Putting the Power of Electronics in Your Hands

Posted on October 6th, 2009 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I’ve been writing about electronics for nearly as long as I have been writing about cars. And, before I wrote about the subject, I played with wiring and batteries and lights and components.

But to be honest, I have always found electronics an immensely frustrating hobby. Working with integrated circuits and resistors and capacitors, more often than not I’d end up with a project that didn’t work. I’d solder a pin wrongly on the IC, or get a capacitor in the circuit the wrong way around, or do something or other – oftentimes, I didn’t even know what I’d done wrong… but the circuit didn’t work. And once a circuit doesn’t work, faultfinding it is very difficult indeed.

And even when building kits, I reckon that about one-third of the time I put them together wrongly – and so the result was the same. Many of the kits didn’t work.

(Incidentally, my wife Georgina is vastly better at building electronic kits than I am, but she also has a lot less electronics knowledge. The moral of that story is that care, patience, a good eye and a steady hand are more important to kit success than knowledge…)

At one stage when I contributed to an electronics magazine, they chose to put at my disposal a gifted and experienced electronics engineer. I sure enjoyed electronics then! I could just come up with the ideas and he made it happen – even to the extent of building the prototype kits.

But even in that situation there was a problem: once the project had been signed off and the kit published in the magazine (and available in shops), it was too late to make any changes. I didn’t have the knowledge to make hardware changes, and with the software written in obscure code, I’d no hope in that area.

But – sound the trumpets! – now things have completely changed.
As I write this, I’ve just spent the last two days working with a brand new electronics system. I haven’t had to pick up a soldering iron, I’ve built something like a dozen projects, and I’ve been able to make all sorts of subtle changes to the way in which the projects work. And, when I’ve made a mistake, I’ve been able to fix it with ease.

It sounds too good to be true, so how can it work?

The approach is called the EZ System and it’s been developed by Australian company eLabtronics.

First up, eLabtronics has developed (and is further developing) a range of programmable universal control modules. Incorporating a microcontroller (a brain) and a variety of other components, it’s the prebuilt starting point for a huge range of projects.  The modules come with screw type connectors, making wiring easy and safe.

Also available are pre-wired components – LEDs, temperature sensors, light sensors, pots and pushbuttons. All the components use the same wiring colour code and come with any required additional components already in their looms. So for example, you don’t need to worry about dropping resistors on LEDs – you just connect the LED’s pre-formed wiring straight to the module.

But how does the module know what to do? The answer is the custom software you’ve programmed into it – and what an answer it is!

The radical breakthrough in the eLabtronics ezSystem is the ezCoreChart software. If you can draw a flow-chart on a piece of paper, you can program the electronic module with this incredibly simple and versatile approach.

Let’s say you want to monitor a temperature and turn on an alarm buzzer when the temp reaches a certain point. If you were drawing a flow diagram, you might write one box that says ‘monitor temp’, another box that says ‘compare this temp to the set value’ and a third box that says ‘if temp is above the set value, switch on the buzzer’.

Well, that’s almost all you have to do in ezCoreChart! Just by clicking and dragging in some programming boxes, you can have fully functioning software for a temp alarm put together in literally minutes.

There’s no understanding needed of computer code, no building of electronics, no complicated soldering. Another software package – ezCircuit Designer – even shows you which connectors to wire the components to!

And there’s no frustration, no time wasted, no wrestling with stuff impossible to understand.

The electronic module can be programmed and re-programmed, so you can make as many changes to the system as you want. You decide the logic (or modify supplied programs) so you can get the exact outcome you want. The project can be as simple as the aforesaid temp alarm – or as complex as an intercooler water spray controller that monitors ambient temp, intercooler temp and throttle position! All for the same price!

Whether you’re a car modifier, hobbyist, teacher, modeller or engineer, eLabtronic’s ezSystem radically changes how you can make electronics work for you.

