Creating a Camera/Fly6 pylon

I like to ride with an action camera on my velomobile rides. It’s nice to be able to put together a video of a particularly fun ride or event. But it’s also nice to have video evidence in case a vehicle driver does something stupid or dangerous.

My first camera was an early edition GoPro that I won at a mortgage lenders’ event; the mounting bracket failed, the camera fell off and was run over by a car.

My second (and third) camera was a Contour camera. They are nice because they are more aerodynamic, you can mount them anywhere you want on the body of the velomobile, even if it’s sloped, and you rotate the camera bezel to level out the video.

My rear facing camera set up I was running on the WAW. You can see the little white dot on the top edge of the camera bezel. You rotate the bezel to insure your video is level. Camera has a built in laser for level assistance.

With the WAW I was running 2 cameras; one facing forward, on the left side by my head, and the other camera facing rearward, mounted under the mirror as seen above. I was running 2 Contour cameras because you could merge video clips together and it’s more interesting to see forward and rearward facing video.

The forward facing camera mounting bracket failed, camera fell off and was run over by a car. Sensing a pattern here? 🙂

Prior victims of poor mounting options….

I decided to try out a 360 degree camera, so I purchased an inexpensive one online; I think it was $149. Using the 360 degree camera you have one video file and can use software to provide any viewing angle you want to, so it’s a nice improvement. Unfortunately, using a simple mounting system will put the camera close to the body of the velomobile, and with my preferred mounting area directly behind my head, the helmet would take up a large portion of the video screen. I tried out various methods to get the camera mounted higher off the velomobile body while keeping vibration to a minimum.

This is the inexpensive 360 degree camera mounted on the WAW. Just above the turn signal you can see the broken mount that cost me a Contour camera!

The mount for the camera above is dependent on the mounting location being horizontal or nearly so. The turtledeck on the WAW (the hump behind my head) is sloped downward at a 7 degree angle, so the camera is pointing upward a bit (well, upward and downward…) . The video can be adjusted with the software, but it’s not ideal.

I did some online searching and put together the mount seen below, but it wasn’t very strong. The center two pieces are plastic and they broke on a 50 mph+ ride (I can regularly hit more than 50 mph in my hilly area). So this wasn’t going to be a long term solution.

The extended mount for the 360 degree camera. This image has the Garmin 360 camera mounted.

One of the frequent comments that Velonauts hear is “you need a light on that thing“. Of course everyone that rides a velomobile has lights if they are riding on the roads. My friend Howard turned me on to the Cycliq cameras, in particular the Fly6 camera.

It’s designed specifically for cyclists; it has rear facing bright red lights, three intensity settings, and you can set them to flash or steady On or just turn them Off. The Fly6 also has a video recording system, and I call it an incident camera: if your bike or velomobile is tilted to more than 60 degrees off vertical (they knocked you down), the camera saves the video from (IIRC) 30 seconds before and 5 minutes after the event. Very nice design.

Cycliq designed their lights with upright “wedgie” bikes in mind, so the mounting brackets are designed to fit on a rearward sloping seat post. Velomobiles don’t have one of those…

Short video of the functions of the rear facing lights

The only vertical space that is available on either velomobiles is down close to the ground on the tail. I’d prefer to have the light as high as a driver’s line of sight if possible.

So, my design criteria are: a strong mount that locates the camera at least 3″ higher above the turtledeck, with a mounting surface on the rear for the Fly6 camera. Since I have upgraded to a Garmin 360 camera with the optional charging cradle (you can see it in the video above, on the top of the pylon), I also have a power cable that I need to route into the body, so it can connect to a battery pack inside the velomobile. Oh, and of course it has to be rock solid secure.

I realized that it would be a difficult piece to design and make, because it’s small and relatively narrow. And because of the design it really needed to be a 2 piece mold. I could already envision how difficult it would be to get the CF cloth installed….

