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BMW i3 detailed review

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I have to say up front that I actually believe the i3 is worth every penny of it’s high asking price because it is a very well put together and cleverly conceived car which uses high quality materials in its construction. But that said, even if I could afford a new one I wouldn’t be very happy with the chronic depreciation but more importantly BMW themselves.

BMW seem to me to be a bit like Apple, they offer a high quality product, stylish and well made no doubt but expensive and you have to pay for every extra and they certainly don’t want you repairing it yourself! Oh no, they would rather profit from you by replacing expensive parts. And they are expensive. Plus, it seems to me, and this is only my experience and perhaps I have been unlucky, that BMW have grown too big and set in their ways. Maybe their system works so long as you do things their way but I’m not sure about that. Clearly there are aspects of BMW which are amazing. How else could they have come up with such an extraordinary car? There are many things about BMW that are very good but customer service ain’t one of them.

This blog post is not a rant about BMW, though I will just mention the farce that I experienced with BMW UK. I wrote to them to ask if I could fit a tow bar and if so what capacity could the i3 tow. I received a poorly written reply from someone who clearly didn’t even bother to read my email as they told me you can’t tow an i3 because you can damage it! The staff replying to my questions were described as either a Customer Service Consultant or better still, a Customer Support Executive and when you see that you know there’s a deep set problem somewhere in the company. As I said, perhaps I was unlucky but on the other hand I have read far too many comments from unhappy customers on the forums so I know I am not alone. BMW do themselves a giant disservice  by having such poor customer relations. If they put as much effort and foresight into their customer service as they did into the i3 they could have a customer service second to none.

The problem seems to be that BMWs are expensive and when something is pricey one’s expectations go up accordingly. This is why BMWs get so many complaints, people expect a lot when they buy a BMW but things can go wrong despite their best efforts. What I can tell you right now is that the i3 is one complicated car. Frankly it amazes me that everything still works on mine.

My expectations are much lower because I bought a 6 year old one with just 60k kms on it for less than a third of it’s original price and apart from a very little and inevitable battery degradation it’s almost as it was when it came out of the factory. And when you pay such a discounted price you will obviously have lower expectations. Add to that I have no fear tackling any issues that may arise and I understand that I won’t get any help from BMW but then neither do I want it so suddenly the i3 looks quite doable and relatively inexpensive. Sure, parts are expensive but so they are for any newish car and anyway there are plenty of bits for sale secondhand. It’s fair to say that I bought an i3 despite it being a BMW and not because it is a BMW.

When it came to buying an EV I admit that the range extender option made much sense to me. My i3 has a fast charge option (yep, the original owner paid extra for that!) so it could be used simply as an EV but the charging infrastructure is far from sorted in 2020 although it is improving every day. But for now the idea of a get out of jail free card made sense.

Plus charging on the public networks is shamefully expensive and unreliable and hardly encourages anyone to take the EV plunge. If not for the fact that I can home charge and have the rex I would not be buying an EV, certainly not here in the French countryside where the nearest charge points are a full battery charge away! If governments are serious about EVs then they need to improve the infrastructure and lower costs. But that is a rant for another day.

One can prevaricate forever but at some point one has to make a commitment and take the plunge and live with the consequences. There are as many reasons for not converting to EV as there are for doing so but for me it was easy even if it did cost more. One day soon, EVs will be cheaper to buy than an ICE car but there remains a deep cynical view of EVs and that is not helping the cause.

For example, one thing I will often hear is how an EV running on dirty power pollutes more than an ICE car. This, along with many other myths, has been debunked and it is now known that taken over the lifetime of the car, an EV is better for the environment regardless of how you power it. Here in Europe we can choose the power we buy and thus reduce our carbon footprint considerably if we charge with renewables. Even better if we have solar panels on our roofs!

Everyone goes on about the cobalt or the lithium in the batteries (which can be recycled at the end of their life) but few people mention the misery which comes from digging oil out of the ground. How many wars have been fought over oil? It’s a hugely polluting hideous business, from ground to the fuel tank. Just think of the oil tanker spills alone… All this is of no import really as the future is going to be battery powered so the way I see it people might just as well accept that this is the way it is going to be, build a bridge and get over it. Batteries will get cleaner as time goes on. An EV is simply a step in the right direction on the road to a more sustainable and cleaner future.

Once all the arguments about too little range and not enough charging points has been accepted then it’s time to open one’s mind and really consider the possibility of an EV. What’s not to like? Silent instant power, ease of use, less pollution and much lower running costs. Problem is that although there is a secondhand market for EVs it’s not very big and the choice is lame. There are going to be a lot of new EVs in 2021 but this won’t help those who don’t have 10s of thousands of Euros to spend on a new car.

Of all the EVs for sale at the moment the i3 stands alone. It is an extraordinary car in so many ways. It seems to me that it is under appreciated but I believe that is because it is a pricy car and as I mentioned earlier, expectations are high. But I also like that the i3 is also misunderstood by the vast majority of people.

There is a fascinating video on YouTube where a panel of experts ask questions of the man who took one apart to cost it. It took him a very long time and 2 million dollars to do it. Along the way he obviously learned everything there was to learn. He came away poorer but full of respect and admiration for the i3. It’s true that the more you look into this car the more respect you have for it.

Reviewers are quick to find fault with the smallest things these days but honestly, when you consider how complicated a car it is you just wonder at how they got it so right. And anyway, it’s not necessarily wrong but rather BMW’s way of doing things. You could whine about it or you could just accept it. I have chosen to accept it. Life being too short and besides I really don’t want to be one of those miserable old geezers moaning about new technology and getting stuck in the past to my own detriment. At some point you have to cave and accept our inevitable reliance on electricity.

It’s not perfect but it’s still early days. Just imagine what EVs will be like in 50 years time. I am already really impressed with the i3 despite its small range but things can only get better and an early adoption always brings advantages and in any case I have never been one to follow the flock.

So with all that out of the way here’s what I think about the i3. Lets start with the driving of it because this is what we do when we buy a car, we drive it. It was designed to be driven was it not? All the other things are less important. BMW is known as a driver’s car and I think the i3 is still a BMW in that sense. If you were blindfolded and put inside one you would be impressed with the comfy seats, the quiet and the silent forward progress. The ride is firm but compliant (at least with the 19” wheels fitted).

It does everything very well. The steering is well weighted and sensitive, it changes direction well. It grips in the corners and instils confidence. The brakes are excellent and It corners flat. It has great visibility. All in all it has to be said it’s a nice car to drive. Plant your foot at 60 kmh and you rocket off. That never gets old I can tell you. I was laughing out loud for days every time I did it when I first bought the car. Just so fantastic to feel that kind of power with so little noise.

Because of the way it drives I can forgive it the way it looks. Something that has been well designed and built has its own beauty which forgives some of its more strange features or options. After all if you’re designing a product you have to make choices and one thing’s for sure you can’t please everyone, especially in this troll ridden, modern, cynical and connected world of ours, so why not do it your own way? I actually agree with BMW on this one. They knew not everyone would like it but they held on in their Teutonic belief that their way was the best and enough people would ‘get it’ and maybe they wanted something a bit mad to showcase their first real committed EV (there had been some before but nothing like this). Maybe it’s a German thing?

Take my Leica M9, now 11 years old and still going strong. It too breaks convention and operates in a very different way to other cameras and yet that does not stop it taking amazing pictures. I doubt I will ever buy another camera and I really hope that I don’t have to ever buy another car. I would like to think that it will only be a matter of time before some enterprising entrepreneur starts offering battery upgrades as the tech improves. Maybe I can keep the i3 for a very long time.

The battery can be easily removed and it’s made up of 8 modules which can be individually replaced so a battery with one cell down can be economically repaired which is excellent.

Let’s talk about sustainability. No one is saying that EVs will save the planet but the priority right now is to stop burning things and having an EV is a good way to do that. I’m not going to get in to the argument about how the grid will cope with millions of electric cars all plugged in at the same time, there are some very clever people out there who will ensure that a world of EVs works for us and not against us. One day we won’t even need power stations, our cars and vans when plugged in will power and balance the grid at peak times and charge at off peak times. But as I said, I’m not going to get in to that here.

Sustainability begins with the design and here BMW really went for it building a whole new efficient factory running on sustainable power. Then they built the car with lightweight materials. The lighter the car, the smaller the battery can be. Yes, a Tesla can drive 250+ miles but the battery is probably about 5 times the size of the i3. BMW’s approach was to save weight wherever possible and so the chassis is aluminium and the body shell of carbon fibre! The body panels are plastic.

Thanks to all this weight saving the i3 is quite light for an EV and it’s very cool too. Carbon fibre is normally only seen on very expensive sports cars, yachts or aeroplanes. Even a Tesla is made of steel. The plastic panels simply bolt on and off and don’t dent in the way steel ones do nor can this car rust. There are loads of recycled materials in the car and most of it can be recycled at the end of its life. But I’m not going to waffle on about all this because it’s all been discussed a thousand times by others. I want to discuss some things that few others talk about.

