From the driving seat: bike lights and reflectors

When it comes to cyclist safety, what’s more effective – a light or a reflector? It’s not as easy as you might assume…

Countless British motorists have badly inflated or worn out tyres, faulty lights or dodgy brakes – a massive 40% of vehicles fail their annual MOT inspection at the first attempt.

When the owners of these cars take to the road on two wheels, it should come as small surprise that they don’t all conform to the letter (or spirit!) of the law.

In this post I present four very short videos to use as discussion points. I’ll take each one in turn before attempting to persuade you to draw the conclusion that I always arrive at following a rush hour drive on a dark winter’s night…

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

Light or reflectors?

This video features two riders, one of whom has a rear light (but is still not road legal due to a missing mandatory reflector). The other has no rear light at all. All the same, he is in little danger of going over my bonnet, as you’ll see:

While the video doesn’t completely replicate the driving experience, what I hope to get across here is how visible the unlit rider is – his reflective ankle bands were competing with the second rider’s (perfectly bright) flashing light from hundreds of yards away.

  • Not only is the motion of the leg quite compelling, unlike the second rider’s barely visible pedal reflectors you can see ankle bands all the time, even from side-on.
  • As an added bonus versus lights, the pedals are off-centre (closer to traffic) increasing the perceived width of the bike.
  • We all know that reflectors don’t work when headlights aren’t pointing at them. All the same, between 00:17 – 00:21 you can easily see the rider’s ankle bands despite him being over 45 degrees off-axis. Aren’t modern retro-reflectives efficient?

Like many people, I find it difficult to estimate the distance of a flashing light. This isn’t much of a problem in town, where you can see everything in plenty of time regardless, but it should be thought-provoking that the nominally ‘unsafe’ cyclist might even be easier to place – especially if you’re in the habit of riding outside urban areas or off the beaten track.

The human touch

Contrast the riders above with this one (encountered a few seconds further on). He has sparingly fitted just one reflective band, but on the business side where it will best compliment his light:

Compared to an abstract light -flashing or otherwise- the human motion of the rotating ankle certainly discourages a braindead pass (dehumanising the cyclist to a narrow box-like object to be passed with as little care as you’d pass a traffic cone – if that).

Where does it all go wrong?

The real point of this post was not so much to contrast lights and reflectives (interesting though that subject may be).

Let’s look at our next example, a rider who is, at face value, doing everything right. Yet he’s doing something badly wrong… can you tell what it is?

I imagine experienced riders might have been a little uncomfortable there, especially if you imagine I’m just another white van…

The issue? The rider’s road position was completely indefensive. What’s the point being lit up like a Christmas tree if you’re just going to expose yourself to injury by riding in daft places?

You can see this quite acutely at 00:05-00:10 where the cyclist is actually riding on the double yellow lines – so passive (and so almost “not-there-ish”) that I nearly overtook regardless of the junction coming up.

Spend any time on the roads with an open mind and I think it’s easy to argue that a large proportion of collisions (and possibly the explanation of the great gender disparity in injury rates) comes down to the messages that riders give out – voluntarily or otherwise – and the opportunities for error that they present to the drivers they interact with.

Don’t go taking off your lights, but even if you have them on, please don’t assume that they are particularly important. The rider with only a reflective band, riding a sensible distance from the kerb, would have been a safe bet over the “legal” rider in the third video if I was running an insurance company…

Nazca Quetzal : two’s company

Nazca have produced a remarkable bike in the Quetzal, combining fantastic features and build quality with critically acclaimed handling.

Stunning design, smooth and confidence-inspiring ride

Ingenious tandem will fold, split or adjust to any situation

There are few recumbents in the world and fewer tandems, so there really aren’t many recumbent tandems! With their latest model, Dutch manufacturer Nazca are taking this niche head on and seem to have struck gold at the first try…


The Quetzal oozes quality and is clearly a labour of love, from its impeccable manners to design highlights like the dual rear shocks and the ingenious stoker BB (which slides on the triangulated main frame member):


It can easily be ridden solo but the ride comes into its own when laden as intended – the Quetzal is a very solid and confidence-inspiring bike, vital when you are responsible for another person as well as luggage for two!

