What testing goes into the components we design and build?

The Velo Lumino TMAT stem switch and AT fender taillight were developed not because we wanted to sell stuff, but out of a desire for components for our own bikes that don’t already exist. No one makes a switch like the TMAT stem switch. Some independent fabricators have built outwardly similar switches that mount in the same location, but these are mostly DIY products that involve assembling multiple widgets and using off-the-shelf switching components, and they compromise the field serviceability of the bike because of their specialized installation requirements. So Tom and I re-thought the concept of a stem switch from the ground up. Tom designed the mechanical aspects of the switch, while I designed the circuitry contained inside. One of the most important criteria for us was reliability. We wanted the switch to last a long time, and we wanted it to perform reliably in any environment.

On our first prototype, Tom tested whether the mechanism would withstand 10,000 continuous cycles of rotation by rigging it up to his lathe. The unit got really warm from testing, but the mechanism not only didn’t disintegrate, it also felt the same after 10,000 cycles as it did before starting the test. If you browse through an electronics supply catalog and look at switch specifications, most consumer switches are rated to less than 10,000 duty cycles.

We also wanted to test whether the switch would work in extreme operating environments. So we subjected the switch to freezing– deep freezing. We froze the switch in a calibrated laboratory deep freeze freezer, all the way down to -80C (-112F). Yes, minus one hundred and twelve degrees Fahrenheit! IMG_6134Okay, admittedly the switch did freeze up at that temp, and wouldn’t turn (the Phil Wood grease had hardened at that low temp). But honestly, there isn’t anywhere on earth that cold, and if there were, there would not likely be cyclists! So we tested it at a more moderate -13F, closer to Minnesota frigid. The switch worked fine, and didn’t feel any different than at normal temperature. Then we tried baking the switch. We heated it in a calibrated incubator to +80C, or +176F. That would be like baking the switch on the dashboard of a closed car. In the sun. In Death Valley, California. Again, the switch felt the same, and functioned the same, as at normal temperature, but I had to wear oven mitts to test it!

We designed the switch around magnetic reed switch technology because reed switches are impervious to environmental conditions. They are immune to moisture and corrosive agents. So we wanted to put this to the test. We submerged the switch in a tank of water, and asked if it could reliably switch a test light on and off. Repeatedly. For hours. It was unaffected by being in water. (We also designed the switch to have built-in drainage, so that if water enters the switch body– which we designed knowing it will happen, it can effectively drain out the bottom via the steerer tube and not cause potential long-term problems).

On-bike test rig for prototype #1. My winter commuter has a quill stem, so the switch was installed in a short piece of steerer tube and zip-tied to the stem!

Lastly, we asked whether the switch would withstand prolonged vibration, such as a bike would experience on many roads, especially when ridden on dirt and gravel roads– one of my favorite types of riding. So we subjected the switch to a shake test. We clamped it to a calibrated orbital shaker, and shook it at 900 RPM for three hours. In case you’re wondering, 900 RPM on this shaker is like riding really fast on a washboarded dirt road. The kind of shaking that rattles your bones and shakes parts on your bike loose. When was the last time you and your bike suffered like this for three hours straight? All the while, the switch was hooked up to a test light, and never wavered.

An early TMAT stem switch prototype. The switch that went through the “torture suite” of tests now serves daily duty on my summer commuter.

On top of controlled lab testing, the switch was also tested in situ on my daily commuter for over a month, during which time I made a point of turning the switch on and off at least a dozen times each ride. And it’s perhaps the on-bike testing that was among the most valuable, as that allowed us to fine-tune aspects of the switch’s design that only come under scrutiny while riding a bicycle. Like the feel of the rotary knob: early on, we thought we had the feel of the detents that define the Off and On states of the knob perfectly dialed in. Then one cold January day when it was -4F outside and I was wearing bulky lobster gloves, I couldn’t tell whether I was turning the knob or not without looking to see. This led us to dial in more tension in the ball bearing detent mechanism that provides tactile feedback to the user about what the knob is doing. We not only designed the switch to be reliable in extreme situations, we also designed it to “feel” right.