There has been a lot of slagging off of the rear suicide doors but I think this is unfair and many motoring journalists and reviewers take a kind of perverse pride in finding fault in cars because they can. Rather than celebrate something different and funky they revel in dissing it. The main point they make is that when you are next to another car or a wall it is very hard to get out with both doors open. But what they fail to realise is that the front seat can tip forwards and there is still enough room for the rear occupant to exit the car as if it were a two door. I think that’s very clever. And in any case if this did bother you it does not take much effort to consider this before you pull up somewhere. Or shuffle across the seats and get out the other side. The lack of a transmission tunnel helps here.

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With the rear doors open getting in and out is so easy for children and adults alike. Perhaps it is better if you think about the i3 as a two door car which can sometimes have four doors. Other cars should be jealous really as they cannot offer the same level of side impact protection with such a huge opening. It’s thanks to the carbon fibre’s strength which allows such a design.

What amazes me the most is just how well developed and refined the car is. There are so many examples. Take the front windows, electric of course. They go up and down automatically unless you stop them but when the door is open and you want the window up you have to hold the switch. It’s a small thing but it shows that the very clever BMW engineers considered what might happen if the door was open and the window was allowed to rise automatically.

Things like the wiper parking so you can lift the blades off the screen for changing or if you don’t want them to stick if it’s icy. It’s true that you only need this function because the wipers park under and behind the front bonnet for aerodynamic’s sake but it is another example of their detailed attention.

Sometimes I feel as if the engineers tried to exploit every function to the max. Take the preset buttons on the dash as an example. They can be programed to have any function you want but they also tell you what they do if you simply rest your finger on the button. Clever stuff and I certainly prefer buttons to touch screens.

Teslas are all well and good but it would be too annoying for me to have everything operated from a touch screen. Many slag off the idrive system in the BMW but it’s actually an easy system to use even when you are driving mostly because as the screen does not have to be a touch screen it can be placed further away and nearer your natural sight lines when looking forwards. Plus the screen never gets scratched or dirty. You can argue the pros and cons but it’s easy to understand why BMW chose their system.

There is a lot of cynicism about EVs, especially here in the middle of rural France where tractor dealerships are more common than car ones. Just the other day someone told me that EVs pollute more than ICE cars. Maybe that was true 20 years ago but it certainly isn’t now. And it is especially not true of the BMW i3 as it has sustainability hard wired into its genetic make up but even if it didn’t it has been made in such a way that in theory it should last for decades and the longer life something has the smaller its overall footprint becomes.

The main hurdle to EV acceptance is range. When BMW designed the i3, battery technology was not as advanced as it is now. The latest i3 has a battery the same physical size but already twice the capacity but despite that BMW’s idea was sound. make the car as light as possible to offset the weight of the batteries and thus make the car more efficient and use less power. What Tesla have done is put a huge and very heavy battery in their cars to give a good range and that is great but it comes at quite a cost.

The car needs to be bigger and heavier to cope with the extra weight. Tyres are bigger and pricier, everything is bigger and heavier just to be able to lug around all that weight. This is fine when you need to go on a long journey but for much of the time a smaller range and battery would be just fine. This is what BMW did. They decided that considering the i3 is a city car it does not need a huge range or a massive battery because most people in Europe at least, only drive 40 miles a day at most. Makes sense.

But then BMW did something really clever and fitted a small petrol generator for those times when the battery would not suffice alone. It adds weight and complexity but it also completely removes range anxiety which is real enough as generally speaking the public charge networks are piss poor and too expensive. I certainly wouldn’t want to rely on public charging networks! And with the range extender you don’t have to. It’s a good stop gap and also turns the i3 in to a potentially more practical proposition than most of the other electric cars out there. At least for now. By the time petrol is no longer available battery technology will have moved and an updated i3 will be able to travel 500 miles or more on one charge.

There is no way I would have bought an i3 if it did not have fast charging and the range extender. Although I accept that an EV with a range of 80 miles does easily satisfy 95% of my driving needs it would mean that it would probably never get used for a longer trip as the battery is too small and you’d have to stop every hour for half an hour which is bloody silly and that is assuming one could always find a fast charger and that would also be very expensive, probably more than if you drove an ICE car.

As much as I love the i3 it does have some slightly annoying features. It gets very dirty at the rear. I have never known a car get so filthy so quickly, even the wheels end up grubby. Conversely the front of the car and the windscreen stays very clean and I suppose if you had to choose a window to stay clean you’d always take the windscreen over the rear screen.

This same dirt is an issue on egress. You naturally slide your legs off the seat and on to the ground, being short means the backs of my legs rub against the muddy sill and cover my clothes. Not great.

Perhaps the biggest downside of the i3 is the fact that BMW do not recommend towing with it which is a shame as I would love to add a tow bar and tow my small 300 kilo caravan. You can buy a tow bar but it seams to be only for the States and just for carrying a few bicycles. There is no option for a roof rack which is also annoying but perhaps this has more to do with the drag it would cause and the resultant reduction in range.

One could moan about the fact that the rear windows don’t roll down but what people never mention is that fact that they are lower than the front ones and what that means is that rear passengers, especially small children can see out much better than they would out of a normal car with higher windows. It’s a small thing but ask a child which they prefer, a window that opens or one they can see out of and you know what they will say!

One annoying thing, at least for right hand drive i3 drivers is the volume control and heating controls. For some stingy reason BMW just decided to leave the centre part of the dash the same for both markets which is too weird. I’m glad my car is left hand drive because I am sure I would find that really annoying. Enough to not buy the car? No, of course not but it is just annoying and sadly you would have to be reminded every day and that wears you down in time.

If you are thinking of buying an i3 you will need a scanner for fault codes and stuff. From what I have read BMW service leaves much to be desired. If your car is under warranty then at least the car will get fixed eventually. There are tales of BMW keeping a car for weeks while they replace everything while they look for a fault. If it’s under warranty this won’t matter to you but it will be annoying not having your car while your dealer works on the process of elimination until they get it right.

This is a very complicated car and it takes a lot of understanding. I reckon that the dealers don’t like it. If BMW dealers are like all the others I have come across in the car trade, they don’t care for electric cars and because of that they don’t bother to learn about them properly. I get it, there’s a lot to learn and even a mechanic who goes on training trips could never learn it all. I have been studying this car in detail for 3 months now and I am only now just beginning to get a very basic understanding of some of the systems.

There are a few issues which seem to be very common to the car. The covers for the shocks get hard and fail which means a suspension dismantle which is a lot of work for a 20€ part to be fitted. One wonders why they don’t use a better quality rubber. Strange faults can appear and often this is due to the 12 volt battery which gets tired. When the volts drop it sets off all sorts of issues completely unrelated to the battery which could end up pricey if your dealer starts changing stuff willy nilly because they didn’t know about this.

Then there’s the Rex. Again it’s most often just a simple failed relay but there are plenty of stories on the internet about dealers first changing fuel pumps and any number of parts in an effort to fix the problems. If only if they spent a bit of time researching on the forums first! They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble!

The advice for buying an i3 is generally don’t get one without a warranty and I can understand that but a warranty won’t stop you breaking down in the first place and you are still at the mercy of your dealer even assuming they are nearby and competent which is not always the case. When I decided to buy an i3 I wasn’t worried about a warranty. I can fix most things and anyway, I believe in prevention rather than cure. Often a well maintained car will give no problems. Or if it does there are usually warnings before something breaks. Unsympathetic owners might not notice until they find themselves stranded at the side of the road.

There are plenty of bits available on ebay for the i3 as they have been around long enough for there to be plenty of them broken down for parts. However if you are going to look after your own i3 you will at least need a scanner for identifying problems and for clearing fault codes. Scanners can be bought for about 150€ and this will be an essential bit of kit. If you do have to replace the 12v battery you’ll need one to reset the car after the new battery is fitted.

There is a secret menu in the dash which you access using the trip reset switch and a code to input which is made up from adding the last 5 numbers of the car’s VIN number. In here is a way to switch off the traction control, ABS and re-gen completely, read the battery condition, temperatures and various other useful things.

From what I can tell the i3 is basically a very reliable car. The reports I have heard of failures seem to me to be more to do with a lack of understanding from dealers than actual faults with the car. The main components are well made with quality parts. There are many tales of i3s out there with over 200,000 kms with no issues and still on their original discs and pads thanks to the one pedal re-gen driving. The only thing wrong with mine after 6 years and 60,000 kms is a rear window demister which doesn’t work and the aforementioned gaiters for the front shocks, a job I will get round to sooner or later.

Lots of people fear battery degradation but this seems unfounded. The i3 has excellent battery management which prevents the user from damaging the battery no matter where they are or how they charge it but it does seem that constant fast charging does reduce the capacity a bit faster. On my car I estimate that it has lost about 10% of its capacity in 6 years which is frankly amazing. I suspect it will last a lot lot longer too. It may not need replacing for another 10 years. Sounds fanciful? I have an MP3 player from 2005 which still works perfectly and holds a good charge and that does not have any kind of cooling to protect the batteries from overheating. A far cry from the cynics who said that the batteries would only last 3 years and then end up dumped in a land fill!