I can say with genuine belief that it is the most exciting development in DIY electronics I’ve ever seen – and this week, we start covering the system in AutoSpeed.

Footnote: while I have been deeply involved in the development of the eLabtronics EZ system, I have no financial interest in it.

DIY Breakthrough – FuelSmart

Posted on August 18th, 2009 in Economy,testing by Julian Edgar

Improving the fuel economy of vehicles is vastly harder than making them able to go faster: one is simply about jamming-in more fuel (and air) and the other, well, the other is about burning that fuel more efficiently.

That’s why I am so pleased with FuelSmart, the DIY electronic module that we’re covering in AutoSpeed this week and next.

Rather than modify the car’s engine management (or any other system), FuelSmart uses a dashboard LED to show when the car is being driven in a way that is not fuel-efficient. To put it simply: the indication tells you when you’re being a bad driver.

Having now driven many kilometres in my car equipped with FuelSmart, I realise that the action of the LED is training me to adopt a new driving style, one that is demonstrably more economical. It doesn’t mean that I am driving more slowly, it doesn’t mean that I act like there’s an egg between my foot and the throttle, and nor does it mean that the car is being mistreated.

Instead, I use plenty of throttle but get up through the gears fast, I lift right off when approaching traffic lights and other stopping points (rather than leisurely trail-throttle), and in slow-moving traffic I am one gear higher than I previously drove.

The sensitivity of FuelSmart is adjustable: you can set it so that it illuminates the LED only when you’re driving really badly, or at the other extreme, you can set it so that it indicates when you’re driving only a little badly.

During development I tried setting FuelSmart so that it was very sensitive and then went testing in heavy urban traffic. As always, the goal was to keep the warning LED off as much as possible.

And you know what?

After about 30 kilometres of driving, I was exhausted. It was just such hard work keeping the engine absolutely always in its optimal range of throttle position and rpm. The fuel economy was stunning, but hell, was I ever worn out!

Having experienced that extreme, I now run with the FuelSmart adjustment set much more modestly.

With it set in this way, I asked my wife to drive the car to the local shops. “Just drive to keep that new LED switched off as much as possible,” I said.

When she returned, I asked her what she thought.

“Well,” she said, “I’ll take your word for it that it improves fuel economy – it sure doesn’t feel that way! It’s telling me I’m not using enough throttle here, to lift right off there, to change up a gear here – it’s nothing like I expected it to be.”

Yes, I am very pleased with it – FuelSmart is a fascinatingly effective device.

Help design a car

Posted on July 27th, 2009 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

From Peter Pudney, supervisor of the development of Trev:

At some time during the past couple of years you have been one of the hundreds of people who has contacted me about Trev, the small green electric car designed and built at the University of South Australia (and as seen on TV, ABC Austraia’s The New Inventors). You probably

A) to buy one
B) to build one
C) to help design the next version
D) to get more information
E) to go on a mailing list
F) some or all of the above, or something else entirely.

If it was A, I am afraid I still can’t help you. But for everyone else, I am pleased to announce:


I have been intending for some time to put together a web site that will help coordinate the efforts of people wanting to help develop Trev further. About a month ago I was contacted by Matt Green, who wanted to help (and to build a Trev). Matt has organised a web site and set up the wiki, and between us we have started writing TREVipedia. The aim of TREVipedia is to coordinate and document the development by enthusiasts of the next version of Trev. Ultimately, we hope the TREVipedia community will develop a certified “kit car” design with standard parts, and provide information that will help people build their own.

There is not much on TREVipedia yet. We have included some information about the UniSA prototype car, some of the lessons learned, some basic CAD models, and some ideas for future versions. I will continue to add information, but we need the community to contribute by asking questions, answering questions, contributing ideas, designing, and helping organise the community and the wiki.

Take a look at TREVipedia. If you are interested in contributing, create a login name for yourself and and start editing pages (there is an edit tab at the top of each page). If you have questions, ask them on one of the discussion pages. If you see an error on one of the pages, or have useful information to contribute, edit the page. Don’t forget to save your changes. If you make a mistake, it is easy to undo (or someone else will fix it).