Oh, and that early prototype that went through all that testing? It’s now in regular use on one of my bikes, where I don’t even think about it: I expect it to continue to remain as durable and reliable as the production units.

The AT fender taillight went through similar stress testing before going into production, which is why we’re confident enough to stand behind it, and all Velo Lumino components, with a 3-year warranty. Any components that we develop will go through similar rigorous testing and will be held to the same high standards.

Launching Velo Lumino

The Velo Lumino website and store is open for business! We design and small-batch manufacture lighting components and installation hardware for high-end bicycle generator lighting systems. Velo Lumino logoSome history: Some of you know me from my flickr stream, somervillebikes.  Others know me as Anton (my real name) from my posts on the iBob, 650B and other bike-related internet lists.  For those who don’t know me, I’ve been posting photos of my vintage bikes, bike builds, 650B conversions, DIY hacks, rides, and other obsessional endeavors, especially when it comes to lighting and lighting integration, for several years.  I also co-author the blog Riding the Catskills. Although I live four hours away from the Catskills in Somerville, MA, and closer to New England’s own lovely mountains, I love taking trips back to my home to explore its hilly 19th century dirt carriage roads by bike (the banner photo of this blog depicts one such road). Electricalites AT decal After recognition of some of my bicycle lighting work online, I started getting commissions to install lighting systems on custom bicycles. Peter Weigle, whose bikes were the focus of a couple of those jobs, suggested I come up with a logo. Thus, Eléctricalités A.T. was born: an endearing homage to the famous French bike component manufacturer that merges my love of vintage French bikes and components with my love of bicycle electrical systems. This year I took my bike-obsessional tendencies a step further when I decided to apply some of my ideas and bring them to market on a small production scale. I teamed up with frame builder Tom Matchak to design a novel lighting switch that mounts inside of a threadless stem. The idea of a stem-mounted switch isn’t new; a few examples exist among custom builders and bike-oriented fabricators. But my idea was for one that would work entirely differently, one that would be simultaneously ‘bombproof’ and handsome. While my idea focused on a neat electrical switching concept involving magnetic reed switching technology, Tom proposed his own ideas for the mechanical aspects of the switch. Importantly, he had ideas for making it easy to install, so that anyone comfortable adjusting a headset could install it. 17594390623_7bca038d19_zThat not only started a fruitful collaboration between us, but also led to the idea that such a switch could fill an unmet need in the cycling community: anyone could install one.  A month later we had a working prototype, and within a few more months we had made several revisions– all of which underwent rigorous testing (which will be the subject of a future blog post). We were so happy with the final prototype, we used it as the basis to move into production. We are very excited by this switch! We’ve worked hard not only to make it bomb-proof, but to make it jewel-like, perfect for proudly displaying on a fine custom build. As a result of that collaboration, we’ve opened the Velo Lumino website and are offering the TMAT (=Tom Matchak, Anton Tutter) stem switch, as well as other products related to bicycle lighting and integration of those components. The Velo Lumino product line also includes a novel fender taillight: the first modern generator taillight with state of the art electronics, but made from CNC milled aluminum. Sharing the same ethos as the TMAT stem switch, the AT fender taillight is another ‘jewel’ on the outside, yet robustly engineered on the inside. 18988912645_830f082261_zI am also offering my lighting installation services, specializing in internal wiring and all aspects of generator lighting systems. I also do custom retrofits of vintage taillights with modern LED circuitry. So check out velolumino.com to learn more, and follow this blog if you want to stay informed about product updates and developments. Tom and I will also write about the thought process that goes into our products and how they fit into our design philosophy and aesthetic. I will also occasionally post installation tips/tricks/how-to’s, and things I just consider really neat. Feel free to drop Tom or me a note. You can contact us directly from our About pages.