It is my plan at some point to fit solar panels to my home and replace the i3 battery with a newer more modern equivalent one day and when I do, I will use the original battery for powering my home. Even if it is down to 50% of its original capacity that will still mean a very useful 10 kw which is more than enough to power a home for a few days.

For those who wish to delve more deeply there is a computer program which is a staggering 160 gig which can be used to access and modify all of the cars systems. This is something I will probably delve in to at some point just to learn more about modern systems and electronics.

The BMW i3 is not a perfect car but it is bloody brilliant and great to drive. Competent and comfy with some wonderful features, not least of which is the ability to preheat the car before setting off on a cold and frosty morning. Everything may be electric but BMW at least had the sense to fit manual overrides for opening the charge and fuel flaps and for releasing the charge cable should the electronics fail. Even the frunk lid has an emergency release.

There’s no spare wheel, just a stupid liquid and compressor which doesn’t strike me as very clever so I bought a space saver wheel which I carry about with a jack and a wheel brace so I don’t get stranded somewhere and at the mercy of expensive recovery firms.

Tyres. This has been a common complaint about the i3. To reduce frontal area the i3 uses very narrow tyres. To make up for the lack of width, they are very tall at 19” so they effectively have the same contact patch as much wider shorter tyres. But this narrowness apparently adds as much as 10% to the range. There are two issues. A very small choice of tyre and the fact that the i3 seems to munch its way through rear tyres at a right old pace. This is a bit annoying but not a deal breaker as far as I am concerned. here in Europe we seem to have a good choice and tyres cost about 100€ each.

What is more annoying to me is that the rear wheels on the rex version are half an inch wider than the front wheels. So on the front they fit 155 section tyres and put 175 section on the rear which is fair enough but it does mean you can’t rotate the tyres to even wear which is a bit annoying. But what is very strange is that winter tyres are only available in 155 section so they need to be stretched on to the rear rims which isn’t very clever if you ask me and possibly even a bit dangerous.

The solution is to find a set of Bev wheels for the winter and have another set of Rex wheels for the summer. It’s not a big deal as there seem to be a lot of wheel sets for sale online, I suppose because most i3s were leased from new and when they went back they didn’t go back with the second set of wheels.

The i3 has three driving modes, or at least mine does. later models have more. Mine has comfort, eco pro and eco pro +. I always leave it in comfort because I like the instant acceleration and feel of the accelerator pedal, for some reason, and maybe it’s purely psychological but it seems that when I use the eco pro setting my ankles ache, as if there is more pressure against my foot.

The idea of the eco pro settings is to increase the range. What I found is that if you drive the car carefully in comfort mode there is nothing to be gained by switching to eco pro. I would imagine that if you normally drive quite quickly with no concern for range then switching to an eco pro mode would certainly increase the range, perhaps by as much as 10% but if I drive carefully in comfort mode I can achieve the same range as if I switched to eco pro.

To help you drive the car most effectively there is a power meter on the dash. A dead spot in the centre where you are effectively coasting, right is power consumed, left is re-gen. The trick for the most efficient driving is not to rely on the re-gen but to coast whenever possible. In order to do this you can just press down the pedal just a bit and keep the mark in the centre of the power gauge. However that isn’t enough for really efficient driving. The mark might be in the centre but if you scroll through the options on the dash using the button on the end of the indicator stalk until you get to the real time consumption you can see that even though the mark is in the centre the car is still either taking power or putting some in. It’s only a few kws but it all adds up. By using the mark and the gauge you can really coast and use no power. This all makes a huge difference.

To save even more power the heater is kept down as low as possible and when pulling away a gentle touch on the pedal must be used. The idea is to keep the mark as close to the centre as possible. The upshot of all this careful driving is the ability to use as little as just 10 kw/hr which is incredibly efficient for an ev. This equates to about 10 kms per kw/hr which is most impressive. It’s also quite good fun to do, a real challenge to see just how efficient you can be. The proof that I am driving very efficiently is that when I switch to eco pro mode there is no extra range to be had!

If you really want to coast you can actually put the car in neutral while you’re going along. You might use this for a long straight decent. This way you know you are not using any power and you don’t have to keep your foot on the pedal at all. Perhaps this aspect of EV driving is the only one that I find a bit annoying as I like to take my foot off the pedal when I can and move it about to stop it getting stiff. Although the cruise control does mean I can do this when I need to.

The range in the cold is much reduced. I am looking forward to seeing how it fares in the warmth of a summer when the battery is at the ideal temperature. The GOM (Guess O Meter) is surprisingly accurate and must take in to account many things like your driving style, terrain and temperatures. It all works very well indeed.

You can do long trips in the i3. I recently did a 1500 km round trip mostly using the Rex and simply topping up the fuel tank every 100 kms or so. A 10 litre container in the frunk allows a decent total  range of about 300 kms or more. The Rex was running for hours at a time and was no problem at all even running at 110 kph + on the motorway. The Rex cannot keep up completely and so the battery does deplete slowly but a few kms done at a lower speed of say 90 kph allows the Rex to catch up again and keep the battery at the level it was when you started the Rex. You can hear the rex when it’s running at higher revs but it’s not at all intrusive. I was impressed at the capability of the i3 on a long trip. In fact it was less tiring than similar trips in other ‘normal’ cars.

The i3 is also very competent in the snow. Even with temps as low as minus 8 c the car worked just fine and handled the snow and ice very well with its winter tyres. The traction control is excellent and even the ABS works better than other cars I have driven. The heater is excellent although it does impact on range a bit.

To sum it all up, the BMW i3 is a brilliant car and surprisingly practical as the rear seats go flat and with a small extension could even be used as a half decent double bed. With the ability to put the heating on when the car is not rolling it would make a good place to camp. It has a very lovely interior, nice to look at and with many places to stow things, even the lighting is nice. I particularly love the wooden dash and the i3 wears well with time. The plastic body panels are dent resistant and the high quality interior is hard wearing.

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It’s also a very safe car although it failed a crash test in the US but that was because the test was made without a seat belt being worn and since in Europe the wearing of a seat belt is mandatory (and even if it wasn’t the stupid gong sound the car makes if you don’t belt up makes you belt up) so this fact should not concern you. It has airbags for your knees, curtain airbags which drop down from the roof, seat and front airbags! Plus the carbon shell is super strong too. I certainly feel safer in the i3 than most cars.

It has many options and one of them are heated seats which is always a nice thing but what you may not know is that the i3 with the heated seats also has a heated battery. The car without the heated seat option cannot heat the battery either. This is a useful option in cold climates because you can precondition the car before you set off so not only is the cabin warm and the windows clear but the battery has also been brought up to temperature while the car was plugged in and a warm battery will take you further than a cold one.

There’s a sunroof option, always a nice thing, a parking assist and rear view cameras which would be nice but even the i3 without the camera still has parking sensors to warn you of dangers behind. The big screen option certainly looks better than the one with the fat plastic bezel. Another nice option is the upgraded stereo system but alas they all cost money. There’s even adaptive cruise control. I don’t know how close to the car in front you can set it but it could be useful for following big lorries closely to increase your range in emergencies! There are LED headlights too. All you could want.

It’s a very clever car and it works extremely well. Hats off to BMW for creating such a clever well thought out design. Over 200,000 have been sold at the time of writing which is pretty impressive. BMW have no plans to stop production before 2024. An EV with a life span of ten years is very long and says much for the futuristic design and functionality of the car. It’s fun to drive, very easy and relaxing. Everyone loves it and no one has failed to be impressed after a drive in it. It’s already a 7 year old design and it still impresses. The future is already here. If you haven’t test driven an i3 I say do. With secondhand prices in the toilet there probably hasn’t been a better time to buy one. Even since I bought mine, it seems that prices are rising, perhaps as people begin to realise what a great car and what a bargain it is all things considered.

No doubt this post will get updated as time goes by and I learn more about the i3….

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Cars

The shameful disgrace of EV charging infrastructure in Europe

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The BMW i3 Rex. Fortunately BMW understood the state of the charging infrastructure in Europe and offered a clever solution, a small built in petrol generator to maintain the charge in the battery for when a charge point was not available, broken or too expensive!

For years I have wanted an electric car, a chance to get about without burning fossil fuels and adding to the already serious problem of climate change and pollution. We have finally arrived at a point where the electric car is totally feasible for most people most of the time but the rest of what is needed for everyone to make the switch is very far from sorted.

Frankly it’s a disgrace, at least for the most part. There are some decent people trying hard to offer a working and reasonably priced charging infrastructure but for the most part all I see are entrapreneurs keen to fleece this new and developing market and I say shame on you! I have no objection to capitalism, nor enterprise but I take offence when people are greedy and work against what is right.

As much as I dislike government control and legislation in this case I feel it is needed to stop greedy people taking the piss. The problem is that the (for the most part) privately owned public charging infrastructure is pitiful in almost every way. From the charging points and their locations to the way the charge is paid for. But the worst is the sheer cost of it. Shameful is the word. It’s a mess.

Take Chargemap, a company who aim to simplify the charging process by having one card and one app for most chargers throughout Europe so you don’t have to get the app for each charge point. In theory it is a good idea but Chargemap will not say how much commission they charge for the privilege and what is even more pathetic is that their app will only work on Android 6 and newer. If your phone is a couple of years old forget it! This is utterly pathetic from a company who claim to simplify the process of charging with just one card and one app!