Home Workshop Performance

Posted on May 14th, 2009 in Driving Emotion,Opinion,tools by Julian Edgar

Our ‘Building a Home Workshop’ series (starts here) has been very popular. So what’s the workshop like after being in use for 9 months? What’s been learned about its performance in that time?

Firstly, the excellent.

The lighting system (an expensive and very powerful system using a lot of suspended metal halide luminaries) is well worth the time and money involved in its installation. You can be working in the late afternoon and as evening falls, not even notice the change in lighting. You can work as efficiently in the middle of the night as the middle of the day.

The internal layout – the position of power points, machine tools and workbenches – has also proved excellent. The ‘island’ workbench is particularly effective, as is the proximity of the welding bench to the main workbench. 

The tall headroom is also noticeable every time I swing a piece of tube or even carry the ladder. Talking about the ladder, the storage of items high up (clearing floor space) has also proved to work very well.

Now, the bad.

I chose to install two skylight panels on the north-facing part of the roof, down the end of the workshop furthest from the roller doors. These work well in that the summer heat build-up caused by their presence is limited but they still provide a lot of light. However, I should have used one more panel so that the back wall of the workshop (where the machine tools are located) was evenly illuminated. As it is now, on a cloudy day, the drill press, grinder and hydraulic press are a bit dim.

Ventilation is also not sufficient. Even with the two roller doors up, the twin whirligig ventilators working and a fan moving air within the workshop, the build-up of fumes while brazing or welding is excessive. This is one aspect I think I will have to change – either adding an extraction hood and exhaust fan over the welding bench or placing an opening window in the far wall.

Finally, the concrete floor has proved to be very soft, not just in the second batch (which I always knew was soft) but also in the first batch. To avoid damaging the floor, items cannot be dragged across it and nothing can be hammered on it.

Overall? Very happy indeed.

An extraordinary man – and his car

Posted on May 12th, 2009 in automotive history,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I am not usually one to read business or financial thrillers; there’s too much I simply don’t understand. But Delorean, written by Ivan Fallon and James Strodes and published in 1983, is simply a helluva book.

The history of the Delorean DMC12 car is widely known – we’ve done a fairly typical story ourselves (see here) – but it’s the background financial and personal shenanigans that make for fascinating reading. 

The authors are ungenerous of John Z Delorean, but any feeling that they’re being mean just for sensationalism quickly goes out the window when we start learning about the financial approaches taken within the company.

The company – funded effectively by the British taxpayer – threw money around with an indefensible largesse, while Delorean himself appeared to have delusions of grandeur (the latter perhaps required of someone propping up a house of cards). 

Also rather interesting is the skeleton company set up to apparently channel tax-free money to Colin Chapman of Lotus (Lotus did most of the development work on the car) and to Delorean himself.

Used to dealing with ethical and sober companies, the British government – and its agencies – simply couldn’t believe what they were seeing happening to their money. But, caught in a political bind, they kept handing Delorean more and more!

The authors are financial experts – not automotive writers – and there a few automotive technology errors and shortcomings.  Tech detail on the development of the car itself is also only briefly covered (although even that coverage is often interesting).

But if you want to read a book that shows how one man can manipulate situations to his advantage – or, perhaps more generously, a book about the burning ambition of a man who would do anything to succeed – this is an amazing read.

The (lack of) pace in retail change

Posted on May 7th, 2009 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

The pace of change in the retailing of goods seems to me to be progressing awfully slowly.

Despite the massive impact of the web, and the much lower real costs of accessing information and shipping goods, many shops seem to be stuck in a time that I thought was long past.

Or, would be long past by now, anyway.

The other day my wife and I bought a tent. The tent needs to match very specific criteria. It needs to weigh under 5kg, be a ‘four season’ design, and have room for three people and their gear. It also needs lots of tie-downs. The tent will be used in cycle touring both in Australia and internationally.