Photo courtesy uberuce

Continue reading “Nazca Quetzal : two’s company”

CEC: Quality Bike Corridor #1

Correspondence Nov 2012: Southside Councillors, re: Quality Bike Corridor

In relation to:

Southside/Newington Cllrs: Steve Burgess, Jim Orr, Ian Perry, Cameron Rose


Dear Councillors,

After a couple of delays it seems that the official launch of the QBC has suddenly arrived!

As you might expect since we live just off the route, I have plenty to say about it – but agreed it was only fair to wait until it was ‘finished’ before weighing in.

As someone who “plays well” with traffic I’ve personally found the QBC to be a minor improvement, mainly because of the build-outs around parking (especially the one heading north at the bottom of Ratcliffe Terrace) make it easier to force your way into the traffic stream, while removing a lane from Summerhall has also made it quite a lot easier to speed past queues. However, I honestly couldn’t recommend the QBC as a route for novice riders or those with kids, especially as the parking situation (which is laughable at peak times) just gets silly outside them. Consequently it’s hard to defend as good value.

I’ve put together a short video of my experience using the QBC which I hope you will find interesting (‘enjoy’ would be a bit perverse), on youtube:

I hope it’s obvious that this ties in directly with the general concern that Leith Walk is going to be rebuilt without segregated facilities for cyclists – despite all the support for them (and the fact that we haven’t had the “consultation” yet). At least two people in my team at the office have told me there’s no way they’d consider riding to work in Leith from the south side unless they were separated from traffic, and we can see how “well” these painted facilities work here, despite considerable cost.

Instead they sit in their cars stuck on Leith St and I wave on the way past.. but am seen as either heroic or just mad.

I understand that it might be difficult or discouraging for some councillors to see people reject these high-profile (and expensive) painted lane schemes, but I think it’s the perfect illustration that we need to aim for European-class facilities and not a poor imitation – buy cheap, buy twice.

Welcome your thoughts,


Dave McCraw

Unusual silence on this one. So far only one response- from Cllr Perry, saying that he agrees segregation is ideal but “difficult to achieve unless we give priority to cyclists”… say no more 🙂

06/12/12 update

A well thought-out and interesting reply from Cllr Burgess (a member of the transport committee at the time the QBC was approved) came through today:

… I routinely cycle and have cycled the new QBC and completely agree with you – how can this be a quality bike corridor when the bike lane ends in a parked car every so often.

What the committee did agree is that the scheme would be put in and monitored and could be improved on in future.

I replied directly as follows (digression on Leith Walk removed):

Dear Steve,

Thanks for your reply.

I think on balance that the QBC is a small improvement overall – the red paint around the parking at the bottom of Ratcliffe Terrace and the removal of one car lane at Summerhall being the highlights. It’s just a shame that it was billed as a “Quality Corridor” as that underlines how much better it could have been (and how much it cost anyway!).

As you say, it’s relatively encouraging that the council are willing to spend this kind of money and at least pay lip-service to connecting destinations rather than provisioning isolated stretches (although with no cycle facilities at all for southbound cyclists for the middle section of the QBC I daresay lip service is still a bit too generous).

Perhaps we will have more success having the design corrected now that £650k has been spent providing a nicer surface for people to park on than could ever have been achieved at the design phase?

Your (and the other Green cllrs’) continuing support in pressing for improvements to these schemes is much appreciated.

Best wishes,


As a general observation, having made and publicised a ‘Quality Bike Corridor’ at considerable expense, there seems to be a strange reticence among some of those responsible to defend (or even discuss) it.

High Baron sneak preview #2

I’ve been spending a lot of time filing away at the rear brake caliper… but the end result is that the HB is now rideable!