The card came quickly enough but I was not very happy about paying 20€ for it, yet another instance of a company grabbing some cash at every opportunity. But the app cannot be loaded on my phone so what is the point really? How does this simplify the charge process. After complaining they said it was my fault for buying the phone I bought and insisted I send back the useless card before they would refund me. The reply I got was from someone in the ‘User happiness’ department. How laughable is that?

Then there is the cost of charging. Some companies are charging a shocking amount, sometimes up to 80 centimes a kw/hr or put another way about 5 times more than you can charge at home! Shameful. https://electrek.co/2020/01/17/ionity-increases-electric-vehicle-charging-prices-500-percent-january-31/ How is this money grabbing greed supposed to help people transition from ICE to EV? It’s not. While it costs about the same to fill with electricity as it does to fill with fuel no one is ever likely to buy an EV, especially when you consider the time it takes to charge and how complicated it can be.

In this transition period we need cheap and plentiful chargers and we need a simple way to pay, just like we do with petrol and yet what do we find? Chargers in out of the way places, rarely under cover like a petrol forecourt and often the few chargers are occupied or broken or unable to be used because of a failed app. No one in their right mind is likely to swap the convenience of ICE for an EV the way things are.

The problem is that these companies are exploiting the fact that an EV with a low charge has no choice but to use the charger irrespective of location, price or functionality and this is shameful.

There is hope however, yes, even the word hopeless has the word hope in it. Take Gridserve, a new charging station in Essex in the UK. https://www.gridserve.com/ Here is a company whose aim is to encourage the use of EVs by offering numerous powerful charge points all under cover at a fair price. And because they know that it takes a while to charge they have a place where drivers can relax, grab a bite or have a coffee. The electricity they offer is green and clean too. I have no doubt that Gridserve will be a great success and show others how it should be done.

Of course once the government isn’t getting taxes from petrol and diesel they will look for other ways to recoup it and no doubt the EV driver of the future will have to pay all sorts of ridiculous taxes but what we need right now are electric companies who do not exploit EV drivers who have no choice. It’s a disgrace and it’s setting back the adoption of EVs by years.

I am one of the lucky ones as I can charge my car overnight at home and my journeys are short. An EV works for me today. But for those who do not have their own driveway or a way to charge at work are screwed and at the mercy of a bunch of profiteers who could care less about the planet and only want your money. This must change and fast.

It seems to me that here is an instance where government intervention is needed urgently in the way charging is paid for and how much it costs but also where the power comes from. EVs only really make sense if they are powered by sustainable electricity so what we need is Europe wide legislation to standardise the price and payment systems so that the ordinary person can make the switch and stop burning stuff as quickly as possible.

If we leave this up to the private sector it will be years before a half decent infrastructure is in place. Personally I find this kind of profiteering utterly disgusting. Whatever happened to decency? A decent product for a fair price? How do these people sleep at night?

Categories
Uncategorized

Glerups. More than just great slippers

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They were a gift. What’s not to like, natural rubber soft soles, strangely rounded in form and a pure wool upper. Nice choice of colours. It took a while to get used to the rounded soles but make no mistake, these are comfy slippers.

They fit very well and are clearly well made with quality materials and as a consequence they are not cheap. But you generally get what you pay for.

After just three months use I noticed that one of the soles was wearing strangely inside under the ball of my foot. Strange because the other slipper was just fine, its shape had moulded to my foot with a noticeable ridge under my toes but no visible wear that I could see.

So I wrote to Glerups and explained my problem. I received a very prompt and kind reply. Glerups were very sorry I had a problem. What size was I? They would send a new pair in the post today!

Now this is what I call customer service. A company clearly proud of their product and a company who remembers who pays the bills, namely the customer. Problems occur. Things go wrong. We make mistakes. We are only human. It is how these problems are dealt with that matters. Glerups did not try and blame sweaty feet or rough skin (neither of which I have by the way), they simply did the right thing and sent out a new pair. The upshot of this is that here I am writing this blog post to share this positive experience.

So thank you Glerups for your supremely comfy shoes and most of all for your excellent customer service. If only other companies were half as good.

Categories
reviews

The toaster that doesn’t toast. The Dualit Lite

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Yet another really disappointing product. It wasn’t cheap either. For what it cost it really isn’t up to much. Personally I’m not really bothered about how it looks but I do believe that at the very least, a toaster should toast! Even on the highest setting it just can’t brown my bread enough. Of course the solution is simple. Put the setting on 4 and do it twice but do you think that is normal for a toaster that costs 100€ and is made by a company with a good reputation?

Well I don’t think it’s normal. Especially when you consider the cheap Tefal two slice toaster I had before managed this just fine. Shouldn’t it be up to the person toasting how they want their bread toasted? You should be able to burn it if that is what you want and I believe the toaster should have the range to do this. Otherwise what is the point of the adjuster knob? Or do they assume everyone eats sliced white bread?

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This is a slice of homemade wholemeal bread which has been warmed up on the highest setting. As you can see it barely browns it. perhaps you like your bread like this but I prefer mine toasted more. It seems ridiculous to me that such an expensive toaster from a company with such a reputation should be unable to toast a piece of bread to a person’s preference.

It’s always worth a look at a company’s website You can learn a lot. Here’s a classic bit of spin from Dualit’s site: No gimmicks. No compromise. Just great customer service. It must be Dualit. Yep, they really said that. Yet when I wrote to say that I could not toast my bread I received a very dismissive and confusing reply basically saying if I didn’t like it I should send it back!

Here’s another flowery example from their ethos page: New products are designed and engineered against stringent quality criteria, occasionally re-engineered and often enhanced, then tested to destruction, before they earn a Dualit badge. And they can only keep that badge if all elements of the manufacturing process pass Dualit’s stringent quality control process.

You know, no matter how I try I cannot actually find one mention about how well these toasters actually toast bread! They blather on about quality, how incredible their customer service is (their number one priority! lol) but no one mentions how the machines actually work. It’s all empty words about engineering, quality, tested to destruction etc.

Let me tell you the story of another product that cost about the same which had a problem. A pair of Glerups wool shoes. I had worn them just for a few months before a strange hole appeared in the sole making them unwearable. I wrote asking what they thought about it. I received a super fast reply from a very polite person promising to sort me out. They kindly said they would immediately send me another pair. They did not question me. They did not assume I was an idiot unlike some companies I could mention. They did not patronise me. Here is a company who really has got their customer service as a number one priority but they don’t sing about it. They quietly do the right thing and that is to keep a customer happy.

Funny how some businesses forget that it is the customers who pay their bills. I do not know why they treat them with such contempt sometimes. But you can learn a lot from the way you are treated by a company. Clearly Glerups care about their customers and Dualit don’t. Since Customer service is most people’s first experience of a company it makes sense to make it excellent rather than just claim it is. In my experience the customer service side of a company reflects that company’s true ethics, not the ones they claim but the ones we experience.

When someone asks what I think of my shiny new toaster I shall say; ‘Not much’. It doesn’t brown bread to my satisfaction and for a toaster which only has one job to do that’s pretty lame. But I could forgive this if only I had not received such a pitifully sad reply from their customer service dept. It just demonstrates that at the core Dualit are all about shiny things that sell for a profit. keep telling everyone how great their reputation is and they’ll believe it. I did and I really should know better.

Update: Two months later.

Today the mechanism in one side seized and has rendered half the toaster useless. Two short months. This is frankly pitiful. Pitiful at any price but this is supposed to be a superior product which was not cheap. Now I have to waste my time and money to return it for a refund.

Without a doubt the most disappointing product I have bought in a very long time. It should simply be illegal to sell such a bad product which cannot even last a few months. Pitiful is the word. I cannot think of a better one to describe this product and my experience of it.

Categories
Food

The 5 minute loaf (no need to knead)

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Making bread is extremely satisfying and there is nothing quite like warm fresh bread with butter and Marmite. It never gets old. Also there’s much less packaging and no plastic either. Further more you save time and don’t have to pollute the environment driving to the supermarket. It’s a win win situation.

Now that we are in the grip of a nasty virus and confined to barracks for the foreseeable future it makes sense to bake your own bread and then you do not need to go out which is helpful to slow the spread of the virus. Even though I do not feel that I fully understand why I can bake such nice loaves the time has come to share what I have learned so that you too can start baking your own bread the easy way without kneading.

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I’m no scientist but I have approached this bread making lark as methodically as I can. It’s been nearly three years since I started making a few loaves a week and I try to change only one thing at a time and be consistent in all regards when making the bread. It’s the only way that you can learn the effects of the many variables. It might only be flour, water and yeast with a bit of salt but it’s amazing how one small change can affect a loaf.

This method uses a baking tin. I haven’t yet got around to trying it without but I like the uniform shape which fits nicely in our toaster.

You’ll need a big bowl, some flour, powdered baker’s yeast, salt and a nice wooden spoon for mixing.

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Pre warm a mug with the hottest water that comes out your tap and put about 10 mm of water in it.

