Vision and visibility,
It sounds like the title of an Emily Brönte story. This is less romantic, it's about the electrical system of and more in particular the lights on the Hilgo. We started early on having a simpler wiring developed with much less soldering work but the person we commisioned the work to did not live up to expectations and managed to make things even more complicated. Thrown back on my own, very lean electronics' capabilities I started schooling myself about LEDs that we need for Daytime Running Light (DLR), indicator lights, rear and break lights.
It seems to me that using the widely available 12V LED strips is just what I am looking for. Easy to connect very bright, a large light area and if they somehow fail, they can easily be exchanged for a new LED strip. Even by customers themselves as long as they know how to hold a soldering iron and know about basic electric circuitry. The strips can be made to length and they come in the colours that we need: white, yellow and red. They have a large area so they are much better visible than small, single LED's. Because of using many more LED's of course power consumption is higher. So be it: I want the best visibility that I can find and I'll just use more battery capacity to keep it going.
Additional lightsA common field of discussion that every velo rider knows is that "we" are too low and that is why we can't be seen. Advice ranges from the unfriendly "get off the road" to "you need a flag on that". I think that the people who are most adament about this are the ones who pay the least attention to the road. They do not want to get the blame for not paying the necessary attention they should be giving to the road.
I have been driving quite a lot myself in the past, before going car-free in 2002, and remember occasions where I drove on "auto-pilot". With that I mean that at times I did not look at the road directly but only from the corners of my eyes. I could blame my navigation for it, but by now I know there is no excuse for my driving without due care. As a cyclist, I realise it is too dangerous for vulnerable road-users. At this moment in history a common thing to look on is our smartphones. It is very tempting to see who has just been texting us and see what it is about. One can ride while looking at the screen with half an eye to the road, as long as there are no UFOs' on the road. And the velo is typically such a UFO that a driver in "automatic mode" will overlook.
This is why I have come to the conviction that the velomobile has to stand out on the road, not by it's strangeness because people will overlook the unusual on the road, but by high-lighting it. Highlighting in a literal sense. Because instead of a flag, I rather choose a bright light on top of the velomobile. For 4 months in the year I commute in complete darkness and a flag would be of no use to me at all. And the risks on the road are the highest in the dark season, several times higher than in the rest of the year. It's not only cold and rainy weather that pushes people in the car in wintertime, but I'm sure it is also the higher risks of cycling in the dark that puts peole off from commuting.
The tail fin of the Orca.So, what can be done for the velomobile riders' visibility in wintertime? I think that lights on the highest point of the velomobile or even making the velo a bit higher and/or LED-strips to create a large lighted area is the way to go. Many Milan riders have light "cannons" on the top or on the hood, shining with a single white LED to the front and a single red LED to the rear. This works very well, even with the single LEDs'. On my own Milan, I have made a red LED strip connected to the onboard battery at the back which has a larger area lit. This instead of the standard battery light from which it is unknown when the battery is dead and I may have no light at all without knowing!
A different approach is taken by Flevobike who has designed a 3D-printed, transparent tail fin with integrated front DLR, rear light and even indicator lights on top of the velomobile. They are common 12V LED strips, tucked in the sharks' fin. Oeps, I mean tail fin. Well, let's face it, it looks a lot like the shark fin we all know from the movie "JAWS".
|LED strip on MilanSL|
|the tail-fin on my Hilgo|
Flevobike at first only had a version for their own Orca velomobile, but now they also offer a version for other velomobiles. When this came to my attention, I immediately ordered one and I'm so impressed with the improvement in visibility, that I have ordered a second, so both my velomobiles can have one. Sometimes the suction cups come loose but never all at once and even if they did, the wiring will still hold the fin up there. With 2,5Watt, some may find power usage a bit high, but given it's effectivity I find it acceptible.
Of course there will be some extra aerodynamic drag. I found it unnoticeable, but I made the electric connectors such that I can take the tail-fin off when racing on a closed course. The shape of the tail-fin is aerodynamically optimal. Certainly a whole lot better than a flapping flag, which is a slap (...) in the face for all who like an aerodynamic, efficient HPV.