Since I last updated on the High Baron build, I’ve been spending a lot of time filing away at the rear brake caliper… but the end result is that the HB is now (just about) rideable!

David Gardiner takes it for a spin:

It’s not completely reassuring spending a lot of time doing this:


… to a safety critical system. Even the front brake (which fits without modification) is woefully weak.

Still, at the end of the day I got to do this:


Looking pretty promising!

“Quality” Bike Corridor: council fails utterly

Concerned citizens despair as £650,000 scheme fills with parked vehicles… marginal improvements “no compensation for huge failure of ambition”.

Concerned citizens despair as £650,000 scheme fills with parked vehicles

Marginal improvements no compensation for huge failure of ambition

Edinburgh’s much-publicised “Quality Bike Corridor” launched to minor fanfare recently (although as both ends of the route are currently building sites, someone must have become bored with the wait).

95% of the route has been complete for the last few months, of course, giving cyclists and drivers alike plenty of time to acclimatise to “business as usual”, aka “cycle lanes have been painted underneath parked vehicles”.

I felt it would be unfair to lambaste the scheme before it even officially launched, so I went out after the ceremony to capture footage of my fellow cyclists and I attempting to use the QBC.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

If you don’t like seeing footage of cycle lanes full of stationary vehicles, look away now:

As ever, click on the cog for HD video quality.

I particularly like the near-dooring at 00:45 and the Bonaly Dairies Dangerous Deliveries section around 02:10 (the driver has never forgiven me for interrupting him screaming threats at a hapless traffic warden).

Continue reading ““Quality” Bike Corridor: council fails utterly”

Busch & Muller dynamo standlights

A four minute video showing my B&M dynamo lights, spun up by hand, slowly getting dimmer. Standlight FTW!

I’ve written elsewhere about dynamo lights on the site – I’m a big fan.

In each one I find myself offering reassurance that when you stop, your lights don’t go out (at least, not unless you buy a cheaper non-standlight version, where one exists – usually a minimal saving too!)

Then I had the brilliant idea of running my Lumotec IQ Cyo and Toplight Line Plus up to speed in my hallway and then letting the standlights run down… in HD video!

Naturally the video gives you no impression how bright these things are. At the start there’s enough light to descend at 40mph, while the standlight drops that down to enough light to ride carefully on level ground (with no streetlights) although it doesn’t really look like it:

Hopefully you don’t find this exciting, but perhaps you will find it reassuring. Fast forward to 4:00 to see the tail-light turn off.

Signalled junctions in Edinburgh tend to take between 45 seconds and 2 minutes to cycle through, and as you can see, there’s plenty of light from even a short spin of the wheel to tide you through one of those. They last considerably longer if you’ve actually been riding…

Carpe oculi!

Milan Velomobile: ridden

That’s me, doing a little under 33mph on a flat bit of road in the crazy Milan velomobile…

Experiencing the human-powered rocket ship first hand

It’s cycling, Jim, but not as we know it

Last weekend I spent an afternoon with velonaut Richard Bloodworth and Laid Back Bike’s David Gardiner trying out the Milan velomobile.

Regular readers will be aware that I’ve been documenting the construction of this Milan for the last few months so was very keen to get behind the “wheel” of this remarkable vehicle:

That’s me, doing a little under 33mph on a flat bit of road towards the end of my second 10km “time trial” up this section of dual carriageway… thanks to David for capturing this footage!

Not a review

It’s only fair to be up-front and say that I can’t really ‘review’ the Milan in the same way as the many recumbents I’ve compared on this site to date.

For starters the Milan is the only velomobile I’ve so much as sat in, never mind ridden. At least the sitting part might change when Edinburgh gets its first carbon Quest later this year but even so, I think a huge period of adaptation would really be needed to do these remarkable vehicles justice.