Undaunted, I moved on 😉

I made up a plug in a shape that fit my design thoughts, and tried to match the plug contours to the curves of the Milan’s turtledeck. I made a 2 part mold for this design, but the curvature on the body wasn’t suitable. That was my mistake for going through the effort of a full 2 part mold. I should have made some test pieces from portions of the plug to check the fit. (Yep, still learning….) It did match pretty well to the curves of the WAW’s turtledeck though.

So I needed to change the curves that were meant to mimic the turtledeck. Unfortunately and not unexpectedly, when I made that first mold it broke apart the original plug, since it was only foam held together with a little bit of auto body filler and gel coat.

So I took the first carbon fiber piece that I made, cut off the outer edges, and glued the upper portion onto the plug that I was re-shaping, and faired it in with auto body filler and covered with gray gel coat.

The camera pylon is actually the piece I made with that first mold. Now I’m re-designing the contours on the lower portion, so the final piece will conform well to the turtledeck.

The second 2-part mold that I made from the redesigned plug had contours that fit much better. But I ran into a different problem, and it was materials related.

A few months back I had run out of orange tooling gel coat. I also had run out of fiberglass cloth. I went to a local boat supply store and picked up fiberglass mat, and they offered orange gel coat that was less expensive than what I had been purchasing, so I bought a gallon can.

This new gel coat seemed very good, but I had a lot of trouble with CF pieces not releasing the mold, even after 6 coats of release wax and a release agent liberally applied. The gel coat was also very easily chipped and would transfer bits of the gel coat into the finished piece. And it was very susceptible to crazing.

Yucchh… crazing, bubbles, and orange gel coat embedded. Cheap gel coat isn’t cheap….

Sadly, time to make a third 2-part mold 😦 I don’t mind making molds, but doing the same one three times over….

I ordered more orange gel coat from my preferred supplier, Once I had their orange gel coat I made the third mold, and things have been better since then.

Here’s the first part of the mold all laid up. The bumps sticking out left and right of the pylon are registration dots, created out of molding wax so the mold halves line up. The coroplast sign in the background is just there as a support for a polyethylene sheet which is the mold separator.
This is the first half of the mold, after removing the mold separator. Ready now to make the second half of the mold.

I have been working on figuring the exact process to make this piece in a quality that I’m satisfied with. I take pride in my work pieces 🙂

To date I have made at least 11 attempts to get this right; I’ve got a box full of rejects. Because it’s such a small and narrow piece, I have to spray the gel coat on the halves while separated, wait for the gel coat to get sticky, gently place carbon fiber in so it’s not in the joint area, not get bubbles under the gel coat, put the mold together, brush gel coat on the joint (but do it before the gel coat starts setting up and gets unusable), apply more resin and more carbon fiber delicately into the now connected mold, the vacuum bag needs to reach all the way into the mold to compress all the areas….. it’s been a long process. I say it’s a 22 step process; I’m not sure how many actual steps, but it’s very finicky.

CF and resin all set, now it needs a layer of peel ply, breather/bleeder cloth, and a vacuum bag. I think was an early try, I was going very wide with the carbon fiber cloth, wasn’t sure yet how I was gonna cut the final product. I’m more efficient with the CF now!
Camera pylon in the vacuum bag. I learned the hard way that you can’t be skimpy with the bag width.
The bag has to have enough “slack” to reach all the way down into the mold for a good finished piece.

Anyways, I’m grumbling…. I’ve tried making the piece with colored gel coat and clear gel coat, and haven’t been completely happy with the results so far (carbon fiber resin by itself is not UV resistant, so a piece of exposed carbon fiber will yellow with time if I don’t use a gel coat). But the design and the curvature match to the turtledeck is very good. The photo below is the piece that I am using right now on the Milan; there are some cosmetic defects, bubbles between the clear gel coat and carbon fiber. My next try will be using an epoxy resin instead of polyester resin. Epoxy resin is stronger, but doesn’t adhere to any of the gel coats.