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Add a level tea spoon of sugar to the water. Do not stir with a metal spoon, just swirl the sugar around in the mug.

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Add a teaspoon or packet of dried yeast.

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Swirl, don’t stir. Leave to one side.

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Put your flour in the bowl and add two teaspoons of salt.

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Wait until the yeast has doubled in size in the mug.

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Run the hot tap until it is as hot as it will go and fill up the mug with the yeast in it. Throw that on the flour and repeat with hot water until you have a nice smooth mix runny enough that the dough is easy to mix.

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Pour in to the bread tin.

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Press the dough smooth with a wetted wooden spoon.

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Add seeds if you want.

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Let it rise.

When the loaf has risen about 50 – 75% of its original size put it into an oven on the middle shelf at 200 degrees for about 35 minutes.

That’s it. No kneading, nothing.

Sounds too simple doesn’t it? What I described above takes less than five minutes to achieve and what’s more you don’t even get your hands dirty which not only makes it easier but quicker and cleaner.

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To help you understand the process, let me elaborate on the details. Having made over 300 loaves I tend to do more or less the same thing every time and have slowly evolved this technique.

The use of very hot water is surely controversial but what can I tell you, it works for me. I find that the yeast in the mug rises better and faster if you do not stir the mixture with a metal spoon. Simply swirl the mix around. The level tea spoon of sugar is added to the water to give the yeast something to get started on.

This loaf was made using 700 grams of flour to fit nicely in a bread tin about 28 cms long, 12 cms wide and 8 cms deep. It is 400 gms of rye, 200 gms of wholemeal and 100 gms of plain white flour. I usually add some seeds, in this loaf, I only added some sesame seeds but I often use poppy, sunflower and lin as well. But be aware that putting seeds in the mix will stop the loaf rising so well.

Rye flour tends to make quite a heavy and dense loaf that does not rise much. I love the taste of a rye loaf but I like a light fluffy loaf too so it will always be a compromise between taste and fluffyness. Flour comes in different grades but I’m not going to get into any of that. Flour is flour. Some will make fluffier loaves than others. Again, experiment to find out what you like.

The mix I make is fairly runny. If it is too stiff it is harder to mix in the bowl. The mix can be quite loose and you’ll still get a nice loaf. It is also easier to pour into the bread tin. I scape the bowl out with a silicone spatula which gets almost all of the mix from the bowl which reduces waste and also makes washing up easier. A quick word on that. Wash the bowl and implements as soon as you can, it’s very easy to do at this stage and very hard to do when the flour has dried!

Once the dough is in the bread tin, take a wet wooden spoon and press it down so it is even in the tin. Don’t worry about getting the top of the loaf too wet. I find that the wetter the surface, the better the loaf rises. At this stage I usually add some more seeds to the top and press them in with the spatula. If you don’t do this, the seeds will fall off when you cut the bread.

Using the spatula I cut the dough in half along the length of the loaf. This way, when the loaf rises in the oven it cracks open in the middle and makes for a more aesthetic loaf but you can just leave it and the loaf will split where it wants.

Rising. It seems to me that the trick to baking a good loaf without kneading is to get the timing just right. The dough will rise all by itself in a warm kitchen. It should take about an hour but this can vary depending on the temperature. The most important thing to understand is that the bread does some rising before it goes in the oven but does much more when it goes in but it will take about an hour to rise enough to be ready for baking.

If you don’t let the loaf rise enough before you put it in the oven it will make for a denser and smaller loaf. If you wait too long the loaf will rise in the oven but then sag. It’s hard to say just how long you’ll need, this really comes with experience but it’s fair to say that so long as the dough has increased in size about 50 – 75% that’s about right.

Some say you should cover a loaf as it is rising to keep the top moist but every time I tried it, the cloth drooped down and stuck to the rising dough making a right mess. So I don’t bother any more. It seems to make very little difference.

Some also say you need a hot oven for bread. This is not my experience. I have messed about with various temperatures but the most consistent loaf has always come from a pre heated 200 degree oven. I always place the loaf as centrally in the oven as I can. I have made very successful loaves in the most primitive of ovens and the most sophisticated and I can tell you that any hot box will bake bread.

Once the dough has risen enough put the tin in the oven for about 35 minutes but again it might take longer depending on your oven. You can always take it out sooner and have a look at it. A well cooked loaf will be well browned and fall out of the baking tin. If it is stuck it needs more time in the oven.

Put it on a drying rack or even standing up on edge to cool. If you leave it on a smooth surface the crust will go soggy. Resist the temptation to eat it straight away and wait a while before cutting or you risk tearing the loaf.

And that is all there is to it. It takes way less than 5 minutes to mix and prepare a loaf like this. You do have to wait about an hour before you can bake it and another half an hour or so after that in the oven but there’s very little work. I am sure I can bake a loaf quicker than it takes most people to drive to the supermarket, park, shop, drive home, park etc and it costs less when you bake your own bread.

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Instead of cutting a slice off one end of the loaf, instead, cut the loaf in half. Then cut slices from each half so that when the halves are placed together they fit well and thus keep the loaf fresh. It took me months to retrain my brain to do this!

As you can see from the finished loaf, it rose well and the inside is nicely aerated especially for what is a rye heavy loaf. The crust isn’t too thick and is nice and crusty. the bread tin is so clean it just needs a wipe before the next use.

A friend who makes bread with live yeast told me that although my loaves were good they would not last a week and would soon go stale. I assured him they never last a week as they are usually demolished in a day or two so it’s not an issue!

No doubt there is a reason why bakers for centuries have kneaded their dough but I prefer my method. It’s fast and clean and tastes delicious. So I am sorry if I offend any traditional bakers with my ‘cheating’ loaf but it works. With bread making this easy what is your excuse for not trying?

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Categories
Habitation

Designing the woodenwidget Plurt

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The Plurt lightweight yurt with the Hoopy.

One day I will try to write a book about design. I find the subject so fascinating and although I never formally studied it I have a good eye and apparently quite an imagination. Plus I love to problem solve, to find solutions to insolvable issues. I believe there is always a way to get something to work. Sometimes the solution is a bit complicated. Other times it is simplicity personified.

There are two ways to design something, either start with a blank sheet or use what is to hand or easily available. The first option will bring the fantastic vision of the designer to reality but it will take a very long time and be very costly. The latter option is more practical and sensible but may end up compromised aesthetically. As someone who designs creations that must be practical and easy to make I cannot take the first option, instead I need to find simple and inexpensive solutions which do not spoil the overall look of the finished product.

Sometimes however common materials come together and get repurposed so well that one can only admire the simplicity of it all. That was my goal with the Plurt. But also I wanted to add another dimension to the design brief which was minimal waste. This means using a material in its entirety or thinking carefully about what to do with any waste left over.

It just makes sense to me to use materials as they come and not have to work on them. It speeds the process and reduces waste to zero. I would make the Plurt using thin ply around a wooden frame with bonded XPS to act as insulation and to add strength to the panel. From working out how much a piece of ply could be bent I reasoned I’d need 6 wall panels which would create a 5 metre diameter circle 1.2m high. The ply would not even need to be cut down.

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The six curved wall panels and door frame.

Of course creating curved shapes is much harder than making straight ones but as a boatbuilder with many decades of experience making things that aren’t flat is as easy as kiss my hand (as Jack Aubrey would say) to me. A jig would be required but as there are 6 panels to make it would be time well spent making one. It would allow the making of 6 identical panels which would ensure a good fit and if they were all the same then they could be interchanged allowing for different configurations with windows and such.

The only downside to a jig is what do you do with it after the panels are made? In the case of the Plurt the wall panel jig is modified and becomes the jig for the roof panels. Once all the panels are made the jig itself becomes a table or a bed for your Plurt and the curved cut out pieces are turned into a free standing shelf unit. No waste.

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The shelves made from the jig. Strong and stable.

Each wall panel has locating pegs which not only hold the panels in the right place ensuring a good fit and seal but they also help to distribute some of the load from the roof. Once the panels are put together clamps pull them tightly together. The clamps act in much the same way as the wire that encircles a traditional yurt but as the entire roof of the Plurt only weighs 150 kilos, the forces on the walls is considerably less.

Designing the roof panels was much more challenging. They are flat but trapezoid in shape and have slightly angled sides so that they sit against each other well. They all fit in to a standard 700c bicycle wheel at the top. Traditional yurts have a large and heavy wooden crown and all of the many roof poles are fitted in to it. It’s one of the reasons why putting up a traditional yurt is not a one man job. I wanted to find a better way.

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See how the tenon sits beautifully in the wheel rim and cannot lift out.

A 700c wheel is about as big a bicycle wheel as you can get and it is a very common size. In designing I find there is a lot of luck. For example when I was doing my experiments to see what I could do with the roof I needed to get the tenon in the end of the roof panel to sit inside the bicycle wheel rim. I had imagined needing to cut a special shaped tenon but as it happens a simple rectangular shape sits beautifully inside the rim when the roof is at its final 26 degree angle. Nice when that happens.