The Milan is so fundamentally different to any other type of bike (or vehicle) that I think there would be little value in trying to rate it “versus” other bikes, (in terms of possible uses, luggage, practicality etc.) – you really need to come to your own decision that a velomobile would be right for you…

This piece should really just be taken at face value as a short insight… you have been warned! 🙂

Bottom line:

  • The Milan velomobile doesn’t feel fast. Actually it’s quite a fast mover, with Richard equalling his Fujin SLII commute record in the first couple of trips – but only your speedo will tell you how well you’re doing. If you turn up for a test ride make sure you can measure speed somehow before feeling underwhelmed!
  • the Milan’s bodywork might slip through the air like a dart but drivetrain friction and other mechanical resistances shouldn’t be underestimated. Milan measured 30mph/50kph for 135W using a PowerTap hub, which is downstream of all drivetrain losses. Based on percieved exertion, I’d say I was putting out at least twice that much power at the cranks (anyone who rides a Milan with power cranks please chime in!) Of course, it’s always possible to optimise the drivetrain…
  • The Milan’s handling is a challenge, at least for the uninitiated. Above 30mph on a smooth dual carriageway I almost didn’t feel able to change gear for fear of swerving, and there is significant brake steer. I’d rely on Richard for an owner’s experience of this rather than my brief exposure, of course, because an afternoon is a short time to get comfortable on anything new.
  • Taken as a whole, the noise, heat, and general experience of riding the Milan is much more like being driving in a track-day kit car by an enthusiastic teenager than “like your family car, only with pedals” as I half expected. I won’t say that this is a downside per se because it’s all about expectation, and you won’t be fooled by a test ride here.

Milan Velomobile
All still images courtesy David Gardiner / Laid Back Bikes.

The Fit

Adjusting the Milan wasn’t too difficult because I’m shorter than Richard: we removed a section of chain and then pulled the bottom bracket in by 6″ or so (which has to be done with the vehicle on its side, via the reversing foothole).

It’s not amazingly convenient but having this access clearly makes a big difference to the maintainability of the bike in field conditions. I’d think carefully before buying something which restricts access through the cockpit itself (especially as the Milan’s built-in headlights lights can’t be used to perform maintenance when the ambient light is low).

Richard is pretty tall and still fits inside the Milan OK, after having tweaked his position. For what it’s worth at 5’10”, ~43″ x-seam, relatively broad shouldered and with modestly size feet (!), I thought I’d fit a Milan “SL” easily enough – there was bags of room in this full-size version even around my shoulders.


The steering lock, though limited, still allows the Milan to turn more or less in the space you’d use in an average family car – so if you can drive your route, it will be OK by velomobile.

One note was that my smooth road shoes were terrible at attempting to reverse using the foot hole – which made the one three-point turn I tried, to back towards the driveway, a total failure. Something with a bit of grip left absolutely necessary (although of course you can always jump out, this isn’t a quick operation because of the hood!).



If you expect the steering of the Milan to be vaguely related to anything you’ve ridden before, you’re in for a surprise! It’s barely even a distant cousin of the various ICE trikes I’ve ridden…

Below 15-20mph the Milan is relatively placid, but as you build up speed the handling becomes razor sharp, possibly in a good way (long term owner’s report required!) but for a test ride, it was really quite intimidating.

The most hairy moment came as I descended a shallow slope on the empty dual carriageway at around 40mph, when I spotted a car building up speed to join at a slip road. The natural thing to do would have been to move into the fast lane and pass them, but I felt neither able to steer or brake, so close was the Milan to the edge of its handling. This is also an issue if you have any tendency to grip the bars as you put in power – you soon won’t!


By the end I had learned to partially tame this trait by pressing my arms against the inside of the fairing, and guiding the steering with a feather-light touch from two fingers. I’m hoping to hear from Richard that this, like other aspects of my test ride, is something you’d naturally grow comfortable with / out of.

There’s lots of brake steer, which in my opinion is mostly something you’ll learn to anticipate but does complicate a test ride – you can see the brake steer visibly in the second “slip road” video just after I leave the main carriageway, bringing the Milan a little to the left.

