I already showed the mirrors inside the velomobile hood, thinking that it would only be somewhat practical in racing. It would mean reduced drag, since I could take off the two mirrors on the body of the Mango. Like in the film above is not quite how I rode during the races at Cycle Vision.  I was not quite happy and thought it needed further tweaking. I had to pinch one eye and move my head sideways to see somebody overtaking. What was worse is that I could not move my head freely as I am used to. My glasses could easily get into contact with the mirrors. It was so uncomfortable that it was quickly decided: I took off the right mirror. The track at CV was left corners only so I needed the left mirror the most. In addition (and since I was planning on filming anyway) I placed a bullet camera facing backwards with the screen/recorder unit on the right wheel box. The screen is very small though and the image is not mirrored, so velomobiles seemed to be overtaking on the wrong side. With all the left turns during the three hour race my brain was busy enough already, so it was not very helpful in the end. (though it made very nice shots of the race)

As you can see I also had a camera facing front...
As the mirror can be rotated around on an excentrical ball joint, I could move it outside the side window of da Hood, giving me a better view (and at the same time giving my glasses more clearance). I still had to move my head sideways to have a good look but it was good enough to see when I could cut back to the ideal line in front of a rider I was overtaking. In the "comments" section on YouTube, someone suggested it might be good enough for everyday. Well, not really, but it seemed like a plan worth investigating to me. So after returning from Cycle Vision the glued-on right mount for the mirror was taken off and replaced by a different one. The stem of the mirror was trimmed down even more and with these tweaks I can move the mirror out the window far enough to see behind me without moving my head sideways. I still have to pinch an eye though, but it seems that I might get used to it.

the right mirror gives the best view backwards

mirror partially outside the window

attachment of the mirror to da Hood. Note the
minimalistic  use of material ;-)

With the right mirror being placed to my satisfaction, I will make the same tweaks to the left mirror. It will have to compete though with the rear camera. Really? Yes! While it was very difficult to process all the visual info during the race, riding home in everyday traffic conditions made a much better impression on me. Sure, not having a mirrored image was slightly awkward, but what struck me was that I could see something approaching with ONE glance, instead of looking right AND left into the mirrors. The Vio recording/screen unit does not need much power either. After 7 hours of riding from Lelystad to Groningen, the 4 rechargeable AA batteries were still 40% full. Also here I need to make an adjustment: for the race I had mounted the bullet camera pretty low to give a nice sense of speed to the viewer, but the view towards traffic and the light compensation is much better when the camera is placed higher. I already made a new hole in the top of the Mango body for this, but my first plan to make a stable mount failed. Still some work to be done there.
low mount of the bullet camera, too low...
To my surprise  Cerevellum is also back with it's "Hindsight" rear view cycling computer. I had ordered this device years ago, but the manufacturer could not bring it to the market at the time and I got a full refund. Hopefully they have more more succes this time. It may seem like an expensive mirror, but being able to see what's behind without lumpy mirrors on a velomobile is an attractive prospect to me. For the time I will concentrate on my own system with the Vio unit. Vio has a new HD recorder with greater looking angle than the analog one I have now. If only it would be able to mirror the image it might be perfect for "hindsight" as well as making recordings.

dinsdag 12 juni 2012

Mango racing tweaks, practical for everyday?

It' s not exactly the first time I'm fiddling with my Mango to make it a bit more aerodynamic and stable in the corners so I can be faster in a race. It gets much more interesting when such tweaks can be permanent. If not for going faster than it will make for a safer and less exhausting ride. For that to happen the impact to practical features like maneuverability and serviceability should be very little impacted. That's why I don't do much effort to find ways to extend the tail like for instance the Germans Ludwig and Holger have done in the past for races.  While it is good for aerodynamics and not very complicated to make, it makes the Mango less compact and therefore less practical for everyday.

Aerodynamic tail added to a Mango+ (foto: Theo Zweers)
I (stop! Who: "I".  In fact it was the infamous David Hembrow and Roelf W who initiated this) have tried to use a less inconspicuous way to improve the tail's air resistance with little strips. See: http://youtu.be/OIIGPLlFsHM It looked promising in theory. But then I rode with it and made some comparative rides and concluded that in reality it didn't make significant difference. It seems that the amount of vacuum behind the Mango did not change much.

Anyway, a long tail DOES make sense for races and I might try it myself one day, it's just not handy for everyday.