Apart from getting the size and shape of the roof panels right there were many other issues, for example, how would I fill in the inevitable gap between the roof and wall panels created when you place a flat object on a curved one? How would I waterproof the 15 joins? That’s 40 metres of potential leaks! I did some quick experiments and discovered that a simple guttering made from garden hose worked just fine and even held itself in with friction alone. I was very happy to solve this one so easily.

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A worm’s eye view of the roof.

There are many reasons to use garden hose as guttering. It fits in with the low cost and easy to find ethos for a start but it even works on an aesthetic level too as the gutters mimic the poles that you would find on a traditional yurt and helps to break up the large wooden surface. Bottom line? It looks good. It looks right. Other advantages to this system apart from the low cost are that these same gutters can be used to carry cables to the roof should you want a fan or lighting up there. But best of all it allows for a nice margin of error. If the roof panels are not 100% and there are some gaps between them, it really doesn’t matter because the hose just expands slightly to take up the slack.

Calculating the size and shape of the roof panels was not easy but harder than that was trying to minimise waste. For a long time I juggled with different sized panels, more or less panels and different roof angles until I finally found the compromise that would allow a good roof angle but just as importantly the right size that would allow the off cuts from one side of the panel to be used on the inside. A traditional yurt typically has a roof angle of 30 degrees so I was not unhappy about getting to 26 degrees.

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The 15 roof panels leaning against the walls.

Initially I imagined the roof panels would also have some kind of locating device to ensure that they couldn’t move or slip plus they would help to spread the forces but due to the way the panels are fitted when the roof goes up, it just wouldn’t work, so that idea had to be abandoned. It seemed to me that once the whole thing was assembled and sitting right, the tops of the panels would all lock in to the bicycle wheel at the top and the supporting knees would lock in the lower end and once the clamps were added to the lower end it would have sufficient stiffness.

The next issue was how to assemble the roof on top of the wall panels. Traditional yurts often have a central scaffolding which is later removed so I decided to mount the wheel on a post in turn clamped to a simple step ladder. Obviously the wheel has to be mounted centrally to ensure the roof has equal overhangs. There is always a little margin for error of course but not much. Part of the compromise of the minimal waste design meant that there would not be much overhang so it had to be placed pretty accurately. the solution to this was to use a plum bob hanging from the post and pointing at the very centre of the yurt base.

Once the wheel was centred and at the correct height another advantage to this system came to light. Originally I assumed that the panels would be pushed in to the wheel from the outside and as they are triangular the gap would close as they went home but an unseen advantage of the tenon at the end of the roof panels is that they can be dropped in and rest on the inner rim of the bicycle wheel before being pushed home. This means the panel is supported while you adjust the last few millimetres.

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Note the roof panel centrally placed over the door with added rain diverter.

Bear in mind that it’s one thing to make a structure like this but it is quite another to find so simple a way that it can be documented and explained for the builder. Seems that luck was on my side once again. The first roof panel is fitted centrally above the door frame. This was not my decision but arrived at because if there was a join at the door there would be a gutter dripping water on you as you went in when it was raining.

To keep the weight even on the bicycle wheel, the roof panels are assembled one at a time and the next panel is fitted opposite the last one and so on until all the panels are fitted. The roof panel that fits opposite the first one just happened to line up with the end of one of the wall panels so it is an easy thing to describe. The roof panels go in until there are two spaces left. One of the gaps will be too big for a panel and the other too small. A roof panel is fitted to the larger gap and then the rest of the panels are just shuffled across a few millimetres until the last gap is just big enough for the last panel to be dropped in.

At this point the panels are clamped together. There is one clamp at every join nicely hidden at the lower end. Now the roof is pretty solid and yet still not actually fixed to the walls and this is where the knees come in. They have slots in them so they can be adjusted. Once the roof is up, the knees are loosened and a shim is placed behind them so that the next  time the Plurt is disassembled all you have to do is remove the shim, the panel will drop down slightly opening the gap and the tenon will still be resting on the bicycle wheel rim. Now it can be pushed up and lifted out. As the roof panels are only 10 kilos each it’s not a hard thing to do.

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The adjustable plexi dome fitted through the hub of the 700c bike wheel.

The next job is to fit the dome but how can you do this when the bicycle wheel is on a step ladder and has a bolt fitted through it? You can’t. first the scaffolding needs to come down. Once the roof is free standing the mounting bolt fitted to the wheel can be removed making space for the dome which is fitted using a threaded lead bar. But how do you get on the roof to drop it in? You can shimmy up the roof and place it in that way as the roof can easily take the weight but there is a better way.

Simply remove one panel. The roof stays up just fine even with the odd panel removed. Then get the ladder and pass the dome through the big gap and drop in into the hub of the wheel. Now the panel can be refitted and reclamped.

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Fitting the guttering in to the grooves in the roof panels.

Now the Plurt is erected but not fully assembled. The internal guttering needs to be fitted. It’s an easy task but does take a little while as there are 15 x 2.5 metre length gutters to fit.

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Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Foam pipe insulation fits perfectly.

The gap between the roof and wall panels was still unsolved at this point. Sometimes when you do not have a solution it’s best to stop thinking about it and often this way a solution will appear and that is exactly what happened. Turns out the perfect material for the job was some foam pipe insulation. It’s a neutral grey colour and can be forced in to the gap making a very respectable seal. It’s perfect and fits the easy build ethos. It’s cheap and readily available and comes in one metre lengths which, believe it or not, is exactly the distance between the roof panel knees so they didn’t even need cutting down to fit. Sometime the design gods are on your side. A perfect solution for what had appeared a really difficult problem to solve. it’s often this way with design. Often what you think will be the hardest problems to solve turn out to be the easiest and vice versa.

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In the Plurt you can fit opening windows anywhere.

Now that the Plurt is fully assembled and weather tight it’s time to fit the windows. This is just much easier to do when the walls are in place and firmly held. Unlike a trad yurt which has an interior lattice the Plurt can have opening windows anywhere in any panel. This is important because a yurt needs good ventilation. As the wall panels are identical you can move the window lay out around if you fancy a change. Not something you can do on most yurts.

The Plurt has many advantages over a traditional yurt and perhaps the biggest is that it does not have a fabric skin. No doubt it’s a good watertight system but it doesn’t allow easily for openings and will eventually rot away in the sun. The Plurt is simply painted plywood so when the paint is getting a bit tired, all it needs is another coat and it’s good for the next few years. replacing a fabric covering for a 5 metre dia yurt is a costly undertaking to have to make every ten years whereas a tin of paint doesn’t cost much in comparison.

The advantages keep coming. If you wanted to make a traditional yurt yourself you’d probably come unstuck at the fabric stage. Unless you have a large clean space and an industrial sewing machine you simply won’t be able to make the covering and having done some heavy duty canvas sewing I can tell you that sliding around a 20 sq metre piece of cloth is very hard, even the professionals struggle. This simple fact alone means that a diy yurt is out of the question for even the most resourceful of people. And consider how hard it is to fit such a cover to a framework standing 3 metres high. Doing away with the fabric is the first step in being able to offer a diy yurt.

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The very cosy and bright Plurt interior.

Another advantage to having no fabric is that it’s easier to have windows that open. Not only that they can be made of glass which is much nicer to look out of than the transparent plastic fitted to most yurts. You can even fit salvaged windows in the Plurt.

None of the panels are long nor heavy so it makes the Plurt much easier to assemble, even alone and it makes it easier to transport and store. Less materials means less cost. The Plurt typically costs about half that of a similarly sized traditional yurt.

Despite the Plurt’s light construction it does not feel flimsy at all. It does not move when the wind blows and the insulation dampens the noise of the rain although you always know it’s raining when you’re in a Plurt.

As I said at the beginning of this post, design is a fascinating subject and it’s amazing how by choosing certain important criteria before you start can have such an effect on a design. There really is very little waste when you build a Plurt and that is a good thing. We all need to be more conscious of how we use the planet’s valuable resources and reducing waste and building in wood is a good place to start.

How many other small dwellings can be built so cheaply and be taken apart in minutes? And on top of all that there’s the element of being in a circle, the calm that it brings compared to straight lines and right angles. All in all I am very pleased with how the Plurt has turned out. It’s a lovely space to spend time in. It could be used to live in, or as an office, a kid’s playroom, a yoga space or even rented out to earn a living from it. Having created the design and spent months perfecting the plans it’s now up to others to decide how they will use their Plurt.

Why Plurt you ask? It’s PLywood yURT but later I discovered that it also stands for P.L.U.R.T. Peace, love, unity, respect and trust. Nice. Plurt it is.

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Draper F Clamp review

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At the end of the day, no matter how bad a clamp is, so long as it can tighten on your work it will do. Maybe there is a lot of play in the thread, maybe the jaws mash up the wood but that is solved with a piece of scrap under it before tightening. But a clamp which will not clamp is as useless as a chocolate fireguard.

In my collection I have over 50 various F clamps, some I have had for decades. they all work. I should say, they all clamp. Some have the round plate missing from the end of the thread, some have terrible play. Some are cheap Chinese and very flimsy but they all tighten.

I needed ten more F clamps for a current job so while I was ordering from a company called FFX in the UK I decided to buy a few more. They did not have a huge range of clamps but I didn’t need anything fancy, just a small clamp which clamped. They offered F clamps from Draper, a well known British company known for making good tools. Or at least that has always been my experience. And so I ordered ten.