Now there are a few things in this list that make sourcing such a tent difficult.

Firstly, most tents sold in Australia are two or three season tents – fair enough, given our relatively mild climate.

Secondly, in light-weight tents, the majority are tight two-person tents, or very tight three-person tents. (Or of course single person tents.)

Thirdly, there are few tents around the thousand dollar budget that we’ve found is needed to buy a quality tent of this type.

We’ve been looking and assessing tents for about a year. In that time, we’ve visited about fifteen different camping shops in three states. As expected, none of these shops had on display a tent matching these specs. All could get such a tent into stock, but didn’t have anything for us to look at.

What was completely unexpected, however, is the poor quality of advice we were constantly given. After stating the criteria and why we had devised such criteria, the camping shop staff invariably asked: “So, where are you going on your trip?” (as if we were buying a $1000 tent for a one-off trip!) and then proceeded to try to sell us an inferior tent that they just happened to have in stock.

After this happened about the tenth time, I got jack of it and decided the tent would need to be bought sight-unseen. I found a suitable tent, did substantial on-line research, and then sent out about 15 emails, one to each of the tent’s Australian retailers. In the email I simply asked for price and availability of the tent I had in mind.

The first surprise was how long some shops took to reply – in one case, over a week. The second surprise was that most shops just quoted the recommended retail price, and said they didn’t have any in stock but could get them. (Glad I didn’t bother visiting those shops, then.)

However, one dealer, at a relatively remote country location, came back with a good email. He could get the tent no problems, it said. The current model was $XXX (about 15 per cent under recommended retail), but he also had a previous model that broke down rather differently, adding potential versatility in the way it could be carried. Both tents could be sent free freight to wherever I was in Australia. Any questions or advice needed – please email or call.

I rang the next day and discussed in depth the purchase, the criteria, our potential use. The man knew the tent well – he hired them out. He also was an experienced touring cyclist, as well as being very familiar with snow country – the worse conditions for a tent.

We paid by direct bank transfer, got a quick email acknowledgement and a few days later had the tent – direct-shipped not from the shop but from the wholesaler.

I don’t know if where we bought our tent there is a bricks and mortar shop – or he works out of his bedroom. And why would I care? He had the best advice, best price, free freight and direct-shipped from the distributor, saving valuable time.

A retail shop where you can touch and feel the goods has obvious advantages. But the more specialised the goods, the less relevant a retail shop seems to be.

As I said at the beginning, you’d think that by now things would have changed far more than they evidently have…

Are all deflections bad?

Posted on May 5th, 2009 in electric,pedal power,Suspension,testing by Julian Edgar

One of the automotive ideas that seems to be taken as gospel is that the chassis and suspension arms should be stiff – that is, neither should deflect when subject to load. In fact, if I’d had a dollar for every time I’ve read that ‘good handling depends on a stiff chassis’ I’d be richer than I am.

But I think that, especially for ultra-light vehicles, this notion is simplistic.

Firstly, every structure deflects under load. That deflection may be small, but it occurs. Even the Sydney Harbour Bridge has an allowable deflection under maximum load of 4.5 inches (114mm) in the centre of its span.

Secondly – and more importantly – chasing reduced deflection will add substantially to weight. The corollary of that – the lightest possible vehicle will always have deflections.

Finally, not all deflections are bad.

Let’s start off with the last. Most cars use rubber bushes that are designed to have differing stiffnesses in differing planes. One reason for this is so that wheels can move fractionally backwards when they meet a bump, reducing harshness. Another reason is that in some (many?) suspensions, if the bushes didn’t have ‘give’, the suspension would lock up solid during travel.

Passive steering suspension systems – the first well publicised was the Porsche ‘Weissach’ axle of the 928 – often use bushes that deflect, or links that give an effectively ‘non-stiff’ suspension in some planes.