Potholes and other road imperfections need a careful lookout, not just because the Milan has very low ground clearance (or even because the ride quality deteriorates dramatically on a broken surface) but because, even with suspension, quite a lot of shock makes it through to the body, and of course everything is drilled into carbon fibre, from the seat mounts to the suspension struts.

It’s encouraging that so many Europeans are doing very high mileages without their velomobiles cracking apart, because to the untrained ear it sounds like it’s taking quite a pummelling! 🙂

Locals took a keen interest!


You’re going to find the Milan either remarkably heavy or remarkably light depending on how you look at it. You could pick up a featherlight road bike in one hand and then try to do the same with the Milan on the other (you’d fail!), but on the other hand, I commute on a ~13kg upright often pulling a 10kg trailer, and then you’re only looking at a few extra kilos to make what I consider still a fast moving combination into a full blown velomobile.

Compared with other velomobiles the Milan is supposed to be significantly lighter, but I can’t really comment on that based on my not-so-extensive first hand experience!

It’s getting hot in here

The heat inside the Milan is something else. Even though the day was cool (I rode in a windproof, long sleeves and fleece gloves to and from the rendezvous), I rode the Milan in a summerweight short jersey – unzipped!

At lower power output the air circulation under the visor was fine, but when I was going for it the fairing got very hot very quickly… after 20 minutes going hard it was like a sauna. Fantastic in winter, but I’m interested to know how Richard will get on next summer (luckily Scotland’s shortest season!) – lots of hydration needed I imagine!


The noise inside the Milan is fearsome. Probably this could be further optimised with some more damping material between the hood and the cockpit rim, but as it is I would certainly want earplugs (or of course headphones) if I rode it regularly. It’s not so much drivetrain noise, the drivetrain being a sort of low rumble/hiss, but road surface ‘detail’ that is bouncing around the close confines like thunder.

How tight you manage to get the bungee / velcro holding down the hood obviously contributed a lot to this, as my last ride was much better than the first – so perhaps I was also missing a few tricks here.


Given that they can’t hear traffic while in motion you’d be right in assuming a Milan pilot won’t be making any manouvres across the road without looking behind them… and the hood makes this more than an academic question, as it restricts visibility to the forward 180 degree arc only (however, I didn’t feel visibility in the forward/side directions was compromised by the hood significantly).

Richard’s Milan features two mirrors and between them you get a reasonable view of the road behind (certainly fine on the open road – manouvreing tightly might benefit from a more convex mirror but then you couldn’t as easily judge traffic the rest of the time…)

Indicators are built in since there’s no way at all to get your arm out in the open air!

Traffic reacted to the velomobile in a very positive way – in fact they were almost troublesomely patient, including at a roundabout where traffic from the right insisted on giving way to me (the opposite of the way UK roads work)…

The Milan is similar in stature to a sports car like a Lotus, although of course considerably narrower. Certainly I had no fears whatsoever that I would be crashed into, and this was borne out by the reality of riding it both in village streets and on open dual carriageway.

Of course, it’s quite possible that a peer of the realm may be writing text messages while driving and crash into the first velomobile (or ordinary bike, or lamp post or parked car) they find, but if they did the carbon bodywork would hardly be a disadvantage compared with an exposed human body. (Although as reported recently, it may not help if you are hit side-on at a crossroads).


Speed and efficiency

There’s a huge amount of friction in the drivetrain which I think probably contributes as much to the Milan’s sluggish performance at low speeds as the weight – the chain run is very long and almost entirely within tubes, and you can feel when turning the chainset by hand just how much drag that imposes.

But mechanical resistance is only a small part of the story – to be fair, one doesn’t buy a velomobile to accompany joggers in the park… what happens when you unleash it on the open road?

The first thing to comment on is the velo’s momentum. You’d think that the weight of the Milan would bring it rapidly down to earth when the road turns up, but in common with Richard’s own reports, I really did feel that it just kept rolling forever – only the more sustained climbs really forced me to sit in and winch up.