The first thing to tell is that half of the clamps would not tighten! Badly machined in the slot which slides up the shaft which is so thin it doesn’t offer much of a surface for the jaw to grip on. In the end I had to file out the slot to try and get them working properly but even that did not help much.

These clamps are cheap and have plastic handles which might be robust but when you consider the damage plastic is doing to the eco system wouldn’t a wood handle be better? The joke is that you can’t put enough pressure on the clamps anyway so why it needs such a strong handle I do not know.

Once I started looking I realised that this product is just awful. there is NOT ONE THING good about them unless you like the blue colour. Where do I start?

Clamping. As previously stated they don’t. And even when you think they do, they don’t. Clamp up your work and leave it. In the morning all the Draper clamps are loose. they can only maintain the lightest of pressures. This is actually worse than a clamp which doesn’t work because it lulls you in to a false sense of security and the very real possibility of a future glue failure. Fail no: 1.

Sanding: Normally when I am sanding a piece of wood I clamp it to the work top to hold it. The Draper clamps are useless at this because the vibration of the sander is enough to loosen the clamps. Pathetic: Fail no:2

For a while I was almost impressed with the plastic tabs fitted to protect your work from damage but like the rest of the clamp I was soon to be disappointed. The round piece which goes on the end of the threaded part looked well located. These always have a habit of falling off. I have never known any clamp manage to hold on to these. Of course after a couple of tightens with the clamp, the plastic stretched and the protectors fell off.  Fail no: 3

Plastic protectors falling off is so normal that I cannot confess disappointment but what did upset me was the state of the metal under the plastic. The round part at the end of the threaded part is made from a thin piece of pressed steel without a flat base!!! This is the most basic thing to get right with a clamp. If the jaws are not flat and full they will more easily mark the work piece. Think of a stiletto heel on a wooden deck. Fail no: 4

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Nasty. Once the plastic protector goes, and it will you’re left with a material damaging piece. Even with the cap on it still marks the wood.

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Two similar clamps. Draper on the left. Both tightened as well as I could to the same pressure. The clamp with a solid base has hardly marked the surface at all while the Draper one has left a huge dent.

Missing in the design is a decent sized tab at the top of the jaw, something to stop another clamp sliding down if you are using them clamp on clamp. These clamps were clearly not designed by anyone who has ever worked with wood. They probably copied some poorly tested existing design. Fail no: 5

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The Draper clamp has a small tab but it’s way too small to be effective when clamping clamp on clamp. The Axminster clamp on the left has a good sized tab.

The threaded part is very short. This would be fine if the jaws didn’t need so many turns to get them to tighten and what doesn’t help this is that the shaft of the clamp is too flimsy, no wonder the sliding jaw can’t get a grip on it, it has no surface area and on the clamps which do work, they bend alarmingly which is no problem in itself but with the bend comes a change in angle and now the clamp is no longer exerting a purely downward force but is effectively trying to slide the piece, just what you don’t want from a clamp. Unlike a more robust clamp, these simply stay bent. fail no: 6

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A shocking amount of bend. Note how the pressure is no longer downwards. Plus the clamp stays bent so now it always pushes the work down at an angle.

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The Axminster F clamp under the same pressure. It does bend slightly but unlike the Draper one, it springs back straight afterwards.

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Here you can how the shaft is now bent and note also the short amount of thread compared to the Axminster version. The wood handle is more comfortable and most importantly, not made of plastic.

I might have forgiven the plastic handle if these clamps had actually clamped but as the rest of the clamp is so bad I cannot forgive it. If we are to use plastic in this world we must make sure it is not for single use or dubious products. fail no:7

How many fails is that? Far too many if you ask me for such a simple object. I wrote to Draper and they did admit they found the same non clamping issue on some of their other clamps and offered me some replacements but whether these will be any better is yet to be seen. No doubt Bert Draper (the founder) is turning in his grave as Draper celebrate their 100 years in business. Perhaps back then they had higher quality standards than they do today but if they carry on selling clamps as bad as this I very much doubt they will see another 100 years. If this is the best Draper can do when it comes to clamps what can I expect from their other products?

I did not even know it was possible to design and make an F clamp so badly but you live an learn. I think the most telling fact really is that even the nastiest clamps in my collection do that one thing which is truly needed from a clamp. they clamp. Everything else can be dealt  with but a clamp that won’t clamp is nothing more than a strangely shaped paperweight and an annoyance every time you see them because you know they don’t work.

Perhaps these companies do not understand the grief that selling a bad product causes the client. Apart from the fact that the clamps don’t work and there are not enough to do the job you bought them for, it is all a waste of my time and a waste of theirs. More needless transportation of goods being sent and returned. The company reputation takes a beating and here is one customer who is unlikely to buy another Draper product again.

It is possible to make a good clamp. I have several and the latest ones from Axminster (ones I had to buy because the Draper ones didn’t work) are a very good example of a well engineered clamp that works well with progressive tightening, smooth action and most importantly of all good clamping force that does not drop off spoiling your work.

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Really not very much to commend these clamps from Draper. They are without a doubt the worst clamps I have ever used in over 30 years and as a boatbuilder you can be sure I have used a hell of a lot of clamps in that time! If Draper would like to know what constitutes a good clamp they need look no further than the Axminster one.

There’s just no excuse for allowing such a poor product to be sold.

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Cars

A rather special Fiat 850 sport coupé for sale

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Primo has now been sold to a happy new owner!

‘Primo’ is a 1968 example of the Fiat 850 sport coupé. It is a second series model which in my opinion is the best looking of all the three series. He was originally painted in a very dull and dark green colour but is now resplendent in a period white colour which contrasts beautifully with the black leather and teak wood trimmed interior.

Primo is no garage queen, he is a well sorted and very reliable daily driver. He is fitted with the 70 hp Abarth engine from the Autobianchi A110. This gives him enough pep to keep up easily with traffic and because he only weighs 700 kilos he can often surprise much more powerful cars.

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Primo’s interior is a thing of beauty, made to a very high standard. In place of the standard plastic covered seats, all Primo’s seats and door trim is real leather. Even the dash is leather covered. To set off this lovely leather is the varnished teak wood on the dash and on the tops of the doors. The leather trimmed carpets are made of wool. Soundproofing and sound deadening material has been fitted in many areas to reduce the noise and it helps to make primo quite a civilised car for his size and age.

Primo was bought as a project by me over six years ago and in that time a colossal amount of work has been done. He could never be considered an original car as too much has been done to him for that but he maintains the soul of his originality and in fact the only modifications done are ones that could be reversed easily enough one day should anyone ever want to. I was after a fun and cool car with a bit of class. To me that was more important than originality.

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The motor was rebuilt by the previous owner who must have done a good job as Primo starts quickly and runs exceedingly smoothly. Since then the oil seals at both ends of the motor have been changed and the clutch, cable and thrust bearing. All gearbox seals and mounting rubbers have been replaced.

A new carb was fitted and the car runs very smoothly because of it and ticks over perfectly. No flat spots. The exhaust is a chrome 4 in to 2 pipe which isn’t the quietest exhaust in the world but sounds great to everyone who hears it.

The conversion from the 850 engine to the A112 is not an easy one to do properly as they spin in different directions for a start. But the hardest part is the cooling system. primo has a modified 850 pump that has been cut and welded and reinforced. The pump has new seals too. What this does is give a car which never overheats even on the warmest days. For many years Primo was in the south of France and he never overheated once even in the heat of the day in a traffic jam. Very impressive. However it didn’t hurt to fit an automatic electric fan too just in case although it has never heated up enough to ever come on.

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The exterior of the car talks for itself. All the stainless trim is in fantastic condition considering the car is over half a century old! The bumpers are straight but have small marks and scratches on them. This is called Patina and in no way spoils the car. It is a car to be used after all.

The interior was stunningly made by a professional upholsterer to the greatest level of detail. Black leather is sewn with polyester thread for longevity. The wood parts on the dash board and the door trims are made of solid teak by a professional boat builder and are deeply coated with marine yacht varnish. Compared to the nasty black plastic original trims they transform the interior.

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The door cards are also leather trimmed and made on marine plywood panels and not the cardboard Fiat used. Although they are lacking the two chrome trim pieces of the original card they mimic the scale and shape of them by using a leather piping. This would be too much black if not for the lovely piece of teak capping it. There is a full length map pocket sewn in on both doors.

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The dash on the 850 is often its weak point as they are made of card and over many years they warp and distort. The original mahogany wood trim pieces are also very hard to reproduce or restore so are often not done at all. Primo has solid teak pieces on the dash. It’s a superior wood to mahogany and will fade much less with time.

The window channels and winders in the doors are all new and work perfectly. Thanks to new door seals, the sound deadening in the doors and no play in the door hinges the doors shut with a very solid sound. It’s quite unexpected in a Fiat. The glass on Primo is all original and not surprisingly has some chips and scratches from five decades of use. The Chrome door mirrors are new and work well. The headlining and sun shades are new.