Going backwards to the second point, getting rid of measurable deflections in chassis and suspension arms will result in a major increase in weight. In ultra-light vehicles (eg those powered by human legs, a small petrol motor or an electric motor), and especially those made from chrome moly steel tube, deflections under major loadings are often able to be seen by eye.

For example, the peripheral torsional wind-up of a front suspension arm might be 5mm or more under maximum braking, and under max cornering there might be 3 or 4mm of bending in wheel supports. In a human powered vehicle (HPV) with a recumbent seat and front pedals, boom flex under maximum pedalling force can often be 10mm or more.

So does all this matter? In some cases (like boom flex, that subtracts from the power available from the rider), yes it does.

But in other cases – not necessarily.

What is required is that the structure is never stressed to the point of failure, and that the vehicle dynamics remain consistent.

I have been musing over these ideas in the context of the HPV I have been building.

I know that under brakes the beam front axle will torsionally wind-up, reducing the static castor of the front, steering wheels. That might lead to steering dartiness under brakes – but for the fact that when the front brakes are in action, the vehicle has some dive, that in turn causes a rapid increase in castor.

On my previous recumbent trike design (called the Air 150), I had difficulties in getting rid of steering twitchiness. The problem felt all the world like toe-in bump steer, where I’d put on some steering lock, the machine would roll slightly – and the outer wheel would toe-in, giving a sharper steering response than requested. That was the theory – but I found this odd when on the workshop floor, toe-in on bump was small or non-existent.

But I now wonder if the outer semi-leading suspension arm wasn’t flexing sideways a little with the sudden application of the lateral force, which in turn caused “turn-in steer” as the suspension arm and the steering tie-rod flexed through different arcs.

Certainly, at the very early stage of testing I am at with my current HPV ‘Chalky’, there’s no steering twitchiness on turn-in – and the front suspension is laterally much stiffer than the previous design.

(I fixed the Air 150’s twitchiness by setting the suspension up with either static toe-out, or toe-out on bump – but the problem returned when carrying really big loads. If the arms were bending laterally, perhaps it just needed even more static or bump toe-out to compensate?)

And I guess that’s the point. In a vehicle – any vehicle – there will be dynamic variations that don’t match the static settings.

(Many years ago, I remember having a wheel alignment done on my Daihatsu Mira Turbo. I was happy with the alignment machine’s read-outs – but then the mechanic got me to sit in the driver’s seat. On that simple car, the suspension settings immediately changed!)

If the weight of the vehicle has been has to be kept to an absolute minimum, and so major deflections occur in the suspension and frame, the trick is to optimise the direction of those deflections so that they don’t subtract from – and possibly even add to – the on-road experience.

That’s a very different notion to ‘keep everything as stiff as possible’.

Grossly misleading technical articles

Posted on April 30th, 2009 in AutoSpeed,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Long ago, even before I was a Geography teacher, I studied how to teach it. The head of the Geography department at college was a very smart person, and a brilliant teacher.

One day we were talking about teaching analogies and models, and the difficulty in simplification of knowledge without introducing straight-out erroneous ideas.

His example of the latter was: Clouds bumping into each other make thunder.

Much better, he pointed out, to say even to the youngest child: Thunder happens because of lightning.

In fact, clouds are a good example of these ideas. My little boy, who is 4 years old, asks what clouds are made of.

Tiny, tiny water droplets, I say.

So, how does rain happen, he asks?

I say: The tiny droplets run into each other and join together. When they are big enough, they fall to the ground.

While I am saying this, sometimes I think of a much more sophisticated model: water vapour, latent heat of evaporation and condensation, relative humidity, dew-point, hygroscopic nuclei – and other concepts.

A meteorologist would probably think of vapour pressure, a chemist might think at a molecular level, a physicist might consider terminal velocities, a climatologist might consider climate change, a minister of religion might think of God, an agnostic might think of the magnificence of nature.

In the description of clouds and rainfall that I say to my son, I am conscious of the gross simplifications I am making.