But like I wrote before there is more to speed than aerodynamics because racetracks and roads alike can have nasty corners that can have a major impact on the overall speed. What usually happens in corners is that, depending on vehicle stability and agility of the rider, one either has to stop pedaling or (Sturmey Archer forbid) even brake. Either way one has to get up to speed after the corner and then the weight of the vehicle works against the rider. My Mango is probably one of the lightest around at 26,5kg but it still is hard work, especially in a long race resulting in many a corner to overcome. Now there are some tricks to get fast through a corner but I don't want you to get too crazy ideas and make loopings in the air (like I have), so I'll discuss the vehicle itself for now.

At some point I got the idea that stability and aerodynamics could be improved in one go. In earlier attempts I had put strips near the front wheel arches like for instance in the photo below, where I put a white strip above the wheel. Other strips were taped on the underside of the body to prevent as much as possible that air gets into the wheelarch.

aero strip taped in the wheel arch

This made not nearly as much aero difference as "da Hood", but to me there was no question after several training rides and races that such strips for the front wheels made me a bit faster. It was almost practical too, but it could get into contact with the tire when the suspension strut of the outer wheel got compressed in a corner, the tire could hit the strip and when the tire wears through that can cause a flat or even a blow out. I had two flats that way in last year's Cycle Vision three hour race. That was a bit depressing, since I was doing rather well. Some people race "all or nothing" and I guess that's the attitude one needs to win now and then, but I prefer to make it to the finish line without troubles. That's how I got champion of the NVHPV summer competition of 2007: I won only one race that year, but I was present at most of the races of the competition, always finished and got me some points.

So how to get the tire away from the strip? The answer lay in the suspension strut. Hold on for the longer explanation: As I was thinking of a way to get more stability it made sense to try and make the track greater, so more distance between the contact patches of the front wheels. Simply extending the tie rods was not going to cut it, because the wheels would get outside the wheel arch and into the airstream. You can say goodbye to aerodynamics when you do that, but... when you put the top of the suspension struts inward (closer to eachother) the wheel will go inside the wheel arch again. In effect this means more negative camber. Now somewhere in the back of my head I knew that too much negative camber means more rolling resistance. So I did some roll-out tests at my regular test-bridge and was relieved to see that I was still rolling about the same distance as before.

I had to drill two holes, 9mm next to the old ones. This does make fitting bigger tires inconvenient, since they will scrape the inside of the wheel arch when cornering sharply. Oh well, I was really getting into the fast Durano 28-406 tires anyway....

to the right of the nut, light coming through the old hole
The result of this can be seen below: left is my modded Mango Sport and right is a standard Mango Sport. My wheels are clearly at a greater angle to the vertical and the track is widened by 2,5cm
Hmmm, but wait a minute, looking more closely at the foto, isn't the white Mango lower than the other?

white Mango: more negative camber

The plot thickens now, because I did something else to improve stability: lower the centre of gravity. I lowered the Mango by about 2cm by shortening all the springs in the suspension struts.

white/grey Mango is 2 cm lower

To make things even more complicated and to prove that I am in no way doing a scientific research here, I also gave the wheels a bit more positive caster by shortening the tie rods between the front of the wheel arch and suspension strut. I already found in an earlier temporary modification that this makes the steering a bit heavier and thus less sensitive to undeliberate or unconscious steering input and other influences. In the flat Netherlands I do not feel much diference from more positive caster, but it might be very good in a fast downhill. For an online explanation of camber and caster: http://www.yospeed.com/100304-wheel-alignment-explained-camber-caster-toe.php

So what have I achieved now? Well amongst others the wheel at the top are more inward in the wheel arch and this means that when I put an aerostrip over it, it will not touch the tire easily. I can even make the strip bigger.

This should give me a greater aero advantage than the previous, smaller strips. I can steer sharply (although turning radius has increased a bit) and even under load the tire dos not touch the strip. Ok, so the stiffer shorter suspension also helps there, granted. 

So how practical is my machine now, is it worth it? The future will tell, but one thing is already clear: It won't be fun to get on a sandy trail, since the narrow high pressure tires will sink easily into the sand. The smoother the road the better the comfort is with these tires. Then again, when the changes are a bit less drastic I am sure that 35-406 Kojaks will also fit and that is a pretty standard velomobile tire.
Ohw, I almost forget: stability did indeed get significantly better. All the corners on my commute can be dealt with faster than before and it is easy to control the Mango. I am even thinking of picking up an old habit to try and beat my fastest commuting time. If only the other commuters and schoolkids wouldn't look so angry in my mirror when I swoosh by them..... I meet them everyday, so I'd better stay friends.

Can something be done to get the full range of up to 42-406 tires for the Mango Sport back? Yes there is, but it is not simple, because it means changing the molds of the Mango. These molds are very capital intensive, since it took very long to make them. Changing the wheel arches of the Mango molds to allow for more negative camber will mean a big investment.... For now I will keep on making small adjustments to the wheel alignment to make the most of what we have now.