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Primo must have been well cared for and kept in a dry place when not being used because apart from a few small welding patches on the floor the car is in incredible condition for a 50 year old Fiat. Since I have had the car I have sprayed waxoyl into all the holes I could find in the hope that it will slow the aging process a bit.

That covers all the visual stuff but there is very much going on that you can’t easily see. Let’s start at the front. The headlights have 60w halogen bulbs fitted as do the two spot lights. Main beam is really quite impressive now. In order to put such bright bulbs in an 850, first the electrics need to be improved. For some ludicrous reason Fiat put the power supply for the lights through the ignition switch. So now there is a direct fused feed from the battery to relays so that the system is not overloaded. Primo is fitted with an alternator and can easily keep up with the demand of the lights etc.

Much of the electrics have been improved and made safer. Even all the dash lights work! Where possible bulbs have been replaced with leds.

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The front end has been lowered to create a better stance. This is an involved job requiring a good many new parts including Abarth front spring, lowering beam and staggered upper control arm mounts. All rubbers and seals have been replaced. All track rod ends and ball joints also replaced. Steering box adjusted and filled with fresh oil. New front shock absorbers fitted.

New front discs and pads. New wheel bearings. The steel brake lines were replaced by the previous owner. In place of the original rubber brake hoses Primo now sports braided ones which improve brake pedal feel.

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Primo’s wheels are something special. Extremely rare and great looking. In my opinion the best wheels I have seen on any 850 sport. Spokes would be nice but these Azor wheels are far more practical. All four are true and very light.

The rear suspension has new adjustable Spax shock absorbers, new seals and rubbers and new wheel bearings, brake drums and shoes. New driveshafts and flexible couplings too. Not much that hasn’t been changed!

The gear lever has been modified and now has a much shorter throw which is very much better than standard.

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In the engine bay, the correct panels under the engine are fitted. These are often missing but are important if you don’t want your 850 to overheat. New spark leads and coil have been fitted. The original distributor was sent off to Holland to have a 123 conversion. This is a very clever electronic ignition system which has transformed the way that Primo drives. Much of his smoothness and reliability comes from this superb mod. It wasn’t cheap at over 600€ but it was well worth it. A standard distributor is supplied with the car just in case it should pack up. Not that there is any reason for it to do so. It has been fitted to the car for a number of years now and has behaved perfectly.

A reconditioned speedo was fitted soon after I bought the car and it reads over 11000 kms. The original speedo has 83000 kms which is probably right although this still equates to an average of just 2000kms a year!

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Primo is a lovely car to drive on small back roads. He’s no fun on a motorway but he can do it just fine. In the time I have had Primo I have done about 12,000 kms which is not so much in 5 years but he has never abandoned me at the side of the road and has brought me much joy and pleasure. In fact he brings pleasure to everyone who sees him, especially kids and old people who always say they used to own one.

Primo is strange to drive if you’re used to a modern car. The steering is heavy at low speeds and the brakes need some foot pressure to stop the car. It makes more noise than a modern car but much less than most old classic cars. But once on the move the steering becomes a pleasure, especially through a series of sweeping bends. The brakes work exceedingly well, pulling primo up straight and in a very short distance. The clutch is light and the gearbox a joy with its tighter and shorter throw.

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There are many Fiat 850 sport coupés for sale but few are as lovely nor as reliable and as well sorted as Primo, down to the fine details. With most of him replaced over the years there’s no reason why a new owner couldn’t have years of trouble free motoring with Primo.

It was never my intention to sell Primo. He was a long term project. A car to improve and make lovely. But as you no doubt know things change and now sadly I have to pass him on to a new owner. A new family means we can’t all fit in him and so there’s no point keeping Primo if I can’t use it. He should be out on the road

He’s not standard, he’s better than that. With his 70hp Abarth engine, classic leather and wood interior and fabulous wheels and perfected stance he just looks the business. The 850 sport coupé is in my mind one of the prettiest cars ever made. It’s also very clever for so small a car. Four seats and luggage space up front to boot. Fully independent suspension and disc brakes makes Primo about the oldest classic you can own without it feeling like an ancient car.

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I am not saying primo is perfect. Is that even possible for any 50 year old car? But he’s really very nice. He has a few issues but I prefer to think of them as character traits. The syncromesh on second is weak, a common problem with Italian cars but a change at the right revs and a gentle hand on the lever and it doesn’t crunch. The windscreen has a few tiny stone chips and the drivers side window is scratched from being wound up and down many times. None of these faults spoil him and parts can still be found if the new owner wanted a really perfect car.

With the car comes the original tool kit and jack, an Abarth rocker cover, old carb and many other pieces. Primo also comes with a custom made heavy duty car cover.

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The 850 sport coupé is an appreciating classic. I have seen some selling for much more than I am asking for Primo. The price I am asking reflects the sheer amount of work and money that has gone in to him over the years.  As you can see from the pictures Primo is a really special little machine which looks standard but isn’t.

Asking 15,000€

Email info@foldina.com for more information or pictures

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Yonex Astrox 2 Badminton racket review

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Without a doubt the nicest racket I have ever played with. It’s light and yet powerful with good accuracy and control. As a racket to play with I have no complaints at all. I really like it.

However it comes with a serious design flaw which almost defies belief. Yonex who have been making quality rackets for years have zero excuse for such a ridiculous oversight. I cannot imagine what they were thinking. In the quest for extra performance in an ever more competitive market they have addopted new technology in spades. On the shaft it proudly proclaims: Nanomesh Neo whatever that means. Full graphite racket and a rotational generator system. Plus it says Isometric.

No doubt all this high tech makes for a better racket but if basic design principals are ignored what does it all mean if the racket is rendered unusable because of a design flaw in the racket?

Frankly I find it inexcusable and utterly pathetic. So what is this flaw you ask. It’s simple. at the top half of the racket there is a small channel moulded into the racket’s frame and this is there to allow the strings to sit in it and so be protected from chafe should the racket touch the court, a fairly common happening even if you are very careful.

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Not easy to photograph but the white string at about 2 oclock is easy to see. What is harder to see are the blue strings which despite being less than 0.7 mm thin still protrudes. Standard thickness strings would be proud all along the top of the racket. The depth of the channel simply isn’t deep enough to offer the strings any protection at all.

On the Astox 2 this channel is very shallow and as a consequence the strings protrude beyond it and are instantly vulnerable to being damaged. How did a company like Yonex make such a ridiculous mistake? Only Yonex can answer that one but after just ten hours of extremely careful playing the strings broke. They broke because once, just once I touched the court with the racket head. I only touched it lightly but it was enough to lightly scratch a proud string and that weakness led to the string breaking a little while later.

When I got the racket I noticed this straight away and knew that it was going to be an issue so I placed a thin strip of insulation tape along the strings in the vague hope of protecting them from accidental damage. Of course even this tiny strip of tape affected the head weight so I was not happy doing this especially on a brand new racket.

Further more I chose some hybrid strings which are not even 0.7 mm thick so would protrude even less than ‘normal’ strings. The channel is clearly no where near deep enough to allow the strings any kind of protection. To put this problem in to context, I also have an old Babolat which is probably about ten years old and the strings are old but still not broken. the head is scratched and abused and yet the channel is deep enough to protect the strings from the inevitable wear and tear that a racket experiences. Draw your own conclusions. 10 years with one racket. ten hours with another.

To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. One thing is for sure, my next racket will be chosen on more practical principals and it won’t be made by Yonex! It beggars belief how such an established manufacturer can allow such an oversight.

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We don’t know what we don’t know

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George Santayana said it best. If you do not learn from the past you are condemned to relive it.

In the old days engineers learned by trial and error. When Kingdom Brunell designed something it would be based on past experience with a healthy safety margin added on just to be sure.

Today we are much more aware of the qualities of many materials and their interaction with one another. Over the years there have been many famous examples. One was the yacht of King George? which was made from aluminium over steel frames using monel rivets. Thanks to the electrical interaction of these dissimilar metals in salt water the boat was beyond repair and was broken up just months after its launch.

Another classic example was that of the DeHavilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jet airliner. It was a lovely looking aircraft but they had a tendancy to fall out of the sky for no apparent reason. Eventually the problem was discovered. The window apertures had been cut out with square edges. Over time the movement of the fuselage caused cracks to appear in the corners. These went un noticed until at high speed the crack became big enough to allow the air to get under it and then it would rip the outer skin from the plane.

The remedy was simple. Don’t cut square corners in openings. As soon as the corner was slightly rounded, the stress areas went away and there were no more problems.

One might think that today, mistakes like this that have happened before and been well documented wouldn’t happen again. That stories like the ones above would be taught in the very first year at engineering college. However it would appear not. Although we have gleaned an astonishing amount of information about materials designers are still making the same basic mistakes.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at your laptop computer screen, if it’s not a Mac and made of plastic chances are it has square cut corners. Take a real close look. Do any of those corners have slight cracks? Isn’t that amazing. On my Asus laptop I have cracked corners. On my partners Lenovo, cracked corners and even on my old Kindle. Yep, you guessed it, cracked corners.

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It astonishes me that this important and basic knowledge has been forgotten. What are they teaching designers in schools these days?