But that’s OK: every single thing I know about the world is a gross simplification of reality.

The intellectual models I use to make sense of what occurs around me are just reducible approximations of what really happens.

When I write technical articles in AutoSpeed, I am conscious that all the time I am presenting fundamentally simplistic models. I hope that they’re not of the ‘clouds bumping into each other make thunder’ type: but they may be.

Recently, I wrote an article on suspension roll centres, virtual pivot points and other ways of analysing suspension designs. In doing so, I consulted five different suspension design textbooks, and also considered very carefully the experience I have in developing human-powered vehicle suspensions, and modifying car suspensions.

As always, I was quite conscious during the writing of the article that the model I was presenting of reality was likely to be flawed: as I have already implied, every model we have of reality is, to a greater or lesser degree, flawed. However, I hoped that the information would benefit people’s understandings, especially in practical outcomes.

The day after finishing the article, I looked through a complex SAE paper on suspension roll centres. This paper immediately debunked several suspension ‘myths’, most of which I had implicitly or explicitly promulgated in the article I had written.

However, the paper was working at a level analogous to the ‘vapour pressure and hygroscopic nuclei’ theory of why rain falls: if I based my article on the SAE paper in question, perhaps less than half of one percent of AutoSpeed readers would understand anything I wrote. (If in fact I could understand it myself!)

So I could easily decide not to write anything at all: if it’s not ‘right’ and ‘correct’, surely it shouldn’t be written?

But that would be like saying to my son: I cannot tell you why rain falls; it’s too hard to understand.

I cannot tell you what a roll centre is; it’s too hard to understand.

Or I cannot tell you what a voltage is; it’s too hard to understand.

I cannot tell you what engine detonation is; it’s too hard to understand.

I cannot tell you how a tyre behaves when cornering, it’s too hard to understand.

And so on.

And these things – and all things – really are too hard to understand… if you want as ‘correct’ an understanding as it is currently possible to have.

Are my articles full of errors? So by definition, very likely.

Anyone who suggests that the technical articles they present for general readers are perfectly correct – or do not mislead in the slightest – just do not understand the nature of knowledge – and how all our descriptions of what goes on around us are just relatively simplistic models.

Me? I try to use the simplest model that’s consistent with not being grossly misleading…

How utterly stupid they are

Posted on April 28th, 2009 in Opinion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

As with any recreational pursuit, cyclists come in sorts of shapes, sizes and special interests.

I’m interested in heavy recumbent touring pedal machines; my neighbour – a man in his sixties – likes traditionally shaped ultra-lightweight racing machines.

Each morning his car heads out, bike on the rear rack, to allow him to get in some cycling before work.

He rides with a like-minded group who sprint (well, in my terms it’s sprinting!) at 35 km/h or more on the flat roads of the Gold Coast.

Then, a few days ago, he abruptly stopped his morning rides. A broken shoulder blade, multiple abrasions and concussion will tend to do that.

He’d been out with his mates, riding fast to catch up with a breakaway group ahead. He reached the rearmost person and leaned over to pat him on the back. He doesn’t know what happened next – perhaps he startled the other rider who swerved, or perhaps at just the moment he took one hand off the handlebars the very narrow front racing tyre fell into a groove in the road.

But whatever the cause, when he regained consciousness he was lying on the road, in pain and with the greatest of desires to get the hell out of there and to safety.

The cycling group helped him, and it wasn’t long before he received medical help and then, subsequently, was home.

His injuries are certainly not trivial, but it could have been much worse: he could have been dead.

The short loss of consciousness and the concussion indicate that his head hit the road. So does the state of his helmet….

The helmet is destroyed.

A piece of the foam has broken right away…

…but what’s even more interesting is that the foam is cracked in multiple places. In fact, there’s barely an area of the helmet that doesn’t have large or small cracks in it.

To look at it makes me feel slightly ill: without a helmet, those cracks would probably be in my neighbour’s head.