Once speed gets much above 15-20mph the aerodynamic advantage of the Milan comes into its own, in fact after the initial acceleration effort is complete, it hardly feels more strenuous to ride at 25mph than 10mph.

The main run I put in was 10km / 6 miles out and back on a stretch of dual carriageway (roundabouts at either end, but unfortunately some traffic lights too). By this point in the day I had already ridden the Milan a score of miles on local roads as well as travelling to and from the train on my Strava bike, so on top of being at a seasonal low fitness-wise, I wasn’t fresh either.

Still, I was able to hold a hair under 30mph for almost a mile and a half and finished the 10km at an average of just under 25mph, again a major achievement considering the two traffic lights and two roundabouts that held me up on the circuit.

There was an average gradient of just under 1% (of course, concentrated in a couple of sustained rises) which saw me freewheeling over 40mph and reduced to under 20mph on the return. All in all, I could easily picture adding 5mph onto the rolling average with time to condition myself.


So there you have it – a bit of a ramble for which I apologise, but hopefully some interesting or useful observations about this singular machine!

See also

Hundred Car Snarl videolog

I enjoyed a stonker of a traffic jam on the way home yesterday – I counted more than a hundred jammed vehicles, busy going nowhere in all directions…

Nobody wins except the bold thrusting lycra lout

I enjoyed a stonker of a traffic jam on the way home yesterday – I counted more than a hundred jammed vehicles, busy going nowhere in all directions from London Street all the way to South Bridge.

As you’ll see, for an experienced or daring cyclist, traffic as heavy as this doesn’t pose much of an obstacle (I’m less of the latter, as you’ll see when I repeatedly pass up easy opportunities to slide past buses).

It took four minutes to get from the back of the queue to the front, so I’d guess it added 60-90 seconds to my day… a damn sight better than half an hour or more which drivers were going to be stewing for…

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

And they say that cyclists cause congestion – what rot.

Continue reading “Hundred Car Snarl videolog”

Quality Bike Corridor videolog

There are an incredible sixty three obstructing vehicles on the 1.7 mile route at the tail end of rush hour.

It’s a cycle lane Jim, but not as we know it

Back in 2010 Edinburgh city council consulted on plans to spend almost half a million pounds on an exemplary “Quality Bike Corridor” linking the city centre and Kings Buildings campus in the south.

Edinburgh Quality Bike Corridor

We live near the Kings Buildings and so most of our journeys involve at least some riding on the route; you may well imagine that we had high hopes of the outcome of almost £1/2m of dedicated cycle redesign.

I’ll revisit specific aspects of the route in later posts, but wanted to share a quick video showing a recent commute during peak time (new headcam, huzzah!)

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

As ever, click on the cog for HD video quality.

(In case it isn’t obvious, the clip is playing at double speed to make it more watchable.)

There are an incredible sixty three obstructing vehicles on the 1.7 mile route at the tail end of rush hour… you’ll see I spend more time forced to ignore the “Quality Bike Corridor” features than using them.


See this CityCyclingEdinburgh discussion on the same footage.

Sorry mate, I can’t see your blind spot

The HGV driver, knowing he represents < 5% of traffic but is involved in 2/3 of killings, will be especially careful to check those mirrors before swinging left. Right?

Dangerous lorry drivers “getting away with murder?”

As part of National Bike Week, Spokes and various other stakeholders got together to cordon off Festival Square on Lothian Road for a sort of large-vehicle-danger seminar.

Present was a council tipper, not a bin lorry – perhaps wisely avoiding uncomfortable questions over the death of Craig Newton, who was tragically killed last year when the driver of an Edinburgh Council bin lorry drove over him in broad daylight.

Nevertheless I found the experience of sitting in the driving seat to be extremely enlightening, if not perhaps for quite the same reasons the organisers might hope!


Above you can see the tipper with a taped area laid out in front of it. Compare the taped area with a cycle safety box as found at many junctions: looks pretty similar, doesn’t it?

Continue reading “Sorry mate, I can’t see your blind spot”