Here is the completed camera pylon mounted on the Milan GT. On the rear is the Fly6 mounting bracket, and on top is the power cradle for the Garmin camera, and the cable is routed through a rubber grommet to
help keep it water resistant.
On the WAW I’ll use the upper most tail cone mounting bolt as the rear attachment point, and the front requires a smaller reinforcement plate on the inside.

I should add that I also made a mold for a reinforcement plate that the pylon attaches to. The turtledeck on the Milan is pretty solid, but I know that some velomobiles have a rather thin shell in this area, so I made the reinforcement plate to spread out any stresses.

To make the plug for this plate I actually set up 2 layers of CF with resin on the turtledeck, and then used that piece as the basis for my plug. Obviously a bunch of release wax was applied first!

Yeah, this is nervous work! I laid the Popsicle stick in there to give me a handle on the piece,
and to indicate the orientation. It released just fine thankfully!

I installed nut rivets in the plate, and cut an opening in the center, to pass the charging cable through. I also installed a rubber grommet on this hole so the cable wouldn’t chafe on the edges.

The reinforcement plate with nut rivets installed, and the installation tool.
The reinforcement plate installed inside the turtledeck.
Here is the pylon with reinforcement plate attached; the turtledeck shell would be sandwiched between these pieces.
I purchased this online, the tripod mount adapter connects to the charging cradle. I glued some rubber cushioning material on the underside. I tightened the nylon locking nut just enough to allow me to rotate the camera mount if needed, but it stays where I want it very nicely.
View of the interior. The tripod mount adapter has a 1/4″ 16 thread opening. I used Loctite on the threads of a bolt threaded into the adapter, cut the head off the bolt, and installed a washer and nylon locking nut.
This is a scary thing for Velonauts: drilling holes in your velomobile!
The tape is covering a hole from my prior install of the charging cable. I have since filled that hole.

I did consider using neodymium magnets to hold these pieces together, but I don’t think I can trust them sufficiently to hold this pylon in place, at least not in a magnet size that I could laminate into these pieces. With a camera that retails for $799 and the Fly6 costing $179, it’s an expensive tower, and I want it to be secure. Not to mention, a couple magnets strong enough to hold the pylon on at speeds up to 60 mph or more, would those magnets interfere with the cameras video function? I’m staying with bolts through the body.

I delayed purchasing the Garmin camera for a while, since it is rather expensive compared to a Contour or GoPro or similar action camera. But it does work very well with their software, Virb Edit. And I recommend the powered tripod mount, if you want to purchase a Garmin 360. I’m very satisfied with the camera.

The battery in the camera will last about an hour (there’s a lot of video to save with a 360 degree camera). The powered tripod mount has a very solid connection to the camera, very easy to install or remove the camera. I hook the cable up to a battery bank that I carry behind my seat (in a custom CF tray, thank you very much!). Hooked to the battery bank, I run out of media card space before the battery bank runs out. I’m running a 128 gigabit card in the camera.

This is the powered tripod mount. I think it’s a poor marketing photo; the cable is coming down the left side of the mount, it doesn’t just end like that. It is about 6 feet long with a standard USB plug on the end. About 18″ down there is a quick connect coupling with a knurled plastic nut, which is why the center hole in my reinforcement plate is so big.
A good top down view. You can see the contact points on the charging cradle.
Pushing this spring loaded button opens the cradle up; there are small tabs that interlock on the bottom and sides of the camera. Very solid connection, easy to install or remove the camera.
And the finished piece installed, with the Fly6 light on.
I’ve also started riding the Milan with the “running lights” on;
they are the lights on left and right side of the turtledeck.

So, I’m very pleased with the design, I’ve just gotta nail the execution 😉 It’s extremely strong. Not sure on a weight, once I get to a satisfactory piece I’ll weigh it. I can pick up the back of the velomobile with the pylon.

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