The helmet did its job in just the way it was designed to.

I look at riders – often young – who don’t bother wearing a helmet and think of how utterly stupid they are…

It’s not in the texbooks…

Posted on April 23rd, 2009 in Handling,Opinion,pedal power,Suspension by Julian Edgar

I am not certain it will happen: I hope so.

As time has passed, the development of ultra light-weight vehicles has become a more important theme for AutoSpeed (and this blog). It’s rather like our longstanding acceptance and enthusiasm for hybrid vehicles: it’s a change in transport architecture that simply makes sense.

(Of course, ultra light-weight vehicles have existed previously – especially just post-World War II with the German and British three wheelers. But over the last 50-odd years, there have been almost none produced.)

So what do I hope will happen? The development of an increasing number of such machines.

If that occurs, especially on an individual constructor level, then people will face some unique and very difficult problems.

We tend to take for granted developed automotive technology, and to see engineering solutions only within that paradigm. But when it comes to ultra light-weight vehicles, that’s simply wrong.

For example, take Ackermann steering – that’s where when cornering, the inner wheel turns at a sharper angle than the outer wheel, resulting in no tyre scrubbing. If I was to say that I have spent the last three days struggling with Ackermann steering, some people would laugh.

“It’s all in the books,” they might say, “just angle to the steering levers inwards like this diagram shows. Been done a million times. Next problem?”

But you see, that solution largely applies only if steering like a car is used – with a steering box or steering rack.  And, for ultra lightweight vehicles, both steering boxes and steering racks (or, any currently available, anyway) are way too heavy. 

So, how do you achieve Ackermann steering without a steering box or steering rack?

Australian recumbent pedal trike manufacturers Greenspeed have some brilliant solutions. (Disclaimer: my wife sells Greenspeed trikes.)

One of their approaches looks like this (the drawing is not to scale.) The system uses wheels that turn on kingpins, two steering tie-rods, and one central linking member turning on an offset pivot. The steering is by handlebars; these connect at the points marked ‘H’ and have a motion that is a combination of both sideways and fore-aft.

This steering system achieves full Ackermann compensation, and requires only four rod-ends and one pivot point. (These are in addition to the two kingpin pivots.)

That is simply an incredibly light and effective steering system.

I recently spent day after day coming up with alternative steering systems for my recumbent pedal trrike – and then building them. It’s quite easy to end up with steering with two kingpins, six rod-ends and two pivot points – typically, about 50 per cent heavier than the Greenspeed system!

Making things more difficult for me was that, unlike the Greenspeed trikes with the above steering system, my design uses long-travel suspension. And, getting rid of bump steer (ie toe changes with suspension movement) is another nightmare.

Again, people will be thinking only in an automotive paradigm.

“Bump steer? That’s easy – just set the length of the tie-rod so that it’s the same as the distance between lines drawn through the upper and lower ball-joints….” (and so on).

Trouble is, my suspension system doesn’t even have upper and lower ball-joints… Instead, it’s a leading arm, torsion beam, dead axle with a Watts link.

Shown here is (another) rough diagram. In fact, this is pretty well how my system is with Ackerman compensation and zero bump steer. (The really knowledgeable amongst you will have picked a slight error in the drawing.)

The point is that none of this design can take lessons straight out of textbooks – especially automotive textbooks. Of course, the fundamental elements (like the Watts Link, the concept of Akermann steering correction and so on) are all well documented, but in unique applications, actually applying those ideas is another thing entirely.

I am not setting out to suggest I am some kind of hero – all the designers of solar race cars and pedal-powered tadpole trikes have tackled the same ground. But what I am saying is that the challenge is massive, that achieving a good outcome in terms of suspension and steering dynamics – all at a weight that is less than just the steering wheel of a normal car – is difficult beyond belief.

Ackermann and bump steer? If it’s in a typical car textbook, in this class of vehicle it’s usually not the solution…